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How To Make A Bra 4

icon free"Shape must be felt with the mind's eye." Mark Garbarczyk

This is the fourth part of my series on bra pattern drafting and making. If you have been following along so far, you will have drafted and made a bra that fits reasonably well.

The shaping and style of the "Darted Cup" bra is basically two "cones" of fabric, but the darted cup can be used as a starting point to draft and make a range of bra cup styles, from two and three part cups to cups with horizontal, vertical and diagonal (French) seams, as well as demi (half) cups and strapless bras. You can also divide the cup into panels just for styling's sake.

One of the bras that I designed in two colourways/fabrics for the British plus size bra company "Curvy Kate". I made the bras to a UK size 30"E, making this sample too big for my UK size 12 display mannequin. The cup pattern started out as a darted cup (you can see the dart seam on the light aqua blue bra), but then I simply split the pattern into three sections and reshaped the neckline hem.

One of the bras that I designed in two colourways/fabrics for the British plus size bra company "Curvy Kate". I made the bras to a UK size 30"E, making this sample too big for my UK size 12 display mannequin. The cup pattern started out as a darted cup (you can see the dart seam on the light aqua blue bra), but then I simply split the pattern into three sections and reshaped the neckline hem.

You can also use the cups in a range of "cradles" - midi bras, long line bras, basques ("Merry Widow"), "Torselets" (right), corselets, panty corselets, and obviously lace up corsets, but before we go on to "body shapers" we will stay with bra design.

One of my designs for a "Torselet" - a "pull on" (ie no back fastening) torso shaper. The underpants on the mannequin are separate from the Torselet.

When designing and making bras or other garments, you are dealing with three-dimensional articles, and bras have backs as well as fronts. When you do any design sketches, draw the back of the garment as well as the front. You will have to do this when you draw the "Flats" (technical drawings of the garments for manufacture) for your collections.

So I will go through the common bra back styles, or you can think outside the box and come up with your own.

Torselet" - a "pull on" (ie no back fastening) torso shaper. The underpants on the mannequin are separate from the Torselet.

 

Types of Bra Backs

Leotard

The Leotard is the back style you drafted for the darted cup bra. It's good for larger sizes as the "strap platform" strap anchor point is spread along part of the wing.

The Leotard is the back style you drafted for the darted cup bra.

Camisole

 Light and young-looking, it can have convertible straps. But the pull of the straps can distort the wings as the load is not spread out along part of the hem of the wings.

Camisole. Light and young-looking, it can have convertible straps.

Gated

 Part of the wings are removed and short lengths of strap elastic form the hook and eye platforms. Popular on some well known "push up" plunge styles of bra, but this style needs short bones at the ends of the wings to keep the wing fabric spread out.

Gated  Part of the wings are removed and short lengths of strap elastic form the hook and eye platforms.

"T" or "Racer" back. Used for sports bras as it stops the shoulder straps slipping off. The fastening for this type of back must be moved to the front, or alternatively the bra can be pulled on. Pulling on is not really a good design option for a sports bra as they are designed to be tight fitting and supportive for sports, keeping your breasts in place at all costs.

"T" or "Racer" back. Used for sports bras as it stops the shoulder straps slipping off.

Strapless. In the short bra form, the weight of the bust is totally supported by the tension (pull) of the wings. In a long line strapless bra or basque, as well the tension of the wings, boning helps to support the bust and transmit the load towards the waistline. I think a long line strapless bra or basque for eveningwear is so elegant and stylish (I love the look of 1950s underwear).

Strapless. In the short bra form, the weight of the bust is totally supported by the tension (pull) of the wings.

Strapless: In a long line strapless bra or basque, as well the tension of the wings, boning helps to support the bust and transmit the load towards the waistline.

Backless. "Backless" strapless bras do not work because there is insufficient "spring" pull on the underwires from the wings to hold the underwires into the "breast roots" and support the cups / breasts. How many times have you seen someone in a low backed strapless evening top spend most of the evening pulling the top (and underwear) back up into place?

The only way to get a backless bra to (just about) work is to use a lot of boning to push the cups up into place and silicon rubber "gripper" bands (as in hold-up stockings) to try to hold everything in, but if you use talcum powder or perspire a lot then the silicon rubber will slip down. It's hot on the red carpets, but it's not an ideal solution.

"Backless" strapless bras do not work because there is insufficient "spring" pull on the underwires from the wings to hold the underwires into the "breast roots" and support the cups / breasts.

 

Restyling the Darted Cup

"There's an art to a dart" Design Your Own Dress Patterns by Adele P. Margolis.

If you have ever done any outer garment pattern modification you will know that you can move a dart around its "origin point" or divide a dart up to create different styles.

We must "maintain the fullness" of the cup. If the darted bra cups hold the volume of your breasts, then we must keep that cup volume when we restyle them.

Bust dart can be swung in various ways to change the look

Style 1: Horizontal "over bust" seam cup

The problem with the darted bra cup is that it can still be "pointy" even after sewing out of the dart (see part three on sewing the darted cup bra together). By dividing the single dart in to two or more darts we can smooth out this point.

Style 1: Horizontal "over bust" seam cup
1. You do not want to cut up your master cup draft, so copy your "Master" cup draft onto a new sheet of stiff paper (access to a photocopier is always a time saver).  You do not want to cut up your master cup draft, so copy your "Master" cup draft onto a new sheet of stiff paper

2.  This next step is dependent on your chosen underwire length (cup to cradle seam length). We will be using lines 3 and 6 on the cup block as the new dart lines, but when you measured cup to cradle seam length and transferred the measurement to the cup pattern, line 3 may have ended up going through the redrawn neck hemline.

2.  This next step is dependent on your chosen underwire length (cup to cradle seam length). We will be using lines 3 and 6 on the cup block as the new dart lines, but when you measured cup to cradle seam length and transferred the measurement to the cup pattern, line 3 may have ended up going through the redrawn neck hemline.

If this is the case with your cup pattern, you will have to swing line 3 down so that it passes through the cup to cradle seam again.

Swing line 3 down about 10mm from the neck hem / cradle seam corner.

 

If this is the case with your cup pattern, you will have to swing line 3 down so that it passes through the cup to cradle seam again. Swing line 3 down about 10mm from the neck hem / cradle seam corner.

3.  Now cut out the cup and cut along lines 6 & 3 to give you three cup parts.

3 Now cut out the cup and cut along lines 6 & 3 to give you three cup parts.

4.  Place the lower half cup parts on a new sheet of paper so that lines 4 & 5 are on top of one another.

You have now closed up the original dart and automatically opened up two new darts (lines 6 & 3) of the right size.

Draw around the parts. Also draw around the top half of the cup onto a new sheet of paper.

4.  Place the lower half cup parts on a new sheet of paper so that lines 4 & 5 are on top of one another.

5.  Remember the golden rule about maintaining the fullness of the cup. You will see that the original dart had curves to its legs (some fullness).

We must now transfer this small amount of material to the new darts / over bust seam.

We will not measure this area, but instead try to "judge by eye". Use your Flexy curve / French curves to draw smooth curves along the new top to bottom cup over bust seam lines.

5.  Remember the golden rule about maintaining the fullness of the cup. You will see that the original dart had curves to its legs (some fullness).

6.  The new over bust seam lines must be the same length.

After drawing the curves, measure each line with your flexible rule and, if need be, adjust the curves.

6.  The new over bust seam lines must be the same length: after drawing the curves, measure each line with your flexible rule and, if need be, adjust the curves.

7.  When you have checked the seam lines, copy the two cup parts onto a new sheet of paper and cut them out. Stick the paper cup together and have a good look at it from all angles for shape.

I always do paper "mock ups" of bra cups to see if they have a nice shape before cutting up fabric. I also sometimes do the same thing with a new corset pattern draft to double-check seam lengths and to look for any odd curves / shape. (I get through a lot of paper and sticky tape. One day I will have to invest in some 2D-to-3D software and help save the world's trees!)

7.  When you have checked the seam lines, copy the two cup parts onto a new sheet of paper and cut them out.  Stick the paper cup together and have a good look at it from all angles for shape.

8.  Now all that is left is to add a seam allowance of 5mm, and you are ready to cut & sew.

A shape problem that can happen with the horizontal over bust seam two-part cup is that it can have a "toolshed roof" shape in profile (viewed from the side of the cup).

This is because the lower half of the cup has lost its roundness when the single curved dart was removed (although the "flattening" of the lower half of the cup can give some "push up" to the smaller bust).

A shape problem that can happen with the horizontal over bust seam two-part cup is that it can have a "toolshed roof" shape in profile (viewed from the side of the cup).

To get a more rounded shape to the cup, we can divide the two-part cup into three parts and recurve the two lower half parts seam.

 

Style 2: Three part cup

Do as above, up to step 3. Instead of putting the two lower cup parts together along lines 4 & 5, put the parts together just at the top of the dart and gently curve lines 3 & 6.

Do as above, up to step 3. Instead of putting the two lower cup parts together along lines 4 & 5, put the parts together just at the top of the dart and gently curve lines 3 & 6.

Do as above, up to step 3. Instead of putting the two lower cup parts together along lines 4 & 5, put the parts together just at the top of the dart and gently curve lines 3 & 6.

 

We have now divided the darted cup up into three parts. Add 5mm seam allowance and you have a more rounded cups for a bra, and with the cup divided into sections you can use different fabrics for the parts i.e.: a satin fabric for the lower parts of the cup and a denier backed lace for the upper part of the cup.

We have now divided the darted cup up into three parts. Add 5mm seam allowance and you have a more rounded cups for a bra We have now divided the darted cup up into three parts. Add 5mm seam allowance and you have a more rounded cups for a bra We have now divided the darted cup up into three parts. Add 5mm seam allowance and you have a more rounded cups for a bra

 

One thing that we have not looked at yet is the "cup apex", ie the point on the cup where the shoulder strap joins the cup.

This is not a fixed point on the cup pattern, but you can move it around for different styling options. It all depends on what sort of décolletage you want for your bra.

You can lower the cup apex / neckline hems for a more "open" style or raise the cup apex to give more coverage and prevent "double bust" syndrome (part of the breasts are pushed out of the cups and hang over).

One thing that we have not looked at yet is the "cup apex", ie the point on the cup where the shoulder strap joins the cup.

You can also run the neck and underarm hems into an extended strip of fabric to widen the strap area for comfort.

You can also run the neck and underarm hems into an extended strip of fabric to widen the strap area for comfort.

You may even want to remove it altogether and have demi (half) cups or strapless cups.

You may even want to remove it altogether and have demi (half) cups or strapless cups.

Style 3: Strapless

Now you will need to go shopping for more underwires. The three cup styles we have drafted so far can be used with a "medium depth" daywear underwire but for demi and strapless cups you will need much deeper underwires (you can also use deeper strapless underwires with full cups if you need more support / coverage).

Obviously you will need to redraft your cradle pattern for the new, deeper underwire. See part two of this series for instructions.

Now you will need to go shopping for more underwires. The three cup styles we have drafted so far can be used with a "medium depth" daywear underwire but for demi and strapless cups you will need much deeper underwires (you can also use deeper strapless underwires with full cups if you need more support / coverage).

There is an important change to the cradle drafting if you are planning to use a stretch fabric (Powernet) for part of the cradle. You do not need to "spring open" the underwire. For all non-stretch fabric cradles, spring open your underwire and draw the curve.

There is an important change to the cradle drafting if you are planning to use a stretch fabric (Powernet) for part of the cradle.

You do not need to "spring open" the underwire. For all non-stretch fabric cradles, spring open your underwire and draw the curve

For strapless you can either use your horizontal over bust seam two-part cup block or the three-part, more rounded cup block.

First you need to draft a new cradle pattern using your new, deeper underwires (see part two for full instructions). When you have drafted the cradle you will know the length of the under bust seam on the cup.

First you need to draft a new cradle pattern using your new, deeper underwires (see part two for full instructions). When you have drafted the cradle you will know the length of the under bust seam on the cup.

Determine how much coverage you want from the top part of the cup. The origin point of the dart on the darted cup is the "Point of Bust - PB" (nipple area); this is the reference point to measure from. On a copy of your master cup draft, draw a line running through the centre of the dart and PB. From PB measure the amount of coverage you want along the line and mark. Transfer the cradle to cup seam length to the cup and mark the start and end. Now draw a smooth curve through the three marks. Copy the cup parts to new sheets of paper, cut them out and stick them together. Check the cup for shape.

 The origin point of the dart on the darted cup is the "Point of Bust - PB" (nipple area); this is the reference point to measure from. On a copy of your master cup draft, draw a line running through the centre of the dart and PB. Copy the cup parts to new sheets of paper Check the cup for shape.

 

 

For demi cups or strapless cups it is a good idea to have some form of shape support to the cups. There are two main ways of achieving this: an inner lining of bra cup foam or small boning inside the cups.

Bra cup foam is foam sheet that has had a soft nylon fabric bonded to either side so that it can be sewn without tearing. It can give the required support to a bra cup without making the cup too stiff or uncomfortable. The bra cup foam I use is about 3.5mm thick.

For demi cups or strapless cups it is a good idea to have some form of shape support to the cups. There are two main ways of achieving this: an inner lining of bra cup foam or small boning inside the cups. Bra cup foam is foam sheet that has had a soft nylon fabric bonded to either side so that it can be sewn without tearing. It can give the required support to a bra cup without making the cup too stiff or uncomfortable. The bra cup foam I use is about 3.5mm thick.

 

When drafting the pattern parts for the foam inner cups, do not add seam allowance where you will be sewing a foam part to another foam part.

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When you come to sew the foam inner cup parts together, use a 3 to 4mm wide zigzag stitch across the parts to form the seam. This will give you a flat (comfortable) seam.

 

When drafting the pattern parts for the foam inner cups, do not add seam allowance where you will be sewing a foam part to another foam part.   When you come to sew the foam inner cup parts together, use a 3 to 4mm wide zigzag stitch across the parts to form the seam. This will give you a flat (comfortable) seam.

Butt the foam parts up against one another and zigzag stitch across the join. Try to feed the parts into the sewing machine without stretching them.

 

 

After sewing the foam cup together, bind the neckline hem with 12mm (unfolded) binding tape.

Here is the foam inner cup with bound neckline hem, ready to sew to the rest of the bra cup. Sew the foam inner cups to the outer cups before sewing the cups to the cradle.

Butt the foam parts up against one another and zigzag stitch across the join. Try to feed the parts into the sewing machine without stretching them.   After sewing the foam cup together, bind the neckline hem with 12mm (unfolded) binding tape.

 

For this basque (Merry Widow) I used a light duchess satin for the outer parts of the cups and foam for the inner support, then quilted the satin and foam together using metallic thread for the needle thread and standard polyester thread for the bobbin thread (inside the cups).

When using metallic threads, use a special metallic thread needle in the sewing machine and sew slowly.

For this basque (Merry Widow) I used a light duchess satin for the outer parts of the cups and foam for the inner support, then quilted the satin and foam together using metallic thread for the needle thread and standard polyester thread for the bobbin thread (inside the cups).

Boning in Cups

You can also put small plastic bones in strapless bra cups to help with shape and support, particularly for the larger bust.

You can also put small plastic bones in strapless bra cups to help with shape and support, particularly for the larger bust.

Take the three-part strapless cup block (without seam allowance).

Using your flexible ruler, measure halfway along the bottom panel's top edges and transfer this measurement to the top cup panel's bottom edge. Then put the panels together at the measurement marks. Mark a centre line on the top panel, as in the diagram. Mark bone case start and end points, as in the diagram.

The measurements for these marks are not critical, so use your judgement, but the straight line of the bone casing must pass as close as possible through the points where the top and bottom cup panels touch.

Take the three-part strapless cup block (without seam allowance).  Using your flexible ruler, measure halfway along the bottom panel's top edges and transfer this measurement to the top cup panel's bottom edge.

Now draw a straight line from the cup bottom panel mark to the cup top panel mark.

Draw a parallel line next to the first line, equal to the width of your chosen bone casing.

 

Now draw a straight line from the cup bottom panel mark to the cup top panel mark. Draw a parallel line next to the first line, equal to the width of your chosen bone casing.

Add a 5mm seam allowance to the cup parts, cut out and sew the fabric cups together. Then stitch bone casings to the inside of the cups following the casing lines transferred from the patterns to the fabric (you can use a tracing wheel and fabric carbon paper).

You can use underwire casing for the bone casing or you can use bias binding tape for lighter casing. Remember to put the bones in the casing before hemming the cups.

As well as foam and boning in the cups, it's a good idea to put boning on the cradle to wing seams instead of just covering the seams with seam tape. Again, you can use plush underwire casing for the plastic or spiral steel bones.

 

Add a 5mm seam allowance to the cup parts, cut out and sew the fabric cups together, then stitch bone casings to the inside of the cups following the casing lines transferred from the patterns to the fabric (you can use a tracing wheel and fabric carbon paper).

Gripper Band Elastic

If you wish to use silicon rubber gripper band elastic for you strapless bra, you will need to use strips of tissue paper to cover the beads of silicon rubber as you sew. The silicon rubber will otherwise stick to the sewing machine.

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The sewing process for silicon rubber gripper band elastic is the same as sewing plush elastics to the hems of the bra. The only tricky part is feeding the strips of tissue paper into the sewing machine at the same time as the elastic.

When you have finished sewing, simply tear the tissue paper away from the stitches. Any fragments of paper that are left will dissolve away the first time the bra is washed.

 

The sewing process for silicon rubber gripper band elastic is the same as sewing plush elastics to the hems of the bra. The only tricky part is feeding the strips of tissue paper into the sewing machine at the same time as the elastic.

 

Future styles

I will leave drafting a plunge bra cup for another article as it involves "on cup underwires", but you can have a think or a go at drafting one. Just remember to start with your underwire shape (more shopping, for plunge underwires) and draft a cradle. The plunge bra does not have a cradle, just a bridge in between the cups, the Powernet wings sew directly onto the cups, and we have the little matter of the "gated back". When you have drafted the cradle and have the length of the cup to cradle seam you can draft out how much plunge to apply to the cups. Also, as there is no cradle in this bra, you can treat the cradle draft as if it is going to be made from stretch fabric, so do not spring open the underwire when you are tracing its curve onto the paper.

We will look at long line bras and body shapers when I have talked about "negative ease". For now, have a go at drafting / making the horizontal "over bust" seam cup, the three part cup and the strapless cup.

 

In answer to two comments / questions from the third bra making article posted by d_gold:

Yes, the Intimate Apparel industry is specialised and unfortunately unless you can buy in bulk (100 plus metres of fabrics, 1000 underwires and so on) from a manufacturer, all that arts and crafts people can do is to trawl around shops and web sites on a regular basis.

If you see something, buy it, even if you do not need it straight away. I love rummaging through fabric shops as interesting fabrics can sometimes give me design ideas.

Two Internet sites that I have found to be very reliable and have a good range of stock are: www.sewingchest.co.uk (www.corsetmaking.co.uk) and www.venacavadesign.co.uk.

Pattern weights are the best way to hold patterns down when drawing around them. If you use a good quality 80g/m2 to 100g/m2 paper for your bra and foundation garment pattern drafting, there won't be a problem with drawing/tracing around the pattern onto the fabric. I do not use thin tissue pattern paper or "Spot & Cross" paper: I find it too flimsy for accurate pattern work and I use some patterns (master blocks) over and over again. I also use a computer to draft 90% of my patterns, and tissue paper will not go through my A3 printer. The use of thin "tissue like" papers for patterns comes from commercial patterns for home sewing. The companies who make and sell the patterns would like people to keep on buying their patterns, so their thin paper patterns are not supposed to last for more than one or two garments.

To end this part of the series, here's something different to think about. A designer should always try to "think outside the box" - here is one of my "outside the box" bra designs that you can have a head scratch over.

My Geodesic Bra

The original inspiration for this bra was Geodesic structures such as the "Epcot Centre" and the "Eden Project", buildings employing three dimensional polygon geometry. My fellow students at university called it my Football [Soccer] bra!

Geodesic Bra Geodesic Bra Geodesic Bra

 

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faerieloch  
  Hi Mark,

Love this series! As I now need new bras, this is the perfect inspiration. Out of curiosity, which software do you use to draft your patterns? Also, is the design of bra cups with "side-support panels" (where the outside part of the cup is a separate panel and attaches to the strap) any different?

--Nancy
 
 
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araneablack  
  Another great article! Thank you Mr. Mark. I tried the way you showed how to draft bra cups and it is pure heaven when it comes to fit. I had to correct just a few minor details.

A wonderful read that is easy to follow and results are just delightful.
 
 
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charl_elias  
  This is such and excellent series. Thank you so much for being so generous with your knowledge and skill! I am gathering my materials to make a merry widow, as you have inspired me to feel that I can actually make one.  
 
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lynnevv  
  Thanks so much for all this great info. I've made swimwear and bridal for years, but these articles really are great for the "why" in bra design. Wonderful!

Lynne
 
 
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mettewikkelso  
  I also really enjoy this serie! But I do have some questions from working from it:
*Is the combination Cup 5 +MS20 W40 weird? Because the length of the wire is longer than the circumference of the cup. This makes working with MS08 somewhat unrealistic.

*The MS20 needs almost 3 cm spring in order to fit. This is just doable with a solid cradle, but what do I do when I want to make the wonderful corselette? Then the wire does not spring, and ends up right in the breast tissue?
 
 
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wltaylor  
  Hi Mark,

Thanks so much for much for all this information. Just wonderful.
Just a question with regard to recreating the strapless 1950's pointy look. I've been asked to make Marilyn's pink" diamonds are a girls best friend dress" for a singer, and really want to recreate the shape under the dress. Being strapless, would you still do the spiral stitching? Or would you go for the boned version for a "C" cup? It's quite urgent, so I don't have much time for trial and error.. otherwise, I'd play around! Thanks very much :-)
 
 
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roserose  
  Hi Mark,
I'm wondering how you will grade a 3 part cup bra...
However your articles are my best friends! I learned a lot, and yet I'm thirsty for more and more articles!
Rozália :-)
 
 
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