Hello sewcialists! I’m Claire and I’m fairly new to blogging about sewing. I’m also usually terrible at theme months and sewing challenges as my inner perfectionist makes ridiculous plans that I’m usually too intimidated to complete on time. For some reason when I saw the #AllChestsWelcome challenge I thought, ‘it’s time!’.
People are usually a bit intimidated by sewing bras given the materials involved and the smaller margin for error with fit, but I have an additional challenge. I’m large breasted as a 12G in Australian sizes (underbust 89cm, full bust 104cm, high bust 91cm), and I have a chronic pain condition called Costochondritis. Affectionately known as Costo, Costochondritisis is ‘an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone (sternum).’ The Mayo Clinic helpfully explains that it can feel like you’re having a heart attack when you experience a pain flare, and there is often no known cause.
Many people who experience Costo (it’s most common in women) find that there is a direct relationship between their pain flares and the types of bra they wear. For some this means they will avoid bras altogether. Others find that longline bras with additional boning structure actually give them relief from their pain symptoms. I am not one of those women.
My original plan for this challenge was to sew the Christina, the Laurel, the Poppy, the Dahlia, the Ingrid, the Amethyst, and the Little Black Bra. I quickly realised this list was unrealistic if I wanted to live my life AND have well fitting bras to show for my efforts at the end of the month. Instead I narrowed it down to work on the Little Black Bra and the Poppy Bralette.
The Little Black Bra (LBB)
I’ve had this bra in my head for a while to try as an early introduction to bra sewing. It started its life as the Lovesick bralette by George and Ginger and was available as a free pattern in their facebook group. It’s now available for purchase on the George and Ginger website, but if you watch the associated YouTube video there is a code to get it for free. It has very simple construction and the only elastic required was encased and sewn straight into the bralette, removing the need to figure out new techniques.
The first version I did was a Medium (12) C cup Lovesick as the updated Little Black Bra had not come out yet. I was a little surprised at how small the recommended size was, but thought it was worth a shot. It sewed up incredibly quickly and I used a performance cotton lycra from Spotlight that I had in my stash. Unfortunately I found the band had a tendency to get sucked up under my breast tissue and I was spilling out of the top of the cups by the end of the day. As a general rule I found that it was best to wear my new bras for a whole day before deciding on changes to the next one, as that gave me a chance to see how significant the adjustments I needed to make were.
My next version I cut a cup size larger to account for the spillage, and removed 2 cm from the band to help it stay in place during the day. This version was much more supportive at the band, but still had some of the overspill issues of the previous bra. Even though I had a fair way to go before I had perfected the fit, these bras were so much more comfortable than a RTW. The pressure from the cotton lycra didn’t aggravate my Costo, and I was able to use a 25mm elastic in the straps that helped carry the weight of my breasts better than most standard strap elastics.
When the Little Black Bra (LBB) was released halfway through my bra sewing adventures, I saw that it had extended sizes and a different measurement system, and I thought doing my next version with this pattern might be more successful. To get your size in the LBB you have to measure your breast tissue in different positions to get your average full bust measurement. I found this more successful, and my size was a much more realistic Large (12) DDD. Unfortunately I didn’t learn from the Lovesick to do a smaller band size, so this was still too large, and due to the low cut on the neckline I was still having some overspill issues. Changing the cup size didn’t seem to correct for the overspill, as I also tried an F cup. I realised at this point that my breasts are quite projected, and in bra patterns without any horizontal seams I probably have to adjust the neckline to be higher to compensate for this and to prevent spilling out of the cup.
The Poppy Bralette from House of Morrighan
This is a two piece cup, long line style bralette with classic bra straps, and picot elastic around the back and bottom of the bra. It’s designed to be made with powermesh lining, which I hadn’t had a lot of experience sewing with. The instructions were quite clear and stepped me through the new techniques, but I definitely recommend not trying to figure it out during a pain flare. Brain fog led to me unpicking my first bra a couple of times during the process.
I started with an 8E in sizing, and unsurprisingly given my experiences with the LBB I found that my breasts were spilling out slightly at the top. Unlike the LBB I found the band was very supportive, probably due to the addition of the powermesh and the picot around the bottom. After a few hours of wear though I found the band was rolling up. Like many women who are large breasted I find that my breast tissue takes up a large part of my upper torso, so the longline wasn’t necessarily sitting on my waist as designed.
When I tried a larger cup size to deal with the overspill, I also graded out to a size 10 for the band to try and counter the rolling. While this assisted a little I realised where the bottom of the band was hitting was over the bottom of my rib cage, which flared a little. As pressure on my ribs aggravates my Costo, I realised that raising the band in the front might eliminate both my rolling issues and the increased pressure on the bottom of my ribs.
My final version was the 8 F/G cup. I raised the neckline by 5 cm at the centre seam, and adjusted the front band so it was half the length at the centre but graded out to join the back band as normal. This was perfection! I had thought that a longer line bra would help with Costo pain as it would distribute the weight and pressure over a larger area but as usual this isn’t the case for all bodies! For me this didn’t take into account my rib flare. This version of the Poppy is the most comfortable bra I own right now, I barely notice I’m wearing it. I will have to now make it in fabric that isn’t covered in cacti!
There are pros and cons for both bras. I find that the Poppy gives me a nicer shape and is more supportive due to the additional elastic, though both bralettes suffer a bit from the uniboob effect. I’ve noticed that bralettes with a cross over seem to fix this slightly so I’m interested to try the Peanut and Moose crossover hack for the Little Black Bra. Also the Dahlia Bralette from House of Morrighan seems very similar to the Poppy but with a crossover. I think my LBB’s could benefit from a powermesh lining in future, and I am eager to try the House of Morrighan bras with fold over elastic instead of the picot, as I find the rigidity in the lace edge can be a little irritating on the skin.
The best advice I can possibly give you if you’re new to sewing bras, and especially if you’re trying to sew to make something more accessible to you is practice, practice, practice. I learnt so much from just diving in and trying things. I knew that it would take multiple attempts to make the pattern perfect for me, but the beauty of sewing bras is that while some techniques can be fiddly they are much less time consuming to make than physically larger projects and they take up way less materials. I made a total of 8 bras over a month, and my skills and knowledge have grown exponentially.
Follow more of Claire’s sewing and creative adventures at @claire_lenehan on Instagram
Excellent summary of the changes you made to these patterns to improve the fit. I have some of the same issues with fit that you describe and will refer back to this if I ever scrounge up enough courage to make my own bras. I’m the same way with sewing challenges, too, lol.
You know, I was scared too, but once I accepted that it would be a process to figure it all out it seemed a lot less intimidating! If you know your first will probably be a bust and accept that it really helps with your expectation management! It’s also really not as hard as you think if you’re an intermediate sewer!
Thank you for this post! I’m larger busted to and searching for a work from home bralette. I tried another pattern, and have the rolling under my breast problem. I have also purchased the Poppy and will take some of your mods into consideration. Thank you!
Thanks! I hope they help you. I think if you have a decent idea of how to make adjustments to clothes generally, making bra adjustments isn’t that complicated! Good luck!
I used to think the rolling band problem was because I had pudgy ribs. Then I figured out it’s actually a matter of rib angle and chest shape, something which is a lot less amenable to change. Check out this from fashionincubator for a total dissertation about chest shape and fitting the less usual https://fashion-incubator.com/a_question_of_thoracic_shaping/ (and part 2).
My immediate/commercial fix was to go to partial-band bras (always with underwires, necessarily) and that worked fine. But now that I’m looking at wfh bralettes that’s no longer working :-). The Poppy seems to be what most abundantly-busty people have success with, but I know I’m going to have to cut down the band too. I’m thinking cutting down the whole band rather than just the front, but we’ll see.
I am no where close to being large busted, 32D, but I have that dreaded under-bust roll, too. I haven’t tried making any bras yet, so this is really inspiring me to try. I’ve always thought a long-line bra would help but the RTW ones I have tried don’t work any better than my usual bras. I have worn underwire bras for most of my life and just can’t stand them anymore, They feel llke they dig into my ribs even if I have a larger band. I will have to check out the link you mentioned to see if chest shape and rib angle the reason I don’t find bras that fit at the stores.
Thanks for that link M-C! I’ll have to check it out. I thought it would probably be related to rib/chest shape, mine do tend to protrude a bit at the bottom, but it’s good to see some expert resources! The reason I didn’t cut down the whole band is because i like the support i was getting through the back, and my issue was primarily at the front, but obviously that will change depending on where you’re rolling.
Thank you so much for sharing, I’ve got the same condition but I call mine Costa! Must be my Greek heritage 🙂 This is all so helpful, I’ve been psyching myself up to making my own bras for the same reason but have been overwhelmed with where to start.
Haha I love that Hari! I’ve heard that giving your condition a name can help in the management of it, so it doesn’t feel as personal as your body letting you down. I might steal that! I’m so glad it’s helped! I think the trick is just to pick a pattern and have a crack, there are a lot of resources out there if you want some guidance, but honestly i found just following my instincts worked out really well for me. Just keep in mind it’s a process and you’re looking for progress not perfection!
I too have “costo”, I find that certain bras irritates it, no bra irritates it so I try for an in between, It looks a bit like a swimming top made of Lycra but some days, like today most of my rib tissues are inflamed so I just try for comfort, great if you’re at home but out of vanity I won’t go out without something that resembles a well fitting bra. Too large/ too old/ too saggy! I know I have to try to make something, especially as going out to get fitted and try on bras isn’t an option at the moment so your post is another I have bookmarked to help me. Thank you so much for sharing
I know exactly how you feel about not wanting to go out without something supportive. I’m only 28 but due to the size of my breasts they really can look like shapeless lumps without the right bra, and that’s really difficult when you want the rest of your clothes to look great! Powermesh is quite helpful for the lift without the elastic digging in (you just have to find the right weight). Honestly my desperation to find something pain free was what prompted me, and now i’m so glad it did because I have at least one excellent fitting bralette! Now i just have to find some lovely more neutral fabric to make a million more of them!