excuse me while I talk about my underwear.

I’ve been sewing a lot of lingerie lately. My life is kind of a series of small possessions–I play host to a revolving door of obsessive interests, immersing in one after another, always centered on an axis of making *something* with a nostalgic eye cast backward in history. My hoarding of pattern catalogs and sewing ephemera *may* be giving way to hoarding of lingerie materials, which in my mind, marks some kind of progress because it’s more about the action of the crafting and the enjoyment of the moment while creating the thing than it is about possession of a thing. We’ll see.

I’m trying to move more into making than owning, more about enjoyment of the process than collecting (but I still love you, bookshelf!). I find trying to sew beautiful things to be a therapeutic exertion of will over a sometimes ugly reality. Politics has me hand-wringing? Grab my lace. Worried about antartic ice sheets? Turn off a few more light bulbs and grab my lace. Focus on the lace. The Western world seems to be both far better than it has been in the last few millenia, in terms of civil rights, gay rights, the standing of women and children, literacy, information access, medicine. Yet in terms of scaled economic injustice and systems of exploitation of labor, climate change, pollution, the island of plastic in the pacific, mercury in and acidification and warming of the oceans, species extinctions, the disappearance of the middle class, the disappearance of privacy, the uncertain future of jobs in a time of automation, it is arguably worse and far more complex than I think most human brains are evolved to be able to grapple with. I don’t know any answers. But in an often ugly, screaming world, I am trying to quietly make what beauty I can. I make lace things. I make lunches. I make babies and make love and make breakfast magic out of 3oz of leftover steak, three eggs and last night’s soggy skinned baked potato. I make scribbles. I make crude jokes. I make my grandma laugh. (Since she watched Sons of Anarchy and Game of Thrones, there’s not much that phases her. <3) That’s often all I feel I have the efficacy in this world to do.

Anyway…I’ve sewn Cloth Habit’s wonderful Harriet pattern at least 10x since I bought it.

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As it was, without modification, the cup placement was slightly narrow for my rather broad boob placement, as to be expected with any pattern I sew. Yet because my shape is shallow up top, the upper cup was sagging sad and empty, as most bras have for me forever. Not the fault of the pattern, just natural variation in human anatomy. (It is a peeve of mine when people complain about patterns not fitting their bodies precisely, especially when it comes to breast shape, when it would be so utterly and obviously impossible for any pattern maker to account for the bajillion types of bodies and mass distribution in existence.) So I tried tweaking the pieces by taking the C cup as a baseline / wireline / cup to cradle joining point and overlaying the B and A size pieces as guides to taper down to the projection of a B cup at the apex and the A cup at the top. Not sure if this was the most efficient way to do this. In fact, it surely wasn’t. But it gave me something that works. I’ve struggled for a few months with the relationship of the wire to the pattern and cup shape, but I think it’s starting to make more sense and really come together for me now. There are a few great blog entries on this topic on bramakingblog.com that were helpful for me.

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After about 10 iterations, I wanted to try something else–specifically, something less pokey in the side boob. Since I need a wire for a bigger cup size than my actual projection, and I have wide boobs on a short torso, I often feel like the wires that fit me are way too long. Demi wires are a great answer to this problem, so I worked some more on a self drafted bra pattern with a different shape. I’ve been trying to up my technical game by working on enclosing all the seams in my bras (there’s a post on doing just that on the Watson pattern on the TailorMadeBlog that got me started on this). So I tried one attempt with a full band.

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Then I reworked my pattern as a partial band bra for shallow demi wires and ended up with this.

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Considering some minor tweaks and fabric variations for this. Happy Sunday!

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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 attemptsĀ 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.

 

 

 

 

Vintage Sewing Library: Modern Pattern Drafting by Harriet Pepin

I adore old sewing books. These tend to have much more information than contemporary books, which may be due to sewing being a serious occupation for many more women during the first half of the 20th century than it is now in our era of cheap ready made clothing. *suppressing rant on exploitation built into system of production of cheap ready made clothing and why the first world nations have this luxury as hard as I possibly can* I’m going to work on adding many links to the vintage books I have found online, but for now, just one gem:

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Harriet Pepin. Modern Pattern Design. Available from Michou Loves Vintage, a gorgeous site in German. The download page is (here); Modern Pattern Design is under the expandable menu for “Schnittkonstruktion.”

Another source is (here), and yet another source is web based, through the Wayback Machine’s archived version of vintagesewing.info, a site (now unavailable) that was a rich resource of vintage sewing books. It is (here) and photos to follow are sourced from there.

It’s available for over $100 on etsy (here) if you’re into collectibles!

This book goes into incredible detail on constructing patterns from a basic sloper. To give you an idea of how well it shows pattern manipulations, here are several examples of how to modify a pattern to create various types of cowl necklines. I just did this on a jersey kimono top and it took me about an hour using a Threads Magazine tutorial. It was an involved, frustrating process. Next time, I will try one of these:

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And just one more gushing fangirl inclusion. I have been messing around trying to figure out bra making for my unique figure (broad rib cage, small bust, forward shoulder, etc) since bras have ALWAYS been a problem for me. Without the context of the bodice pattern around it, the bra cups and band are a bit puzzling and easy to screw up. Enter this sense-making illustration:

bratopBless you, Harriet Pepin. Bless you.