Sarah: “I’m interested in how to fit a bra. Is there a method I should be following? Can I fit my muslin any which way? I haven’t achieved a good fit and I feel like I’m missing something. Please help!”
Maddie: Four muslins into bra making and I still wasn’t at a fit I was happy with. Like you, I was frustrated with the drag lines I was seeing on my muslin. I read Norma’s book and Beverly’s Manual, both of which explain thoroughly how to correct specific issues like gaping at the underarm and tightness along neckline edge, but I wasn’t doing something right because my bra was not fitting correctly. Do you ever read over something important and when you go back over it think, “how did I miss that!?” That was this case. I focused on fixing each individual issue, which isn’t necessarily wrong, but I forgot to do two essential preliminary steps before fitting that most likely would have prevented my fit errors.
Both Beverly and Norma advise to to test the cups and the bridge width before sewing/fitting a muslin. In the case of Beverly, tester cups are made and then a bridge tester. In the case of Norma, underwire size is tested and then the bridge width. If you haven’t done these two preliminary steps, you can’t properly fit the bra. When they get to fitting, it’s interesting because they provide the same fitting steps but suggest different orders. It just goes to show that even SOP’s (standard operating procedures) have some variations.
I wish I could say that I’ve tested each method but I haven’t. Not yet at least. I recently discovered my mistake when I was rereading each book. I didn’t test my cups or my bridge width and went straight to fitting. I also haphazardly fit and I didn’t use any order – I pinned here, taped there, and overlapped there. But Beverly and Norma’s reasoning makes sense and I believe it will work. I decided to post about the two methods now, rather than waiting until I gave each a shot, because I think it’s important to know about the two and to choose which one works best for you.
Step one according to Beverly is making the tester cups. First, make several cups out of similar fabric to the final bra – one for the size you think you are and one size larger and smaller. If the tester cups are for a full band bra, add 1/4″ to the pattern’s cutting edge and baste 1/2″ from the raw edge with brightly colored thread. If the tester cups are for a partial band bra, you don’t need to add 1/4″ (but you still need to baste 1/2″ from the raw edge with a brightly colored fabric). Why? Well, there is a big difference between the cups and bridges of full band and partial band bras that you must understand when making the tester cup and bridge. In both a partial and full band bra, the wire/channeling sits just outside and outlines the breast. In a partial band bra, channeling is sewn onto the cup’s seam allowance and is then flipped inside the cup and stitched down a second time. So, there is 1/2″ built into the pattern (1/4″ is allotted for the seam allowance and 1/4″ is allotted for flipping up and topstitching). On a full band bra, channeling is sewn onto the cup’s seam allowance but it is not flipped to the inside of the bra – it is topstitched down. So the pattern only includes 1/4″ and needs 1/4″ added because it’s a lot easier to hold the tester cups to the body if there is 1/2″ added to the wire line to hold onto.
If that doesn’t make sense, Beverly explains it another way, “on a partial band bra the channelling seamline sits outside the wire line (1/4″ away from the actual edge of the breast), and on a full band bra the seamline sits inside the wire line, right at the edge of the breast.”
The next step is to put on the tester cup, holding the cup in place outside the thread line and making sure the cup is oriented in the correct way (now do you see why 1/2″ is needed?). Does the cross cup seams hit the apex? Is there gaping anywhere? What about the colored thread? Is it in the correct spot? If not, how much should be added or eliminated. Mark and pin any necessary changes.
“...and do not be shy about trying them (the tester cups) on twice! Your goal is to get the best fit possible with as few alterations as possible.” Love this, Beverly…
Next is the bridge tester. The bridge test is meant to get an accurate width between the breast at the top and bottom of the bridge. To make a bridge tester, trace the bridge pattern onto a sturdy paper such as cardstock or oaktag. For a full frame bra, trace the seamlines from your pattern and for the frameless/partial band, trace the pattern cutting edge (for the same reason explained above). For both, cut up the CF (to make two pieces) and add 1/4″ (to CF) for extra room in case width needs to be added. Paper clip the two pieces together at the top and swing or pivot them until you get the correct spacing and curve of the breast. Note changes.
For a full frame bra, place the bridge tester on top of the original pattern, aligning the top edge of the bridge with the seamline of the original pattern. Pivot the bridge tester until it aligns with the cup seam line. After, mark the new CF line. For a frameless bra, the bridge tester is the actual pattern and all you need to do is add a seam allowance to the top of the bridge (again, for the same reason explained above).
Sew a muslin with the correct sized cups and bridge.
Now comes the fitting. According to Beverly, “…always fit the straps first, then the band, then the bridge and finally the cups. If the straps, the band, and the bridge are all okay, and the cups still do not fit; then I know the cups need altering.”
Step one for Norma is getting the right underwire size. To do this, test the fit of various size underwires by holding it up to your bare chest. A correct sized wire wraps around the full diameter of the breast. It lays flat against the body and doesn’t extend into the underarm. At the center front, the wire is at the edge of the breast where it meets the chest wall.
Next up for Norma is testing the bridge width. Essentially, she uses the same method as Beverly so I won’t repeat it (to avoid confusion). She also recommends testing the width many times: “I usually test the bridge two or three times, tracing after each test to be sure I am getting consistent results.” Love this, Norma…
Sew a muslin with the correct sized cups and bridge.
Now comes fitting. According to Norma, “this section is written the order that you should fit your bra: band and frame, straps and then finally cups.”
After Beverly and Norma gave their opinion for the correct fitting order, each describe in great detail how to correct individual fit issues like a gaping neckline, a band that is too loose, etc. I’m not going to go into that because the intention of this post was to stress the importance of the testing the cups/underwire and bridge width before sewing a muslin and that doing so prevents future problems. This post was also about the fitting order. There is not a lot of information on the web about testing the cups/underwire and bridge width but there is a lot of information about how to reduce length along the cross up seam and how to eliminate gaping at the neckline. If you want tutorials on how to correct particular fit issues with cups, bridge, straps, or band, Amy posted a ton (and did a great job!) during her bra sew along.