Did you ever meet someone with whom you had so many common interests and you bonded right away? That’s how I felt about Joan McKenna on our European Lingerie Tour. Joan teaches college level sewing classes in San Diego (and is now their Program Director!) It wasn’t the first time I had met her – she came to a Boob Camp at least 7 years ago (when we were still upstairs in the old building on Fennel Avenue). Joan has a wealth of information to share about textiles, clothing, sewing and life in general. When she told me that she had created her 10 commandments of sewing for her blog, Sew Along with Joanie, I was intrigued. When I read them, I knew I had to share them with you. She very kindly allowed me to use them here. I humbly offer a slightly modified version, namely the 10 commandments of Bra-making. It seems appropriate for release on Easter weekend!

Please note that she starts the numbering at 11 (for those of you reading the Roman numerals!) Joan says the first 10 commandments were too good to mess with! I agree with her, so I will do the same.

11. Safety First

That means no iron cords causing tripping hazards, no pins near carpeted floors, no iron left on for days, no rotary blades left exposed and no food or drinks in the sewing room. You know this already but there is still the temptation to bring that coffee in and set it beside the sewing machine, isn’t there?

12. Respect Thy Grainlines

In bra-making, we don’t much care about grainlines (sorry, Joan!) but we DO care about the DoGS (Direction of Greatest Stretch) of the knitted fabrics we use. The DoGS are the pull of the fabric – they direct the PUSH of the breast where you want it to go. If you get it wrong, the breast will be pushed where you DON’T want it to go!

13. Seam Lines are Second Chances for Perfect Fit

In garment making, we use a 5/8″ or 15 mm seam allowance. However the seams in bra-making are typically only 1/4″ (6 mm). There is no room for “letting out a seam” if the cup is too small.  That’s why, in bra-making, if you are trying out a new pattern, or fabric completely different than what you are used to, I suggest you baste the pieces together first. That means nice long sewing machine stitches, and big zig-zag stitches to temporarily hold the elastics on until you can try the bra on. You can even sew with contrasting thread so the stitches are easier to remove once you give the fit the a-ok.

14. Thine Iron is Thine Friend

We don’t use an iron much in bra-making, however when we do, it makes a real difference! I like to use a knob or a cup seam press for pressing the cross cup seams open. I even like to press the seam after I topstitch it. You cannot believe how much better the cup looks when the cross cup seam is free from seam crinkles.

15. Listen to Critiques and Opinions, then Choose Thine Own path

Everyone can offer criticism and sometimes it is helpful. But just because your sister-in-law thinks she knows everything, doesn’t mean she knows anything about bra-making and the way the bra is supposed to fit on you. If you like the red bow on the purple bra, you go for it. Be yourself. Good God, it’s only underwear! Have fun with it.

16. Mastery Cometh Through Experience

I tell people all the time “don’t do your very best work on the first bra”. Why? Because we are too hard on ourselves and expect technical perfection on the first bra (after all, you’ve been sewing for 20 years!) Then we try that first bra on and we need to tweak the fit a little so we end up ripping out some seams. Go easy on yourself – you can do your very best sewing once you get the fit the way you want it (one the second bra, for example).

17. Mistakes present Opportunities for Creativity

Have you ever put the wrong side of the fabric facing out? Haven’t we all? Instead of getting upset about it, why not look at it as an opportunity for creative expression. If you cannot tolerate the “mistake” or it presents a fitting problem (i.e. the right cup is in the left frame hole) then suck it up. Ripping out a seam once in awhile  will keep you humble. Added note – the very best seam ripper is the Clover Seam Ripper!

18. Expose Thyself to Historical and Technical Sewn Inspiration

This is why you need to prowl around bra shops, and peek at what’s inside ready-to-wear. You can learn a lot from dissecting thrift shop bras or other cast offs. Personally I collect vintage bras to see what made them tick. Don’t be afraid to take one side apart and look at what is under the elastics (after you buy it…lol)  Not only will you learn what works in construction, you will also learn what won’t work, which is equally important.

19. Size all patterns with Thy Client’s Name

If you are sewing for a client in a custom bra business, that’s one thing, but when sewing for myself – I write my weight on the pattern. That way I know at a glance if my weight is within 10 pounds of the weight on the pattern, the pattern will still fit. Yes, 10-15 pounds up or down will change your cup size!

20. First Sewn Product Collections Should be Kept Small & Manageable

Unless you are doing a line for ready-to-wear, this won’t apply to you. But the same advise could be re-worded as “don’t use every technique you know on one bra” A good suggestion is only one or two new construction techniques or design elements on a new bra. That way you master the technique.

Happy Easter!

Your Fairy Bra Mother

6 replies
  1. Maria Merante
    Maria Merante says:

    I’ve made one bra in my life; *at that time* it fit! Ready to try again, so wish me luck!

  2. Kathleen Soltow
    Kathleen Soltow says:

    A friend, Roberta Carr, had her Ten Rules for Sewing, too. Number One was, “Sew with your head…” Breaking that one seems to be the root of all my mistakes.

    • Beverly Johnson
      Beverly Johnson says:

      I call that “savouring the process” That’s what I love most about sewing…it is not always just a means of getting a finished project in my closet. I enjoy every step along the way.


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