Many busty folks come to bra making after years — even decades — of frustration, having never found a perfectly fitting bra at the shop. Our underwires poke our armpits and sternums. Our tissue spills over. Our straps fall off our shoulders. So, determined to give ourselves what the big brands can’t (or maybe just won’t), we jump into making our own bras.
But here’s a mistake I see new bra sewists make all the time: jumping straight to making a full bra, and then getting frustrated when it doesn’t fit.
Bra fit is more complex than band and cup size alone. That’s why most of us busty folks have to try on multiple bras at the shop before finding one that sort of works. It’s the same with making bras — fit is a complex, iterative process. The difference is, unlike with shop-bought bras, fitting your me-made bras is a process of which you are in charge. But you usually can’t just make a full bra and expect a perfect fit on the first try.
My first fitting band! I made this out of cotton muslin, which I actually don’t recommend, as it will stretch on the bias and result in a less accurate approximation of how your final bra will wear. Instead, use sheer cup lining as an affordable, but more realistic option.
So what’s the better approach? I like to approach bra-making as a step-by-step process. Among the first steps of this process is creating a fitting band — essentially, a bra without cups.
A bra without cups? I’d never wear that!
Well, yeah. But it’s not meant to be worn! Instead, a fitting band allows us to isolate fit issues that may exist with the band and fix those before we start worrying about the cups. Fitting bands also leave the wire line seam allowance free so that test cups can later be added for further fit analysis.
A fitting band lets us:
- Confirm that the chosen underwire size and shape matches your inframammary fold/breast root (basically, the place where your boob meets your chest wall)
- Check that the band is the correct girth, not too tight as to be uncomfortable, but also not so loose as to ride up
- Ensure the band matches your torso shape, that is, that the tension is correct at the top edge of the band
- Check that the gore properly fits between the breasts at the front, or if it needs narrowed or widened
The upper figure shows a fitting band where the wire does not fit the wearer — you can see the wire sitting fairly far back from the individual’s breast root. The lower figure shows a fitting band with a well-fitting wire and frame — you can see the wire sitting firmly within the wearer’s inframammary fold (breast root).
Checking wire fit is one of the most important aspects of fitting bands for busty folks. The ready-to-wear bra industry wants us to think bra fit is only about band and cup size, but in reality, wires come in different shapes and sizes too! So many folks need different underwires than those that are available in shop-bought bras. Those with large cups and small bands, like myself, are especially likely to have been failed by wires in store bought bras, as we are often narrow-rooted or even omega shaped, meaning store bought bras will often have wires that are just too wide for our frames. And when the wire is too wide, it can’t support the breast tissue the way it needs to.
Once these things are confirmed and you have a fitting band that fits well, we can then add tester cups to our fitting band — using that free seam allowance at the wireline I mentioned earlier, and preferably using washaway thread in the bobbin so we can easily remove and replace test cups — to see how the cups fit. For the most part, since we’ve already confirmed the fitting band fit, new fit issues can be attributed to the cups, and we can then make necessary adjustments mostly just to the cups.
Test cups made of sheer cup lining, before they are inserted into a fitting band. Here, I was testing a variation on a pattern using my go-to fitting band. Using wash away thread in the bobbin to sew test cups into your fitting band means you can use it over and over again.
Now, I don’t mean to imply that you won’t touch your band at all once the cups are in. Some critics of fitting bands rightly point out that cups affect the fit of the band such that a band that fits perfectly without cups may not fit perfectly once cups are in. That’s true, but, in my opinion, for busty folks, a fitting band does get us much closer to a well-fitting bra than just sewing up a pattern and hoping for the best.
But some tweaks might need to be made. For example, you might find that you need to increase the tension of the upper part of the band once the cups are in because the cups may result in a slight forward-pull that needs to be balanced by a slight backward-pull.
For the most part, though, once you have a well-fitting fit band, most additional fit issues can be attributed to changes that need made to the cups. For example, when you put on a bra that doesn’t fit and the band feels tight, this could be caused either by the band being too small or the cups being too small — too small cups will “steal” length from the band, making even a too-big band feel too small. But when you’ve already confirmed band fit with your fitting band and you put it on with tester cups only for the band to feel tight, even though it felt fine before you put the cups in, you can be pretty sure that the problem is the cups are too small or a shape mismatch, not that the band is actually too small.
I know that having the patience to take bra making step-by-step is a huge challenge, but I promise that us busty folks will find true fit quicker and with less pain when following this process, starting with a fitting band.
In addition to attending the Bra Bee, you can learn more about making a fitting band and sewing bras for big busts in Sew Busty’s Bra Making Guide.
As a boobalicious person, Lindsie knows first-hand that busty sewists have specific needs. She created the Sew Busty Community as a place for busty sewists of all sizes to come together for inspiration, resources, and support.