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Book Review: Demystifying Bra Fitting & Construction

While I’m away on holiday I thought I’d keep you all entertained with a series of posts on books I’ve bought over the past year or so and never really quite talked about. Not a single one of them is a “beginning sewing book”, either, so for those of you who are a bit sick of seeing the same books being released over and over, well, you’re in for a treat this week.

First up is a book which I talked about a while back when it was released as an e-book, but I thought it was worth a revisit as it’s just been released in print.

The print edition has the same content as the e-book, with full colour photos and really very excellent advice on both fitting and construction that I just haven’t seen elsewhere, in print or online. If you missed my earlier review, the condensed version is that this is really what you need in order to make a bra pattern fit you, and then sew it all together. I’ve sewn with Kwik Sew bra patterns before and even though their instructions are held up to be really good, it doesn’t even come close to the level of detail in this book.

Plus, she tells you how to make a muslin (toile) so that you don’t get all the way to the end of sewing a gorgeous bra, only to find out in the final step it doesn’t fit properly. Which is what I usually end up doing, and then getting discouraged and not sewing another one for months (speaking of, I’m probably due for another spate of bra sewing soon!)

Londoners – Come sew with me! Teeshirts, Leggings and Panties!

I’m teaching a bunch more classes in the next month and wanted to let you all know in case any of you Londoners fancied coming and learning about the joys of stretch fabrics from me!

All of the classes are aimed at beginners – you should know the basics of a sewing machine, but don’t necessarily have ever worked with stretch fabrics before. You’ll get to know the fun of an overlocker, the joys of a twin needle, and come away with a newfound greed for all things jerseys.

They all take place at the ThriftyStitcher studio in Stoke Newington, right by Clissold Park (an easy walk from Canonbury Overground or there are tons of buses), and include unlimited tea, coffee, and biccies to fuel your sewing.

Sew a Classic Breton Tee

Sunday 30 March, 14:30-18:00
Does your life need a little ooh la la? Is there a certain je ne sais quoi missing from your wardrobe? Learn to sew the classic Breton tee with us! You should already be comfortable using a sewing machine, and this class will cover stretch fabric basics as well as an introduction to the overlocker (serger).

You’ll make a striped, long or 3/4 sleeved teeshirt using a pattern, which will give you the skills you need to sew your own teeshirts (long or short sleeved) at home.

Panty Party Part Duex

The Panty Party last week was more than a little awesome! I honestly don’t know where the time went, but one minute we were altering my Lacey Thong pattern to have full-cheek coverage, and the next minute the clock read 10pm!

I was joined by Michelle, Debbie, and Amy up at the Thriftystitcher studio in Stoke Newington (North London – an easy walk from Canonbury Overground) where they all got to pick through a huge pile of laces, fabric, and elastics, and learned how to best cut lace, deal with two different types of lingerie elastics, and how to do that cool “burrito method” of concealing seams.

They even got their first taste of the overlockers (sergers), and I could tell by their eyes that they’re hooked!

If you’re sad you missed out, then rejoice! Because the next Panty Party has been announced for Friday 28 March! Again, if you’re not into wearing thongs, that’s not a problem, we’ll have a couple of different styles of patterns to choose from and you’ll get to learn the techniques to make your own panties at home. All the ladies were amazed at how easy and fun it was!

Book tickets for the next Panty Party on 28 March HERE!

I will also be teaching teeshirt and leggings classes in the next few weeks so stay tuned for those dates! (hint: keep your Sundays free!)

PS: If you live too far away and want a mere taste of the “in person” me, have a watch of my latest #ExtraMile video for London Marathon, where I explain my reasons for running in less than 3 minutes!

A lace & silver weekend

I ended up having a fun and full weekend of sewing this weekend, partially because I lost a few days work last week to a spa day (omg!) and a full day of filming (for Extra Mile – if you haven’t already seen my blue wigged self all over your internets, watch here!). Part of the work sewing was to get a bunch of stuff done on my next pattern, which is digitised, graded, and now ready for my second test version before I test it out on some unsuspecting local athletes, mwahahah! I also had a few projects for private clients to get done, as well, so I had to change mental “gears” a few times, too.

Another bit of work sewing was actually a bit too fun to be strictly considered “work”, and that’s because I needed to sew up a fresh sample pair of my free Lacey Thong pattern to bring along to the Panty Party class this Thursday, 13 February. There are still a few spots left if you want to snag them and join the fun, btw – I mean, seriously, look at this pile of lace and fabrics that arrived last week which is all for the class! Don’t you want to dive right in?!

To clarify: The Panty party class is at the ThriftyStitcher studio in Stoke Newington, North London, and it’s this Thursday!

I’ve probably made at least ten versions of my Lacey Thong for myself, but, umm, I wear those, and it’s pretty creepy and gross to be showing other people your worn underwear, even if it’s clean, eww. So that’s why I needed to sew up a fresh sample pair to show off in the class, so I selected this thin, blue burnout jersey and some white lace and paired it with navy blue satin-edged elastic.

Isn’t she pretty? I also received a comment today from a Frenchman who made this utterly gorgeous satin & lace pair for his woman. So it doesn’t have to be a one-way lingerie sewing street – you could book your man on the course as a “surprise” and let him sew a pair for you! Ha!

I got to a point early on Sunday where I’d finished all the work sewing I wanted to accomplish, so I pulled out the Named “Jamie Jeans” pattern (now with US Letter-compatible printing and multi-sized, btw). I’ve been eyeing up this pattern since it was released, but it took it disappearing when the new collection was released to make me realise how much I wanted to sew it! Since a-l-l of my clothes are falling off me right now (thanks, running!) I am in serious need of trousers and even my leggings are baggy, so these were the top of my Fun Sewing list.

Londoners – Come sew with me! Panty Party 13th Feb!

Remember around this time last year when I released my free Lacey Thong pattern and had that big Lingerie Sewing Week extravaganza?! Well, in the intervening year I’ve of course sewed way more lingerie and released more patterns, but I still love my little ‘Thongs and wear mine all the time, so I thought I’d share the love and have a full-on PANTY PARTY!

It’s in the evening of Thursday 13 February, so you can de-stress after a long day at work by playing with frilly lace…

That’s right – come and sew with me and we’ll make Lacey Thongs til we run out of free tea and biscuits and/or start wearing panties on our heads. I’ll cover all the basics of lace placement, attaching lingerie elastic, that cool “burrito method” of enclosing the crotch seams, and you’ll get to go home with some saucy little panties just in time for Valentine’s Day. Or a Me Party, whatever floats your boat.

The panty party venue is at the Thrifty Stitcher’s studio up in Stoke Newington (a quick walk from Canonbury overground, or there’s plentiful buses), and all materials will be provided, including the aforementioned coffee, tea, and bickies.

Roundup of updates

I appear to have found myself again in the position where I’ve been doing an extreme amount of sewing and sewing-related activity, but I can talk about only a small portion of it, and I don’t have any proper photoshoots for the things I can talk about… Bad, Melissa, very bad!

So consider this a little roundup post to let you know what I’ve been up to, until I can get my act together properly…

Silver cowl top

I cut out this MyImage cowl top pattern before we went to Mexico, thinking I might have enough time to quickly sew it up before we left. I would’ve, too, if I hadn’t decided I needed to make a quick travel bag. So it was waiting for me when I got back to cold, grey London, mocking me with its sleeveless-ness. I finally just sewed it up so I could have the space back in my sewing room, though I’m afraid I won’t really get to wear this until next year.

I made it out of some absolutely glitter-tastic jersey I bought at Tissue Reine in Paris a few years back, and I recall it was on the pricey side. It also left a trail of silver all over my sewing room… Boo.

Turquoise lingerie set – bra and Lacey Thong

I arrived home from Mexico and wasn’t particularly filled with sewing mojo, to be honest, but happily this was short-lived, because I saw that Pattern Review had announced a short, two week Lingerie Sewing Contest for the second half of October! This was just what I needed to kick me into action and remind me that I’d been meaning to alter the seaming on my bra cup pattern after I’d made the eyelash bra.

The cups on that one were fine, but I have some gorgeous turquoise lace in my stash from Danglez’ closing down sale (sniff!), and it was too narrow for my one-dart cup pattern. So before I could even start sewing, I had to do some pattern drafting manipulation first – introducing some seam lines to account for the narrow lace, split and rotate the dart around a bit, and voila! Now I’ve got a three part cup!

I was so happy with the fit of this bra that I made myself a matching pair of Lacey Thongs (my free downloadable pattern, if you’d forgotten!) to go with it.

Seriously though – I think this must be about the 8th or 9th bra I’ve sewn, but only about the second I’d wear out of the house. Sewing a bra is easy – getting the bra to fit properly, feel comfortable, and look flattering is beyond challenging. I think I understand other people’s frustrations with trouser fitting now, because this bra fitting journey has been character-building!

My real breakthrough came when I stopped using commercial patterns and just traced existing RTW bras instead. For me, they were a much, much closer starting point than the bizarre cup shapes provided in the KwikSew and Elan patterns I’d previously tried.

The "Eyelash" black lace bra

After I completed my world tour, I had four and a half days at home to recuperate, so I of course spent a good portion of that in my sewing cave! The first of my finished garments is this bra, which I’m calling the “Eyelash” one because the layer of black lace on the top just made me think of the bra batting its eyelashes at me!

I used the same self-drafted/traced pattern as my third muslin, but with zero-stretch silk-cotton woven leftover from the slip I made almost exactly a year ago, and some black stretch lace I’ve had in my stash (not the same as I’d used in the slip, but that’s only noticeable if you squint really hard!).

The cups are fully lined and the wings/backs are made from a black power mesh that was in my lingerie sewing stash.

First I made each cups separately (two fronts and two linings). Then I basted the lace across the fronts and joined the fronts to the linings along the top edge. I could’ve then topstitched, but I opted to understitch instead, then basted around the other edges so the fronts and linings could then be treated as one for the rest of the construction.

Here you can see the cups as I was constructing them. You can see that the lace is hanging free, only really attached at the top edge, and for an inch or so at the sides. I carried on the lace motif over the bridge so it looks fairly seamless from afar.

The Most Beautiful Bra in the World

…is one that finally fits after days and days of muslins and tweaks!

You see, this is the third muslin of my latest attempt to sew a Bra That Actually Fits and I think I’m finally happy with this one.

I started off by tracing a well-fitting RTW bra and I sewed up a muslin of it according to the fabulous instructions in Demystifying Bra Fitting and Construction. From that, I could see that the bottom of the bra cup was too long for my underwires, and, as I suspected, the straight legged dart was too pointy and I needed some room in front of it, so I made the front leg curved.


Apologies that the orientations are opposite between the two!)

Then I ripped out the basting stitching of my muslin, sewed up new cups according to the second cup pattern, and reused all the other pieces from the muslin that were absolutely fine, namely the wings, bridge, straps (gingham ribbon here!), and underwire channels:

The cup shape of the second muslin seemed good (though it’s hard to be subjective in the mirror and selfies), but I had a bit of excess fabric along the top edge of the cup that needed pinching out. I didn’t want to create a dart at the top edge as I eventually want to make this bra from lace, so Norma suggested I take it out from the sides (bridge & underarm), making sure those lengths didn’t change as I did so.

Copying a favourite bra

You may have noticed that one of the items on my Spring Sewing Ideas list was a “self-drafted/copied from RTW” bra. I’ve sewn countless bras before, but really only been happy with the fit and look of one (a foam cup muslin, of all things!). I really want to try and get away from moulded foam cups for a number of reasons (which Orange Lingerie discusses here), so my dream bra drawer would be entirely lacey, gorgeous, self-made, frameless, underwired bras, with one nude moulded foam cup bra for when I really need a seamless look.

The problem is, I’d been buying foam cup bras for so long that I didn’t really have any non-padded ones I could clone, and on a whim last year, I bought a few M&S bras and was amazed to find that two (identical, apart from colour) all-lace, single-darted, frameless, underwire bras, fit me perfectly and gave me a great shape.

So in the back of my mind I’ve been wanting to clone these, since my last bra using the Elan pattern ended up fitting well (at first I thought I’d cracked it finally!!), but the cup shape looked B-A-D. Boobs like duck-bills, oh god no!

Anyway, so I started the process of cloning the white version of the M&S bra last night, by using my method of tracing patterns – placing the bra down on top of paper and running my serrated tracing wheel around it. This worked well for the band, but I wasn’t convinced I got an accurate trace for the cup, so I looked up an old Threads article, “Clone Your Favorite Bra” (Issue 99, Feb/March 2002 if you’ve got the archive DVDs), which suggested stabbing lots of pins around the bra edge until you got to a point where it would no longer lie flat. Then you unpin the first pins you put down, and re-shift everything using the latter pins (in my case, along the dart) as an anchor so it lies flat and you get all the edges pinned.

Then, in my case, because the dart stayed in place and everything shifted around it, I had to cut through the dart and open it back up. Because the top edge of mine was the lace edge, I knew this had to be straight, so it made it easy to re-adjust.