Closet Case Patterns, Tutorials

FITTING A BALCONETTE BRA CUP FOR THE SOPHIE SWIMSUIT // WITH AMY OF CLOTH HABIT

Today I have a super special bra guru to share some fitting wisdom with you; Amy Chapman of Cloth Habit, the exceptional bra-making blog, is here! Amy and I have been friends for a long time and I asked her to share some tips on fitting a balconette style bra cup like the one in the Sophie Swimsuit pattern. Amy is a bra-making and bra-fitting expert so I hope you find her advice helpful if you’re trying to fit this pattern (or any balconette!) to your breasts. Here’s Amy…..

Call me insane, but fitting bras has to be my favorite thing to do in all of sewing-dom. (Fitting pants comes next.) It breaks out the problem-solver, and I looove solving problems.

Bras are unique in that it is hard to get a decent picture of fit without assembling most of an entire bra. So I like to make a “bra muslin” whenever trying a new underwired style. Here’s an example of a muslin for a strapless bra which has has a very similar cup as the Sophie. For my test bras, I cut and loosely sew together an entire bra from similar or the same materials. I sew the cups from foam (if foam is being used) and nothing else. I sew all seams with a very long straight stitch or zig-zag, sew the elastic to one side only, and loosely stitch in the hooks and closures so I can easily take them out for reuse. I topstitch the channeling in very loosely, leaving the ends open. It’s all very ugly but it does the job. If you decide to “muslin”, have fun making it ugly!

Now let’s get on with some fitting. Here are some of my favorite bra-fitting tips and alterations for the bra portion of the Sophie swimsuit.

[Note: Before getting started on any alteration, I recommend tracing in the seamlines. Afterward, walk your pattern pieces along these lines to make sure things still match up. I always double-check by walking the cup pieces into the cradle right before before cutting. Measure twice, cut once!]

EXPERIMENT WITH UNDERWIRES

Underwires make a huge difference in how a bra fits and shapes. We’ve all worn wires that were uncomfortable for some reason or another. Give yourself permission to try various sizes, even if the one you like doesn’t seem “correct” for your size.

Fitting a balconette style bra cup // Sophie Swimsuit Pattern // Closet Case Files

CUSTOMIZE THE BRIDGE

Before even cutting a bra pattern, I like to adjust the bridge shape and width to match the body’s natural contours. To create a personalized shape of your own, trace the bridge area of the pattern onto a stiff piece of paper like card stock. Draw in the seam allowances and cut the shape out on the seamlines.

Fitting a balconette style bra cup // Sophie Swimsuit Pattern // Closet Case Files

Slide this pattern between your nekkid breasts and take a look at the shape. Is it too wide? Too narrow? Do you need less width on top and more width on bottom? Cut a line up through the center and readjust the shape or width, using a piece of tape to hold the new shape in place. Repeat until you are happy with the shape, then trace this new shape on top of the pattern.

Fitting a balconette style bra cup // Sophie Swimsuit Pattern // Closet Case Files

ADDING OR REMOVING CUP VOLUME

If you notice that your cups spilleth over no matter how you readjust the bra, you’ll need more volume. You can add or remove volume along the width (from bottom of breast to top of breast) or along depth (from side to side of depth). Sometimes a pattern needs just a little tweak in this area.

Signs that cups may be too small (need to add volume):

  • the bridge pushes away from your breasts (see the bottom of this post for more on this)
  • your breast tissue is spilling or squeezing out of the cup
  • the bottom of the cup has a flat spot under the breasts

Signs that cups may be too big (need to remove volume):

  • cups seem to sag or wrinkle
  • cup is floating  away along the neckline or the inner cup,

Tip: Often a cup is too big if the apex–the point where the horizontal seam meets the vertical seam– is over 1/4″ above the nipple. This will be especially easy to see in foam-lined bras.

For this pattern, I would recommend first making width adjustments if you need more room. Most women have breasts that are wider than they are deep.

ADD OR REMOVE WIDTH

sophie-bra-add-remove-width (1)

On left: Add depth by splitting lower cup along top edge and smoothing out modified curve. You will also need to add depth to the upper cup piece as indicated.
On right: Remove depth by splitting cup, overlapping pieces and truing curve. You will also need to remove depth from the upper cup piece as indicated.

ADD OR REMOVE DEPTH

Fitting a balconette style bra cup // Sophie Swimsuit Pattern // Closet Case Files

On left: Add width/volume by splitting cup open desired amount and smoothing out modified curve
On right: Remove width/volume by splitting cup, overlapping pieces and truing curve
** Please note you must make same change to both lower cup pieces

I recommend making no more than 1/4” in each area of adjustment. If you need more than that, it will be easier to go up or down a cup size.

ADJUSTING THE NECKLINE

Some of us have more breast tissue on top while others have more fullness on bottom. And almost all women have one breast that is slightly bigger than the other (no, you are not a unicorn). As a result, one neckline is often a little too tight or loose. If your cups seems to fit overall, but the neckline still feels a little tight or gaps a bit, these adjustments may help create a nice, contoured fit.

Fitting a balconette style bra cup // Sophie Swimsuit Pattern // Closet Case Files

Illustration #1 – adjustment for too tight cup (add length along top)
Illustration #2 – adjustment for gaping cup (remove length along top)

WIRE LENGTH ADJUSTMENTS

Remember how I said it’s okay to try different wires? If you find a wire that you love, but it’s a different size or length than the one used for your cups, you’ll need to alter your cup pieces to fit that new wire.

To avoid making changes to the cradle (the wire seam on the body of the swimsuit), I recommend cutting out the body size that corresponds with your chosen wire. It’s perfectly fine to use a different size cup, as long as you lengthen or shorten the wire seam on the cup to fit that new cradle.

Fitting a balconette style bra cup // Sophie Swimsuit Pattern // Closet Case Files

After making one of these adjustments, don’t forget to walk the cup pieces into the seam of the cradle and mark in the new notch placements!

A WORD ABOUT THE BRIDGE

One of the BIGGEST questions I get about bra fitting is, “Why can’t I get the bridge to lay flat between my breasts?”

Often this area does not lay flat simply because there is not enough volume in the cups. As a result, the breasts push away the bridge to find that extra room they want. But there are other reasons this happens. You can add all the volume you want, go up multiple cup sizes and still not get that bridge to lay flat. Why?

Two words: Underwires and band.

The heavier the breasts, the stronger those two need to be to counteract the weight. If a bra has no wires or wires that are too light for your breasts, that area is going to have a hard time laying flat. If a band is light and stretchy, too loose or the cups are only supported by a lycra body like the one-piece Sophie, there’s less strength in back to counteract the weight in front and the bridge may not lay flat.

Does that mean it doesn’t fit? No.

I’m of the personal opinion that while a flat bridge is one of those goals us bra makers like to obsess on, many times it’s not worth obsessing over, or even possible with certain materials. There are diverse styles of bras and along with them are varied styles of fit–i.e., don’t expect a flat bridge from a soft cup bra. Sometimes comfortable IS the best fit!

Have fun fitting!

  • Oh thank God you did this today. I am working on a costume that involves fitted bra cups, and anyone that knows me can tell how …unfamiliar I am with a bra (looks down) (nope, still not enough). It’s like sewing a tiny tiny house that I can’t live in.
    Tonight’s work will involve less profanity. My neighbors thank you.

  • Lisa

    Wow! Super helpful. I’m going to save this one. Thanks!

  • Shannon

    Oh wow! That was so helpful! I made up a muslin of the Sophie and found the size 4 cups did not cover me in the width but the depth was good. I was contemplating going to a size 5 but knew I would have to much volume in the cup. You answered my questions perfectly! Also, it was super helpful regarding the wire size as I always need a larger wire than what the cup calls for. Thank you, Thank you!

  • cm

    This was so timely as I just started fitting the cups the other night. I was working with a 20 cup 5 on a smaller band, and found that I needed way more volume. This post is so helpful.

    I also came up with way to test the cup without having to sew up the whole top- I folded over about a 1/4 inch of the edge of the cup around an underwire and pinned it in place. Then I pinned that onto the wire line of an existing bra I had with soft, non-foam cups. It made a huge difference in getting the cup width, depth, and curve just right!

  • annie

    I’m running into a wrinkling problem with my poly-laminate foam. Where the inner and outer foam are sewn together, there are wrinkles and buckles at the fullest part of the cup curve, (just small ones across that seam, not across the whole cup). They are small but noticeable enough that the cup looks wonky there, even though the rest of the cup seems to fit smoothly / great. I tried the reducing depth adjustment- no change in the wrinkles situation.

    Is this a technical issue, like the grainline was slightly off or I didn’t cut the curve precisely enough?

    Is it more of a shaping issue, like I should make that seam less curved?

    A fit issue? Something else entirely?

    • Hmmm…. Not sure Annie. Seems like it would be maybe a grainline issue? What type of foam did you use? Can I see a photo?