3 Things I’ve Learned from Sewing Bras

I’ve been sewing since I was 5 years old, and have been making most of my own clothes since my pre-teen days. I remember making iconic items like tie-back flutter-sleeved tunic tops and satin newsboy caps for my school friends by the time I was in fifth grade. (Don’t judge me— it was the ’70s.)

But regardless of all my sewing experience, I’ve found that there is always something more to learn. And my recent venture into the previously unknown-to-me sewing territory of bra-making is proving to be no exception.

The making of a bra
I’ve learned a lot of new things about sewing since starting to make my own bras!

Here are 3 things I’ve learned from sewing bras.

1. Using the 3-step zig-zag stitch. This is built into virtually any sewing machine of recent vintage (wait, is that an oxymoron?), but I personally never had occasion to use it until I saw it specified in the instructions when I was making my very first bra. What is the 3-step zig-zag? Well, instead of each zig and zag using a single length of thread, it uses 3 stitches to form each part, thus:

3-step zig-zag stitching
In bra-making (or a panty, as shown here), I use a 3-step zig-zag stitch mostly as the final step in applying elastic.

2. The joys of fold-over elastic. Oh, beautiful FOE (as you are affectionately known), where have you been all my sewing life? For the uninitiated, this is like the cool stretchy cousin to the traditional single-fold bias tape; it is quickly becoming indispensable to me in lingerie-making, and I have also used it a few times to finish the neckline edge of a casual top or dress. I’ve read that it can be applied in just 1 sewing step, but I prefer the 2-step method, at least until I get more practice; I feel it gives me more control. Here’s an example:

Applying foldover elastic
FOE is not only easy to use, it creates a beautifully simple, clean edge. And it comes in a huge range of colors and prints, so you can have a lot of fun with it!

3. DOGS. I first heard this term from Beverly Johnson, the well-known bra-making instructor, pattern creator, owner of Bra-Makers Supply, and currently appearing in 2 Craftsy classes on bra-making (both of which I’ve taken). It stands for Direction of Greatest Stretch, and it has become one of the most important concepts for me to absorb, relative to bra-making (but also applicable to sewing garments).

The idea is that every fabric has some degree of give; Beverly distinguishes between “movement” and “stretch”. If you pull on a woven fabric, parallel to the weave, it will have a small amount of movement, whereas if you pull on it at a 45-degree angle to the weave (bias), it will have much greater movement. Stretch fabrics, which Beverly defines as containing Spandex, will often stretch more in one direction than the other.

Using DOGS correctly is critical to successful bra-making. For example, if the DOGS of your bra strap material is running along the length of the strap (not cross-wise), you’ll have less support of the bra cups. Similarly, if you orient the DOGS of the back band parallel to the floor (so it’s running around your body, not up and down), the band will be more comfortable.

Okay, I don’t have a clue how to illustrate this with photos, but you can check out Beverly’s blog, where she frequently refers to DOGS. And she also explains this concept fully in her Craftsy classes.

These are, of course, just 3 of the many things that I’m still in the process of learning, as I continue to happily experiment with lingerie-making. I’ll share new ones with you from time to time.

Next time, I’ll show you the Little White Panty project. Happy sewing!

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