True bra-making confessions: I finally found a retro bra sewing pattern I like!

It’s a Friday confession, my friends. Pull up a chair and a beverage!

I’ve never wanted to sew lingerie. A slip yes (not that I’ve ever bothered getting to it). But bras and panties, nope. (Incidentally: I cannot stand the term “panties”, I call them underwear whenever possible.) In fact, I have to be honest and say that most of the bra making posts and photos I see online have kind of annoyed me. Here’s why.

I wear one style of bra. It’s a retro style, popular from the 1940s through the 1960s, but still exists now in limited fashion. Ironically five years ago next month, I did a post on bras and a 1940s bust silhouette, which is actually still one of the top posts on my blog. I’ve moved onto more mid-century style clothing, but the bra shape I wear is exactly the same. A cone-shaped bra with a mostly-horizontal cross-cup seam is the ticket for me. (There are probably some technical details to describe this style that I don’t know, by the way.) It’s comfortable with or without an underwire, and gives me the flattering shape I want under vintage clothing without being a bullet bra (just too pointy, and I can’t fill them out right without pads, which I don’t want). This style has no foam nor padding, the bra shape doing all the work for me to get my girls in the right position. It’s my unicorn of bra shapes! It’s great under vintage and retro clothing, and particularly great for those with short torsos and relatively large cup sizes, as it gives kind of the effect of lengthening your torso because it lifts the breasts up a bit more.

My two favorites in ready-to-wear are the What Katie Did cone bra, and the Bali Flower bra. Both are great, but colors are limited. the WKD bra comes in peach and black satin, two lovely options. And the Bali Flower comes in white, beige, or if you’re a larger band size (I’m not), black. Sure, I could probably try my hand dyeing one of them, but that still doesn’t give me any options for more fun fabric choices and personalization.

Anyway, as you can probably start to see… there is nothing about modern bra-making posts that’s left me feeling there was anything there for me! Traditional modern style bras are easy to find and people are sewing them up like gangbusters… think Pin-Up Girls Classic Bra, Marlborough, Boylston, etc. But I don’t wear bras like that. I just simply don’t. So sewing one holds no appeal. And trying to figure out how to re-architect one to change the placement of the seam when I don’t even know anything about bra-making always seemed like asking for trouble. There are a few bralette patterns out there that have a similar shape to the style of bra I wear, but I really need and want a proper full-on bra with all the standard trimmings, and again, didn’t want to try an reinvent the wheel trying to turn one thing into something else.

And so, the world of bra making left me feeling cold. I admit. If I’m fully honest, cold and kind of envious at all those pretty bras that I knew I still could never have.

And then, one day recently I randomly thought to myself, why not look for a vintage bra pattern! (Well, technically my first thought was “maybe I could take apart one of my bras and draft a pattern from it”, before I moved onto the much less annoying “maybe there’s a vintage pattern for this” thought.) I mean, there’s vintage patterns for damn near everything, why wouldn’t there be ones for bras? And why had that never occurred to me before?!

Sew-n-Stretch Ladies' bra pattern (1969)

Because THERE IS!

That there my friends, that’s me. That’s my bra. It’s a pattern for a cone shaped bra!!

sew-n-stretch-closeup

I first picked up Sew-n-Stretch 217 on Etsy, it’s a pattern from 1969. It comes in different sizes and I managed to find what I thought was my size. I’ve been wearing a 32C lately but have always hovered on the edge of 32D which I used to wear, so it’s possible this one may not fit me. But it’s okay, because then I found Kwik Sew 1017, from the 1980s, and that one has both sizes and many more. Designer Kerstin Martensson (read more about her here) founded Sew-n-Stretch in 1967 and then later changed the name to Kwik Sew Pattern Company. Her name is on both patterns.

Kwik Sew bra pattern 1017

It’s basically the same bra, although I was in a stupor of newfound excitement when I ordered them, and thought they were slightly different. I haven’t pulled out the pieces yet to examine them but when I compare them I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re literally exactly the same, although the line art of the 1969 pattern looks like the bottom of the frame (the part under the cups) is a bit wider. It’s worth nothing the instructions on the 1969 pattern are much lighter than the one on the 1980s pattern, as you might expect.

But it gets better, especially if you happen to be in a similar boat, but don’t want to try to hunt down your size packet in one of these vintage patterns (or want a cheaper version!). When I started researching, I laughed at my own stupidity in not trying to figure this all out sooner, because it turns out there’s also a modern Kwik Sew version of this pattern, K3594. I don’t have that one but unless they changed something, it looks pretty much the same as these other two! I’d just have bought this one if I’d seen it originally.

Kwik Sew 3594

And, y’know, people have actually made this! But in part because most people don’t show their bras modeled on their own body, I might never have actually put two-and-two together if I saw one of those Kwik Sew bras laying flat in photos (plus, it’s a much smaller percentage of people who have made and shown off that pattern vs. most of the others I’m used to seeing on social media and blogs). So it was a roundabout way to get there, but oh man, am I glad I ever did!!

So, where do I go from here? I’m taking the Craftsy class “Sewing Bras: Construction and Fit” which has been fantastic so far. While the instructor of the class, Beverly Johnson (owner of Bra Makers Supplies) doesn’t cover the style of bra I plan to make, I’m learning a lot about construction and she’s getting me to feel more comfortable with the concepts of bra making and fitting, so it’s been great. I actually think she might cover a lace version of the modern Kwik Sew pattern in one of her more advanced classes on lace and foam, but it looks like it’s 75% foam and a lot less about lace, so I may wait and try to pick that class up next time there’s a big sale. I have some supplies coming in the mail, and in the meantime I’ve also been making note of tips and tutorials that I can apply, once I get sewing.

Anyway, there you have it. Consider my eyes finally open to bra making, now that I found a bra pattern that actually speaks to my style.

Never say never! 😉

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Golly, 24 Comments!

  • Beverly’s classes are great. The Foam, Lace and Beyond I think definitely has some info you’d find useful. Much of it is about lining/stabilizing rigid and stretch laces, altering your band pattern so you can use the scalloped edge on the bottom of the band, etc. All the samples she shows in that class are still from her PinUp Girl patterns, but you could definitely apply the information to the Kwik Sew pattern.

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    • Good to know! I saw a picture of the black and white lace bra that she had her model wearing in the first one which looked like it may have been the Kwik Sew pattern, that’s why I thought it was maybe in the lace and beyond class. But it does sound like it would be really helpful! I’ve been very pleased with the basics class.

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  • I make my own bras as well. I was lucky enough to find what I think might be a late 1950’s early 1960’s longline bra in a thrift store some 4 years ago, which fit! I took the pattern of it and made up new versions, and I’ve never looked back 😀 I’ve never blogged about it because lying flat as you mentioned it doesn’t really look like much, and I don’t want to to post bra-pictures of myself online. I suppose I could put it on my dressmakers dummy… I’ll have to give it a think!

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  • I just saw an episode of Great British Sewing Bee where the task was making a bra. It’s on Youtube. Maybe you’d find it interesting or technically helpful.

    BTW, get thee to a showing of The Dressmaker asap. Wow! I just saw it today.

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  • Have you tried the famous Triumph Doreen bra? I love it.

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    • Tragically they don’t seem to make 32 bands, or at least didn’t when I last checked and have checked again now. I’d even have ordered it from the UK, I love the look. And I love that hot pink one!!

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  • You might like this You Tube video of the Kwik Sew 3594 being made up. Although it is quite short I think it’s useful, particularly at the end she is wearing the finished bra and mentions some changes she would make. She has a few tips along the way – and other bra making videos (which I havnt seen so can’t recommend or otherwise). She is Bra Making with Julia on You Tube
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxtzgd0AUnY

    I toy with the idea of making my own bras as I can never find a RTW one that fits. There is a lot involved though so I find it a bit intimidating. I will be interested to see how you go on.

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    • Thanks so much for the link, I’m sure that will be really helpful! All those fiddly details and supplies can seem daunting but watching the Craftsy class has helped a lot. But I’ll still be really nervous cutting into my first one!

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  • This is a helpful post. I have totally gone off underwire bras, and I hate push-ups or those handful-o-foams… I have found ONE bra that I like (and wear) in the “old womens” department. It is this vintage style cone shape, but I struggle to find it in a small enough cup size. As a compromise (for the sake of comfort), I mostly wear sportsbras, but they are just foul and gives a very “unshapely” shape 😀 So it seems sewing one myself is the way to go. The patterns you have found looks about right, but just the thought of starting bramaking is a bit daunting. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    • I agree it’s a bit daunting! As I’m close to starting my first one, I’m definitely nervous. But it seems so worth it to get your perfect shaped bra. Fingers crossed! 🙂

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  • I’ve always been intimidated by the thought of bra making too- but you have made it sound attainable. I never thought about more vintage style patterns either! I might just have to give bra making a try.
    I also went back and read your other post about the shape of vintage 40’s bras, thanks for such a great and informative write up! I am desparately in need of a new bra, and I really don’t want to go for the modern foam cup, which I have been wearing, but I also don’t want to go for the bullet bra either. Thank-you for showing that there is something in between! Now I know what to look for when I go shopping next.
    The Artyologist

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    • Thanks, I’m glad that old post was helpful! I find that shape a great alternative. Hopefully bra making will indeed turn out to be attainable! 😉

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  • THANK YOU. I’ve had nearly the same exact experience with bras, and I’ve struggled because even older lady stores and repro companies don’t make the size I need, so I’ve been really, really stuck. I’m going to have to check this out!

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    • You’re very welcome! I’ve been lucky to find a couple that come in my size but not many that I love… basically the only two I mentioned in this post, ha ha! So I’m finally really excited about the idea of making bras in any color and fabric I want, if this works out!

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  • Yes, me too. Everything that you and all of your commenters have said. I mean ditto, ditto, ditto.

    The only difference between you and me is that I have done nothing to help myself. I have read and read about bra making. Watched the videos over and over. And cried and stomped my feet. Is it too much to ask for a bra that is pretty, the band not too tight, cups that you do not fall out of, no thick foam padding, no wires poking you, and straps that do not show or fall off of your shoulders??

    Bless you for trying this for us. You may become the poster child of bra making for many of us. (Probably more than you know) Please keep us informed of your progress.

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  • Hi Tasha! Do you adapt modern sewing patterns to better accentuate a cone bra-shape? I’m interested in sewing a few things specifically to work better with my cone bra, but I’m unsure how to go about that. I have some ideas, but I was interested if you already have some techniques down for it (specifically for darts and for princess seams). Thoughts?

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  • Having a 38DD I would put someone’s eyes out with a bullet bra. I would LOVE to get one of these patterns still. I am glad I found this post, because finding a vintage 50s/60s/even a 70s era bra pattern is a thing Ive entertained in my mind often. I do admire the bullet/torpedo bras from back then, but they were definitely a bit of a trend for that period, and that alone. If I were to sport wearing one of those today I’d probably be arrested for obscenity lolol. Or stared at where ever I go… hey…hmm..

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  • I have the worst time trying to find acceptable underwear. I did try (unsuccessfully) a couple of times to make underpants (I hate the word “panties” too) but never a bra. One problem with bras is that I am fanatical about having seamless cups which, as far as I know, you can’t do when you’re making your own.

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    • Another one who despises the word “panties”.. . What was it that made your project unsuccessful? There are some really easy patterns out there, I have a pattern for underwear in my computer that is very old, I think 1940s, that I have not attempted yet (I still need ball point needles for sewing knits for my machine!) I’ve been lurking on this site for some time, collecting hints, tips, patterns for old bras and underwear.

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  • BTW, Playtex did make a bra with seamless, unlined cone shape cups but I found it uncomfortable. I forget what they called it and I don’t know if they still make it.

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  • Susan Campbell December 3, 2016 at 8:56pm

    Make sure you check out Bravo Bella and Queen Elite bra patterns and DVDs on BravoBellaBras.com. More classic bra styles.

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    • Yes, I’ve ordered fabric from Bravo Bella and have my eyes on one of the patterns. Thanks for the recommendation for the other patterns, I’ll check them out!

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  • I’ve made bras (which I hate wearing but later on that) and find them surprisingly easy. I mean, even if you screw up a seam what is that two whole minutes of unpicking? People complain about cost but literally the most expensive (in modern bras) is the powernet which is $20/m. …..and you neex 1/8m to make about /ten/ bras. So like. $.25 a bra? The lace and satin I don’t buy as metreage but as trimmings. They make extra wide stretch lace trims at $6/m (all Australian prices which tend to be more expensive) and they fit small pattern pieces nicely. Plus you can get two or three out of a metre AND use scalloped edges all day long. They’re surprisingly way easier than you’d think. I made bras before I made a pencil skirt! It’s a lot of “fiddly bits” but none are actually fiddly and each detail is so small that by the time you finish one your interest is still maintained to add more. “Well, gee, piecing the lace cups to that super cute satin i got is done ooooh what if I used neon blue for the under elastic! Well that’s done. Wouldn’t a bow be precious?! Well thats done. Shoot, I have time to bead the darn thing!” Next thing you know you have the nicest bra on the planet. Except I hate actually wearing the things. Something about extra layers (admittedly I have Acorn boobs. If say a-cup but surprisingly they’re not I just have a gigantic upper bust which makes my actual busy look like wee little nubs) of fabric on the fattiest part of your body in an Australian summer just seems like a big giant neon NOPE to me. I’ve been called out in public for it. I should add that some people have been punched in reply. I figure yku comment about my lack of bra my hand can comment on your cheekbone. I’m not a nive person; but neither is a stranger who’s opening line involves your nipples! Anyway moving back onto bras – i love sewing them, hate wearing them. It got the the point I had to stop because I had far too few matching sets I never wore. My blue satin set is still my fave but *shruuuug*. I’ve made the Marlborough and it was fine. Though the Watson works better for my tater tots. Probably not so great for your, uh, size. It’s not supportive in the least. But its cute so if I ever want to be cute (hardly ever) its around.

    Also findings: don’t buy kits! Why do people spend $30 on kits?! I swear I could walk to mt local sewing shop, buy the entire kits worth of findings for $3 and make tons of money. Shame I DONT do that. Like literally the little bars, sliders and rings are, what, five to ten cents each? So twenty cents, maybe forty, per bra. The hook and eye closures are $1 for 3 hooks and $1.20 for 5. And the underwires are $2/pair. So combine EVERYTHING i said and you’ll get a custom satin and lace bra for like… $8.50. Australian. Using the maximum prices I listed. Yah.

    This year I’m focusing on only sewing from salvaged materials so no bras anyway. Plus this is an older post. How did you go?

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  • […] Last fall, I blogged about how I was going to take the plunge into bra making, which was a difficult place to get to since I wear retro style bras to match my overall style and fashion preferences. Since then, I finished up Beverly Johnson’s first bra making class on Craftsy, and have watched parts of her other two more advanced classes, too. Seriously, these classes are some of the best money I’ve ever spent on something craft-related! (Looks like they’re all on sale now but periodically they have even better sales.) […]

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