Anatomy of a Bra: Breaking Down Bra Design & Supplies
As you might already know, August is jam packed with a few community challenges dedicated to sewing lingerie and undergarments. Besides #BRAgust2019 and #sewoverunder, August is also Lingerie month with Sew My Style! I’m one of the leaders for this months challenge and gearing up for this theme has been so helpful in expanding my bra making knowledge.
I’ll have another post about sewing the Jordy Bralette by Emerald Erin shortly, but since the challenge is open ended and you can choose any undergarment pattern you’d like, I wanted to do a little primer on bra making pieces and supplies.
When I first began learning about bra making, I was a bit overwhelmed by all of the terms and names, and I usually found that those things weren’t broken down with the pattern. The pattern would tell me to buy picot elastic, but I had no idea what it was for or why it should be a certain width, and I felt like without this foundational knowledge I wasn’t able to make any other choices (like adjusting the elastic width or style, for example). It was also hard to visualize how the pattern came together because I didn’t understand the parts of the bra and what the function of those pattern pieces was.
So lets break those things down! First we’ll start with the anatomy of the bra. A bra is made up of several parts:
Cup = The part of the bra that encases the breast. They can be seamless or have multiple seams. Seamless designs are great for t-shirt bras because they have a smooth finish under knit shirts. Seams can create more particular shaping and support depending on their placement.
Bridge/Center Gore = The portion between the two cups. It can be a separate piece like in the black beauty bra, or it can be integrated into the frame or cradle. It needs to be stabilized so it doesn’t stretch horizontally between the cups.
Cradle (outer cradle)/Frame = The part of the bra that provides stability for the cups. It holds or “cradles” the two cups. It can be one piece or multiple, again like in the Black Beauty Bra, which has an outer cradle that attaches to the bridge at the center of the bottom of the cup.
Back Band/Wing = This is where most of the bra’s support comes from. Its the stretchy but sturdy part of material that attaches at the side seam of the cradle or the outer cup directly and wraps around the rib cage. It can vary in width depending on the style of the bra and the size of the breast (a longer band can give more support for a larger cup size).
Power bar = A vertical piece on the cup (can be on the outside like the Black Beauty or the inside) that gives more lift and support to the bra. It slightly moves the breast in towards the center front and up, like a gentler push up bra. Without a power bar the breast tends to sit more fully in the cup.
Straps = The part that keeps the bra up. The straps are secondary to the band in how much support a bra has. Straps can be different widths and can vary in how stretchy they are, depending on how much support is desired.
The many supplies for bra making can also be confusing. While a variety of fabrics can work for the main part of the bra, here are the other materials that are most often used for a typical bra:
Fold Over Elastic = An elastic with a center crease so the elastic can be folded around both sides of the material. It can be used for bra straps, binding along neck or underarm edges, and legs and waists of panties. It typically has a shiny side and a matte side, either of which can be used facing out, and can come in different widths.
Picot Plush Elastic = An elastic with one smooth side and one plush or cushiony side, used for finishing edges like the band and part of the cups, depending on the design of the bra. “Picot” refers to the decorative edge typical of lingerie elastics. It also can come in different widths
Strap Elastic = An elastic with a plush side (intended to be worn against the body) and slightly less stretch in order to give support to the bra straps. Again, it also comes in different widths
Clear Elastic = A transparent elastic that is typically used to give more stability to the edges of lace cups. It comes in different widths.
Band Elastic = Usually a wider version of picot plush elastic. The extra wideness helps give support to the bottom of the band and helps keep it in place on the body. Its also be applied to the bottom edge of the bridge if the bridge isn’t connected to a cradle and band (like in a frameless or partial band bra).
Underwire = Wire that sits beneath the breast to provide more support. They can be different shapes to suit different breast shapes and bra styles.
Channeling = A sturdy casing for the underwires. Its sewn to the inside of the bra on both ends to create a tube in which the underwire is inserted and then closed shut. It should also be used in wireless bras because it adds more stability to the bra cups.
Hook and Eyes = The type of closure on a typical back closing bra. Most hook and eye sets come in two or three rows of hooks by three columns to allow for adjusting fit as the bra stretches with use.
Twill Tape = A woven fabric tape that can be sewn in between fold over elastic to create a more rigid and subsequently more supportive bra strap, like in the Black Beauty Bra.
Sliders and Rings = The hardware that makes the bra straps adjustable. The ring is used to join the body of the bra and the strap, and the slider is moved along the strap to lengthen or shorten it. These come in different widths to match the width of the strap elastic, and can be made of metal or plastic.
Power Net = A firm stretch mesh that is stretchy enough to me comfortable as the body moves, but sturdy enough to maintain the support during wear. Its usually used on the bra band but can be used on the bridge, power bar, and even the cup. It is also used to give some compression in other types of undergarments.
Foam = A thin padding material. It can give a bra more coverage or work with the cup to shape the breast. Foam can be purchased as “cut and sew” which is a flat piece of foam that is cut and sewn together to create a dimensional cup, or as a premolded cup for things like t-shirt bras or swim suit cups.
If you’ve felt like me and didn’t know how to interpret a bra pattern and supplies, I hope this post helped to break them down in a way that is clearer as you move forward with your chosen bra pattern. Knowing the parts of a bra and what the various notions do will also make shopping for supplies much easier as well.
Are there bra notions you like that you don’t see on this list? Let me know in the comments, and I can’t wait to see your lingerie makes this month! Make sure to tag them with #sewmystyle2019 on Instagram or add them to the Facebook group album. And if you want to sew lingerie along with us this month, make sure to sign up for the Sew My Style newsletter for more details and coupon codes for our two featured patterns and, for the first time, a featured materials sponsor!