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Soft 01

There should always be a “Soft option”.

Over the past bra pattern drafting / making articles we have looked at all things “wired”, from a modern plunge wired bra with “cookie pads” to exotic overwired bras from the 1950’s, and as far back as 1893 -  remember the patent from Ida M Rew, the very first underwired bra (near the bottom of the page)?

The “Soft option”

To some extent, drafting a soft bra seems more complex than an underwired bra, mainly because the underwire shape dictates a lot of the pattern drafting. But this should not stop us from making soft bras. I know there are many of you good ladies who hate underwired bras and have had no end of trouble with those bits of bent metal, not to mention the occasional “written off” washing machine when a wire comes adrift from the bra and ends up chewed up in the machine’s drum or pump (in its defence, the bra manufacturer did state “Hand wash only”!)  An underwired bra that is painful to wear is an incorrectly fitting bra, or one that has been badly designed or made. 

Over the next few articles I will put down the “underwires from hell” and we will draft and make some different styles of bras without any wiring. (There may be a bit of boning along the way, sorry!)

For the drafting parts of the articles, you will need a protractor (unless you are using CAD by now) to set out some angles for the geometry of the bras.  Angles!!? Geometry!!?

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First a bit of “Body Geometry”.

When is a straight line not a straight line? When the line is around a cone.

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The green line is not straight.
(Using equations and diagrams, prove this statement. 25 marks. Just kidding!)

If you have ever had a go at (re)covering a lampshade (a truncated cone shape) you will know that the “pattern” for the fabric is not a simple straight-sided rectangle, but takes on a curved form with two sides equal to the circumference of the ends of the lampshade and the width equal to the “slope height” of the shade / truncated cone. You can “roll” the lampshade frame around on a sheet of paper to draft the pattern.

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Any “straight” line around the lampshade will be a curved line when the pattern is drafted flat.

The upper torso from underarm to waist excluding the breast protrusions of the female body can be simplified to a “truncated cone” for the purpose of garment pattern drafting (just like in maths. try breaking down and simplifying the “drafting” problem).

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Garment patterns for the upper torso of the female body take on a curved form because of this phenomenon, and apparent straight lines around the body, such as the waistline and under bust line, are in fact curved in the flat pattern form.

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All this may help you understand why we curve some parts of the bra patterns, even though when the bra is worn we should see straight level lines around the body.

For the first soft bra, we will draft and make a very simple bra with two-part cups, a full depth Leotard wing and quite a deep cradle. Although the cradle has a centre front seam, there is no “bridge” between the cups; the cups are extended at the centre front and sewn together. This style of bra may not give the most modern fashionable shape, but just like the first darted cup underwired bra from the second article, it will give you a basis to move on from.

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You may also like to have wide shoulder straps extending from wide cup apexes.

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The deep cradle? Several ladies have asked me in the past, “Why is it harder to get bras with supporting deep cradles and sides / wings”? It’s all to do with fashion; “light and thin” says “young and fashionable”. Pretty, “light looking” bras always sell, even if they do not give good support for the fuller bust. When you have drafted and made this first bra you can start “cutting back” to draft a lighter looking bra if you like. Remember, the choice of fabrics can also give the illusion of “lightness”. As always, DO SOME DESIGNING!

So yes! Get out your size darted cup block, copy to a new sheet of paper (or page in CAD) and pick up that protractor.

Start by extending lines 2, 3 and 6.

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On line 2, put a mark 1.2cm along the line from the centre front / cup outline end.

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At the 1.2 mark on line 2, draw a line at 90 degrees to line 2.

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At the underarm end of line 7, draw a line at 82 degrees to line 7.

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At the cup outline end of line 4, draw a line at 87 degrees to line 4.

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At the cup outline end of line 5, draw a line at 96 degrees to line 5.

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From where the new centre front line touches line 2, draw a line parallel to the neck hemline at 1cm distant. Then extend the underarm hemline to meet the new neck hemline.

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From the end of line 4, draw a new curved cup hem up to the centre front point on line 3. Keep the curve running alone the 87-degree line for about 2cm before curving up. Slightly curve the 96-degree line from the end of line 5 to the new underarm cup side.

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Now separate the cup into two along lines 6 and 3.

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For the bottom panel of the cup, close up “dart” lines 4, 5 and draw a curve for the over bust seam (on lines 3, 6). Do the same over bust seam curve on the top half of the cup. The curved line must be the same length as the bottom cup's half over bust curved seam line.

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Now add 5mm seam allowance and sewing information to cup patterns.

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Next, work out the shape of the cradle, side panel and wing. Make a note of the angle 192 degrees (it may be important, 180 degrees is a straight line).

Start by drawing a 3.5cm vertical line. This line will be the depth of the cradle under the fullest part of the cup; you can make it deeper (4cm+) if you wish. From the top of the 3.5 line draw a new line to the right at 105 degrees (192 – 87 = 105) and a line to the left at 95 degrees (192 – 96 = 96).

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Copy the outlines of the cup's bottom hem, centre front line and side seam line to the cradle lines (use tracing paper if you are not using CAD).

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Extend the cup side seam line and centre front line down to below the 3.5cm vertical line. At the bottom end of the 3.5cm vertical line, draw a line to the right at 87 degrees to the 3.5 line. Again at the bottom end of the 3.5cm line, draw a line to the left at 96 degrees to the 3.5 line. Both lines should connect to the cup centre front line and side seam line.

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Extend the 96 degrees line by about 4cm then draw a new line down 8 degrees to the 96 degrees line from the 96 degrees line / side seam line point. This line will become a guideline for the side panel / wing bottom hem.

Soft 24

The next parts are very similar to the side panel / wing draft of the simple underwired darted bra. Working out percentages of your back measurement. The first mark to put on the 8 degrees line is the side panel to wing seam line point at 8% of your back measurement.

The maths is “your back measurement divided by 100 x 8”
Example: 50cm / 100= 0.5 x 8 = 4cm
At the mark, draw a line up parallel to the cup side seam line.

Soft 25

The next mark along the 8 degrees line from the side panel to wing seam line is the end of the wing, at 28% of your back measurement.

Example: 50cm / 100 = 0.5 x 28 = 14cm

You may need to change this measurement to suit your Powernet fabric / personal wing tension preference (remember the fishing weighing scales to test the “pull” / elastic tension of a bra's wings?) But obviously you do not need to “balance” the “spring open” pull of underwires.

Now we need to mark the position of the bra strap “platform” (position) on the wing. From the wing end alone the 8 degrees hem line put a mark 10% of your back measurement, draw a line up at 90 degrees to the hemline and make about 6cm long. The end of the wing should suit your hook and eye tapes; I suggest that you use two or three hook/eyes for this bra. In my example I have made the end of the wing 2.5cm, which will give me a two hook/eye fastening when bra strap elastic is sewn on.

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For the top hem of the side panel / wing, draw a smooth curve from the top of the cup side seam to the strap platform line, note how the hem line should “flow” from the cup underarm hem (dotted outline). Then draw a curve from the strap platform point to the end of the wing. For the cradle / side panel / wing bottom hem, draw a smooth curve from the centre front line, along the cradle lines, through the cup side seam line and side panel to wing seam line and on to the end of the wing.

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Next we need to separate the draft into the three parts, cradle, side panel and wing.

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Add 5mm seam allowance to the parts plus sewing info. We are now ready to cut out the fabrics and sew the bra together.

As always with intimate apparel, no cutting out “on the fold" and no pinning the patterns to the fabrics when marking and cutting out. If the pattern drafting was complex, the sewing together is quite straightforward, no underwire casing to sew on.

First, sew the cup top and bottom halves together at the over bust seam. It is usual to fold the seam allowance down on to the bottom cup panel and seam tape over it, but if your cup fabric is thick, then fold open the seam allowance and seam tape over. Do not sew the cups together at this stage.

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Sew each cup to its cradle half. Fold the seam allowance down onto the cradle and seam tape over.

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Turn over and tape the neck hem of each cup. You can add a lace edge trim if you like. Remember all the fabric seam tapes should be non-stretch.

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Now sew the two cups and cradle halves together at the centre front seam, making sure that the cups and their over bust seams / cup to cradle seams line up. A very small mismatch in alignment can be hidden when you sew on your centre front pretty bow at the end, but you will know that the mismatch is there, so be as accurate with your sewing as with your pattern drafting. Fold open the centre front seam allowance. To tape over the seam, place the tape wrong side up on the seam at the top, sew across the tape, fold over into place, then sew down the edges of the tape as usual.

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Next, sew the side panels to the sides of the cups and cradle. Fold the seam allowance onto the side panels and tape over.

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Sew the Powernet wings to the side panels; fold the seam allowance onto the side panels and seam tape.

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Now for the dreaded stretch sewing of the thin blush hem elastics. Start with the bottom hem of the bra. Remember the drill: set your sewing machine for a single step zig zag stitch. The stitch length setting should “pull” the bra / hem elastic through the machine as you slightly stretch the hem elastic. Place the bra right side up with the hem elastic blush side up overlapping the bra hem by the 5mm seam allowance, and zig zag sew. Fold under the blush elastic / bra hem and three step zig zag sew.

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Do the same zig zag stretch sewing for the underarm cup, side panel and wing hem.

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We now need to sew on short lengths of bra strap elastic to the ends of the wings ending at the strap platform points. You should leave about 2cm of strap overhanging for passing through the bra strap rings, folding over and sewing down. Place the strap elastic right side up on the right side of the wing overlapping by 5mm and three-step zig zag sew. Pass the strap end through the ring and straight stitch down.

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Straight stitch the hook and the eye tapes to the ends of the wings. Remember the convention, “Hooks on the right wing” (that’s right as you are wearing the bra, not looking at the bra flat on the table).

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Make up two bra straps from about 40 to 45cm of strap elastic for each. Thread straps through the rings on the wings; sew strap ends to cup apexes. No twisted straps, please!

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That’s it - sew that bow and try on.

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And do not just stick to white for you undies!

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Members of Foundations Revealed™ can click here to go on to part 2 of the Soft Bras series

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As a bra fitter I completely agree that an uncomfortable underwired bra is a badly fitting or badly made bra. I see so many people coming in swearing they hate wires and then I discover they're in a size miles out from their true size or they're insisting on the cheapest bra they can find. If it fits and it's of reasonable qualilty you aren't even aware of the wires.
Awesome job (as always!) Mark. Thank you for all you do for us at Foundations Revealed.
This is great, and worked well. One problem I had was sewing layers; I cut two layers of cloth and sandwiched thin batting between. But owing to the shape, the inner layer gets all wrinkled. Obviously, the outer one should be enlarged, but I don't know how to enlarge the outer one while keeping the side seams (and edge seams) of both layers equal.
Hi Katie,
You could try a thin woven Iron on interfacing ironed to one of your layers, hot iron and use a damp cloth on top of the interfacing to melt the glue. For shop made bras the linings are heat fused to the fashion fabric using a glue film.
Corset Hugs

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