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How to Make a Bra. Free Tutorial & Pattern

How to Make a Bra. Free Tutorial & Pattern

One of the most satisfying and useful things to be able to make yourself is a bra. This is especially true if you take a larger or ‘awkward’ size, and have trouble finding attractive and well-fitting bras in the shops. This week, I’ll be showing you how to sew a bra from scratch at home. Today, I’ll be showing you one way to draft your own custom-fit bra pattern.

The traditional way of making a 100% custom-fit bra pattern is to drape the breast, by supporting it with tape or a ‘sling’ of ribbon, and then taping or pinning fabric over it to form the cup pattern. This is a very useful technique, but I soon found that, nature having been generous, that it was incredibly difficult to tape myself into position without squishing myself all out of shape! This would have resulted in some rather unusually shaped cups, so an alternative was in order.

Part 1, drafting the pattern

For this method you’ll need:

    paper and pencil
    tape measure
    underwires for your size – you can either purchase these from a specialist supplier, or salvage some from an old bra

First, we’ll draft the cup pattern. Our basic cup shape is going to be a three-part cup, a hemisphere with a slice taken out of the top, as this is both comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. If you prefer a different silhouette, you can of course tweak the pattern at the fitting stage.

How to Make a Bra. Free Tutorial & Pattern

The main pattern piece we need to make is a rounded-out triangle. To get the length of the sides, we need two measurements – the circumference of the underwire, and the circumference of the breast. Measure your underwire diameter as shown, ignoring the ‘tail’. Multiply this number by pi to get the circumference, then divide in four to get the quarter-circumference. For example, my wire diameter is 16cm.

Circumference=16 x 3.14=50.24

Quarter-circumference= 50.24/2=12.56cm

To get the circumference of your breast, hold or tape the underwire in position against your chest, and measure across your breast, at it’s fullest point, from one side of the underwire to the other. I get 27cm, so the quarter-circumference is 13.5cm.

The corners of our rounded-triangle need to be 90°. To make the lines curve the right way, we could do some complex calculations and fiddle around with compasses, but the easiest way is actually to split the line into 4 and put an angle of 10° between each section of the line.

So, to make the longer sides of my triangle, I’ll divide the breast quarter-circumference by 4, giving 13.5/4=3.4cm (rounded up).

I start by drawing 2 lines 3.4cm long at right-angles to each other. Then add another line, 3.4cm long, at 10° to the first, and another, 10° to the second, and another, at 10° to the third. The corner will, of course, be a right-angle, with the third side drawn in the same way (but based on the underwire measurement). You should be able to see what I mean from the picture above.

You now have your basic triangle, with the sides curved so that when joined together, they will form a hemisphere. Cut out 4 of these. Two will form the lower part of the cup. To make the top section of the cup, tape two of your triangles together as shown, and cut off the top 2/3, following the curve of the lower edge.

You now have a basic cup block, which on Wednesday we will turn into a full pattern. Many women find that their breasts are slightly different sizes, and if this is very much the case, you may wish to make a pattern for each cup.

Lets have a look at the band block. This is actually the most important part of the bra, as the band is supposed to do most of the support work. You can actually apply pretty much any cup to a correctly fitting band and have a good bra, so take your time measuring and drafting the band and you’ll be able to use it over and over.

How to Make a Bra. Free Tutorial & Pattern

Begin by cutting a rectangle, the same length as your underbust measurement, and slightly deeper than the underwire. Divide the rectangle into quarters – this marks the centre front, and the side seams.

Place your underwires at either side of the centre front, with their centres about 20cm apart (you can increase or decrease this if you have a wide or narrow torso). Trace the wires, and mark their centre point. Mark an additional line about 1/3 across the back from the side-seam line.

As rib-cages are not tubes, but increase in circumference as you go up, we are going to add some shaping to the bra-band so that it hugs the ribcage securely. To do this, we’ll add a spread of around 34°, in total.

Cut your rectangle at the side seam, third-back-line, and at the centre points of the underwire, and lay the pieces out on another piece of paper. Trace the centre section, then place the side pieces at 5°, so you are adding a 5° spread to the centre line of the underwire. Trace around these sections, then add 8° at the side-seams. Finally, add 4° at the third-back line.

Trace the underwires onto your new pattern block, and mark a line straight across at the centre top end of the wires.

You can now shape your curved rectangle as desired along the top edge, to make your completed band pattern block.

We now have the basic outline of our bra pattern. 

Part 2, fitting and styling your pattern

Let’s look at how we can turn our basic draft into a complete pattern.

To accomplish this, we’ll need:

    your basic pattern
    around 0.5m of non-stretchy fabric
    pins, needle and thread, tape
    your underwires
    paper for new pattern pieces
    surgical tape or a piece of elastic or ribbon long enough to make straps

Begin by cutting out a complete bra from your sloper pattern – you’ll need 1 band, 4 lower cup pieces, and 2 upper cup pieces. Cut only along the lower edge of your upper cup piece, marking the ends with pins or notches, and leaving some spare fabric along the top edge and at the ends. Don’t forget to leave a seam allowance.

Pin or tack your pieces together. When setting the cups into the band, consider the final look you want. Setting the lower cups on a sharp diagonal will give a plunge shape, while setting them flat will lean more toward a balconette shape.

Tape, pin, or tack the underwires into place.

Pin the band around your body, and try the bra on. pull upward on the spare fabric of the upper cup to decide on where you want to place your strap, and then either pin on a ribbon or elastic strap, or tape the fabric to your skin with surgical tape.

Now the bra is in place, you will be able to make any adjustments necessary to get the perfect fit. You will be able to see if the cup is the right size, and also adjust the silhouette. Spend some time pinning the seams until you are happy with the overall look and fit. For example, I can see that I need to make the cup a little narrower, so I’ll adjust the centre and side-seams accordingly.

You can change the shape of the cups by increasing or decreasing the amount of curve in the seams – the more curve in the seam, the rounder the cup will be. If you flatten out the curve, the cup will become more conical.

If the upper part of the cup is baggy, pin a tuck or dart toward the underarm, conversely, if it is too tight you can snip a slit and pin in a little extra fabric until it fits.

If the band is too loose or too tight, add tucks or extra fabric at the underarms (where the side seam will go). You can also add or subtract fabric between the cups to change the spacing of the cups, and also the angle of the underwires. This can be done for comfort, or for a different look – for example the closer together the cups are spaced, the more lift you will get.

When you are happy with the fit, you can trim away or pin down the spare fabric at the top of the cup to get the decolette shape you want. For example, I trimmed mine to give me relatively full coverage but with a little bit of a plunge in the middle. You can also trim the under-arm area, especially if bras normally pinch or dig in at the underarm.

How to Make a Bra. Free Tutorial & Pattern

When you have finished your adjustments, remove the bra and disassemble it, making sure to mark any pin lines before you remove the pins. Lay the pieces flat, and trace the new shapes onto paper. Finish by going over the tracings, smoothing lines and curves to make a neat pattern.

Congratulations, you now have your very own custom-fit, custom-styled bra pattern!

Part 3, sewing your bra

Your bra can be sewn by machine or by hand. I chose to sew by hand, as my machine has a push-button control that makes it hard to sew precisely, but machine sewing has the advantage of speed and a neater finish.

Most of the supplies you need can be either bought from a craft store or specialist supplier, or salvaged from an old bra. I managed to save wires, straps, hook-and-eye tape, and a small amount of powerknit fabric for the back band, from a past-its-best bra.

You’ll need:

    non-stretch fabric for cups and (optionally) the front half of the band. A fat quarter is ample unless you are making a particularly large size.
    stretch fabric (preferably ‘powerknit’ or similar) for either the whole of, or just the back half of, the band. For a half-band, about the size of a pocket hanky is plenty.
    channelling – if you can’t find or salvage some underwire channelling, use knitted interfacing, folded double.
    bra straps, or elastic and sliders to make straps.
    1-2cm wide elastic for bottom of band – up to 50cm (if elasticating the full band)
    approx 0.5cm wide elastic or lingerie elastic for upper edge of band and arm edge of cup – around 1m
    hooks and eyes – you can buy these loose or in tape form, or salvage from an old bra
    ribbon, lace, or piping for top cup edge. This stabilises the edge and stops it stretching on the bias.
    scissors, pins, needle and thread, etc.

The first step is cutting out – don’t forget to leave a seam allowance, and make sure your left and right cup pieces are aligned the same way on the grain of the fabric, to avoid odd cups due to the fabric stretching on the bias. For the cups, you’ll need to cut 8 lower cup sections (doubling the lower cup for added support) and two upper sections. For the band, you can either cut the entire band from stretch fabric, or cut the two of the front half (from side-seam to side-seam lines on your pattern) from non-stretch fabric, and two of the back section (from side-seam line to centre-back) from stretch fabric. Leave seam allowances at the top and bottom edges, but not at the side edges, as you need some negative ease in the band.

How to Make a Bra. Free Tutorial & Pattern

To assemble the cups, double the lower sections, so you are actually sewing four pieces together. Sew the centre seam, then press the seam allowances apart and topstitch bothe sides of the seam. Sew on the upper cup section, press all the seam allowances to the upper side of the seam, and topstitch the seam allowances into place.

If you’re making a half-band, sew the two layers together along the bottom edge, wrong-side-out, then turn right-side out, press and topstitch the seam. If you’re making a full stretch band, you only have one layer so you can skip this step.

How to Make a Bra. Free Tutorial & Pattern

You can now sew the cups into the band, taking care that they are both aligned the same way. You don’t need to topstitch this seam (yet) as it will be hidden and reinforced by the channelling seams.

Cut pieces of channelling (or doubled-over knit interfacing) about 3-4cm longer than the underwire. Baste into place along the outer edge of the cup seam, covering the seam allowances, then sew into place. Sew back-and-forth across the centre end of the channels several times, then thread the wires in through the underarm edge and sew over that end several times as well.

Measure your back elastic by holding or pinning the bra up to you, and then stretch the wide elastic across either from sideseam to sideseam (half-stretch band) or underwire-to-underwire (full stretch band), so that it is tensioned but not uncomfortably tight. You can then cut this length of elastic in half to get the right size piece for each side.

Pin the elastic to the band fabric at both ends, on the right side (start on the wrong side if using decorative elastic), then stretch so the elastic and fabric match and pin along the whole length. Us a stretchy whipstitch to sew the lower edge of the elastic to the fabric, then fold the elastic to the inside of the band and sew in place with a zigzag stitch or other elastic stitch. If you’re making a half-stretch band, you can now sew the sideseams once the lower elastic is in place.

How to Make a Bra. Free Tutorial & Pattern

Use the same technique to sew narrow elastic or lingerie elastic from the back strap point, under the arm, and up the armhole edge of the cup to the front strap point. Sew the strap across the centre back edge in the same way, as pictured.

Sew the fronts of the straps in place, and sew hooks-and-eyes to the ends of the band, aligning the hooks so that they won’t scratch when worn.

Finish by sewing lace or ribbon across the entire front top edge, and for the professional touch add a small bow between the cups.


How to Make a Bra. Free Tutorial & Pattern


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