some patternmaking & sewing suggestions to help guide you through your first underwire experience
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Step 1: Breast Basics
before getting started, it is useful to review some basic breast physiology. you may have your own method for brushing up on this, but to aid in your research at home, here are one or two facts:
+each breast is 90% water, can weigh 200/800 gms, sits on the chest wall between the 2nd and 6th rib,
+statistically, left breasts are often slightly larger than right ones, (up to 2 cup sizes!) though i encourage anyone to challenge this by submitting your own research on the topic.
+breasts have no internal support structure and rely almost totally on skin tension for their shape. this is where the bra comes in.
Step 2: Making Your Pattern
you can do this however you like- above are some basic pattern shapes for a simple balcony bra (ive graded it for sizes 34 and 36B)
as with many things, the best way to learn is by taking a good bra apart. (its also possible just to reproduce the measurements of your current favorite bra . be exact; its deceptively easy shave off a few millimeters here and there and come out with a very odd looking bosom.)
Step 3: The Underband
here is a picture of an ineffective underband.
the underband of your bra is critical for fit, support and comfort; it cantilevers the weight of the breast into the lower back, making a secure platform for the weight of the breast.
(keep in mind the length of the bra underband is smaller than the natural rib cage measurement of the wearer-- a common underband length for a 34 band bra is 24.5". The formula fit for a 34 band size has a 29/30 rib cage measurement-- therefore the underband has to stretch from 24.5"-29" when worn.
Step 4: Underwire
your underwire should not sit straight in the x-y axis of the cradle, but should be offset by 5mm; when it is on it shifts back into place. basic wire length is 196mm, and when making your pattern, trace around the wire and extend the shape by 8mm at each end.
Step 5: Center Front Tape
the key to getting that angle and uplift, this tiny piece of fabric between the cups is what determines how much cleavage is produced. it took a team of designers 6 months to work out the magic of the wonderbra (still the most popular bra style in the world), and the secret is in the angle at which the centerfront tape is cut. will i tell you the angles? go measure for yourself!
Step 6: Fabric & Other Components
stretch fabric is preferable, obviously. even a silk that has 5% lycra works nicely. in general, you want the stretch in the cups to go horizontally so that the cup does not move up or down, or can be tilted a few degrees.
it can be tricky to find lycra lace in the color you like. dying fabric is, in my opinion, super fun. use hot water dye for anything with synthetics in it. i am particularly fond of dying lace in shades of cherry.
(i recommend the marche st pierre in the 18th arrondissement for the best european fabrics. its conveniently close to the moulin rouge, too, if you want additional inspiration. living next to that revered establishment resulted in a number of feathered bras and thongs.
or if you're in london, broadwick silks has a really spectacular taste and selection, and its just down the street from agent provocateur!)
in any case, you'll need your fabric, straps, clasp, additional elastic, and anything else you choose to add.
Step 7: Cutting & Sewing
trace your pattern onto selected fabric, and cut delicately. (alternatively, a laser cutter might work brilliantly, especially for slippery silks that you have to cut on the bias)
if using rare or expensive fabric, it is worth your time to make a toile (using a cheap but similar material) to work with the fit, before cutting and sewing the final.
once you're done, you can wear your new bra in a whole panoply of contexts. my favorite is lounging on a lazy and hot summer afternoon with a close friend, sharing secrets, sipping tea or a vodka tonic, and trying on underwear!