Once upon a time, I started sewing lingerie – and now I’m addicted. I mean, to be fair I’ve only sewn about 5 bras, 2 bikini sets, several knickers, a corset and a swimming costume (I’m counting these as underwear too) which doesn’t really scream obsession yet, but then again, have you seen my Sewing Pinterest board? It’s at least half-filled with lingerie and underwear sewing tips, tutorials and patterns. And have you seen my collection of fabrics, accessories and implements for sewing lingerie? Believe me, I’m addicted!
So I started off in the shallow end with the Watson bra – with no padding and no underwires, I’d definitely recommend that someone starting out sewing their own bras. It was really helpful to me to find out how to sew with these new fabrics and how to use elastic. But in reality, the Watson is more of a bralette. That’s all well and good, but I also wanted to learn how to sew a “real” bra with underwires and foam, but this presented me with a challenge as my 28GG/H size is pretty difficult to find a pattern for. I had recommendations to take apart an old bra and draft a pattern from that (but just couldn’t bring myself too – I love all my bras!), but this being my first time sewing one, I wanted a comprehensive pattern to sew so I knew things were on the right lines and what order to do them in. I asked in a few of my frequented sewing groups, but came up blank from those – sadly all the recommendations I had were either sister sizes (which I was worried about grading down) or in American sizing, so I’d need a 28J or K in that system which I couldn’t find, or a combination of both.
I was a bit at a loss on what to do and was ready to start drafting my own when my prayers were suddenly answered as I came across blog posts reviewing the soon-to-be-released Maya bra by AFI which is available in UK sizes 28-44 AA-H (the AA cups start from the 34 band). I eagerly awaited its arrival and on launch day snapped up my copy (although I did have to wait while my size was produced – this was just a quick email to Ana who sorted it out!). I decided to give it a go in a 28GG, and here’s how it went:
(Sorry about the innards of the cups not being so pretty – I hadn’t yet removed the markings before photographing!)
While I do have a bit of a stash of bra making bits and pieces now, I didn’t have everything I needed for this bra. I decided to go for a Bra & Knicker Making Starter Kit from English Couture (in Maroon) as it was the only one I could find with fabric, elastic, strapping, findings (rings, sliders and fastening), interfacing, wire casings and, most importantly, underwires! It’s possible to buy all these things separately, but so much easier to buy in a kit. I went for wire size 44 for a 28GG(it took a lot of sister sizing to figure this out!) – it seems their website has changed its wire sizing system since I ordered though, and that would be a ECL07 according to their new sizing. I also bought 2m of Cut and Sew Foam from Make Bra – this comes from Finland so I’m still trying to source this foam from somewhere UK based – I know Sewing Chest sometimes has it but they seem to be small amounts usually, so if anyone knows anywhere, let me know!
So that was all the pieces needed to make the bra, and everything else, including rotary wheel and cutting mat (easier to use for this than scissors), tracing paper (for tracing out the pattern – I’m still using this massive roll from Amazon), sewing machine etc. I already had.
To get started, you need to choose your size – AFI provides some sizing charts here, but I just went with my usual ready to wear size – then download it from this page. The Maya pattern is free – this is amazing and I’m so grateful to Ana for providing it! You’ll then need to print your pattern (make sure your printer is set to 100% zoom so you get the right size) and stick it together where needed. I’m terrible at this part, it takes me forever! Once you have your pattern, you can cut it out or trace it so you get lasting pattern pieces. It’s then straightforward enough as you simply cut out your pieces and follow the pattern instructions.
So this was my first time sewing a proper bra with cut and sew foam and underwires – and I loved it! I was worried I might mess up the foam, but it was really simple to sew together with a zig zag stitch – probably one of the easiest parts actually! The cup is in three parts (and my top cup part looked MASSIVE, but don’t worry as it curls around and looks smaller when it comes together!), and I covered my inside foam seams with ribbon (albeit fairly messily – need more practice on this).
Before I get into the fit and sizing of the final piece, I had a small issue in that unfortunately, my English Couture kit didn’t include enough of the fusible mesh interfacing for me to use on the cradle of the bra. I’m not sure whether this was an error or whether that’s the amount you’re supposed to receive (maybe it’s just supposed to be used on the gore?), but there wasn’t nearly enough for me to cut the piece out on the fold. Instead I decided to use a different fusible interfacing I had which in retrospect wasn’t a great idea as it’s already pulling apart. To be fair though, I knew this bra was going to be a test and was unlikely to fit me properly, so I wasn’t too bothered about little things like that.
I’m not sure how well you can tell from these pictures, but unfortunately – the Maya bra is not a great fit at all for me in a 28GG. Sadly, it’s not to do with the sizing but rather the shape and the grading of the bra. I have a projected breast shape and the Maya in my size range expects a much more shallow shape. It’s most likely the cup has been graded from a sister size with a larger band size, and subsequently the cups increase in size width ways rather than outwards. I suspect I could partially rectify this by finding narrower underwires which would push the shape of the cup forwards slightly, but the bottom of the cup doesn’t have the amount of forward projection I need meaning the gore sits quite high off my chestbone. This brings me to the point that the underwires are not quite right for me either – because I am a smaller band size with a larger cup size, I need fairly narrow wires and these are wide. It’s possible to use a smaller underwire for this situation apparently, but I’d have to ensure that the length is correct too.
I also have the issue that the cups are a little too tall for my liking and that the gore is too wide for my closer set shape. This is not a criticism of the bra and pattern itself, but rather just an incompatibly with my shape sadly. I also have one more problem with the bra, this:
See the band riding up? It means it’s too big around the back for me. I think this is a combination of a couple of factors – the fabric is quite stretchy, so would be better being lined with a fairly strong powernet since as it is, it’s just the stretch fabric. I think it may also be to do with the cradle not being lined with the right fusible interfacing as it has a little extra stretch that it shouldn’t have – the cradle should be non-stretch to support more. I think I could also do with shortening the pattern piece for the band for me too.
But these issues don’t mean at all that has been a pointless project. In fact, it’s been a massively positive experience in that I SEWED A REAL BRA, YOU GUYS!! And it even looks real! I now know how to sew underwire channels and how to use cut and sew foam, and it looks pretty too. It was also really fun to make and to see it coming together. The biggest positive is that I had a very good set of instructions to follow from AFI so that I now confidently understand how bras go together, so much so that I’ve already started on making a new one with a pattern that I’m slightly drafting myself so that it will fit better.
I’d definitely recommend giving the Maya bra a go if you’re looking to start sewing bras with foam and underwires – not only is it free, it also has very clear instructions. It seems that most people in the more average set of bra sizes find it fits them very well too, so don’t be put off by my fitting of it – it’s just that my shape wasn’t compatible with it.