The Great Linen Experiment

Today seems to be all about circling back to my early days of bra-making (okay, that was only three years ago). I’m wearing the very first bra I ever made, the hot summer weather has made me nostalgic for distant memories of wearing refreshingly cool linen, before it became adulterated with polyester and other mysterious substances that for some reason render it wrinkle-free, and nostalgia has also led me back down memory lane to the Marlborough bra pattern— the first one I ever used, and still one of my very favorites; my second-ever bra was also a Marlborough, made with silk scraps from other sewing projects, and I literally wore it until it was in shreds.

And therein, dear readers, lies the origin of The Great Linen Experiment. Read on.

Detail of my printed linen fabric
Detail of my printed linen fabric. I love the unexpectedly bright colors, most especially the almost-acid yellow and the deep fuchsia pink. The occasional streaks of white, as if it had been brushed with bleach, add to the intriguing, vintage-inspired effect.

Last summer I made myself a sleeveless shirtdress out of a gorgeous piece of linen; I simply could not resist this fabric because (a) it was the end of the bolt and therefore half-price, and (b) it was printed, yes, printed with the most beautiful  bright-yet-watercolor-esque design. (Seriously— when do you see printed linen in fabric stores?) The only catch: there was only 1.5 yards to work with, but at least it was 58″ wide.

Fast-forward to this summer. While rummaging through fabric scraps (a favorite pastime), I ran across the only scrap I had left after barely squeezing my dress out of the printed linen, and coincidentally, I had just been thinking about blog posts I’ve seen about people making bras out of quilting cotton. So I thought, why not try it with this linen? I laid the scrap out to measure it:

Scrap of printed linen fabric
The scrap of printed linen fabric I hoped to make into a summery bra. Each square on my cutting mat is 1″, so you can see I don’t have all that much to work with, especially since this end-of-bolt piece was apparently cut unevenly. (Note to self: Get cutting mat in a prettier color.)

Since the Marlborough has a 3-part cup, it was pretty tricky getting the various parts to fit, but I managed it, including the upper cup, which in the pattern is intended to be made with lace (as in my previous two Marlboroughs). Then I had to start thinking about other materials— power net, straps, channeling, elastics, back closure — and I realized I would need to dye all these parts, or else make them all white (no).

The Dyeing Part: I’m sorry now that I didn’t take photos of this process, but I’ll try to describe what happened. Typically for me, I decided that, rather than try to deliberately match a color in the print (which doesn’t work anyway since all materials take the dye differently), I would dye everything in the same deep blue-green dye bath. The interesting thing is, none of the materials seemed to absorb much of the blue component of the dye mixture; instead, they basically all turned out a similar shade of deep grass green, with the channeling coming closest to what I had envisioned. Grass green isn’t exactly what I was going for, but I must say it adds to the summery effect.

Interested in learning more about dyeing bra-making materials? See these posts for my tips!

Changes I made to the pattern:

  • I used fabric for the upper cup instead of lace; this meant I had to figure out a way to finish the top edges (the “v-neck” part of the bra), so I used one of my favorites materials, an elastic piping, which I also used to finish the underarm edges. I also decided to line just the upper cups (you can see the bright green lining in the back view of the bra, below).
  • Just before I attached the underwire channeling, I was looking at the outside of the bra and thinking, with that print, you can’t really see any of the shaping details. Then it hit me: put the channeling on the outside! I’ve never done this before, and it introduced a few unexpected challenges, but it was well worth the extra effort— I love the way it looks on the outside!
  • I modified the bridge to something approaching a gothic arch; this lies more smoothly on my body.
    Close-up of front of linen bra
    Close-up of the front of my linen bra. Here, you can see the elastic piping finishing the top edge of the upper cups, as well as the channeling which I applied to the outside of the bra.

    Back view of linen bra
    Back view of my printed linen bra, showing the hand-dyed straps, elastic piping on the top edges, lower edge elastic, back closure, and powernet used for the back bands. Also visible is the chartreuse rayon lining I put into the upper cups. Notice all the variations that came out of my dye bath?

The wear test: Since this is my third Marlborough, I expected it to fit the same as my second one (for which I tweaked the fit), but alas! Although it’s definitely wearable, there’s a bit of east-westing going on (not true for the previous two), and the shape it’s giving me under my clothes (the real acid test for me) is not ideal; feels like the power bar part is not doing its usual great job. But I will put down these minor drawbacks to a pretty major difference in the main fabric. Linen does behave differently than other fibers.

On the plus side, it’s giving me an unexpectedly vintage vibe that makes me want to put on some wide-legged, high-waisted trousers and a smart bolero jacket to allow just a bit of the bra to peek through; it really looks much more like a cropped top when it’s on.

Overall, it was a very worthwhile experiment, resulting in some lessons learned, a satisfyingly messy afternoon of dyeing, and a fabulous and different kind of bra.




Pattern: You can find Orange Lingerie’s Marlborough Bra pattern here. (FYI: I’m not affiliated in any way with Orange Lingerie, other than as a customer of their patterns. So no disclosure needed.)

Elastic piping: You’ll find this at (along with many bra-making materials). I have always bought this in white for dyeing purposes (it dyes beautifully with acid dyes), but I’m thinking about getting more in black. I just love this trim. (No disclosure needed here either.)


Wouldn’t you love to be a patron of the arts? You can— come be a part of my Color Stories project on Patreon! Some My Bratelier projects will be featured in upcoming stories!

3 thoughts on “The Great Linen Experiment

  1. Hi Saw this via FB group. Is the sewing pattern for woven fabrics or did you have to modify the pattern to use the woven fabric. I’ve only so far made cotton lycra bralettes (under garments are a new addition to my skill set) but want to make cotton woven bra. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi! Yes, the pattern is designed for woven fabrics and lace. You can get more details on the Orange Lingerie website (link above under Resources). I’m going to try a cotton one myself, but I think I will use lace for the upper cup.


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