Making your own custom-fitted bra is a really rewarding experience. Having to make two or three tester bras on the way to that perfect fit – not so much. But sewing a tester bra is defintiely a necessary evil.
Unlike with other clothes-making projects, you cannot try a bra on until it’s finished with all its elastics, straps and closures. Then if it isn’t as great as you had hoped, you have to abandon it and start again. Sometimes life is just too short to completely unpick a bra in order to use the bits and pieces again (I know that’s easy for me to say because I can just grab replacement fabrics, elastics etc from my shop stock).
However much we hope that THIS bra will be THE ONE, more often than not it isn’t. Whether trying it out for size or testing a new style, the first one is usually just a practice and will most likely not be perfect. (Hence I’ve been married twice …)
When I’m making a bra as a trial run and am pretty certain that it’s not going to be a keeper, I don’t really want to put my very best work into it (as Beverly Johnson would say). Will it be accurately sewn? Definitely. Will it be made from the same fabrics and elastics as the real thing? Absolutely. Will it have immaculate top-stitching? Nope. Will it have trimmed seam allowances? Nope. Will it be easy to unpick and re-use if possible? You betcha.
The most important thing with a mock-up / tester / toile is that it be true to the pattern. I need to know that any issues are to do with that and not my sewing. So I am accurate with my seam allowances. The second most important thing is that the finished bra is going to be easy to dismantle with little or no damage to the fabrics and findings. So I use a much longer stitch length than normal.
By the way – you may already know this, but on many makes of machine you can change the needle position when you’re doing a straight stitch by altering the stitch width. If you set it to ‘6’ and then align the fabric with the right-hand edge of the foot, it will give you a 1/4″ seam allowance (6mm equals 1/4″)
Anyway, accuracy is key and if you wander off the path of righteousness, re-do it. Contrasting thread is also a good idea.
Assemble the cups as normal. I don’t press the seams open because I’m not going to top-stitch them, but I still press from the outside to make sure the seam is smooth.
There are a couple of places where I do topstitch and these are the areas that are going to be under strain in the finished bra. In other words, the straps and the side seam
This next step is a deviation from the normal construction process. More often than not I’ve found that it’s the cups that need altering rather than the frame. Since the cardinal rule is to never mess with the wireline unless in dire emergency, I stitch the channeling to the frame instead of to the cups because it is highly unlikely I’ll have to hange that. If there’s one thing life is definitely too short for, it’s unpicking underwire channeling.
Since there is no pre-existing seamline to guide me, I do a row of stay-stitching around the cup bowl seamline on the frame. I stitch approx 50cm (20ins) of channeling per side, just to make sure I have plenty. I don’t bother to close it off.
A word of caution with the channeling. It has a bit of give to it and so you need to take care that you don’t stretch out the seamline on the frame. The stay-stitching would normally help with that, but using the long stitch length almost cancels that out. So you may want to use a normal stitch length for this section. (The reason I don’t is because I will almost certainly forget to change it back!)
Then I sew the cups to the frame. You can see in this pic and the one above that I have sewn stay tape along the top edge of the upper cup. This is because I don’t sew the neckline trim on mock-ups.
Now for the elastics. Plush-backed elastic, like channeling, is notoriously difficult to unpick because it is so fluffy. So here I use a much wider zig-zag stitch than normal on the first pass of both the top and bottom band elastics to make it easier to undo later.
I do sew a second pass of the elastics – after a fashion. Whilst I want to get a pretty good idea of the finished effect of the bra, I absolutely do not want to have to undo 3-step zig-zag. Ever. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing worse than that is having to unpick lightening stitch. And how do I know that …
So I turn the elastics to the wrong side as normal, but just do a few regular zig-zags to hold them down in a strategic places.
As with the channeling, I want to make sure I’ve got plenty of elastic in case I have to extend the back band, lengthen the strap, raise the underarm area or whatever. So to be on the safe side I don’t trim anything off. It’s actually quite liberating!
Nearly there. Straps next. No real shortcuts here, except that I do only two rows of stitching to secure the rings and sliders instead of my usual four rows. Once again, I don’t tidy up any excess elastic. In real life I would check the width of the hook and eye attachment and make any adjustments before sewing the strap elastic on – but this is a mock-up. Instead, I go right ahead and sew the straps to the back scoop with the wide regular zig-zag.
Last but not least – the hook and eye. I just sew them on the surface of the back band with the wide zig-zag. No tucking the ends in and sewing a box.
And there you have it – the finished tester bra. It ain’t pretty (even its mother wouldn’t love it) but it’s quick and effective. I took this one apart in under an hour and, after a quick press, the pieces were perfectly re-usable. Which was a good thing because this particularly tester fitted perfectly! Sod’s Law, eh?