One of the anxious-making things about sewing a bra is that you can't try it on until it's finished. So they say. But there was no way The Sewing Lawyer was going a centimetre farther along in the construction process without having at least a pretty good idea whether hers was going to take pride of place in the undies drawer, or languish, finished but unworn, in a dusty pile on the sewing room floor.
This morning the front was done, more or less, and the back was at the point of paralysis where I needed to know (a) how big around it should be and (b) how long the elastic straps should be. I managed to get it whacked together in an approximate sort of way, but definitely unpickable, so I could try it on.
I'm using one of Beverley Johnson's patterns - "Amanda" of the "Pin-up Girls" line. This pattern uses a foam cup and is pretty similar to some RTW bras I wear. The website says it has dramatic push up effect but that remains to be seen. I also bought the "Sharon" which is a front closing partial-band "demi-cup" style. It's going to be the next one I make.
Let me introduce you to Amanda, finished enough so that I could verify its wearability, and make some informed decisions about band and strap length.
Bra-Makers Supply. It has plush elastic for the top and bottom bands, strap elastic, hooks and sliders, underwire channeling, and some little decorative bits.
When I was at the store, Beverley turned her practised gaze to my upper half and guessed, correctly, that a 36 cup would be right. She checked the 34 too (what I thought would be my size) and indeed they were noticeably too skimpy.
I did not purchase underwires, thinking I could repurpose some wires from old RTW. Wrong! Do you know what? 34 wires just won't go around a 36 cup. The curvature is definitely not the same. So I bought size 36 wires from Fabricland, but they are too long for this cup, and stick out about 1cm. I am going to have to cut them off and attempt to file/cover/treat them in some way so the ends are not razor sharp.
Below you can see the inner construction. Washable Wonder-tape is an essential tool in attaching the stretchy fabric to the cup. The instructions are very clear and good for this process. The band/bridge piece is stabilized with a very non-stretchy layer (the pattern does not suggest this but I intuited that the piece should be as stable as possible and my fabric had, I thought, too much stretch). The sticking-out ends will be resolved, some time soon I hope.
Sewing a bra is a little tricky but not as intimidating as it may look.
However, the sizing thing is really confusing. All my life I've worn a 34B bra and here I was confronted with a 36 cup. Not only that, but the band size and the cup size can be mixed and matched. I measured myself according to the instructions in the Amanda pattern, the Sharon pattern, and for RTW as described in Beverley's book which I also purchased.
Amanda puts me at 36. In actual RTW I am a 34B. The book and the Sharon instructions put me at 32B (??!!). I know these are just numbers, but for heaven's sake!!
Anyway, there is an error in the pattern. The instructions say to trace the band size according to the cup (36) but with its length based on the under-bust ribcage measurement. They say: "If you measure 75cm (34"), trace the 75/34 line on the pattern size. If you measure 78cm (35"), trace the 80/36."
Okey dokey. I measured myself: 72.5cm around my ribcage. And checked my tape measure which conveniently has both metric and imperial measurements printed on it. 72.5cm is 28.5". I stared at the pattern and the instructions, and then back at my tape measure.
So here's the problem. The numbers in the instructions are wrong in every way. 75cm is not 34", it's 29.5". 34" corresponds to 86.5cm. And these numbers don't match what is printed on the pattern pieces. The pattern piece for size 36 has lines on it which are labelled 70/28", 75/30", 80/32" and 85/34". These number combinations somewhat closer to real metric/imperial equivalents but they are still off by enough to make your bra fit badly. Which number to choose? Accurate metric? Accurate imperial? Measuring the pattern pieces does not help because the bra has negative ease and the band length will be extended by the hook and eye pieces, in some hard-to-verify amount.
To make a long story short, I initially cut the band pieces on the 85/34" line, based on the theory that I could make too-long pieces shorter. Then in construction, I compared the in-progress bra to a RTW bra and got all over-confident and cut the bands down 2 sizes. Then later in construction, I realized the band was sure to be too short, and added a little extender piece at CB on the right side (to which the shorter hook bit will be attached). I figure the extender piece adds back almost as much as I cut out in the over-confident part of this story, and based on my almost-done fitting, I have to take most of it off again. But not all of it, so I still don't know what size I should have cut.
Next time (there will be one; I have another set of the foam cups) I should ignore the numbers and re-trace the pattern piece based on the length I actually needed for this one.
There is a similar dithery story that goes with trying to figure out how long the elastic strap extensions need to be. I won't bore you with the details. However, the principle which is guiding me in relation to both band size and strap length is that the bra will not get snugger as time goes on, all other things being equal. Therefore, I should determine lengths based on what feels reasonably snug but comfortable now, with everything positioned so I can tighten it up in future, if needed.