Journey to a Good Bra

I’ve always had bra issues. I was a 30D by age 16, with down-pointed shoulders; until my 40‘s, I still had a small band measurement. That is always a difficult combination to look for. Even now with a bigger band size, I have problems due to the popular styles not providing what I need. But I had no idea about my next bra challenge…

My wife made the decision to be her true self in her 40’s last year. At first she really only wanted and needed sports bras and shaper camisoles. She liked the ones with a pocket and removable padding to make her feel more confident in her new self.

Two garments are shown: A sports bra and a shaper bra (also known as longline)
sports bra and shaper bra

This summer, after almost a year of HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy)  her needs changed. Shes still wears pretty much just sports bras bought at Kohl’s. But she’s feeling more confident, enough to wear lower cut tops and show off her budding cleavage. Sports bras don’t really allow for those kinds of tops and dresses. Thus our search for something more delicate began. It turns out no one makes bras for a barrel-chested 38A. We tried the stores. We tried online. We found wonderful bathing suit options (her bathing suit collection is impressive), but every bra sold specifically for her size—even on sites catering to trans customers—were sports bras.

About this time I started to find new sewing groups online; there, I began learning to work with knits, thanks to a friend who introduced me to the fabulous world of boutique fabric designers. And then… boutique PDF pattern companies. I began to look for a good bra pattern for my wife (and maybe for me too).

Step One: Pattern Suggestions

I asked around the community of sewists if they had any pattern suggestions. This was invaluable because, yes, others have sewn for these needs as well. Following is a list of all the patterns or pattern companies which were recommended to me, with the necessary links.

  • Rad Patterns: Their Lucky Bra pattern is a great non-sports option, although they have an awesome sports bra too.
  • Made for Mermaids: This shop has a lot of different bra styles listed. In addition, there is a great swim and lingerie collection to choose from.
  • George and Ginger Patterns: Bra patterns are not available on the website, at least not in their regular pattern offerings. However, here is the link to the (free) YouTube video tutorial on the Little Black Bra from George and Ginger.
  • Evie la Luve’s Darcey Bra was mentioned by many sewists, no doubt because the pattern has several options for style.
  • And finally: Emerald Erin’s Jordy Bralette was offered up as a possibility with plenty of options. The site overall also has some nice looking kits, as well as fabrics and lingerie-making supplies.

Step Two: Paring Down the List

To narrow down these recommendations, I dug through and found the ones most likely to be able to do an A or AA cup. Full disclosure: I did not read every single one of them, as that would have been weeks of very confusing research. I kind of cheated and skimmed through what I would not mind making, and what I definitely would not mind seeing on my wife. The sewist gets to have some say—especially when I have never made lingerie of any kind before.

After I pared down the list, I went through the remaining options with my wife for her to decide which she would love to wear. She came up with four patterns: The Lucky by Rad, the Darcey by Evie la Luve, the Bella Bralette by DayDream Patterns, and the Sew Easy pattern all appealed the most to her.

Step Three: Downloading and Printing

I then acquired, downloaded, and made packets for each bra—except the Sew Easy which I will get in my next round, as I had website issues with the downloading.

A few tips about this step if you never bought PDF patterns:

  1. Make a separate packet for each patten, and label the packets so you don’t get them mixed up.
  2. If you are not sure which size you need, or if you want to make it for two people in two sizes, I advise labelling the size as well.
  3. Put each packet in a (large) individual envelope to help you keep the pages all together.
  4. Don’t print the instructions if you have a tablet or laptop you can use at your sewing station. I find paging through the paper packets to find my place cumbersome; it gets in the way of my piecing and sewing.

Part of a sewing pattern piece, showing adjustable seam lines for different sizes, lays atop a lovely hand-painted look fabric, with wide bands in the colours of the rainbow.
Lucky Bralette from Rad Patterns (front)
Fabric: Black Sheep Fabrics Water Color Rainbow; cotton/Lycra

Step Three: Taking Precise Measurements

This is a crucial step. (And I missed one of these critical measurements—strap length—the first time so…don’t do that.) Bust, under-bust, and strap length are all important measurements. Remember that with MTF women, they may have not only a thicker rib cage around the under-bust, but they may also have a longer upper torso between bust and shoulder. Getting that measurement correct means not having to splice later.

Step Four: Which Pattern to Start With?

Since I didn’t have sewing notions for a structured bra, but did have plenty of fabric for a knit one, I went with the Rad Patterns Lucky Bra. I chose a black knit acetate lining fabric and a water color rainbow stripe cotton Lycra from Black Sheep Fabrics. The Lucky Bra is a great pattern, with three sets of the front for three cup sizes. They have a chart to help you choose which size of bra and cup based on under-bust and bust measurements. We went with Size XL and a small cup.

Step Five: Sewing

The pattern seems simple; however, it does have some complexity, due to a twist detail on front and back.

Viewing the inside of a lined cup in the partly-sewn Lucky Bra. The lining is black acetate to compliment the vivid rainbow hues on the outside of the bra.
Front, with pieced lining

I found that I hate cutting this lining fabric because it’s super thin and slippery. And by the time I was cutting the outer layer, I realized I could cheat a bunch of the cuts with a rotary cutter and quilters straight edge.

Ripping out part of the seam in one section of the bra.
Ripping out some stitches—or as I like to call it: “back-spacing”

I did make some mistakes and had to use the “space bar” on occasion. As I mentioned before, I forgot to measure the length of strap needed. I had my wife try this on as we went along, and realized that for strap length, I needed to measure the top of where the cup will sit in front, to the top of where the back “shoulder” section will sit. I was a little short in my measurements, so I added a short section of the outer fabric self backed to the end of the strap. Once I sealed the strap in I found I needed less than I had added, so I simply hemmed it to where it needed to be. This pattern also allows for exposed elastic straps instead, so you can choose between the two options.

I also added a detail to the front and back, a small piece of the outer fabric around the twist to make it like a bow.

A smiling woman, with glasses shows off her rainbow-hued Lucky Bra. It fits her really well!
My wife Beth loving her new bra
Step Six: How It Turned Out

My wife is extremely happy with the bra, though it does flatten her a bit. She intends to add pads inside. If you make this pattern, consider making pockets for pads like you would find in a sports bra. Then if the wearer wants pads in it they can choose which ones and place them inside nicely without them showing.

I also made her some cute hot pants shorts to match and she can’t wait to wear it all to Pride.

The rainbow Lucky Bra is laid out next to a matching rainbow-hued pair of comfortable-looking shorts.
Lucky Bra from Rad Patterns and Heat Wave Hot Pants from George and Ginger Patterns

I hope you found this helpful in some way. Happy sewing!

Cherry Bierman is a grandmother, crafter, and artist. She has been an amateur costume designer for 15 years as part of her interests in science fiction conventions and Burningman Regional events. You can find her on Facebook.