Finished Object: Black Velvet Bra. And, also, on failure.

I have been sewing bras off and on for the last three months. I blame a Craftsy sale for ensnaring me, yet again, in my usual cycle of: oooh, this looks interesting, this class is on sale–I’ll buy it to watch later after I finish what I’m working on now–I’m bored or stalled with current project–I watch just enough Craftsy course to get obsessed with new subject but not enough to actually know how to do it– I try project in creative-lust-fueled mad rush–I fail–watch more class–try again–fail–I repeat again until too bored to continue with original subject or my project is, almost despite my inefficient learning methodology, successful. This may be the only time I’ve ever come close to completing a successful project based on Craftsy viewing.

So please excuse me while I revel in this bra:

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This is a self drafted, full band, underwired bra with pretty much full coverage. This bra is the first and only bra I have ever worn that ACTUALLY FITS ME. I understand now why women wear these things, because it actually does lift and support my breast tissue instead of smashing it down under too-small underwires and too narrow cups.

In this project, as in most of my sewing projects, at least half of the issue has been coming to a better understanding of my actual body mass as it relates to the ideal of a sewing pattern or the median compromise of ready to wear sizing. Bras have never fit me because my body does not fit either the standard of sewing patterns or the fit standards of bra manufacturers, and to be fair, neither industry could possibly be expected to accommodate every shape. But I wish I had understood decades ago how to deal with my body type.

As bras go, no matter the manufacturer or the size I tried, I have always been plagued by one of three problems: sad, empty bra cups; underwires stabbing into my actual breast tissue or preformed cups that don’t conform to anything like my breast shape; too narrowly spaced cups. These issues were also part of my problem trying to sew my first few bras using something like standard pattern sizing as well. It turns out that while, yeah, my breasts are on the smaller side, they aren’t quite as small as I thought. What they are is shallow with a broad root, and the tissue has a sort of tear drop distribution. So for my sewing adventures, once I had the band size right, I adjusted the bridge at center front to get the spacing of the cup bottom/cradle from breast to breast. Then I adjusted the width of the cup bottom/cradle to fit my exact breast width and the placement of that on the band. Finally, I adjusted the cups for the fullness on bottom with much less fullness on top. (This involved a lot of cardboard cutouts, smooshing my boobs around and marking on them with eyeliner, some plastic wrap and tape, and about a billion iterations.)

Long story short, for anyone with a broad rib cage and similar fit issues, I’d suggest experimenting with underwires; I had been wearing ones that were at least three sizes too small for my entire adult life. Also consider the shape of your breast tissue, because if it’s non-typical, no pattern will fit without adjustment to fit that.

But back to my glorious triumph:

This bra has a milliskin band, fold over elastic binding, powernet for the back band, and glorious, glorious stretch velvet for the cup fabric outside *and* the cup lining. (I cut it with the direction of stretch differently for the lining and the outer fabric so that the fabric would be stable and supportive enough–if the stretch is in opposing directions theoretically it will work, and it did work beautifully here.) It’s my way of saying sorry to my boobs for mistreating them with horrible fitting bras for all these years. It feels amazing. It feels so amazing it’s like my boobs are being held aloft by the careful hands of Eric from True Blood all day long. Since it actually holds all of my breast tissue, instead of underwires or cups smooshing some of it down and sitting on top of my actual boobs, this bra looks much better under clothes, makes my bust look larger and is more flattering.

What I also love about this bra is that except for the elastic it is made from the carnage of past sewing failures, painstakingly picked apart and repurposed for this fit experiment. The hook and eye tape was once a failed moulage closure. The velvet was a failed bodysuit. The powernet was scavenged from an earlier bra attempt that fit terribly. The channeling and underwires were stolen from my second-most-recent finished object that didn’t fit–my satin covered foam cup red lace bra:

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This bra turned out great, but the cups were a bit too full when it was entirely done, and there was no way to correct that without ruining the seamless look I was going for. So I deconstructed it and will reuse the band and the lace on a future attempt.

I don’t throw my failures away, because usually I can find some way to reuse odds and ends, and also because it’s a great way to track how far I’ve come. When I get frustrated that I can’t seem to get a certain project right, seeing how terrible I did when I started and how much I’ve learned along the way, even if I’m not getting wearable garments yet, is a great motivator. I have had a LOT of bras not work out:

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This is just a sampling of the many many attempts I went through learning how to work with spandex and mesh and powernet, playing with foam shapes, trying to get the band right, then not realizing the flat, unflattering look was because my cups were too small and were actually minimizing my tissue, then realizing that my breast tissue was even wider than I originally thought. Even though the Craftsy courses with Beverly Johnson are fantastic, there’s a certain real world comprehension of body shapes and how to deal with that geometry that requires experimentation, I think, or at least for me. I’m excited to see how my next one turns out.

 

 

 

 

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There Will Be Blood; or, Amanda Works on Hand Sewing and other August Sewing Randomness

Often I find myself hesitant to post because I’m never satisfied with the work I’ve done and tend to not complete things as often as some sewers. Often I discover mid-project the shoulder slant isn’t right or the fit is off in some way that will prevent me from ever wearing the garment so in the fabric scrap pile it goes. But this month, I actually finished two things! Self drafted corsets, no less. They aren’t perfect, but I’m going to try not to look at my sewing that way from the point on…instead I’m going to appreciate everything I learned this month, and the skills I started to acquire while doing these projects…like inserting boning, adding eyelets, encasing boning channels, inserting a busk, cording, hand stitching, adding puller loops to a corset, etc…

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An underbust/waist cincher in black shantung and cotton duck.
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My first go at inserting eyelets.

I liked this corset and wore it for a full day to test the fit and how it behaved actually on my body. Since it didn’t have a busk and is somewhat long for my short torso, I found it a bit uncomfortable for some activity. My grandma helped me lace it up initially and since grandma was a very accomplished lacer of corsets back in the 50s when the ladies in her family took it to near tightlacing levels for an evening out, it was quite the study in masochism until I loosened it up a bit. Driving in it was absolutely miserable because it somehow seemed to be too long for comfort while at the same time riding up and compressing my rib cage to a degree that was miserable. I think part of the problem might be the ratio of my hip / waist / bust being what it is; without the valley of a significantly defined waist to rest it, if I didn’t have it cinched very tight it sort of drifted. I think a waist tape might help with this, and/or converting the corset to a proper underbust where the bust might help it stay in position.

So then I tried a shorter version:

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Puller loops for the win! These are the loops that look out of place above–most of the time the lace goes from one side to the other but to create a puller loop, go to the hole directly above where the cord last came through. Keep a lot of slack in the lacing here. Lace up the rest in the normal crossover pattern. Then when you’re lacing it up, you tie it at the top or bottom or wherever as usual, but you can pull the puller loops to tighten and then tie them off in a bow too. I found this made it much much easier to remove them too!

The shorter version is more comfortable but sort of wanders freely over my rectangular torso. Also the shorter version seems to give a much less satisfying line, since my proportions are what they are, and the corset seems to actually add a bit of girth even as it smooths the line of the torso. For me, the result wasn’t hourglassy; my ribs are too large for that figure flattery. The look is much more abrupt and I discovered when I squish in everything, it creates a nice squidgey little roll of displaced fat between my underbust and the top of the corset. Oof. I’m sure with practice and some habitual waist shaping these things would be less of an issue for me. (Also, I cut the bias binding far too narrow, so it’s a bit messy, but I found hand sewing the binding to be the most soothing activity ever. It’s what I do at school pickup time when I’m trying to quell my social awkwardness around my parent peers. Go ahead, mfers, ask me about my obsessive interest. I DARE you.)

On the uncompleted front, I tried a Renaissance era set of stays and also a set of 1810s-ish conical stays; they didn’t work out for me. (Large ribcage + small bust + large waist = bust fabric floppage and/or unflattering boob squishdown with nothing left to spill over like some heaving bosomed Jane Austen romantic-yet-snarky heroine.) But I learned so much!

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Cording is time and thread consuming but actually pretty magical. Same with handsewn eyelets. This is done here with plain old yarn and muslin for practice 🙂

Now I’m on to a simple pattern for a very simple corset with gores for shaping. It’s self drafted and it’s a crude trial run I’m giving myself full permission to make a mess of. It’s in cotton duck with a front busk and back lacing. I inserted a busk for the first time. I did a ton of hand sewing on it for practice, even though it’s terribly inefficient and I have torn the living sh*t out of my fingers in the process.

Super sewing tip–if you get blood on a garment you’re sewing, saliva does a fantastic job of removing it before it stains. Just spit on the spots and rub. Probably something to do with enzymes breaking down the blood. Also–beeswax is your friend. This is rapidly turning into my favorite thing to do.

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Be it ever so humble, my hand stitching is starting to resemble a proper line.

Happy almost autumn…getting excited for the return of layered clothing!

Pattern du jour: Hot Patterns 1016 Hello, Sailor Pants

My current sewing project. I’ve been sewing like crazy for the past couple of months, with very little success, since my learning methodology with crafts seems to involve trying to most elaborate interesting project and failing repeatedly until it sticks. Case in point–these. I’ve never owned a pair of pants like this, so I have no working knowledge of how they work to draw on. The instructions are also pretty brutal.  But that’s why the internet is amazing because there are a few other blogs I’ve found with the same problem to draw on. Also, buttonholes–my machine is very basic, so I have no button hole function and have been winging it with chalk markings and my zigzag stitch. As a perfectionist, I tend to be appalled by the results–but then eyeing buttonholes on my ready made clothing makes me realize no one notices these glaring mistakes when they aren’t the ones making them. There are huge asymmetrical oopses all over my storebought clothing, and sewing has really opened my eyes to this (and, more on this another day, the fact that my store bought things are probably made by hand by someone overseas working in awful conditions for little money and I never think about the ways I’m feeding into that system with my happy little “bargain hunts.”)

I’m sewing it first in this ugly military green suiting that I bought online. I’m a sucker for a pretty color on my (poorly calibrated?) computer monitor, which upon arrival, tends to fall far short of my expectations. I’ve learned to buy reds that look almost black on screen to get that rich, bluish deep wine red that makes me drool. I’ve been burned a few times into buying what I thought was a beautiful burgundy that ended up being bright tomato, which isn’t my thing. So I can mangle this pair if need be in the attempt to figure out that front flap feature. No grommets this time around, though in the future I might try them for a fly closure.

Which brings me to why these pants are amazing, theoretically, for my body type. It has taken me decades of living as a woman to realize the real meaning of the fact that body types differ structurally. No amount of stomach exercise will ever make me look like a Victoria Secret model, not because I am less of a woman somehow, as I tended to assume subconsciously in my younger years. But because of fucking geometry. The mass of my body is arranged in such a way that a broad rib cage sits on a nearly nonexistent waist stacked on narrow hips. I will never have an hourglass figure, and the little belly that results from this configuration used to make me feel crappy. But I’m starting to understand the female skills of style and dressing as a systematic analysis of body types and how to flatter them. They are visual representation hacks. And these pants will be fantastic for that, since the flare at the bottom flatters my body type (apple shaped. See: Penelope Cruz, Angelina Jolie, Sigourney Weaver) and eventually when I’ve mastered the pattern I will attempt it with buttons on the side seams instead, which will take mass away from my already pronounced belly curve and put it on my undefined hips where it actually does some good.

So for today: attaching all the parts together in the right configuration. Hopefully.