#AllChestsWelcome: Sewing bralettes, pain free

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. 

A dressform showing a completed Lovesick bra in black cotton lycra, size 12C.
The Lovesick bra in size medium, 12C. Fabric is a performance cotton lycra from Spotlight.

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.

A dressform shows the completed Little Black Bra in size 12DDD, in white cotton lycra.
The Little Black Bra in size 12DDD. Fabric is a performance cotton lycra from Spotlight.

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. 

A dressfom shows a completed Little Black Bra,, size 12F, in black & white check spandex, with with lower band.
Size 12 F Little Black Bra. Check fabric is a cotton spandex and lining and bands are a performance cotton lycra both from Spotlight.

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. 

A dressform shows a completed Poppy Bralette, size 8E, in floral cotton spandex.
Poppy Bralette in size 8E. Fabric was a cotton spandex from Spotlight, elastic, powermesh and findings from Booby Traps.

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. 

A dressform shows a completed Poppy Bralette, size 8-10, in black & white check cotton spandex.
Poppy Bralette in size 8-10E, 8 in the cups, graded out to a 10 at the bottom of the bands. Fabric was a cotton spandex from Spotlight, elastic, powermesh and findings from Booby Traps.

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. 

A dressform show a completed Poppy Bralette in size 8, F/G cup, with raised neckline., in cactus print cotton spandex.
Poppy Bralette in size 8, F/G cup with neckline raised by 5 cm, and the halved length front band. Fabric was a cotton spandex from Spotlight, elastic, powermesh and findings from Booby Traps.

A dressform shows a side view of the previous Poppy Bralette photo, displaying the alltered line of the lower band.
In this picture you can see the bottom band was only halved at the centre, and a curved line was drawn out so it still matched the back band in the same place. Fabric was a cotton spandex from Spotlight, elastic, powermesh and findings from Booby Traps.

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!

Final thoughts

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