Years ago, I worked for a decorative embroidery thread company (Sulky) doing educational seminars all over Canada. I was, in Husqvarna VP of Education Sue Hausmann’s words, an “edu-tainer”. I used to use the phrase, “if I were stranded on a desert island….” and then I would go on to tell my audience about the stabilizers I would take, or the specific thread I would take along. It always made them laugh, because that imaginary desert island would have to have electricity for my sewing machine, and at least one really good fabric store. Those items were assumed to already be there.

So, if I were stranded on a desert island, and was going to be making bras for the islanders there…here are the things I would consider essential to bring along. And yes, there would be islanders there – you need someone to run the really good fabric store, don’t you?

I couldn’t make a bra without my edge stitching foot, which some of you know as an edgejoining foot or the stitch-in-a-ditch foot. On my Bernina, it is the #10 foot. Whatever it is called, it has a bar that sits in the middle and you ride this bar in the well of the seam. Moving the needle slightly to the right or the left keeps your topstitching of the cross cup seam absolutely perfect. Quilters use the needle in the middle position to do stitch-in-a-ditch. You can see the bar in the drawing below.

My mature eyes, and the bi-focals that come with them, unannounced, could not handle black thread on shiny, black fabric, if not for the foot. I’m afraid my topstitching would resemble a drunkard’s path on a Saturday night. I would be willing to leave my 1/4” foot behind, if the weight of it would be too much for my desert island trip, but not my topstitching foot. I have gotten quite good at seeing the “right” width for the seam allowances; I just can’t see to topstitch.

Every designer has a “judy” in her shop, and I am no exception, except my judy is named Ashley. For those of you who don’t know what a judy is, it’s a dress form on which you can drape and draft your creations, or just dress her up and stand her in a corner. Whatever. Dressforms for bra-making are really very difficult to obtain, because the bust on a normal judy is what I will call a “uni-boob” – the bust just rises up out of the chest like a giant wave, then subsides lower on the rib cage. It might make a sheath dress look great, but it isn’t accurate for a bra-maker. We need separation between the breasts, preferably a nice flat bridge area, too. That kind of mannequin is hard to find and very, very expensive.

A few years ago, I found a mannequin perfect for bra-making in a mannequin catalogue, and the style was being discontinued. I called to find out the price, and while the regular price was $700, they would be happy to sell the remaining mannequins for an unbelievable price of $99 each. Needless to say, I bought all 11. The name they assigned to this moiré covered mannequin was “Ashley” and that is what I have called her ever since. She just happens to be a perfect 36C, so I do any draping on her, knowing that any bra I make that fits her, will also fit me. How could I go to a desert island without my Ashley?

There’s nothing that can ruin a day on the beach of my desert island, than being allergic to the elastics in your bra or swimsuit. Most elastic is made with threads of latex (that’s rubber, to the uninformed) woven or knitted into the body of a narrow trim. The rubber makes the trim stretchy. However, some women, an increasing number of women, are becoming allergic to latex. How do you know if you have a latex allergy? Believe me, you will know! You’ll get a red, itchy patch (almost like a heat rash) in areas where the latex is against the skin. It seems to be more severe if there is sweat involved (excuse me…perspiration…women don’t sweat) Lots of women think they are allergic to synthetic fabrics, when in fact; they are sensitive to the latex in the elastic. (Oddly enough, latex is considered a “natural” product, while its replacement fibre, spandex, is definitely a synthetic). 

Let me tell you how I discovered my latex allergy. I was teaching bra-making in Edmonton, Alberta, about 7 years ago. I was there for what I now call my “bra-making marathon” as there were 125 women booked into those back-to-back classes! Good grief! I thought I would not be able to look at another breast as long as I lived.

I didn’t stay at a hotel that year – I was staying at the home of the educator from the store I was teaching at. They had two BIG ridgeback hounds. Great big things that had a tail that almost knocked me down when they were wagging. I got to sleep on the hide-a-bed in their family room, and my hostess let me know that this couch (my bed) was the usual place for these two dogs. Hopefully they wouldn’t bother me too much at night….RIGHT!

I had to push the dogs out of the room in order to go to sleep, and just as I was getting ready for bed, I felt a little itchy under my breasts. I have to tell you, my immediate thought was “those **** dogs have fleas!” I took off my bra, and to my horror, a red, itchy, weeping welt went all the way around my rib cage. It was also under my armpits, although not quite as bad. I had a latex allergy, no doubt caused in part to my constant interaction with rubber elastics. The next day, I had to wear my bra inside out, so the elastic would not touch my skin. This is not a good way to wear your bra, but necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. Needless to say, when I went home, I contacted the mill about having latex-free elastic made for us, and we’ve carried it ever since then. I make all my own bras and panties with latex-free elastics (try scratching your panty line and see what looks you get). I am now very careful when using rubber (latex hospital gloves, or rubber dams at the dentist, just for two examples) otherwise I could be in real trouble.

You can’t always tell elastic containing rubber from its spandex counterpart just by looking at it, so be sure to ask for it, if this is a concern for you. If you can’t find it on your desert island, row on over to mine. I’ll have enough for both of us.

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