Ready-made bras are constructed to fit standard sizes: Few women, however, are also constructed to conform exactly to those standard sizes. A well-fitted bra improves the fit of clothes and provides comfortable support, and so it's worth the time and effort to make a bra that's customized to your figure. You can buy bra patterns, fabric and the necessary notions--or complete bra-making kits--at most fabric stores.
Fabric choice for the exterior of your custom bra is limited only by the pattern specifications. Almost any fabric works, although satin, cotton, silk and cotton knit are the most popular. Remember that you'll want a fabric that is hand-washable, and, if you prefer prints, look for stripes, polka dots and other smaller patterns. Remember, also, that very dark colors or prints will show through most garments, so keep that in mind as you fabric shop.
Unless you're making a very simple sports bra, try to shop for the lining fabric, power net (an all-way stretch elastic webbing), elastic and shoulder straps at the same time you choose your outer fabric: Look for colors that match or provide an attractive contrast color. Don't substitute standard elastic for plush-backed elastic if the pattern calls for it, as your bra won't be nearly as comfortable with the substitution.
If your pattern includes a lining, choose a soft, light-weight fabric. Some patterns will specify sheer tricot, which is an excellent choice.
Check the pattern envelope to find out what closure--front or back--it specifies, and check to see if purchased molded bra cups will be required. Some patterns will specify plush-backed adjustable bra straps, others will include instructions for sewing straps in the same fabric as the outside of the bra. If you've chosen a pattern with an underwire, you'll need to buy the wire and the channel in the required length.
Fit and Construction Tips
Use a sharp rotary cutter and be excruciatingly accurate as you mark and cut the fabric; even a 1/8-inch variance from the pattern will result in a bra that doesn't fit as it should. Baste together and try on the cup pieces of the bra to check the fit before you begin stitching, as it will be easier to make adjustments at the beginning of the process.
If you've sewn garments before, you'll have the skill necessary to follow the bra pattern to construct the bra. Since most of the seams will be in stretchy fabric, however, you may want to take the time to practice stretching and sewing seams. Seams in elastic and stretch fabrics will have extra give and strength if you stretch them slightly as you sew. Remember to use a new, sharp needle in your machine so that it will pierce the elastics and fabrics easily.
As when cutting out the pattern pieces, be very accurate when sewing the seams. If your sewing machine plate doesn't have seam-allowance measurement guidelines marked on it, mark the location of each seam allowance with tape so that your seams are exactly the right width. Finish all inside seams with a strip of bias-cut tricot or other very soft, very light weight seam binding.
Try on the bra several times throughout the construction to make sure the fit is correct, and make adjustments as you go.
If you're an experienced sewer, your first custom-made bra will likely take an evening to construct. Bra-making isn't particularly difficult, but it does require care and attention to detail: Work carefully, and keep your sewing machine stitching at a moderately slow pace so that you can direct the seams accurately.
Gretchen Maron has written content for journals, websites, newspapers, radio news and newsletters, ranging from the International Horn Society journal "Horn Call" and the Air America Radio website, to non-profit organization websites. A librarian for over 30 years and a professional writer since 1996, she's an experienced, knowledgeable researcher.