New year, new skills: new bra

If you follow me on Instagram you already know this: last weekend I went to Philadelphia to participate in Madalynne’s inaugural bra making workshop.

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bra samples

almost a bra

finished bra

Ah bras! So many of us have our own special love-hate relationship with them, don’t we?

Maddie’s workshop was a great place to learn more about this garment but it was also more than that. If you’ve seen Maddie’s blog you know how beautifully she presents her content, and how much care she takes in what that content is. The workshop was a real treat too, and not just visually. You were equal parts pampered (like spending the day in a relaxing spa) and challenged to learn something new (umm, make a garment with highly specialized materials, details and construction techniques from scratch). Your eyes felt pleased, your mouth felt pleased – there was a lovely lunch and snacks.

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Maddie presented things in an approachable, friendly, and easy-to-follow way and did not skimp on individual attention. The basket of goodies included enough fabric that, after making a muslin in class, you could make a whole other bra at home to reinforce what you learned. (It’s the fabric you see in this set, a lovely powder blue that my iPhone can’t quite reproduce.) The baskets were so pretty:

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So… I have a somewhat hard-to-find bra size: 32 DDD in the brands I like. (Bra sizing is not standardized and there can be quite a bit of variation between brands.) I didn’t figure out how my bra should fit until I was nursing my first daughter and had constant back pain. But since I was sure that having children is no reason I should have to give up feeling good in my body, the hunt was on for a well-fitting bra. I nursed my two little girls for a total of 5.5 years, after all was said and done.

Oh! I want to say something here that bears saying (now that I told you what size bra I wear, dear sewing friends). I also just told you how long I nursed my babies, and nursing is the kind of topic that can plunge women into resentment or joy or deep despair within seconds, along with the whole having-children-or-not issue. Which is to say even among my friends both can be sensitive topics. So, because I believe this is not said nearly often enough, I want you to know: whether you have children or not or never want to, whether or not you nurse or don’t want to or can’t, I have no judgement or comment for you except this: hi, how are you? So nice to have you here!

I believe we all deserve to live in a way that is right for us, and we deserve to do so honestly, without having to fear judgement or worse for personal choices from anyone around us, especially not when it comes to the intimate realities of our bodies. Life’s plenty hard enough without that, don’t you think? So yes, even bramaking can be a feminist act. It’s about accepting ourselves and others, or more precisely: figuring out how best to support our body’s natural symmetry, in both comfort and aesthetics.

Anyway, back to bra sizes. Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the particular fit challenges presented by large busts, and what shapes and details are most flattering for them – and how these might differ from the shapes most flattering for smaller busts. One of the challenges, of course, is having bras that fit. I keep finding a brand that makes a line of bras with sizing that works for me, only to see it discontinued by the time I need to replace my bras. So I decided I’m going to make my own from now on, especially since there are so many new resources out there, for learning how, up to and including workshops you can take.

The pattern Maddie chose for the workshop was the Marlborough bra by Norma Loehr, author of Demystifying Bra Fitting and Construction. This is a very thoughtfully designed pattern I think I can now honestly say, a good place to start one’s bra-making journey. The Marlborough is a full band bra with a 3-piece cup, which is to say a more structured kind of bra that gives a good overview of most details of bra making without overcomplicating them. One side note: it wasn’t designed for very large busts (cup sizes only go up to DD) but Norma has helpfully provided sizing equivalents for the workshop. Since you’ll be making a muslin and later tweaking the pattern anyway (most likely), I found it to be a good starting point even for someone with my size. The bra I made in class is very, very close to fitting me comfortably. I’m in the process of figuring out what tweaks to make to further improve the fit, and I plan to share with you what I learn.

Thank you to Maddie for organizing the workshop! And if you’d like to learn bramaking in a friendly, supportive, and beautiful environment, make sure to take Maddie’s workshop when she offers it again. I have a sneaking suspicion she will…

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