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Monday, February 20, 2012

How to Clone a RTW Bra

Making a pattern from a RTW bra is more art than science – with a little good luck thrown in. Working with stretchy fabric and shrunken elastics in tight curves is challenging! But if you have a ready-made bra that fits perfectly, it’s worth the effort.

I know of two ways to accomplish the task: 1) cutting apart a bra then tracing the pieces, and 2) leaving the bra intact and pin-tracing each piece.

Cutting apart a perfectly good bra may seem like a terrible waste but it is the easiest and most accurate way (in my opinion) of creating a pattern from a finished garment. In her fabulous book, Making Beautiful Bras, Lee-Ann Burgess describes how to proceed in detail. To sum it up, you cut one cup along the seamlines, leaving the other cup intact (so you can refer to it as needed). Trace the cut pieces, add seam allowances, then recreate the bra using a fabric with the same stretchiness and weight as the original. For the easily intimidated, Lee-Ann offers to do this as part of her custom service.

But what if you really, really don’t want to cut up your nice bra? Sigh. I understand. Good-fitting bras are hard to come by. There is a way to clone it while leaving it intact. Beverly Johnson describes the process very well in her book, The Bra-maker’s Manual. Since she’s done such a thorough job of explaining it, you should read Beverly's book or the article she wrote for the Feb/March 2002 issue of Threads magazine.  I’m going to give you a condensed photographic version of the way I did it. (Clicking on photographs will enlarge them.)

Supplies: pattern paper (I use a roll of medical paper), thick corrugated cardboard box or foam-board, pencil, and straight pins. Cover the cardboard/foam-board with a generous piece of the pattern paper.

I am working with an underwire bra with a band that encircles the entire ribcage. Each cup has three pieces: a black lace upper cup, a solid black inner lower cup (closest to center front), and a solid black outer lower cup (closest to underarm).

Photo 1: Lower inner cup pinned along seamline
Photo 1: I removed the wire from one cup by picking out the stitches sealing the top edge closed. Then I carefully pinned the inner lower cup to the paper-covered foam-board. I pinned on the seamline (not the topstitching), making sure the fabric was smooth but not stretched. The pins created a rough outline of the shape. To define the shape better, I made little pin stabs along the seamline between the stationary pins. As well, I pin-traced the grainline showing the direction of the greatest stretch (aka DOGS).

Photo 2: The pin-marked outline being traced with pencil
Photo 2: After I pin-traced around the entire perimeter of the lower cup, I carefully removed the pins and lifted off the bra. Hopefully you can see the faint pin-mark outline of the lower inner cup. Immediately, before anything shifted, I traced the pin-mark outline with a pencil. Here, the left line has been pencil-traced.

Photo 3: pin-markings are traced in pencil and labelled
Photo 3: The entire inner lower cup's pin-marks have been pencil-traced and labelled. It's easy to forget how the pieces align with each other. I like to label the wire-line, the cross-cup seam that links the upper cup with the lower cups (incorrectly labelled in this photo, but corrected later), and the mid-cup seam, which joins the inner and outer lower cups. Also pencil-marked is the DOGS (degree of greatest stretch).

Photo 4: The outer lower cup's shape
Photo 4: Outer lower cup (the one closest to the underarm) has been pin-traced, pencil-marked, and partially labelled. The straight line in the middle of the cup shows the DOGS.This is the traced shape of the outer lower cup.

Photo 5: The upper cup being pin-traced in sections
 Photo 5: I hope you can see details of the upper lace cup in the middle of being pin-traced. The upper cup was too big and too curvy to capture its shape without distortion. (Remember: keep the fabric flat and unstretched!)  I worked in sections, being extremely careful not to accidently move the bra when I moved from one section to the next. (I removed the pins from the farthest completed edge, leaving the pins nearest the unmarked section still in place. It's delicate work.) 

Photo 6: All the pieces traced
Photo 6: All the bra pieces (band, cup, strap attachment) marked and partially labelled.

Photo 7: Lines smoothed, seams trued, seam allowances added
Photo 7: The finished pattern with the intact bra. Once all the pieces were traced, I smoothed the lines, then trued them to make sure adjoining pieces were the same length. Then I added seam allowances - usually 3/8"/1cm but sewn at 1/4"/.6cm. This is to allow for turn-of-cloth. You'd think in such fine fabric the turn-of-cloth allowance would not be necessary - but it is! Sometimes I use larger seam allowances for the cross cup seam (joining upper and lower cups) and the mid-cup seam (joining inner and outer lower cups) for just-in-case fitting space. Unfortunately, the bigger the seam allowance, the harder it is to sew the pieces together.

Photo 8: One more look at the finished pattern
Photo 8: One more peek at the finished pattern.

Clear as mud? As I said in the first paragraph, cloning a bra is more art than science. I hope you enjoyed my first pictorial tutorial!

               - Lady T


  1. This is a fabulous tutorial! Thanks so much for taking the time to write it.

  2. You're welcome, Lady T. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for taking the time to write a comment. Sometimes it feels like I'm talking to myself.

    Oh, wait a minute....

  3. What timing. I just cannot buy a bra that fits me, so have resigned myself to the fact that I will have to make them, but I only have one that fits the way I want. I do not want to take it apart so this tutorial is invaluable. Thank you!

    1. You're welcome, Arlene! Good luck with your project.

  4. How I miss working with you! All the fabrics, lace, hot chocolate...wish I were closer!

  5. I miss you, too, Ms. Kleinelusas! If we ever get another sewing day together, we'll be sure to sew up something fancy!