achievement unlocked: elan 645 black cherry bra & underpants

warning: his may be kind of a weird post for some people, because it’s all about the fact that i sewed a bra.

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you know how when you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, it seems like everyone you see is pregnant? that’s kind of what bra-sewing was like for me. i decided to try my hand at sewing my own bras last fall when i read an article in “threads” magazine about sewing your own foam cups. i personally do not wear padded bras (i have no need for anything extra in that area), but a light bulb went off. hey! i could sew my own bras! what a concept!

turns out bra-sewing is pretty hot in the sewing blogosphere right now (or maybe i’m just seeing it more because i’ve been looking for it). i’m accidentally riding a bandwagon.

having a big rack seems like it must be great to those looking in from the outside. & i guess it’s true that i have never for a single moment in my life worried about being too flat-chested. but the flip side is that undergarments are more of a necessity than a fashion statement, & once you get to a certain size, it becomes increasingly difficult to find reasonably priced, attractive bras. apparently something about all the extra engineering that goes into support means they also have to be hideous & usually beige. & forget about buying a super-cute matching bra-&-panty set unless you’re willing to sell a kidney to pay for it. that’s how i got to be 35 years old without ever having a matched set of underthings.

until now!

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yeah, i used the leftover fabric to make a matching pair of underpants.

so, the bra pattern is elan 645, a full frame bra with a back closure. i think it goes up to a size 42DD. i made a 40D, not really having any idea if that was the right measurement. 40D is what i’ve been wearing in RTW bras, but that doesn’t really mean much, as i have never been professionally fitted, & certainly some of those 40Ds completely did not fit.

there seem to be several different ways to measure a person’s bra size, & they all seem to generate a different measurement. i think it’s standard to measure your ribcage & add four or five inches to get up to an even number & that’s your band size. but i read some advice online to just make your ribcage measurement your band size. for the record, my ribcage is 37 inches. so i guess i should have cut a 42D (i don’t know why i did 40 instead), but the 40 fits me pretty much perfectly.

then you measure your upper bust & then your full bust while wearing a decently-fitting bra, subtract the upper bust from the full bust, & the resulting number correlates to your cup size, with 1″ being A, 2″ is B, etc. my high bust was 38″ & my full bust was 42″, so that was D.

but then i read something about how actually you should bend over with your back parallel to the floor & measure your full bust that way. when i tried it, i got 45″, which would have been a G cup! the pattern i had on hand does not go up that high (few do), so i decided to just take a chance on 40D & see what happened.

i guess the reason i dragged my feet on making a bra for so long after acquiring the pattern is because i was confused about fabric-sourcing. my pattern gave no more information other than “use stretch fabric here & use non-stretch fabric over here”. okay? i mean, there are a lot of different stretch percentages, & there’s two-way stretch & four-way stretch, & perusing blogs & messageboards didn’t provide much illumination because even fabrics that are called the same thing, like nylon tricot, seem to have a lot of variability in their stretch. i didn’t really know where to begin.

finally i just bit the bullet & ordered a few fabric trio kits & findings kits from bra-makers supply. they had nice colors & some really pretty lace, & the whole point of me sewing my own bras is to make something pretty that i wouldn’t be able to find in my size at, say, target.

of the three kits i chose, the black & black cherry combo was my least fave. which isn’t to say i dislike it. i was just more excited about the other kits. so i decided it would be my sacrificial lamb & get sewn up first. i cut the upper cup in black cherry duoplex & black lace, the lower cup & bridge in black cherry duoplex, & the band in black powernet. i was surprised to have quite a bit of fabric left over. i probably could have eked two bras out of the fabric in one kit.

the sewing was a bit challenging, but nothing that someone who knows their way around a sewing machine couldn’t handle. i basted the lace to the upper cup instead of using spray adhesive, & that worked out fine, but using spray adhesive would probably be easier. the lace was VERY stretchy & the duoplex was not, so the lace layer kept wanting to shift around while i was sewing the upper cup to the lower cup.

i used a million pins for sewing the cups to the bridge & band, & that wound up being a big mistake. it’s worth noting here that i made elan 645 view A, which calls for stretchy fabric in the cups & non-stretch in the band. i kind of ignored that. my duoplex had some stretch, but really not much, & although the powernet is really strong & supportive, it stretches more than the duoplex. i was supposed to be easing a stretch fabric cup into a non-stretch band, but my fabrics were working the other way around, & it resulted in some pucker-y seams. i wound up picking out my first pass & trying again with no pins, which gave a much nicer (but still imperfect–probably because of the fabric choice) result.

the bra-makers supply kits are great, but the supplies included are for their house bra pattern, the pin-up girls classic. therefore my band elastic was a bit wider than my pattern requested, & i had to be a little creative sewing it to the band to avoid sewing over the cups. it’s weird because most complaints i’ve seen about elan 645 say the band is too wide. huh? i think it’s just about perfect. maybe even just a touch too narrow. anyway.

the bra-makers supply kit also doesn’t provide much strap elastic, because the pin-up girls pattern calls for fabric straps. had i been thinking ahead, i would have ordered extra strap elastic with the kit. bra-makers supply sells supplies piecemeal as well as in kit form. but i didn’t think about it so i went ahead & made my own fabric straps. i cut two pieces of duoplex 16″ by 2.25″ & interfaced them with lightweight fusible interfacing. then i folded them into thirds the narrow way & zigzagged down each side with matching thread. i stitched them directly to the front of the bra & used the hoops included in the findings kit to hold the fabric straps to the elastic straps in the back. i was supposed to make adjustable straps with sliders, but the strap elastic was too wide to fit through the slider (???) so i just skipped it. i pretty much never adjust my bra straps anyway, so once i had the whole bra constructed, i put it on & hoiked it into position & used chalk to mark where to sew the straps. the finished straps wound up being 12.75″ long.

it’s also worth noting that the instructions included with the elan pattern kind of sucked. i wound up referring a lot to the elan 645 sewalong on the hooks & wires blog, & general bra construction tips on cloth habit. for example, the instructions seemed to indicate that i should sew the entire eye part of the hooks & eye to the band. so i did, & then i had to unpick it because you’re actually only supposed to sew the edges together. it was super-fun unpicking a satin stitch, let me tell you. ugh.

but the instructions & the sewalongs were no help in my struggle to figure out how to sew the channeling. i wound up going without pins again & sewing from the top of the bra, stitching in the ditch around the cups & trying to catch the edge of the channeling as i went. that worked out okay, & it looks fine, but after the bra was done, i read in “demystifying bra construction” that you are supposed to sew the channeling to the stitching line with the channeling over the seam allowance & the seam allowance only! i don’t know if that illuminates anything for anyone but me, but i was like, “ohhhhh. yeah. that would have been a lot easier.”

in any case, it’s done! it more or less fits! the bridge stands away from my chest a little bit, & i do suspect that the cups are too small. it’s perfectly wearable. it could just be better. i traced off a size 40DD to try next time. get ready for a photo of my bra in action:

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i think i also don’t have the right size underwires, but i can’t tell if the ones i have are too big or too small. i’m leaning toward too small. but like i said, totally wearable, & honestly, better-fitting than than my RTW bras. just not perfect.

the underpants are an alteration of the underwear pattern that came with butterick 6031. as drafted, that pattern is definitely a boy shorts style, which works well in a four-way stretch, emphasis on the stretch. but duoplex only has two-way stretch, & not much of it. i added sheer panels to the sides made out of stretchier powernet (cut in one piece–i taped the pattern pieced together, overlapping the seam allowances, & traced off a panel extending four inches both front & back, plus a half-inch seam allowances for stitching to the duoplex), raised the waistline all around, & cut the legs higher in the front. the lace waistband is made from the scalloped edge of my leftover stretch lace & the legs are finished with neckline elastic i didn’t use in the bra. i probably could have stood to raise the front leg just a tiny bit more, like a quarter of an inch, but it’s fine. & it has excellent butt coverage.

the rumors are true: sewing your own bras & underpants really is addicting. i just came down with a cold so i don’t think i’m going to dive into another one until i’m feeling better, but i’m already daydreaming about color & fabric combinations for my next attempt.

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7 responses to “achievement unlocked: elan 645 black cherry bra & underpants

  1. I’m a 40G, so I suspect your band size is in the 30s. I got fitted a few years ago at Clair De Lune in Overland Park (Hawthorne Plaza) & they were amazing. They literally eyeballed me with my jacket on & were spot on. I highly recommend it.

    • in the 30s? that seems so small. this bra i made fits really well in the band, & most of my RTW 40 band bras feel uncomfortably tight in the band. i am really curious about being professionally measured. i will have to arrange a field trip to kansas city.

  2. This looks great! I like the idea of fixed straps – aren’t adjustable straps really only there to accommodate all the differently-sized women who buy RTW? If I were making a bra, I’d probably make fixed straps too because on my RTW bras the straps are always lengthening themselves over time and it really bugs me. I keep saying I’m not going to make bras, but every new bra I see inches me a bit closer to making them because of the expense of non-beigeness that you mention.

    I’m of the “your ribcage measurement is your band size” camp, but that’s also highly dependent on the brand. Some brands have bands that run tight while other run large, so it’s not as if the band would always actually measure the same as your ribcage even if you bought the number that corresponds to your ribcage.

    • i highly recommend making a bra! it’s pretty fun, & it’s a satisfying sew because it’s fiddly enough to provide a challenge but quick enough that you’re done before you know it. & with the right supplies, you can achieve a pretty professional-looking finish without too much difficulty.

      i like the idea of adjustable straps because even straps with no stretch can stretch out of shape just from wear. i think i’m going to cut the straps on my next bra a little bit more narrowly & see if i can fit them through the slider. i know bras are such a hot trend right now in the sewing blogosphere, but they really are fun to make.

      off to check out your blog…the URL has me intrigued…

  3. Pingback: achievement unlocked: elan 645 peach/ivory bra & underpants | if you don't have anything nice to say, come sit here by me

  4. Pingback: achievement unlocked: shoulder pads for bags | if you don't have anything nice to say, come sit here by me

  5. Pingback: achievement unlocked: blue & pink Shelley bra | if you don't have anything nice to say, come sit here by me

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