Bra-making: Design Ideas for a Bigger Bust

Measuring Cup

What a delight to be asked to be a guest blogger on Sewcialist! I’m excited to be able to write about a subject very close to my heart – bras for the bigger bust.

So what qualifies me to write on this subject? Good question! Let me tell you a little about myself before we get down to business! My name is Karin and I run Mrs. Weaver’s Finest Unmentionables, a bra and corset making business in Calgary, Canada. Like with so many things, my business grew from my own very selfish desire to have beautiful lingerie which was never available in my size. I remember as a young girl, developing early and being taken bra shopping by my mother only to find that nothing fit. A small ribcage with disproportionately larger breasts meant I was in a DD/E at the age of 13, and heading to a specialist bra shop where a very elderly lady would instruct me to undress, eye me critically and announce 30E.

Initially the exclusivity of this little shop was exciting, it’s frilly little floral bra’s in the window by brands such as Perele and Aubade gave me hope of something deliciously feminine and fragile. My disappointment was huge when yet another ugly beige ‘thing’ was plucked from a little box, thick with dust which looked as though it had last seen service as an instrument of torture in the Spanish Inquisition. I rejected it outright, I would not wear it. “It’s all there is” was the retort. “But it’s ugly!”, “Don’t be so ungrateful” and with that the offending item was wrapped up, my mother paid an exhorbitant sum for it and I loathed it with a passion, picking at the stitching at the top of the casing in the hope the wires would pop out sooner than later.
Fast forward 25 years and I have never worn a beige bra again. Instead, I scoured the world looking for beautiful bra’s for my size. And sometimes I got lucky!! But not often, and when I did there was always still some little issue with straps slipping, cups puckering, bands rolling. All things I was happy to accept because it was ‘pretty’. Then one day, I decided this was crazy and went on a journey to make my own – now I own over 20 bra’s just for me! And some even have matching panties!! And now I am on a mission to provide beautiful bras to all women who feel overlooked or forgotten by ready-to-wear.
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So, to business! In this post I want to share with you some of my thoughts about bra-making for the larger bust. Not all of these techniques are necessary, or will work with ALL sizes, but my aim is to stimulate your imaginations and encourage you to try a range of things in your bra-making adventures; the main thing to remember is to embrace all that you have and make your bust work for you; some of the most beautiful bras I have seen have been made for a fuller bust.
The first thing to state very clearly is that support is everything! A heavier bust simply requires more robust engineering, it’s as simple as that. Despite most ready-to-wear evidence to the contrary, this does not mean it can’t be beautiful. Slightly larger/heavier than average busts will not require all of the measures discussed here, only you can decide which ones apply to you.
Support is provided by a number of items, but most notably they are underwires, fabric, elastic/straps.
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Underwires
There are a number of suppliers out there with varying grades and strengths of steel. I buy mine from Bra Makers Supply in Hamilton,Ontario – they are strong and durable and come in an incredible range of sizes all the way up to size 60, a wire that can comfortably accommodate bra size 48H. If however you feel you need more support than a single, flimsy wire can offer, use two! It really is as simple as that, by sliding 2 wires of the same size into your casing you will increase the support that it can offer. Just be careful to stitch your casing in such a way that there is room for both your wires.
Fabric
A larger bust requires fabric that is not going to yield to the force of your breasts. For many, duoplex is the answer. Duoplex is a polyester non-stretch knit that is great for a heavier bust. It comes in lots of different colours too – so no need for only beige, black or white!  For the very full busted amongst you, you can use a double layer of duoplex, in the same way that you can use 2 wires.
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For the smaller end of the large busted range, sheer cup lining provides a great background to lace while still providing a decent level of support. Personally, I love a foam cup bra – not the preformed offerings from Victoria’s Secret – my breasts have never been that spherical! Instead I use cut and sew foam to make a cup which I can then cover with whatever gorgeous fabric I can get my hands on, you may remember Emerald Erin’s post earlier this month in which she showed her preferred method for working with it. Cut and sew foam gives great shape and support and provides excellent nipple coverage. The downside is that some large/heavy busted women don’t like the idea of more bulk, in which case duoplex remains your best friend.
While some may be delighted with duoplex and the range of colours available, others may feel that it’s still too industrial and needs to be prettier, lighter, more feminine. Here too, you have options! Cover your duoplex in the same colour, or contrasting, lace for a glamorous and sophisticated look. Really don’t like duoplex, but don’t get enough support from sheer cup lining? Then use it as your liner fabric and cover all of the outside with something sumptuous and stunning like this velvet that I used in My Thermal Valentine.

My Thermal Valentine Bra

Woven fabrics are usually not recommended for bras. The exception is when covering cut and sew foam where you pretty much choose any fabric you like to cover your cups with. This Spring, I did an entire range using silk charmeuse, I don’t think I’ve ever worn anything quite so luxurious against my breasts. And if you thought that only the smaller busted ladies can get away with the most delicate of lace on their bras, think again – over cut and sew or duoplex you can make a bra that is simply stunning in all sizes.
The larger sized bra generally has a duoplex band with really wide elastic. Again, ladies at the smaller end of the big busted range could opt to use sheer cup lining for their band and cover it with something gorgeous, just make sure you reinforce the bridge area of your bra with a tiny piece of duoplex as this is where most of the stress will be when the bra is on. This is exactly what I did on the Peaches and Cream bra pictured below and it works really well! In the picture you can also see that the duoplex reinforcement of the bridge, a gothic arch in this case, is totally invisible from the front.
Peaches & Cream BraPeaches & Cream bridge
Elastic and straps
The larger the bust, the bigger the elastic gets. I wish I could say that 1/4” elastic is an option, but it just isn’t. And as most elastic is turned under it isn’t usually a problem. However, every now and then I will get a lady who doesn’t want her elastic to be so wide, she is looking for something more feminine than that. In cases like this, instead of going for thinner elastic, I actually opt to make the band wider still and design a long-line bra. This may seem counter intuitive but like on this Alice bra here, it can optically slim down the rib cage as well as making the breasts appear smaller, or at least, more in proportion to the chest area as a whole – the result is a very feminine look without skimping on elastic. An added tip for long line bras (or any bra for a larger bust) is that you should sew a little casing into your side seams and insert a short length of boning. This will prevent the band from rolling up and help keep everything in place.

Alice Longline Bra Side boning, image courtesy of Emerald Erin

Wide straps are not so easy to hide, and no matter how delicate the cups, big wide straps can instantly turn your dream bra into industrial sacking. Instead of wishing we had a perfect perky B cup, we should rejoice! Wider straps provide a wonderful opportunity to truly customize. Use the wider strapping as a base and add ribbon or lace as shown in Cup A – it’s a lovely way to frame your chest. Adding a lace external power bar, as in Cup B is also lovely, just remember to line your lace with sheer cup for extra support and some ribbon or duoplex in the FOE for non-stretch strength; this wouldn’t work for the a very large/heavy bust, but in that instance you can cover your strap with lace for a similar effect. If you really want something more delicate, and you have a smaller large bust,  you could try this lovely spaghetti strap technique. These straps are made from duoplex and are super sturdy. Long lengths are folded using a bias tape maker, and are then folded in half along the length again. This narrow strip of folded fabric is then stitched close to the open edge and voila! Super sexy, super skinny straps. Make as many of these as you require, although I used only 2 straps on Cup C, I’d recommend 3 as a minimum and always work with odd numbers as it’s optically more pleasing. You can either space them further apart as on Cup C below, or stitch across them for a more vertical look as in Cup D. Either way, because of the space between the straps, these provide a lovely delicate result while still keeping everything exactly where it should be.
Cup A Cup B Cup C Cup D
I could go on and on! I hope that at the very least I have given you lots to think about and try in your own bra-making adventures – regardless of your bust size. If you’d like any further information on some of the suggestions and techniques listed above, leave a comment below, or hop on over to mrsweaversfinest.com, check out the blog and leave a comment there and I’ll be happy to provide tutorials on any aspects that come up.
Love your bust!
Mrs. Weaver

37 thoughts on “Bra-making: Design Ideas for a Bigger Bust

  1. Wow these are all fantastic suggestions! You really don’t have to be so limited by cup size! Thanks for all the inspiration – your samples are beautiful 🙂

  2. So much food for thought! You mention adding an external power bar – if you ever have time I’d love to see a tutorial on that! It’s covered a bit in Beverly’s 2nd Craftsy class but my brain is still a bit stuck on it. On my own tangent, I’ve got a question maybe you could help me with… I would like my wire to go a little higher on the underarm to catch that tissue into the cup, but I’m not sure how to get the right sized wire to do that! Say I’m using a 40r wire for my current bra… could I just drop the bridge .5cm and raise the underarm .5cm, and the whole wire would just tilt over on a slight angle? Or would that mess with the shape/angle of the wire? (Does that make any sense?)
    Thanks for your great post!!!

    1. Hi Gillian, I’ll definitely do an external power bar tutorial – if you ‘like’ Mrs. Weaver on Facebook you’ll be notified as soon as I post it 🙂
      Now, on to your wire question – I would recommend getting a long, extra long or even super long wire depending upon your needs. A 40reg is 248mm, a 40long is 265 and a 40 extra long is 280mm. The increase in length is mostly at the underarm, with only a small increase if any, at the bridge. I hope that helps you choose a better wire.
      I’m planning a post on Understanding Underwires soon which will also cover this in more detail, including information on vertical wires and how to shorten wires 🙂

      1. Oh that’s so interesting! I started with a 40xl for the Classic bra, but I switched to a 40r for my second bra with a lower bridge, because the first one is way too full coverage for my tastes. I’ll take a good look at all the underwire options next time I’m at Bra Maker’s SUpply… and I’ll look forward to you posts! I’m subscribed on Feedly, so don’t worry, I’ll see them! 🙂

  3. Gorgeous! I’m definitely inspired by your pictures, and I was wondering about the longline bras. My underbust is my smallest measurement, and my stomach starts sticking out pretty much immediately under it (I have a VERY short torso), could a longline work for me? And if so, how would I go about doing it?

    Also, I agree with Gillian–I’d like some J-shaped wires, does anyone have them? (I have a barrel shaped torso, so I’d need those wires to be pretty narrow or they’ll wrap too far around–it’s problematic in RTW bras too.)

    1. Thank you Splinters&Stitches!! There is no reason why you can’t try a longline. Very briefly, here’s what you do:
      Decide how long you want your longline to be, then measure the circumference of your body at this point – we’ll call this the ribcage.
      On your pattern piece, extend your band the distance from your underbust to the length you want. If you draw a line straight down at your side seam to this new line, you longline will be straight and uncomfortable. So, instead – and in your case – you’ll increase the length of the band at the ribcage to incorporate where your body curves out, based on your ribcage measurement.
      It’s hard to explain without pictures – perhaps a tutorial would help?
      Take a look at bramakerssupply.com for different lengths of wires and see my comment to Gillian above on longer wires. Additionally you may wish to consider vertical wires – I have a small underbust and larger breasts so I prefer a vertical wire.

  4. Thanks for such a fun and inspiring post! I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum (small bust with wide ribcage) where it’s also difficult to find RTW bras in my size… and especially ones that aren’t boring. I think the design ideas you mentioned could work for any size bra, not just larger busts! I absolutely love all the lace and ribbon details you’ve added, and it’s fun to think about all the different ways to customize a pattern.

    1. Hi Carolyn! You are absolutely right, many of these ideas can be used on bras of any size. With smaller busts you have so much freedom in the types of fabrics you can choose to work with as you don’t have to carry quite so much around. Pretty, sheer fabrics, florals, laces – they can all be used on their own or, if you want to line them, use gorgeous 15 denier. It’s soft against your skin and has a bit of give to help mould those cups around your breasts. Plus you will likely have a wider bridge so you can embellish there to your hearts content!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post! Emerald Erin does some amazing colourful bras and swimsuits over on her blog – highly recommend you check her out, if you haven’t already done so! 🙂

      1. Yes I’ve been reading her blog too, inspiring. I have enough fabric to make another twenty gras I reckon so now it’s time
        To move away from. The Shelley pattern and make something else. I understand the construction and fit so the world is my oyster!

  5. Mrs Weaver – awesome post. Just what I need as a larger busted beginner in bra making – thank you.

    1. Thank you emrboiderpiccies! Enjoy your bra making adventures and may all your dream bras make you feel fabulous!

  6. Great post! I have never made a bra, but I hope to someday! My problem is not only being larger busted but also having a larger band size…I’m a plus size gal and find it is usually the band that is hard to fit…most often it’s too tight…Any tips or suggestions?

    1. Hi Eugenia, bra making is an excellent option if you find it hard to find a band that is a good fit. In your case, sizing the band will be an important aspect of your bra make. A larger size will also benefit from a higher band – by which I mean go for 4×3, or even 5×3, hook and eyes. I’d also advise taking a good look at where the band sits at your side – if it’s a little low you may wish to alter your pattern to increase band height, this will help prevent ‘band roll’.
      A higher band also gives opportunity for embellishment! The larger surface area is a perfect opportunity for lace addition 🙂
      Another little tip is, if the band on your ready-to-wear bras is too tight, order yourself some extenders; these are an excellent way to extend band length and get the most comfort possible from your RTW options.

  7. I just read your blog for the very for time. I have spent so much money looking for the perfect bra and thinking about making my bras. My question is, how do you make comfortable straps that don’t hurt so much? I am a 38J or higher.
    Also can I have a link as to how to start making my bra, since I have never made one?I will search for places around me that sell bra supplies, if I can’t find one, I hope you don’t mind sending some good links to me. I live in New Jersey.

    1. Hi Yemi!
      It depends a bit on where the straps hurt. If they are too tight, then they would need to be lengthened, if they leave grooves in your shoulders then padding the straps and making them wider is the best option – and really does give you a lot more comfort.
      If you want to start making your own bras then I would recommend you check out Beverly Johnsons Class on Craftsy – there are 3 bra making classes on there now! The first one will guide you step by step through measuring and making a bra for yourself. The video tutorials are super helpful. You can get this class at half price through Beverly’s website at http://www.bramakerssupply.com This is also a great place to get all your supplies.
      I’d love to hear how you get on!

  8. I am having some trouble fitting my bra pattern my left cup is a whole cup size larger than my right. Do you have any tips or tricks on how to alter the pattern to account for this or to make it less noticeable? I have a 36 band one cup is G the other is H.

    1. Hi Toni! I’d certainly recommend that you alter your frame to accommodate each cup properly – have you been able to make this change to your pattern? If not, please send me an email at mrsweaver@mrsweaversfinest.com and I’ll be happy to email you instructions. Often, that will already make the difference less noticeable. Most people have one larger than the other (usually the left is larger) and it is not usually visible as long as each breast is accommodated properly.

  9. I love your designs. In Jamaica I find it very difficult finding the bra to fit my size. DD 36. When the cup is right, the band around is usually long. Talk about frustrating.

    1. Hi Tashika! I know what you mean, that’s why making your own is really the best way to go! 🙂

  10. My problem is not with the cup size. I need to know where it is best to add length to the band as I have a very broad back without much in front (full B, but lacking at the bottom of the breast. I do best with a balconette/demi style but cannot find them in a 48-50 band with a B-C cup so I guess it is time to start making bras. In addition, I have just had one total shoulder replacement and am getting ready for a second. I can no longer reach behind me to close a bra so I guess front closure is what I need. Also, I have a prominent rib cage so wires never really sit against my body and I never can get the bridge to sit against my chest. I am so discouraged. All help greatly appreciated. I won’t even tell you about the ugly post-mastectomy front hook bra that I was sold as a solution to my immobile arms. Yes it was beige and is basically a glorified undershirt that sticks way way out in front at the hooks and eyes. I want pretty bras, one to match every garment I wear on my upper body.

  11. Hi Myrosesindecember, its hard to cover some of your points in any depth here, but I’ll try!
    If you’re going to add a little extra to the back band in your pattern, you need to add this in the middle of your back band and extend from there, in other words, don’t just add the extra at either end.
    There are a number of options on front closures, including some great magnetic clips which look great however they will require a partial band pattern for success – you can take a look at the front fastenings offered at bramakerssupply.com.
    With regard to your wire challenge, it’s a case of getting the right size wire first, then establishing the right length, that can sometimes help with those with a really prominent ribcage.
    I know it might seem like a there’s a lot of challenges there, but bra-making is a journey with the perfect fit being sometimes 3-10 bras down the track and it is immensely rewarding (not to mention addictive). Please don’t be discouraged, tackle 1 challenge at a time and remember to congratulate yourself on how far you’ve come and not worry about how far you still feel you need to go. The end of the journey means no one will ever have to show you an ugly post mastectomy bra again, as you can create whatever you like.

    1. Thank you for your reply. I don’t think I realized before today that underwires came in different sizes. They just always seemed too wide. Now that I know where to add band length, I am a little more encouraged. I will check the closures at the site you mentioned. (the ugly post-mastectomy bra fits a lot better whem I unhook the top three hooks and eyes. Nancy

      1. You’re welcome Nancy! I did a post on my blog last August on underwires, you’ll find it here http://www.mrsweaversfinest.com/#!Understanding-Underwires/c3g/55d38e630cf2b9f915f9fbae and it should give you some more guidance on understanding underwires and getting the right one for you. You’ll also find my contact info on the site there, so if you need any further help, please let me know.
        So pleased to hear you are feeling encouraged. Good luck and let me know how you get on!

  12. Do you have patterns for cups sizes L – M? I have a 12 inch difference between my over bust and full bust measurements… Thanks, Ann

    1. Hi Ann, unfortunately I do not have any commercially available patterns out yet, but they are work in progress. Depending on your band size you may find a Pin Up Girls Classic or Shelley may fit. I also recomment finding a lical bra maker and asking if they would draft a custom pattern for you.

  13. I am so happy that I finally looked this up an here to find you and I read your post it was everything that I needed I am big bust an I’m going threw the same situation now when I go out to purchase bras the same old colors black, white and beige an never do I have matching sets but I am very interested in this for myself an maybe also maybe considering to start my own boutique

    1. I’m glad you found it too! I do hope you start both with making for yourself and your own boutique – the world needs more beautiful bras for a bigger bust!

    1. Hi Kathie, have your tried Bra Makers Supply in Ontario? They have a large range of moulded foam cups. They also stock a whole range of cut and sew foam which you can use to create your own foam cups.

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