#AllChestsWelcome: Can bra making be easier than bra shopping?

I’m fairly sure that 99% of bra wearers hate bra shopping. It seems to be a topic that we all bond over—the pain of spending hours in a hot and cramped fitting room, trying on dozens of bras and maybe finding one or two that fit, only to get them home and find they’ve morphed into medieval torture devices that rub, pinch, and itch after five minutes of wear. The biggest injustice is that we have to repeat this ordeal every few months, and you can bet that the next time you go your size will have changed again, even if you try the same style as before.

So, with my drawer of bras looking despairingly saggy and faded, and lockdown meaning that I couldn’t try bras on in the shop even if I wanted to, I started to wonder if making my own might be easier. I’d seen plenty of posts on Instagram of beautifully handmade bras using delicate lace or fun fabric remnants but doubted whether I could do the same. I’m a confident intermediate dressmaker, but lingerie seemed like a whole other kettle of fish, with a whole new set of materials, techniques, and fitting issues to grapple with. Still, not one to shy away from a challenge, I bought myself a bra kit, downloaded the pattern, and agreed to blog about it before I could change my mind. After all, how hard could it be?

It took much dithering, reading pattern reviews, and stalking Instagram hashtags to decide on a pattern. I had originally wanted to make the Lansdowne Bra from Orange Lingerie, but after an evening spent trying to buy underwires online (every site seemed to use a different, but equally confusing, sizing system) I swiftly gave up on that idea (at least for now) and went with the non-wired Watson Bra by Cloth Habit.

After reading so many bra-making reviews, I was nervous about choosing a size since it seemed to be a minefield. My current shop-bought bras are a 36DD, and the size guide for the Watson put me at a 38E (which wasn’t drastically different), so I figured I’d go with that for my first attempt.

I had bought a Watson kit from Etsy, which was a great way to get all the notions and fabrics at once instead of going through the faff of sourcing them all separately, but even then it was really confusing for a newbie. What’s the difference between powernet and power mesh? Why are there two widths of plush elastic? Do I line the whole bra or just the cradle? Will scuba work for the cups when the pattern calls for 75% stretch? I’m still not sure I know all the answers, but after staring at the kit for close to an hour, I decided to just wing it and hope for the best. 

A bra kit consisting of cream-colored fabrics and elastics on top of a granite countertop.

For the cups I used the scuba, and for the cradle and bra band I used stretch lace lined with powernet to give it some structure, but I imagine you could mix and match the fabrics differently. I cut out the pieces using a rotary cutter and weights, which stopped the fabric shifting around. As the seam allowances are so small, there’s little margin for error if the pieces are the wrong shape, so I’d recommend this method over scissors.

A piece of white lace folded over, with a back band pattern piece on top ready to cut out. The pattern piece is secured with metal pattern weights. A 28mm rotary cutter is also in the photo.

The cut out pieces of the bra, right side up. Each cup has two pieces, and theres a cradle and two back bands.

Once I’d cut the pieces out, the construction was fairly simple. I used my walking foot, which I’d say is necessary to keep the slippery fabrics under control, and I had planned to use a stretch needle, but my test piece had a lot of skipped stitches. So, I went with a size 70 universal needle instead, which was fine. I also used wonder clips, as they handle multiple layers better than pins. 

Four wonder clips hold two cup pieces together.

The only other tool that would have been useful was basting spray to join the lining to the lace, but I didn’t have any so I carefully machine basted instead. Next time I’d hand baste using coloured thread to make it easier to remove, as unpicking white thread on white lace is a pain in the backside.

The only part of construction requiring a bit of mental gymnastics was attaching the lining to the cradle and bands while preserving the scalloped edges. I lay the lining right side to wrong side on the lace, stitched just above the scallop, then turned it back the right way and basted around the whole piece. Then the elastic is attached on the wrong side just above the scallop. Other than that, it came together really easily, and the instructions are nice and clear. It also includes handy tips on stitch width and length; although, as I don’t have a computerised machine, I had to eyeball it. You can also find sewalongs and videos from other makers, which might help if you’re more of a visual learner.

The bra cradle with two pieces mirrored (pinned at bottom edge). Lace on top and lining fabric on the bottom.Bra cradle with both pieces attached. Lace on top of the lining fabric.

There were some fiddly bits when dealing with all the layers of fabric—my sewing machine foot doesn’t lift very high, so I struggled where the two cups meet in the middle. I had to stop short and then hand stitch to finish, although it’s hidden by the bow anyway, so not a big deal. I also hand stitched the straps at the front and the hook at the back, as my sewing machine was never going to manage it, but it feels secure and looks neat enough.

Detail of back closure. Cream-colored hooks with hook-side down has been hand stitched (no visible stitching).Inside view of the top of one cup, with a gold ring attaching the strap.

While I’m pleased with how neat the bra looks when finished, the inside seams aren’t actually enclosed. This might bother some people and could cause irritation after a while. The seams are all topstitched and trimmed. For a simple bra, I don’t really mind the raw edges, but it would be nice to be able to hide them somehow. Something to try next time, perhaps.

View of the inside of one of the cups in the finished bra. The cup has a vertical seam that has been trimmed.View of finished bra from the back. The cups have a white lining but the rest of the bra is cream-colored.

So, after a few hours of sewing I had a finished bra, but since you can’t try it for size until it’s done, I didn’t know what to expect. When I did try it on, I was pleasantly surprised—the band size feels perfect and quite comfortable with the 3 hooks and eyes, and it did cover me at the front. The first thing I noticed was that I hadn’t pulled the elastic tight enough when attaching it to the front edge of the left cup, so it gapes a bit. I had suspected that would be the case after I’d sewed it, but there was no way I was unpicking the topstitching and the seam when the stitches were tiny and camouflaged against the fabric. I also wondered if the gore (the space between the two cups) should sit flat against my skin. After asking on a bra-making Facebook group, they assured me that non-wired bras often don’t if you have a bigger chest, so I think if I fix the elastic issue next time I’ll have a nicely fitting bra. Not bad for a first attempt!

A white and cream colored Watson bra, which has lace under the cups.

I think I will wear this bra on days when I don’t need much shaping or lift, and to get a better idea of how the fabrics wear over time. It was definitely a great pattern to start with, as now I have a better understanding of the different notions and fabrics that had me dumbfounded at the beginning. Plus, there’s lots of potential for stash busting since the pieces are quite small, and you can get a different look depending on if you use lace, jersey, or mesh. It’s also a pretty quick sew, and the construction was really satisfying. 

I can’t say that I’ve totally renounced bra shopping yet, since I’ll have to play around with the fit and experiment with different styles, but now that I’m over the first hurdle I can definitely see more handmade lingerie on the horizon! 

How about you, have you sewn bras before? Are you tempted, or is life too short?

Romy has been sewing for five years and shares her makes on Instagram as @romy.kate and (occasionally) on YouTube as Romy sews. When she’s not sewing, she works in publishing and enjoys exploring London, reading, and cooking.