All About Bra Fitting: Breast Shapes and Underwires

There are a wide variety of breast shapes that sometimes don’t correspond to the shape used in designing most ready to made bras, and underwires can both compound fit problems and help to work around some fit issues. Knowing which underwire works best for your breast shape can dramatically increase the comfort level of ready to wear, and for custom made lingerie and sewing your own bras, it opens up a lot of aesthetic possibility. Obligatory disclaimer: I don’t claim to be an expert. I’m just sort of obsessed with body geometry and fitting issues, and some of what I’ve picked up along the way might help people to attain better bra fit. I defer to people like Beverly Johnson (site here) for advice on fitting large busts and bloggers like Emerald Erin (great tutorials here and here)  and Natasha of Arte Crafts for the more technical intricacies of underwire mechanics.)

With that said, on to breast shapes. Breasts come in a vast array of shapes and sizes and projections and levels of firmness or relaxation, and any shape of breast can be asymmetrical in size (in which case, a good workaround for support and comfort is to select a size that fits the larger and adjust the smaller with padding as needed or desired). Any breast shape can have certain placements on the torso, such as being wide set, narrow set, or with an outward or east/west placement on the torso. But most bras are drafted for the standard round shape, full on bottom, full on top, much like the shape of a breast implant, with a standard distance between breasts that point straight ahead.

implants imitate a round breast shape

If you have this breast shape and positioning, then you’re probably going to be able to fit well into most ready made bras without a lot of spillage or cup gape or underwire poking if you have the correct size. To illustrate this shape:

round breast shape - blue hours atelier breast shape guide

For other shapes, however, a standard bra drafted to fit a round breast might pose a variety of bra fitting problems. Breasts can vary in the shape of the breast root or base as well as in the way that the fullness is distributed on that base, and for these other varieties, a round cup often will gape, pucker, not provide the right support, or not correspond to the actual shape of the breast root (or inframammary crease).

Two shapes in particular, the breast with a narrow root or wide root,  might find standard bras to be uncomfortable at the wire line/breast root as well as ill-fitting in the cup.

narrow root blue hours atelier breast shape guide

 

The narrow root shape (or sometimes called the slender shape) has a smaller diameter than the standard proportions assumed when designing underwires, so in an underwired bra, the underwire will rest below the actual breast root, and it won’t be as supportive or comfortable as it should. Standard underwires usually aren’t a good fit, though a custom bra maker can adjust cup fullness as needed to fit the wire that best fits the actual breast root. In ready to wear bras, different shaped wires like plunge wires might be more comfortable, and other possibilities like using cookies, padding, or full foam cups can help get a better fit.
wide root breast shape - blue hours atelier breast shape guide

The wide root shape (or sometimes called shallow projection or broad based) has a wider wire diameter to cup fullness proportion than the standard proportions assumed when designing underwires, so in an underwired bra, if the cup fits, the underwire will be narrower than the actual breast root, and may rest on top of the actual breast tissue or dig into it. If the wire fits, the cup isn’t completely filled by the breast tissue. A custom bra maker can adjust cup fullness as needed to fit the wire that best fits the actual breast root. In ready to wear bras, the best approach is to choose the bra with an underwire that fits correctly and then to add cookies or padding to fill out the cup. Cups made with stretchy fabric or lace can conform better to this shape than cups made with rigid fabric.

Other breast shapes vary in the way the fullness of the tissue is distributed, and these shapes may find that typical bra cups don’t fit them well.

teardrop breast shape - blue hours atelier breast shape guide

The teardrop breast shape (or sometimes called swooping or fuller on bottom) has  a distribution of breast tissue that is fuller on the bottom half and less full on the top. Standard round bra cups usually aren’t a good fit and tend to gape or pucker at the top. A custom bra maker can adjust the top cup fullness as needed to fit the breast shape. In ready to wear bras, choosing certain cup shapes can help achieve a more satisfying fit. Cups with stretchy or elasticated upper cups can conform better to the breast shape. Choosing cups with lower necklines and shorter cup heights such as demi or half cup styles and possibly some plunge styles are good choices, because the upper portion that would otherwise gape is absent or much shorter than fuller coverage styles.

full on top breast - blue hours atelier breast shape guide

The full on top breast shape has  a distribution of breast tissue that very full in the top half of the breast. Standard round bra cups usually aren’t a good fit and tend to be too small at the top, causing spillage or “quad-boob” where the upper edge of the cup digs into the breast tissue and makes it look divided. A custom bra maker can adjust the top cup fullness as needed to fit the breast shape. In ready to wear bras, choosing certain cup shapes can help achieve a more satisfying fit. Cups made with stretch or elasticated upper cups can give somewhat to conform better to the breast shape. Choosing cup styles with lower necklines and shorter cup heights such as demi or half cup styles with vertical seaming (rather than horizontal) can avoid cutting into the tissue of the upper breast, though there may be a trade off with spillage potential.

conical breast shape - blue hours atelier breast shape guide

The conical breast shape has a distribution of breast tissue that is more cone shaped than round. Standard round bra cups usually aren’t a good fit because although the wire line placement and projection amount may be the same, the amount of tissue volume to fill out the cup is less in a conical shape.  A custom bra maker can adjust the cup fullness as needed, and in fact may find certain conical vintage cup styles to be a much better fit for this shape. In ready to wear bras, cups with push up padding in the bottom and sides of the cup can help the cup fit better, as can using padding inserts (cookies). Brands with shallower cup depth can be helpful, though this tends to flatten the tissue into a more rounded shape, which may not always be the most comfortable or supportive fit.

 

omega breast shape - blue hours atelier breast shape guide

The omega breast shape (also called bell shaped or ball shaped) has a distribution of breast tissue that is one size at the wire line or breast root but becomes larger farther down the breast. This shape occurs over time and tends to happen with larger sizes. Standard bras are usually not a great fit for this shape because the standard relationship of wire size and cup fullness isn’t quite right for this shape and the wearer may find the wires of a cup that fits well are too large to stay at the inframmary crease. If wires are pushed lower by the breast tissue, this can cause discomfort against the chest wall and at the the underarms. A custom bra maker can adjust the cup fullness as needed and build in greater support to create a better fit for this shape. In ready to wear bras, full coverage styles with supportive, rigid cups that push the breast tissue towards the center front of the body are a good choice.

Underwires tend to take a lot of blame when it comes to ill-fitting bras, and in mass produced bras, it’s easy to see why. If your breasts vary from the standard shape and placement, it can be difficult to find a bra that has wire with the correct spacing in the correct sized band that also has the correct cup fullness. This is where sewing bras at home or having bras made to your measurements can make a world of difference. Lingerie manufacturers use wires made to their own standards, and shapes and lengths can vary greatly between them. These standards are usually not transparent to customers who are left to guess and experiment with fit at their own expense.

But custom bra makers and home sewists can choose underwires by relatively standardized shapes and sizes and get the fit and the style that they want. When an underwire fits the breast root and is placed in the right placement in a bra band that fits correctly, it shouldn’t shift, pinch, or chafe, and in my experience, can be even more comfortable than a soft bra. It can take a lot of measuring and a few iterations when you begin bra making to get this combination of factors balanced just right, but when you do, those results can be replicated again and again without the guesswork and fitting frustrations of ready to wear.

When shopping for ready to wear bras, the shape and style and flexibility of underwires are set by the manufacturer. But when you sew your own or have a bra made, you can decide if you want lighter gauge or heavier weight underwires, if you prefer them to have a lot of give or to be relatively unmoving, if you prefer wires with high sides or short sides, lower or higher center styles, and whether you prefer a narrower or more splayed curve.

For my own bras, I prefer shorter wires with a wider, more splayed curve, and these are some of the wire types I keep in my stash:

underwire-styles-and-names

These wires are from three Etsy sellers that I find to be great sources for lingerie hardware supplies in general, and they seem to consistently stock all of these wires. I’m not affiliated with anyone in this list or anything, so my enthusiasm is quite genuine. 🙂 The regular heavy wire is a thick gauge, rounded wire from Porcelynne. This is the heaviest of the wires I usually use, and I’ve found the lack of a defined wire edge can actually make a big difference in comfort in partial band designs. The round and orange wires are from Emerald Erin, and these are flat wires in a shape I’ve bought from other sellers, too, but the ones from her shop have a heavier gauge and are more sturdy than most flat wires I’ve seen. She also offers a fitting pack for each of her styles where you get three sizes to see which is the best fit and this can be a bra fit game changer (because printing out pdf wire charts and cutting them out and scowling at teensy wobbly pieces of paper held up to your chest in your bathroom mirror is, in my experience, actually not all that helpful in finding the correct wire size). The plunge, shallow demi, and demi wires are from Arte Crafts, who has some great deals on larger quantities of wires and offers some harder to find wire shapes. These wires are the more standard, lighter gauge wire, which has a bit of flexibility to it.

When I started bra making I had some confusion trying to find exactly what I was looking for in a wire since wire naming conventions vary from seller to seller, and because it’s hard to know which shape is best for your body type. But it seems like there are a few sort of wire shape subtypes that most wires fall into. (I’m leaving out monowires and separator wires because I haven’t worked with these as much.)

There’s a “regular,” standard, day bra kind of shape, which has a moderate to high center front height and an underarm height that’s sort of high with a little bit of a splayed underarm curve. This is the kind of wire you might find in a fuller coverage, everyday style bra designed to be somewhat supportive and comfortable. Sometimes you can find variations of this wire shape that specify that they have a shorter wire at the underarm curve. (In Emerald Erin’s shop, this would be the “Round” and the “Orange” wires).  These wires are great for standard bras and round breast shapes.

Then there’s a type of wire that is a taller, narrower version of the regular day bra, sometimes called vertical or strapless. The center front and underarm comes up higher and it may be a narrower curve with less splay at the underarm than in a “regular wire.” This kind of wire is great for providing support, and in strapless bras, they provide the structure needed to keep cups positioned where they should be. (In Emerald Erin’s shop, these would be the “Bliss” and the “Omega” wires.) This kind of wire would be great for omega breast shapes and narrow root shapes.

The plunge or push up wire shape has a low center and a regular height at the underarm, and is great for bra styles that plunge low and push breast fullness toward the center. This kind of wire would be great for a variety of breast shapes because the low center front eliminates certain cup fit issues, and helpful with breast placements that are closer or wider than the standard or for east/west breast positioning, since bras in this style tend to push tissue to the center front.

Demi wires are low at the center front and low at the underarm, and the curve is a wider, more relaxed curve than some standard wires. This is a wire that seems common in fashionable bra silhouettes with lower necklines. (In Emerald Erin’s shop, this is the “France” wire.) Arte Crafts offers a shallow demi wire that has an even more relaxed curve than regular demi wires. This kind of wire can be a great fit for breast shapes with a wider root or teardrop shape.

And the length of all of these wires can be modified even further if you are a crazy person armed with your grandpa’s linesman’s pliers, a heat gun, and some heat shrink tubing. 🙂 I hope this was helpful! (Earlier bra fitting rambles were anatomy of a bra and how to know if a bra fitsall about the bra band, and bust position and torso shape.)

 

 

 

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All About Bra Fitting: Bust Position and Torso Shape

For part three of my informal exploration into the elements of bra fit, I want to look at bust position and torso shape. A lot of bra advice focuses on the breast itself, and while that is hugely important, the torso that provides the base for the breast can have a dramatic effect on fit and comfort, too.

Since bra manufacturers are attempting to sell their design bra to as many people as possible, they have to settle on one averaged sizing standard that hopefully (sort of) fits as many of their customers as possible as a basis for their bra designs. As anyone who sews knows, it’s hard to fit a wide range of bodies with a specific sizing standard without the fit being off somewhere for most people, which is why patterns rarely fit perfectly right out of the envelope. The proportions of certain body measurements like back torso width to front torso width, breast diameter, and breast spacing can vary widely between women, but for production purposes for any given bra brand, there are only a single, averaged set of measures being used, unless the brand specializes in a particular subset of body types (petite, curvy, tall, plus sizes).

What this means is that if you have body proportions that differ dramatically from that standard, you may have certain fit problems. A simple, very common fit issue happens when bust spacing is different than the assumed standard, which is one to two finger widths apart. If your breasts have less space than this or are touching in the center, underwires in a standard bra don’t rest against the sternum, but instead sit painfully on top of or jab into the breast tissue, and there may be some gaping at the outer side of the cup. (A possible solution to this is a plunge style bra or a bra with a very low, narrow gore.) If your breasts are more widely spaced than the assumed standard, this will usually mean that the cup gapes in the center front near the gore while wires jab or rest on top of the breast tissue on the outer edge of the breast. (Bras with a wider center gore can help with this, and shorter wired styles like demi bras can help with wire issues on the outside of the breast.) Some other common bust position issues arise if your breasts have a wide or narrow root (more on this in a hugely-relevant-to-this-stuff future in-depth look at breast shape), or if your back is particularly broad or narrow. Both of these may throw off the proportions of the bra wings to the cup placement, landing underwires in the wrong place relative to the breast.

But there are also other, less obvious factors of body anatomy that complicate bra fit. Overall ribcage shape, both vertically and horizontally speaking, can dramatically affect how a bra rests against the body and whether the breast tissue can then fully supported by the cups. Since the majority of a bra’s support is provided by the bra band and the cups, if these aren’t positioned in a way to effectively hold and distribute the weight of breast tissue, the bra is unlikely to offer much support or comfort. Most mass bra production uses a horizontally oval shaped, vertically gradually tapered to the waistline type of rib cage shape as their baseline for shaping the bra band and positioning bra cups within it. But, of course, not all rib cages are shaped this way.

Here’s a great illustration of rib shapes viewed from the side that comes from a site (Butterfly Collection Blog) that seems down at the moment. (I don’t agree with the shape terminology used here, because I’ve seen rib flare describe something else in other contexts, curved vs. rounded is confusing, etc, but the visual is great).

Torso and Bra Fit

Vertically speaking, rib cages can be very straight, and barely taper to the waist at all, especially in more rectangular torso shapes without a very defined waistline. Rib cages can also be rounded or what might be called barrel chested, which means the ribs don’t taper inward toward the waistline as much as the standard but are more curved outward. Rib cages can be very dramatically tapered inward toward the waistline, especially in dramatic hourglass type shapes with a very small waist. Each of these variations will change the ratio of band to cup, and can require different adjustments to the vertical shape of the band to help it fit more closely to the body as it must in order to give adequate support..

Horizontally speaking, rib cages can have a variety of shapes other than oval that can mean the way breast tissue fills cups is different than with the standard oval shape. Here is an illustration of rib cage shapes in cross section that might help explain. It happens to be male, but you can get an idea of how breast tissue stacked on these shapes would cause breasts to project differently:

thoracic-cage-43-638

The “standard” chest has an oval shaped front and relatively flat chest wall on which the typical bra can rest evenly against the body. On a more barrel shaped chest, the chest wall is more rounded, and when a standard bra is positioned on this shape, bra cups may point outward in what is often called an east/west position. I’m not an expert on anatomy and my knowledge here is limited, but I’d expect that bodies exist in a continuum of shapes, and that the projecting rib cage (pectus carinatum) and inwardly curved rib cage (pectus excavatum) pictured here are probably extreme examples of shapes that occur to a lesser degree in plenty of people.

From what I’ve been able to find about these variations, a convex, outwardly curving front rib cage shape causes a range of fit problems because of how a bra rests against this shape and where the breast tissue is distributed relative to the resulting angle of the bra cups. Bra cups may be too far apart, with gaping at the sides and not enough fullness in the center front of the cup. Fashion Incubator has a great in depth write up on this particular shape with some illustrative pictures here.

My intuition is that with a chest wall that curves in a more concave way in front, the fit problems in a standard bra might be similar but reversed. My guess is that a standard bra would be tilted inward in a way that it would smoosh the cups together. The problem then is that the cups will be positioned differently than the breast tissue is actually distributed on the body, so there may be some gapping in the center front of the cups, and they might not be full enough to contain all the breast tissue at the sides. I suspect underwires might be especially uncomfortable in the center for this body type.

This is a lot of information and it seems a bit overwhelming, but my belief is that better fit begins with a better understanding of one’s own body shape. Knowing the physical factors that affect bra fit can help you know where to begin to look for answers. The internet has some amazing resources that deal with issues like these in depth, like Her Room, which links to recommended bra brands known to work well for specific fit issues, or Bratabase, which is a community dedicated to finding good fit and reviewing bra brands by actual wearers. There’s even a reddit community dedicated to A Bra That Fits.

I also feel like there is a huge amount of psychological baggage that comes along with bra fitting. A bra that flatters us can make us feel not only comfortable but attractive and confident. Trying on 37 bras and not ever being able to feel good about the results has this nasty way of eating away at your confidence. Never being able to find a standard bra that fit well or looked good on me for at least a decade of adulthood (along with a ton of jokes about being small chested in the era of cleavage and push up bra fashion) gave me a lot of negative feels about my appearance. Sadly, I know my experience is very, very, very common, and that no matter what shape or size they are, it’s all too easy for women (and men) to feel that there is something inferior or inadequate about their bodies. I’d like to yell it from the rooftops now that just because a person’s body doesn’t fit the “standard” doesn’t mean it’s somehow lesser or there’s something “wrong.” All fit standards are abstractions, not ideals. And even the fit “problems” I describe above aren’t “problems” so much as merely shape differences that just require style tweaks or certain adjustments in order to achieve support and comfort.

I think that’s it for today (*climbs down from favored soapbox*), but my next deep dive in bra fitting will explore the very related issue of breast shape and underwire types. (For quick reference, here are part one, Anatomy of a Bra and How to Know if a Bra Fits and part two, All About the Bra Band: It’s Cantilevered!).

 

All About the Bra Band: It’s Cantilevered!

For part two of my exploration of the bra, an in depth look at the bra band, its relationship to cup size, and its role in complicating everything about finding a bra that fits. 

The bra band is really the base of the bra. It’s where the vast majority of the support comes from, and the support it provides is cantilevered horizontally from the close fitted band and the cups holding the weight of the bust up, rather than support by suspending weight from the shoulders, which hurts and doesn’t work very well. 

vertigo cantilevered bra
Oh, yes, Jimmy, it is a veritable marvel of modern engineering.

The bra band also establishes circumference of the torso at the underbust (for simplicity, I’m disregarding for a moment the way that the old plus four inches issue muddies the waters for certain sizing systems). Bra band size is the starting point for how we describe bra sizes. Cup sizes are relative, and the letters actually have no meaning without a bra band to give them context. Even though we talk about double Ds or B cups as if they describe an objective size, they actually don’t mean anything, because they are relative to the band size that defines them. Here’s a better visual explanation of how cup size relates to torso/band size:

The way that we write bra sizes as a numerical value and a letter is kind of like a little math equation where the bra band is the base circumference of the body at the underbust, and each letter increase adds an inch to this to end up with enough room for the circumference of the bust at the fullest point:

AA = .5 inch

A = 1 inch

B = 2 inch

C = 3 inch

D = 4 inch

DD or E = 5 inch

And upward, though the specific letters used sometimes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer or European system versus American sizing system, etc. If you wrote it as a math problem, it would be something like this: 

Numerical band size/underbust circumference + letter to specify extra cup inches = full bust circumference

So for a 36B, it’s basically an equation that says: 36″ rib cage + 2″ total added in the cups = 38″ full bust measurement. This is why sister sizing works, where you can go down a band size but a cup letter, or up a band size and down a cup letter, to approximate a fit like your exact size (more on this another day).  

This sounds simple enough, but then everything gets complicated, because A) different fabrics are reduced by different amounts depending on stretch and recovery properties, so a band designed for a 36″ rib cage probably will measure smaller than that, B) all bodies are not the same and the broad backed and non-standard torso-ed among us (*raises both hands*) are statistical outliers who can’t find an appropriate size this way, and C) the plus 4 phenomenon.

The plus four thing is an often repeated piece of advice bra fitting – take your actual rib cage measurement, if it’s even, add four inches, and if it’s odd, add five inches to get your band size. To me, this seems illogical and stupidly complicated, and it seems more intuitive to just use your actual rib cage measurement. There are interesting historical reasons that this developed that I’m reading up on and will write about, but it seems to have been a vanity sizing tick that happened around the ‘50s or ‘60s when bra sizing as we now know it began to emerge as an industry standard. Things get really, really complicated these days, because sizing standards vary by market (American, UK, EU, Japanese, Australian, to name a few), and because in the US market, some companies no longer add these inches into the band sizes, and some companies do. This means a 36 band brand A might not be drafted for the same rib circumference as brand B, so your 36B is not the same size across brands. For those of us who don’t want to try on 37 bras at the mall to find one with a good fit, this is exasperating.

This isn’t exactly the bra manufacturer’s fault, since it is very hard to accommodate the wide range of bust shapes, sizes, and body proportions that exist in the real world into a single approximation. It’s a complicated supply/demand and consumer knowledge problem. Even if there were more variations available, most of us (my pre-lingerie-addiction self included) would not know where to begin to understand our particular shape and support needs. That being said, some kind of standardization on band measurement seems to me like it would make it much easier for all of us. (In my own drafting and bra sizing, I use an exact rib cage measurement as a starting point, since the plus four model assumes a certain standard tapered rib cage typical of more of an hourglass shape than the vast majority of women have. Statistically most of us are much more rectangular.)

I’ll be rambling about bust position next in my sprawling Ted talk on the mechanics of the bra. 🙂 I’d love to hear any thoughts, and if anyone knows more about the weird history of bra size standards, I’d love to hear more on this.

Anatomy of a Bra and How to Know if a Bra Fits

I’m working on an in depth guide to bra sizes, bra types, some common fit issues, and in particular, how to use all of this information to have a better idea of what to look for in a bra shop or when specifying sizing and style needs in a bespoke bra. Prior to making lingerie, this was all a mystery to me, so I thought it might be helpful to share it as I write it out. This will be the first part in a multi-part series on the intricacies of the bra. 🙂

The Anatomy of a Bra. 

anatomy-of-a-bra

How to Tell if a Bra Fits

Start with the band, which is the part that encircles the torso, made of the center gore, the front cradle that holds the cups, and the back wings. It should fit snugly on the loosest hook when the bra is new. (The elastic will stretch over time, so the other hooks allow you to adjust for this. ) It should be close fitting but comfortable, and ideally, two fingers should be able to fit between the band and your body, but not more. It should be level all the way around the body, and not ride up in the back.

In an underwired bra, the center gore of the bra should lie flat against the sternum, unless you have very full breasts that touch at the base of the breast. If the gore is held away from the sternum, the cups are probably too small.

The cups should fully encase the breast tissue from the breast root without flattening breast tissue or having tissue spill out from the cup. If the underwires or center gore are held away from the chest wall, the cups don’t have enough depth. If tissue is spilling over the top of the cup or under it at the sides or underarm, the cup size probably isn’t correct. Cup size is complicated by a few factors that I’ll explore in depth in a few days, particularly breast shape and breast position on the torso. If the cup puckers or gapes, sometimes this means the cup is too small, but this isn’t always the case. With certain breast shapes, some brands and cup styles can gape even if the size is correct. This is an issue close to my heart and is a big part of why I started making lingerie, so I’ll explore this further in the near future as well.

When trying on bras, to ensure that all the breast tissue is in the cup, the stoop and swoop technique can really help. It can have a dramatic impact on comfort, fit, appearance, and overall functionality of the cup. To do this, when putting the bra on, bend forward at the waist and use gravity to help gather all your breast tissue toward the front and position it inside the cup. Often breast tissue that isn’t gathered up into the cup can be smashed down by underwires or out the sides of the bra. If the tissue isn’t entirely in the cup, it isn’t being well supported, and this can be uncomfortable and less flattering than a well fitting cup. This can be really helpful for the well-endowed trying to find a truly supportive bra size. It helps with smaller busts, too, though, and can make a surprising difference in cup size and the fullness of tissue within the cup. Curvy Kate has a great video here:

The cups and the frame should work together to position the breasts high on the body, and they should provide most of the support. The straps should only provide about 10% of the support and should function mostly to keep the upper cup positioned correctly. If straps are digging into your shoulders or leaving marks, the band should be adjusted to provide better support.

I hope this is helpful, and I’d love to hear any other tips and tricks to getting a great bra fit. 🙂 Check back soon for the next part, which will explore the bra band and its role in sizing inconsistency.

Finished Object: Champagne and Black Demi Bra

champagne and black lace underwire bra blue hours atelier

Pregnancy is rapidly rendering my once favorite bras uncomfortable, so now that the second trimester is upon me and I’m actually able to make it through my day without three naps and seven meals, I’ve had more waking hours and energy with which to put them to use.

So this weekend I dug out my tried and true bra band and adapted it for a demi wire and a three piece, very round cup shape. I chose to make the cups out of a gorgeous beige stretch lace I’ve got in my stash and lined it with stretch mesh in a blushy skin tone, so that the cup could conform to variations in my shape depending upon planetary alignment, tidal schedules, water retention, engorgement, etc, lol. I used a slightly lighter, stretchier power net for the back band that I usually do to build in some extra give in the band, too. Thank goodness for spandex.

Now that I have a pretty solid understanding of materials and construction methods in bra making, I like to challenge myself on the finishing details, so I went all out on the interior on this one.

champagne and black lace underwire bra back blue hours atelier

I used a gothic arch on the elastic, since I’ve found that especially as my tummy expands, the elastic on the bridge rolls in a weird, uncomfortable, and unflattering way and it seems like that can cause it to look worn out over time in some of my older bras. The gothic arch is trickier to construct than an unbroken piece of elastic but I think it sits much better against the body, especially over the life of the bra. I enclosed all the seams using the mesh lining, which I think gives a great feel against the skin and a good look, too. The strap elastic is enclosed where it joins with the bra as well.

I’ll be adding this to my Etsy shop after a few more iterations and a few more tweaks on a bra size / style guide I’ve been working on, along with a few other full cradle and partial band bras. More soon. 🙂

 

love set you going like a fat gold watch

I’ve always loved Sylvia Plath, though I think she is a kind of Rorschach blotch that says more about the interpreter than the interpreter can reveal about who she really was. We are all such mysteries to one another, even to those most intimate to us. Biographers and scholars and angsty teen girls, 20-something poets, thirty something mothers who don’t find time or inspiration to write anymore amongst the dirty laundry and the floor needing vacuumed and the grocery lists and the car licensing due dates are all grateful someone gives their inner state such apt utterance. Her motherhood poems speak to me at this point in my life, while her father issues and black moods spoke to me in another. I think people mythologize her in unhealthy ways because of her suicide, and that bookend has made her legendary in a way that sadly eclipses her craftsmanship, not unlike Kurt Cobain and so many others.

If I remember correctly, she wrote Ariel by getting up at something like 4 a.m. on a daily basis, to have the luxury of being a mind separate from others, to work, to think, before the children she was raising without her husband awoke. It is hard to think freely in the proximity of other people, and sometimes we have to escape into ourselves, even from those we love more than our own selves.

But the dark hours of early morning are heavy, too, with the duty of parenthood. I think often of my father rising at 5 a.m., packing lunches, stoking the fire, as well as working out in the basement before his work day began. There’s a poem by Robert Hayden, Those Winter Sundays, that describes his own father doing the same:

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Perhaps daughters are different, because while we may have never thanked my father explicitly, we knew the extent of his labors for all of us, and we loved him for it. His hands, too, were cracked with his labors, and calloused from years of them. We sometimes helped stack the wood that he split with a Zen-like cheer and a practiced, masterful efficiency he had developed over many years of swinging an axe. My father was an artisan, in his way, and a soft spoken, gentle man, and our home was warm, though I think sometimes of his quietness, his gaze into the horizon, and I wonder who he was to himself, what thoughts were his in his quiet mornings carved out to be alone with them.

Mornings are my own, for now, until the night wakings, the haze of 3 a.m. nursings begin, the blue hours of dawn and the contented murmurs of an infant become my life again. That is not a complaint. There is something deeply content about those moments, and quiet, and transcendent.

Is that quiet blissfulness merely oxytocin? Merely, as if the brain chemicals that code are experience are somehow less real for being chemical and determined by forces other than our inner monologue that thinks it is our true self? So much of the self changes in this pregnant state and the nursing, caretaking state later, in response to biology’s programming, chemical surges that seep into and color the narrative we tell ourselves about who we are and what matters, that it often unnerves me.  Another line from Plath’s Morning Song:

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
With my son, I felt almost alien to myself, life-long brooder transformed by my body’s responses to pregnancy into a contentment I hadn’t felt before, though with a vulnerability snaked through it that found me sobbing over news coverage of the BP oil spill in the Gulf that had begun over the three days while I was induced and in labor (and which they’d wisely hidden from me until after the birth), news stories about the ugliness and exploitation that come so readily to us from all over the world. I felt such joy at my son’s being and yet such fear and worry for a creature that must learn about suffering and death and I, helpless to lighten the burden of such knowledge, with no answers to give, despite all my own years of wrestling with questions about what it means to be alive, to love, to try to connect with anyone in this fragile, beautiful. painful world.
For a long time, that contentment inoculated me from much of my own sadness. All it took to keep me happy was enjoying the presence and infectious joys of my happy little infant, and then toddler, and on and on. He is no less a wonder and no less a joy to me, but as the years have progressed, I could feel that biological contentment drain gradually from me and the old clouds return, but in a strange way, it wasn’t a bad thing. I felt like my mind was my own familiar dark wood again, though my son will always be the sun filtering through the canopy of leaves, the birdsong, the sweetness within it. It is easier for me to believe in my own mind and its workings when it incorporates the shadow as well as the light. I feel less sharp, somehow, when my contentments dull me.
Along with nursing comes a kind of isolation, because you and your infant are on a timetable that doesn’t correspond to those around you, and there are times when you do choose to be alone with your baby to nurse. I’m of two minds about this, because I am a shy person and I don’t want to feel vulnerable and exposed to the scrutiny or bear the burden of the intricate symbolic politics of it all when I’m waiting to pick up my son from school, for example. While I fully support women who want to nurse publicly and not feel obligated to cover and I think it’s good for us as a society to accept and support that, there are some times I don’t want to, and I feel like that also makes a certain kind of unintentional gesture of acquiescence to cultural prudishness. I don’t want my breasts to be a political arena, and I don’t want to feel like my own awkwardness with my own public nudity makes me somehow less feminist.
On the other hand, there are some places where I am comfortable enough that I feel like it should be a non-issue, with family or friends, but it clearly is going to make others uncomfortable about what they or their children are seeing and so, whether it’s right or not, you find yourself ducking into side rooms for half hour chunks of time to spare the awkwardness of relatives at family BBQs and that kind of thing. When you’re in the early phases of caring for an infant, you two are alone at home most of the time, and the majority of your discourse with the world is cooing monosyllables and listening to yourself babble and babble, though the call and response of it all and the sing song of an infant is beautiful in its own right. You often miss adults, and belly laughter, and naughty jokes, and talk about the weather, so having to shut yourself away from it when you have the opportunity to participate in adult silliness is incredibly frustrating. When family refuses to even come inside your house because you are nursing in the living room and they’d rather just wait on the porch and yet you’re too damn stubborn to move or cover, yeah, that’s awkward and sort of rage-evoking. (There’s a whole speel I could get into about the weirdly personal nature of formula versus breast milk commentary from family, and the pressure and guilt I see some women put themselves through regarding output, but that’s a rant for another day.)
So here I am again, wrestling with myself and being gradually internally transitioned into and to change far more still into cow-heavy blissfulness. And I do have so many reasons to be happy. Our genetic tests all came back with good results and all seems to be well. The test revealed that we’re having a daughter, which is what I’d hoped and perhaps even intuited, and which will probably bring a pleasant balance to our home. Maybe fewer tentacles and explosions and a little bit more fairy tales and lace around here, though with my tomboy genes and our feelings that a child should choose for itself what it likes (rather than only providing traditional gender specific options), there might just be more engines and dinosaurs and toy cars to fall over, and that’s okay, too. We heard her heartbeat for the first time yesterday, and our son was with us, too, smiling and burying his face into his dad’s neck, overwhelmed a bit with it all, but happy. Same here, really. Overthinking and conflicted and broody about it all, but in my way, happy.

reset the 1 days without pregnancy tears counter, gorilla newborn bonding is trending on twitter *sobs*

I was doing pretty well for awhile. I almost lost it earlier this week when I went to the grocery store and brought home a seedless watermelon with every intention of eating half of it in one sitting, cut it open, relished the smell, bit into it and almost puked because it was overripe and mushy. I cannot convey with words the depth of my disappointment as I silently carried it out to the trash.
But then this morning, this:

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Had an appointment yesterday for an ultrasound to screen for any potential genetic issues, and a short rehash of high school biology class re: chromosome duplication in the human reproductive process, although I didn’t  really process much of it because 85% of my brain was concentrated on not peeing on the genetic counselor’s couch. For the ultrasound they say that a full bladder is required, and that one should drink 24oz of clear fluid an hour before the appointment. To which I think every pregnant woman could respond by paraphrasing the Hulk: My bladder is always full. Combine a constant need to urinate with a ton of water and an hour of wait time and then my bladder was so full it was pushing the uterus back and away from view, so then I had to go empty my bladder anyway in a shared bathroom with three doors, one of which I noticed from my seated, out of reach position was opened into a hallway, but I was operating on pure lizard brain by then and relief > shits given. Such, such are the joys.

The ultrasound was really neat, though, because most of the utter bewilderment and raw panic had been burned through the last time we had an ultrasound, and because it was abdominal rather than via a big phallic rod up jammed up in my business (though they would have resorted to that if needed to get a good image). The baby was visibly bouncing off my uterine wall and it gave me all the squishy mommy feels, because it seemed so much like exuberant little bouncy house bouncings in there that I could feel sort of awed and something like happy about it all.

The genetic testing was new to me this time around, and since I’m above x age for certain statistical probabilities of risks of x,y, and z to increase, we opted to screen for everything. This is a bizarre process, because these tests are done early enough in the pregnancy that you have the feeling that if certain results come back, that there are certain very hard choices that people have to make, but even though you get a 20 minute slideshow of what human chromosomes look like and a brief lesson on trisomy, those possibilities are never mentioned and you feel like a monster for even assuming  some people do choose to end pregnancies when testing shows certain conditions about which nothing can be done. If it were only me, I think I’d not test for anything, because if a screening shows a chance of something, I’ll make myself sick for six months worrying about it, and the cortisol onslaught would probably be more harmful than any genetic potentialities. I also know that even if tests came back showing something, I don’t think I could choose anything other than continuing on and hoping against everything in my cynical nature for the best, though I don’t judge anyone’s choices to do otherwise. Heavy shit for a Monday morning.

The way they do this particular test, the NIPT (non-invasive prenatal testing), is to have blood drawn so that they can count fragments of the baby’s DNA that are in the mother’s bloodstream from the placenta. Having watched Alien: Covenant this weekend, let’s just say that thinking too much about sharing a bloodstream with another creature, even my baby, makes me queasy. Thinking too much about the mechanics of the biological structure housing me as a person makes me queasy anyway, which is why I could watch the baby during the ultrasound but when they started checking out my ovaries I stared at the wall. I know consciously I’m just the illusion of a self delicately tethered to this meat, but I don’t want to think too much about the actual status of the meat, k? And I am a huge baby about having blood drawn. Huge. I once tried to give blood in high school and passed out during the health questions they ask you *before* the needle was even in view.

So despite having had a triumph of self control and having blood drawn last week like A Grown Ass Adult without incident, unless you count staring at the wall and stress babbling like a manic standup comedian, yesterday’s blood draw was rough. Bedside manner is everything; the wielder of the needle should not try to drag me back from my disassociation from my own body by meta talk about the process which she is doing, the status of my skinny veins, or any potential difficulties she foresees ahead, lest she drag me back from my vacation in Camp Denial of Reality. This lady was a nightmare, patting my veins and sighing, rattling tubes, et cetera, while I closed my eyes and concentrated on breathing for four counts in, four counts out like just I tell my poor anxious kiddo to do when he’s stressed out. Luckily my significant other was with me holding one shaky hand and with the other steady in the middle of my back in case I lost it. We aren’t much for explicit discussions of big feelings, but I have to say that feeling a steady hand on my back even when I’m upset about something that seems silly from another person’s perspective was a pretty big deal. As is being comfortable enough to be vulnerable and visibly under duress in front of another person. I don’t do that well.

It was good he was spotting me, too, because even though I made it through the draw process just fine, after she was done and had me hold the gauze chunk on my arm, she drew it back a few times and said, “Oh, you’re a giver.” That blew my fragile little mind and I started to feel pukey and floaty and to feel an urgent need to get off the exam table and onto the cold floor where I had nowhere to fall, which came out as a seated person insisting that she needed to sit down, so they just laid me down for a few minutes. Vasovagal response, maybe, where your heart rate slows and blood pressure drops in reaction to certain triggers. Since anxiety increases the heartrate, it’s unusual to actually faint from it, unless you experience a vasovagal syncope, which I think might be why I once passed out and crashed through a book display at a Barnes and Noble job orientation. (And never went back, despite working in a book store being a long-coveted job of my youth.) Yikes. My mom does the same thing over stuff like her kids getting injuries, changing earrings for the first time, or stabbing herself in the finger sewing, which is kind of hilarious, because she’s pretty damn invincible otherwise.

But we made it through the process, and we’ll have results relatively soon. What’s also cool is that we get a gender reveal out of the deal, since the chromosomes will make that obvious. I’m glad we’ll know that soon, and have been brooding a lot on what potential differences there might be in parenting a boy and girl as a person with a lot of complicated thoughts on gender and society. More on that after I stew, for sure. Also fun was that they think from the fetal development I’m a bit farther along than the initial LMP based estimate, and my due date is now Halloween, which brings joy to my black Morticia Addams heart.

8 weeks down, 32 to go. :/

We had the first prenatal visit and ultrasound a few days ago, which has helped, in that I have gone two whole actual days without uncontrollably sobbing every 3 hours. It’s good to feel some agency or some control over my emotions for now, and to feel actually energetic enough to want to try to do something.

The first visit was reassuring, in that I liked this doctor better than my first, in that my partner was with me throughout it this time, in that the (*gulp* transvaginal alien probe) ultrasound showed enough detail that we could see little arms moving and wiggling happening in real time. During the first pregnancy, my son didn’t become a real little person to me until much later, when I could watch him bounce around with elbows and feet and knees poking out of my belly. Sometimes the thought of a little person down there is a comfort. Sometimes, though, it induces a little throb of claustrophobia, as if this body is too crowded and I can’t escape it. Some women love it, and more power to them, but it feels a bit like being a host in an Alien movie sometimes, like something might burst out. (P.s. body horror as a genre is not working for me right now.)

The physical changes and the discomforts are more immediately obvious to me than during my first pregnancy.  I’m already showing and uncomfortable in my clothes. My lower abdomen is more sensitive to pressure, so wearing pants low or unbuttoned isn’t going to work like it did till about month 6 of pregnancy number one. I have worn pajama pants to take my son to school *twice* now, which is unheard of for someone who uses clothing as a social armor to hide behind.

So my mission for Easter weekend is to make some pants. They have to come up over the bump in the front, and for comfort’s sake, I’ll be going with a back zipper closure on pretty much everything for the next year of my life. At this point, a basic full abdomen alteration will suffice, I think. Hot Patterns has the best tutorial I’ve seen so far on how to do this (here). An illustration of the flat pattern changes from their page:

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I have a pair of very large men’s dress pants that I bought from Goodwill that I might disassemble for fabric for this one, if my energy holds up. Updates to follow. 🙂

images of mothering…

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This photo is from my book stash, a Mode Illustree from the 1880s, if memory serves. I love it because it seems so candid for a fashion illustration. The woman’s hair is down, which seems a rarity in these old illustrations, and the affection depicted is something universal and warm, one of the best feels motherhood has to offer, really.

But there are many feels in motherhood, and people don’t usually talk much about the not-so-pretty ones outside of Roseanne reruns or feminist discourse about the economics of human labor. Somehow it seems rude to talk about the less than blissful elements without airbrushing them away with platitudes. It is all worth it, of course, but for those of us with a gloomier turn or problems with touch or physical proximity, there is much to keep to ourselves.

I have my first doctor’s appointment in about two weeks, at which point I’ll be nearly 8 weeks, and I have a laundry list of things to tell her. Please don’t worry if I cry every time I get off of the scale, it’s fine, I just get upset. I always get upset after a pelvic exam, please don’t be alarmed. It’s an invasion of body boundaries thing. Rationally, I completely understand the necessity of what you’re doing and I want it to be done, but I can’t help crying at the feeling of being overrun physically. My pulse goes crazy at the doctor. It’s an anxiety thing, I promise. I’ve had an EKG done with my GP over this. Needles sometimes make me pass out. I’m sorry I’m so intense. I don’t want to be this way and am deeply embarrassed by all of the above.

Maybe it would be different if my being felt less defined by its physicality than it does at this moment, but somehow, pregnancy makes me feel reduced to it, caged by its hormonal upswells and digestive tempests, an automaton that can’t help dropping into sleep mode when resources so often deplete. Capsules to take, pressures to measure, fluids to fill. I wonder if it’s similar to the frustrations of aging, when the will is strong but the body takes primacy with pained joints, physical constraints and dangers, easier fatigue.  I can sympathize with that kind of frustration.

I have a sister who loves being pregnant and who is master of her domicile in a way that I can only marvel at. Sometimes I wonder if it is possible to be allergic to progesterone and that’s why I fall into an almost immediate depression while my sister beams with excitement and enjoyment of the feeling of bringing another person into the world. I understand her reasoning for her feelings, but those buoyancies and happy forward lookings can’t cut through the fog of whatever it is that descends on me when I’m gestating a kiddo. People admonish me, “Oh, enjoy it. It will be the last time. This is a precious experience.” None of those things are wrong, but there’s also a shit ton of pain involved in this experience, and somehow, no one used this logic to gloom-shame me when my wisdom teeth were extracted, even though that was the last time I’d have that particular experience.

I feel like even writing that sentence is somehow a shameful thing. My great aunties would be appalled that I would compare a miraculous event like bringing another precious life into the world to something like having a tooth pulled. I am being flippant, really, but the fact that a certain range of feelings seems unutterable among polite people is strange to me when it’s a process that also involves me being pantless in front of strangers. I can’t feel excited yet, and I certainly can’t will myself not to be afraid. People act as if it’s a waste that I feel such apprehension. There is some truth there, in the same way that feeling any anxiety is a waste of energy. Anxiety is a deep, dark well of anguish that you fall into and climb out of over and over and over again, and though you know the process is a waste, you can’t brick it over. You know that anguish lies waiting to receive you, and there’s no vigilance or act of will that will stop your fall back in.

The cultural image of mother in our time seems a cheery, breezy thing, laughably neurotic about nesting urges or food cravings or teary-eyed at silly little domestic spats, but on the tv and the ad spread she is dressed in Breton stripes with whitened teeth in a sunny kitchen in a sleek, orderly beige house, yelling through a smile for her kids to come to a healthy, gourmet dinner that she either whipped up in a spasm of uncomplaining efficiency, or better yet, crockpotted on her way out the door to work that morning and plated up on a dish set that perfectly coordinates with her carefully curated decor.  She’s heath conscious enough to make her own baby food, but not opinionated enough to be off-putting or difficult.  If she breastfeeds, we never see the tension when she has to decide between making people with old school ideas about it feel uncomfortable or having to isolate herself and the baby for half hour chunks of time when everyone else is at the family BBQ enjoying themselves. We certainly never see her snarling obscenities at her breast pump at work, while she sits cross legged on a dirty bathroom floor to reach a power outlet and cringes any time someone tries the door.

Clearly I have nothing in common with this woman, except maybe the occasional Breton stripe. But imagine my surprise and my happiness to find this portrait among the Schlesinger Library portraits of breastfeeding women, alas unnamed:

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That expression speaks volumes to my heart, somehow. I’m unclear what cultural images of motherhood were during the Victorian era, though I suspect it must have been seen as a celebrated role if it would be photographed in this way. I know that the seriousness of her expression is probably more about the way people carried themselves in portraiture of the era. But I can’t help but love that look and relate to something in it more than the plasticized expertise or earthy granola joy imagery of contemporary maternity. That expression says I love being a mom but this shit is complicated and I have a lot of feels and I will cut you if I have to.

 

 

3,078 random maternity feels.

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It’s been a week since I found out I was pregnant, and my feelings on the matter depend on the day and the intensity of my caffeine withdrawals. I’ve resolved to write/sew/rant my way through it, mostly because I have way too many feels not to grasp for catharsis wherever I can find it, but also because my experience seems so out of step with that of most women I know that it makes me feel like (even more of) an alien outlier, and it might be of some comfort to other women who don’t find their experience reflected in the usual cultural apparatus of motherhood. While I’m not crazy about labels and pigeonholing of human experience into isms and DSM criteria, it also feels relevant to mention that I have an Asperger’s diagnosis, and suspect that my experience might align with others who identify on the spectrum.

I hate being pregnant, though I love being a mother. I have one child already, who I love with an intensity I’d never have thought possible. He’s nearly eight. I hated every moment of being pregnant the first time, and maybe some of that was because I was younger, less emotionally prepared, less certain of my ability to enjoy motherhood or be a good parent. Or maybe it’s because pregnancy is invasive and terrifying, among other things. The pregnancy went smoothly until the last three weeks, when I had pre-eclampsia and had to be induced. I was put on magnesium sulfate that swelled me up like Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka, and spent 53 hours in induced, miserable, terrified labor before I was given a C-section, which I was so exhausted I mostly snored through. They had to wake me up to give me my baby boy, and it took me a few minutes to wake up enough to be into the experience, but the rest was what my grandfather aptly calls “joyful stress.”

Both times, I had some inkling before taking a pregnancy test that something was off, accompanied with the distinct sense of being sent on the long walk to the gallows by my boyfriend’s penis. He stuck around the first time and actually kind of wanted another kiddo the second time, but there’s a big difference in saying, “I’m there for you through this,” and having another consciousness embedded in your uterine wall for the next nine months. Each time, there has been the feeling of a cage door closing and shrinking walls, not because I don’t love and maybe even want more children, but because it’s inescapable, and because I will be weakened and reliant on the help of other people to function and be healthy and, from a certain point of view, to survive the next nine months myself. As a stubborn, private, recalcitrant woman, this is an unbearable feeling if I linger on it too long.

When my significant other prods our son to cooperate with going out to eat by suggesting that we need to help mom, mom will get sick if she doesn’t eat, my being chafes against what I know is intended as thoughtfulness. Mom is not a delicate flower. Mom is a force of nature to be cherished and feared. I want my son not to feel any worry and certainly no responsibility for my well-being. I want to roar like the strong tiger mother I am, but in the same moment this damnable weak body demands I sit my crazy ass down because my blood sugar is being crazy and I have the shakes and don’t want to humiliate myself in the parking lot of Denny’s.

Speaking of humiliation, let’s talk about pregnancy gas. After taking the pregnancy test and the sobbing and the alternating waves of almost acceptance, terror, grave responsibility, and tiny rays of almost-excitement, I had this really sweet moment cuddling and fell asleep with my son resting on my chest and my significant other playing video games beside us. I awoke suddenly, scared awake by my own blast of flatulence, to find my significant other right there laughing and no way to deny it. We have been together 12 years. He has heard this happen exactly once before, because I will usually herniate myself rather than fart in public, (unless it’s in front of my son, because he finds it hysterically funny).

Goodbye, dignity. Maybe I’ll see you again in 2019.

More on this to come, for sure, and much related to sewing for maternity, as I’m currently learning all about sewing for a rapidly expanding belly and hoping to strategize so that I can cut clothes wide now and reduce them later as needed, rather than buy or make clothing strictly to wear while pregnant. Maternity fashions and existent patterns make me very sad, so there will be much pattern drafting to come. Also to explore at length: were maternity corsets an evil instrument of the patriarchy, or did they provide some much needed back and belly support in the way that currently marketed belly bands do? I process all my emotions through sewing and historical rambling, so pregnancy the research project, here we go.