More comfort, less waste
What the eff is up with bras, am I right? We hike those ladies up despite the desperate cries of discomfort from our backs, shoulders, and under-chest. In objection, I’ve shifted to wireless bralette alternatives, prioritizing comfort over the ruse that my chest is as immobile as silicon and the fear that I may be identified as having nipples (god forbid!). Sidenote: I’ll spare you my rant about how censorship of the female nipple objectifies women’s bodies and promotes the outdated idea that women must be regulated to counteract a supposed lack of control men have over their own actions, but I encourage you to check out the free the nipple movement here and here. I appreciate that many women find the support of a “proper” bra more comfortable and I in no way mean to admonish that. For me, however, using metal wire to put my chest where it doesn’t want to be is a discomfort I’m no longer willing to suffer on a daily basis.
Many of the bralettes I’ve come across are focused on sex appeal and not substantial enough for my chest. I know, I know, now I’m sounding picky. But having standards that fast-fashion doesn’t meet is exactly why I started sewing and writing this blog. I have one piece (pictured here), a mix between a sports bra and a bralette that offers ideal comfort and support, so I decided to use that as a starting point. Here’s how I copied a ready-to-wear design to sew my own environmentally-friendly version:
Making the Pattern
To copy ready-to-wear garments I like to use a combination of tracing and taking measurements. The bralette I copied didn’t have any side seams, but to copy a piece with side seams, you would repeat the below process for each pattern piece:
- Fold the bralette at center front (CF) and center back (CB) and lay flat. This is generally what the pattern will look like.
- Measure the length of the bottom. This is a little tricky if there is elastic along the bottom since we want the measurement with the fabric laying flat. First, I stretched the elastic at the bottom until the fabric lay flat but not stretched. Then, I measured the length of the part that lies across the chest. Finally, I compared this measurement to my actual chest measurement to make sure I wasn’t way off.
- Measure the length of the fold along CB as well as the length of the fold along CF.
- On a piece of paper, draw a line the length of the bottom measurement. Then, draw a perpendicular line the length of CF at one end and a perpendicular line the length of CB at the other end.
- Trace the top of the garment by placing the it on the paper so that it roughly matches what you’ve drawn (i.e. bottom lies along bottom line, CF fold lies along CF line, and CB fold lies along CB line).
- Clean up the traced lines. I prefer to use a french curve to draw nice, smooth lines but eyeballing as best you can or tracing something with round edges definitely works too. Because there was additional stretch knit into the CF of the piece I copied, I decided to create an additional CF patten piece that widened at the top, mimicking the effect of extra stretch in that space.
- Draw a rectangle for the bottom band. It should be twice the desired band height by the length of the bottom (measured above). I wanted my finished band to be ⅞” (because I was using ¾” elastic) so I made my band height 1 3/4”.
- Add 1/2 “ (or your preferred seam allowance) along all edges of both pattern pieces. Since I was recycling existing garments I knew I wouldn’t have enough fabric to cut the pattern on the fold and avoid a seam. If you’re using fabric by the yard and want one less seam, don’t add seam allowance to either the front or the back.
- Create the straps. The bralette I copied had two straps on each side (19” and 21”), which I think helps maintain support and comfort. I wanted straps that would case ¼” elastic and I wanted to use a different fabric for the top and undersides. You could draw these on paper first as well but because they are such simple shapes, I just measured and cut directly on the fabric. I needed:
- (2) 1 ¼” x 19” pieces in external fabric
- (2) 1 ¼” x 19” pieces in lining fabric
- (2) 1 ¼” x 21” pieces in external fabric
- (2) 1 ¼” x 21” pieces in lining fabric
My sister-in-law recently gifted me a bunch of clothes she didn’t wear anymore, so in the name of sustainability, I decided to repurpose some of the soft knits from that haul for this project. Here are some things to keep in mind when selecting fabric:
- Look for fabric with similar stretch as the garment you are copying. You can calculate the percent of stretch by folding the fabric along the grain line next to a ruler, holding the fabric in place at 0” with one hand, placing your other hand at 10”, and stretching as much as you can without risking damage to the fabric. If you’re able to stretch to 12”, you’re working with 20% stretch. To 15”, 50% stretch, etc. If you want to use a fabric with more/less stretch than the piece you’re copying you’ll want to decrease/increase (respectively) the size of your pattern.
- If using multiple fabrics, be conscious about the feel and weight of the fabric. For this project, I opted for fabrics that all had a similar weight and feel, but you could probably work a heavier weight fabric into the band or the straps. Think about what will be touching your skin and what will be supporting weight.
- If recycling fabric, carefully examine it for stains or pulls before deciding where to place your pattern piece for cutting.
- If recycling fabric, don’t assume the grain line is perpendicular to center front, especially if it is an inexpensive piece from somewhere like Old Navy or Forever 21. Hold the piece up to light, feel it, stretch it, and try to identify the direction of the fibers.
- If using fabric by the yard, know that some options are more sustainable, ethical, and safe for skin contact than others. I’ll dedicate a whole post to this at some point but just keep your eyes out and know that if environmental sustainability is not mentioned, it probably wasn’t considered.
Now let’s talk about actually putting the garment together. Except for topstitching the straps and tacking them to the bodice, I used my serger for all seams. You could instead use a stretch stitch on your regular sewing machine.
- Create the straps: right sides together, sew each external strap piece to a length-matching lining strap piece along both long edges. Turn the rectangle right sides out and insert the ¼” elastic by pinning a safety pin to one end of the elastic and feeding it through the tube. Sew both ends of the tube to hold the elastic in place and topstitch with a stretch stitch while gently stretching the elastic and fabric as you go.
- Assemble the external and lining bust pieces: for me this meant sewing the CB seam and attaching either end of that to the CF piece so that I had two tubes that are starting to look like a bra.
- Sew the straps to the external fabric: decide where to place the straps by measuring the ready-to-wear piece and tack the straps to the right side of the external facing fabric within the seam allowance.
- Attach the external bust piece and the lining bust piece: With right sides together, sew all along the top of the bust piece, making sure to catch the straps that were already attached to the external bust piece. Turn right sides out (it should really be looking like a bra now).
- Attach the bottom band: fold the bottom band piece long ways with wrong sides together and then line it up with the bust piece right sides together. Sew band to bust, leaving about 1” open. Insert elastic using the aforementioned method. Secure the two ends of the elastic together and close the 1” opening.
- Press everything: Iron so that band lays flat and there is a crisp, consistent meeting of lining and external fabric. Voila!
I envisioned this piece being a bit of a trial, but I’m really happy with the finished piece and have been wearing it out and about successfully! There are a few things I’ll do differently in future iterations though, namely improving the strength of the seam lines and strap connections.