• No Products in the Cart

Dear Maddie: Bra Fitting + Fabrics

bra fitting

For me, one of the scariest things about sewing lingerie was the fabric. Spandex? Lycra? Nylon? Oh me, oh my, I didn’t want to go there. Just like Annie Oakley, I wanted to stick to my guns – woven fabrics. I knew them (wovens) like the back of my hand and was scared to trespass on stretchy territory. Although I’ve developed a hand for stretch material – actually, I now prefer sewing bras with them – I started out using wovens, which made the plunge into bra making less severe. The trick for a bra fitting using a woven fabric is knowing why and how to use their mechanical stretch – the bias.

First thing is to understand the concept of “direction of greatest stretch,” or DOGS. In wovens, grainline is used to indicate the direction of the fabric that has the least amount of stretch (also called the warp), and in most cases, patterns are aligned using this line. In bra making, it is the opposite, the marker for laying out patterns is according to the “direction of greatest stretch.”

Knowing this, I can now say that in almost all cases, the band of the bra must have stretch running around the body (the DOGS is perpendicular to the hook and eye), because if it doesn’t, the wearer won’t have room to breath. I once made a bra in which the DOGS was parallel to the hook and eye, and every time I took a breath in, I wasn’t suffocated, but I was constricted. After a full day of wearing that bra, I wanted to rip it off and throw it in the trash (which I did!). Also to note, because the band must stretch, it is not stabilized with a tricot or a fusible like the bridge and cups (more on that next).

Opposite to the band, the bridge must be stable from side to side and from top to bottom. The band is where the support of a bra comes from, so while we allow the back band to stretch for breathing, we stabilize the front band, or the bridge, so that it can support the breasts, which sit right above it. Stabilizing the bridge in all directions is done in two steps. First, the DOGS is placed parallel to the CF (so the stretch is running up and down and not side to side), and then a tricot or a fusible is added (which eliminates the stretch of the DOGS that was running up and down).

When it comes to the cups, the placement of the DOGS varies depending on the type of support needed and that’s a whole other post for a whole other day, but ninety percent of the time, the DOGS runs parallel to the neckline in the upper cup and vertically on the lower cup. The weight of the breast moves in the direction of greatest stretch, so with this placement, the breast mass is pushed closer to CF on the upper cup, which makes a more youthful appearance, and down on the lower cup. Also, if using a stripe, the DOGS placement on the lower cup will allow for the lines of the pattern to hit the cross cup seam at an attractive angle – perpendicularly.

woven_bra

With this knowledge, let’s now look at how you can apply this to your woven bra. And I must thank Natasha for helping me come up with this suggestion – we sent many emails to each other in order figure out the best way to make a woven bra.Β Because the bridge needs to be stable around the body, the warp should run east/west (cross grain is parallel to CF). Opposite to what was stated above, we do not put the DOGS parallel to the CFΒ because if we do, the stretch will run around the body. Most bras are made with a stretch fabric, so putting the DOGS parallel to the CF will cause the more stable grain line of the fabric to run around the body. But in a woven, the DOGS is the bias, and since there are 2 bias lines in a woven which are perpendicular to each other, the DOGS would not only run up and down, but side to side with this placement. The bandΒ should be cut on the bias, and I would cut them slightly longer to allow for even more stretch, and should be elasticated into shape. The cups can be placed in many orientations, but I would cut the upper cup with the warp parallel to the neckline and the lower cup on the bias for a small chest and on the cross grain for a larger chest. In addition to all of this, and inspired vintage bras from the 50s, you could also add a bra back closure to add even more stretch for breathing room in the back.

21 Comments

  1. Reply

    Hanne

    This is really helpful! Thank you!

  2. Reply

    Novita

    Thank you for this post Maddie!

  3. Reply

    Bettina

    Thank you, Maddie! So useful! but I miss the diagram you usually make, sorry, I’m a visual learner and your drawings are so nice πŸ˜‰

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      you’re right! I should have included a diagram! if I have time later this week, I’ll whip one up to show you what I mean.

  4. Reply

    Natasha Estrada

    Great article though what comes off the top of my head is that with cutting a woven on the bias your going to get stretch but not the recovery and thats primarily why knits are so useful in bras. It’s not so much to keep them on which should be determined by fit but to allow for the expansion and contraction of the ribcage when we breathe. In knits you get stretch and recovery in bias you’ll probably get stretch and sag. Now adding a strategic amount of elastic somewhere can help you through that hump.

    I personally love knits but I think it was because my mom was an early adopter of stretch sewing and the serger.

    • Reply

      Natasha Estrada

      (Also I’m not sure if its technically correct to refer to the bias as mechanical stretch since it usually refers to fabrics that have a structure that has been engineered to create stretch without spandex. Cotton interlock is a mechanical stretch for example because it stretches due to its knit structure. Bias is just something that is a side effect of a woven not something that was designed to be the stretch mechanism of the fabric)

      *along comes Debbie Downer* lol

      • Reply

        Maddie Flanigan

        Hmmm… I was taught that mechanical stretch is any kind of stretch that wasn’t added into the fabric (i.e. spandex), even if it was on the bias.

        • Reply

          Natasha Estrada

          I define a mechanical stretch as one where the stretch was created by the design of the fabric structure not the fabric content (spandex). The stretch is an intended function of the fabric.

          Your average woven is a stable weave a satin especially. Any stretch including in the bias a usually unwanted side effect. When you weave you go to extreme measures to stretch out your cloth so it won’t shrink or sag when taken off the loop

          But interlock knit is a mechanical stretch because the interlocking loops forms the stretch and recovery and the fabric is designed to stretch and you factor in the stretch and recover % when you make your garment. When you knit by hand you adjust tension and stitches to increase or decrease stretch.

          Both types of crepe have mechanical stretch; one kind using the tightly twisted yarns and the one where the fabric is processed after weaving with chemicals.

          So when I think mechanical stretch I think “on purpose.”

          I love textiles. I ended up taking 3 semesters of it. It gets very technical very quickly.

          I think we as sewers since we rarely create the textile for our projects we make whatever property of the fabric work for us but the fabric is usually originally created for a specific purpose with properties to suit. No accidental fabrics.

          πŸ˜€

          • Natasha Estrada

            Oops this all sounds very bitchy of me. Sometimes I get a tad pedantic over details.

          • Maddie Flanigan

            Oh please, you were not bitchy at all. I always learn something from you!

          • Natasha Estrada

            And I from you.

  5. Reply

    anto

    Awesome advice! definitely taking notes.

  6. Reply

    Angela

    I also have some satin that would make a great bra and panty set. Which bra pattern do you suggest for a beginning bra maker?

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      Beverly Johnson’s bra is a good starting point, and that’s what I used for my first pattern, but if I could go back and change what I did on first go, I would have bought an extra of my favorite bra and rubbed off the pattern. Because bras are so specific to a woman’s shape, find something that fits you and stick to it.

      • Reply

        Angela

        Thank you, that is great advice!

        • Reply

          Natasha Estrada

          I haven’t tried this on bras yet but I’d had great success cloning clothing using Glad Wrap Press and Seal. Its sticky but not stretchy. I just stick it on the garment and trace around the edges then stick it to paper.

  7. Reply

    Geo P

    Thank you for this post, I want to try lingerie soon πŸ™‚
    There is one thing I don’t understand: you said that in a woven DOGS should be parallel to the CF for the bridge, but that means that the bridge is going to be on the bias side to side too, since there are 2 “bias” lines in a woven and they are perpendicular on each other, just like CF and side-to-side lines are perpendicular in the bridge. So if side to side has to be stable, shouldn’t we cut it with the grainline running side to side? There must be something I’m missing, because in your example with the bias being parallel with the hook and eye, I’m thinking again the the bias is also perpendicular on the hook and eye.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      I haven’t forgotten about your comment, but am taking a couple of days to think about my response. You made a good point and I’ll get back to you by the end of the week. I promise!

  8. Reply

    Natasha Estrada

    Nice update.

Leave a Reply

RELATED POSTS