Making a Bra


Here’s what I made yesterday.

It’s almost time to begin sewing the SWAP Part II — I hope to make final decisions and make my storyboard today — but I wanted to have another madcap sewing adventure before I got back down to serious sewing.

Making panties and slips had turned out, as you may recall, to be easy, but a bra seemed likely to be a real adventure. I had read that perfect accuracy was required, and the pattern directions mentioned the danger of eye injury, so I was looking forward to something complex. Or at least madcap.


You trace off the pattern. The one pattern (this is Elan 510) has all the sizes. There are only three pattern pieces, and only 13 steps, so it was clear at this point that this was at least by the usual pattern standards an easy thing to make. I tried to be accurate in my tracing, but couldn’t really infuse any sense of danger into the experience.


I used a kit from SewSassy fabrics, the same place where I got the specialized stuff for my previous lingerie-making adventures. The business of figuring out what fabrics to use and so forth seemed too complex for me, so the kit was the best choice. The kit is about $10 and includes enough fabric for three or four bras, but only one set of findings. I went back to their website to see what would be involved in buying the clasps and straps and so on to use up the rest of the fabric and found that the findings are sold mostly in dozens and I am still confused (what’s the difference between strapping and finishing elastic?).

I may email them and ask if they couldn’t just send me a refill of the findings. As far as price goes, I could just buy another kit and still be way ahead of RTW, but then I would still have fabric to use up, and it could be a terrible cycle. Plus, I think it would be fun to try different and interesting fabrics with the pattern. Possibly I should just buy the things in dozens and figure I would use them up over the years.


In any case, you begin with a very simple seam or two, basically just encasing the top cup (lace) in two layers of the lower cup. The lower cup is nylon tricot, and that led to the first complex thing: my machine flatly refused to sew it. It has never been asked to sew nylon before, and it responded by throwing up knots of thread every few stitches and sounding as though it planned to throw up its engine, too.

I have a sewing book from the 1950s, and I found that it was quite helpful on the subject of nylon.

The 1950s, to judge from this book, was a time when people wore nylon often and on purpose. The author clearly preferred it to natural fibers. She says that it is longer wearing than cotton and “impervious to body oils,” whatever the heck that means, and cautions against using cotton thread. Don’t use cotton thread, don’t use cotton lace, don’t backstitch — there are all these rules for sewing nylon.

Fortunately, I remembered that one of the sewing bloggers had recommended sewing bras entirely by hand, since they use little fabric but have lots of precise small spaces. Not to mention the nylon.

Accordingly, I curled up in an armchair with The Devil Wears Prada and my little bits of nylon and sewed it by hand.


All was going well until it was time to put in the underwire, at which point I discovered that said underwire extended by more than an inch beyond the channeling.

Having no idea what that meant, I just went ahead and constructed the thing and put in a shorter underwire.

After the photographed parts, the rest is just a matter of normal sewing. You sew the cups to a band and then sew on the straps and sew on elastic — no special techniques.

How did it turn out? I am not sure. It is pretty, and it looks like a RTW bra, so in general I feel as though it was successful. I think that the way the clasp is put on leaves the cups too far apart, so that the wire would stab you in the fleshy bits by the end of the day. I may just fix that.

There is also a bit of the Renaissance Faire costume to the bra once it is on — you know, the thing where the breasts are sort of served up like a couple of dishes of flan. My first thought (particularly in light of the fact that the underwires provided in the kit didn’t fit) was that the bra was too small. However, a look at the pattern illustration suggests that this is how it is supposed to look. “Low-cut” is how they describe it, and it probably would give a girl a nice cleavage in a low-cut dress.

I think we all know that you can’t tell at the beginning of the day how you are going to feel about a bra when you take it off in the evening, so I will have to suspend judgement on the question of fit and comfort and all that. However, in the matter of construction — is it reasonable to make your own bra? — it turns out that it is in fact easy to make a bra. I think you would have to be more skilled with the sewing machine than I am to do this on the machine, but most people are. Even making it entirely by hand, I got it done in an afternoon, after I had cleaned the house and done the grocery shopping and taken #2 son to gymnastics, and I did it while reading. Not an ordeal by any means.

If I make another, I will probably use the Lycra satin I have on hand rather than the nylon tricot, although I can’t think what I would do with the remaining tricot in that case. The fabric for the band was described as “Spandex,” but it most reminded me of screen door mesh. I’ve never seen anything like it. Looking at the SewSassy website, I concluded that it might be Powernet. It is pretty cool stuff, actually. I read advice on bra-making that said always to make them in white and dye them if you want other colors, since otherwise you will not be able to get perfect matches among the materials, and this seems like sensible advice, given how many different substances go into the making of them.

So I guess it is now possible for me to report a final conclusion on the lingerie question: yes, it is indeed easy and inexpensive to make your own.

As for the book, I would recommend it. If you saw the movie first, as I did, you will find that the book makes more sense (like, why did she apply for that job and why did they hire her, points which are never clear in the movie). It’s really the perfect thing to read while making a brassiere.






8 responses to “Making a Bra”

  1. Leonidas Avatar

    you should have like an arts and crafts show on the web for this stuff. If I didn’t read your blog I would have no idea you were this creative. Homes and Gardens would have a field day with you…

  2. craftymommavt Avatar

    Wow! That bra looks great. Good for you for trying and making one! You really are an inspiration…I feel myself getting closer and closer to becoming a SWAP-er. Especially since having a chance to go shopping recently. I am on a skirt obsession lately, and skirts are very expensive for the little bit of fabric and easy sewing they require.  Since I made the banana skirt for under $10, I am hard pressed to pay the $45 retail for the same style already-made skirts. 

    Thanks for posting such thoughtful blogs about sewing and everything else!

  3. ozarque Avatar

    That bra is just beautiful; congratulations. And considering what bras cost these days — I’m seeing them for $35.00 and on up into the stratosphere — making them yourself is obviously a genuine economy. I am very impressed.

  4. formerprincess Avatar

    Wow!  I made a slip in your honor yesterday.  Well, I don’t know if it was in your honor.  But you certainly inspired me and I was thinking of you when I made it, so it was kind of in your honor.  I used that Vogue pattern that you have.  I’m not clever with lace, and it’s a bit shorter than I’d really want, but I was just glad it turned out looking like what I thought a slip should look like.

  5. Kali_Mama Avatar

    Just think of all the electricity you saved with your hand sewing!

    That’s lovely. I wonder if they have cotton bra, no underwire kits. I like my bras soft and sporty, but I’m a small cup size.

  6. universehall Avatar

    ….And WAS it comfortable at the end of the day? I must know.

  7. illgrindmyownthankyou Avatar

    why no backstitch on nylon??? I use wax paper when sewing slippery items, my grandmother taught me that trick, use a piece on the bottom & it pulls away when done & I don’t end up with a mess.

  8. dweezy Avatar

    BRA-VISSIMO!!!!   I shall be breaking out the ye old thread and needle for me boxers as well.  I’m really enjoying reading about and watching your projects as you work on them : )