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  • Katherine Sewing

1940’s Bra-Making

Updated: Oct 2



Have you ever wanted to try out a vintage bra, just to see what it feels like? For myself, I have never been particularly satisfied with modern bras, and so have taken to experimenting with wearing historical foundation garments on a regular basis. In the past, this has been Victorian corsets, but recently I have been trying something new. Vintage bras. In my previous two articles on this blog about vintage bras - how they fit, and how I sewed a longline 1950's bra, you will see that I simply raved about how much I love vintage bras compared to modern ones.


bra making 1940's vintage sewing tutorial linen batiste white pattern
I love the shape of my two most recent vintage bras

In this video, I will be sharing with you how I recently sewed two new vintage bras to add to my wardrobe. They were both made from a 1940's bra pattern. I should mention that as a perpetually breastfeeding mother, I did make both of these bras to be nursing accessible as well, so if that is something you would like to learn how to do, follow along in this video to see how simple it is!


This bra making video will be a little unique, however. Rather than making two identical bras, I chose to experiment with making one bra with a completely vintage finish. That means no elastic whatsoever, not even for edging, and ribbon for straps instead of modern adjustable straps. In the second bra, I experimented with giving this vintage bra a completely modern finish, with modern elastic edging, modern adjustable straps, and using some elastic along the under cup line for more support.


In this video, you will see:

  • How I altered the pattern (quite a bit actually) to fit my body better

  • What fabric I used for my two bras, and how I cut out all the bra panels

  • How I constructed this bra, including altering the pattern to make these bras nursing friendly

  • How I created both a vintage and modern finish on the respective bras, and made use of elastic for shaping and extra support

Finally, keep reading until the end to see how I like these two bras, how the vintage finish compares to the modern finish, and if there is anything I would change for next time.


So let's jump into it!

Altering the Pattern


bra making 1940's vintage sewing tutorial linen batiste white pattern
After altering my pattern, I made a mock-up to finalize the fit

So, what pattern did I use for these bras? I used a 1940’s bra pattern from Mrs. Depew, which I wanted to try because it presented a very different vintage bra design to my self-drafted 1950’s bra pattern. It also has options for a narrow band bra, and a longline bra. I chose the narrow band option for both bras. What makes this vintage bra pattern different?


Rather than modern bras and bra patterns which come with a full bust and underbust measurement, this vintage bra pattern was sized only based on one’s full bust measurement. For me and my body type, this presents more of a challenge, because my back is proportionally much smaller than my full bust measurement! So, how did I alter the pattern?


bra making 1940's vintage sewing tutorial linen batiste white pattern
I made one of my vintage bras with a modern finish - I love how it turned out!

It turned out to be much easier than I had anticipated. The main thing to alter was the length of the bra band, but I did it in such a way as to preserve the original shaping at either end of the band panels. What does this mean, practically? It means that instead of simply chopping off a section of the bra band from the end, I slashed and overlapped the band panel in the centre, and then smoothed out the lines. This preserves the original shape of the bra band, while shortening it enough to fit me. You may also notice in the video that I chose to make my bra band a little wider - the width of 4 hook and eyes, rather than 3. This was just my personal preference.


From simply holding the paper pattern pieces over my body, I was also able to ascertain that the bra cups also needed to be shortened widthwise, so that the bra side seams would end up in the correct place on my body. So, I brought in the side seam of both bra cup panels, doing my best to preserve the original shaping. Finally, I made a mock up, and cut out my final bra pieces. I chose to use linen for one bra, and cotton batiste for the other. I also cut extra bottom cup panels in order to double up the fabric in this area for a more supportive cup.

How to Make this a Nursing Bra?


bra making 1940's vintage sewing tutorial linen batiste white pattern
Both of these bras were altered to be nursing friendly

I know what all of you breastfeeding mothers are wondering: how did I alter the pattern to make these into nursing bras? That was pretty simple actually. I have several nursing bras already, and the style I prefer is known as a “side-sling” nursing bra - where there is a small piece at the side of the bra cup that remains in place when the cup is flipped down. In order to draft this piece, I first taped the bra cup panels together along their stitching lines, and then used tracing paper to trace this shape out. Using a couple of my existing nursing bras, I free-handed a shape based on this bra cup outline that resembled the nursing bras’ side slings. I extended it at the top enough to allow for an extra portion to be later sewn into the nursing clips. More on that soon. Now, on to the first step, which was sewing the bra cups together . . .

Sewing the Bra Cups Together

bra making 1940's vintage sewing tutorial linen batiste white pattern
After sewing the curved cup seams, I pressed them over a tailor's ham

What I like about vintage bras is that they often have a horizontal “equator” seam running across the middle of the cup. It was this that needed to be pinned and stitched first. But before all that, I stay-stitched around the edges of most of the panels in order to prevent stretching on the bias. Then, I pinned together the very curved cup seams, remembering to include the doubled up bottom cup panel. After stitching this at the sewing machine, I trimmed the seam allowances, and pressed over a tailor’s ham. Ready for the next step!


 bra making 1940's vintage sewing tutorial linen batiste white pattern
I finished the inside of the seams of this linen bra with bias tape

The next step was to finish the inside of this cup seam using bias tape. For the batiste bra, I used home-made white linen bias tape, and for the linen bra, I used contrasting minty green bias tape. Not only does adding bias tape finish the seam on the inside and make it look more attractive, but it also strengthens the seam, which is essential!


After finishing the edges of the nursing side sling, I was able to insert these into the next seam to be pinned - attaching the front band to the cups. This was another fairly curved seam, as the centre-front band comes up in a nice inverted “V” shape under the cups. After stitching, pressing, and trimming this seam, I also finished it from the inside. This was the first instance where I used a different technique for the vintage finish vs. modern finish bras. More on that later.


bra making 1940's vintage sewing tutorial linen batiste white pattern
I stitched twill tape to the inside of the centre-front seam, to create boning channels

Finally, I stitched the centre-front seam of the bra, attaching the two cups, and added a strip of 1-inch wide twill tape to the inside of this seam. This enabled me to create two boning channels on either side of the centre-front seam. This was my own personal choice, but I recommend it for any one who is larger busted - it really improves the supportiveness of these vintage bras! Now it was time to complete the band of the bra . . .

Sewing the Band Together, Back Closure


bra making 1940's vintage sewing tutorial linen batiste white pattern
I used a modern hook and eye closure for both bras

There was only one more panel to be added - the back band. This was attached at the side seam of the bra, and joined to three front panels - the two bra cup panels, and the front band. The back band slopes in to become narrower at the back where it fastens. After stitching this back band in place, I trimmed the seam allowance, pressed, and finished the seam with bias tape, again creating side boning channels for more support.


Now it was time to add the back closure. Technically, I used a modern back closure for both bras - hook and eye tape, just like on store bought bras today. I bought this from a bra-making supply online store, and it came by the metre, so I could choose how many hook and eyes I wanted to include on my bras (I chose 4). After having finished the top and bottom edges of the bras (more on that later) I was able to add the hook and eye tape. I trimmed it to the correct length for my band, pinned it to the band fabric, and stitched with a zig zag stitch. Now comes the "tricky" part . . .

Adding Nursing Bra Clips


bra making 1940's vintage sewing tutorial linen batiste white pattern
Adding nursing clips to a bra is a lot easier than it may seem!

It was time to add the nursing clips to make these bras nursing friendly. I bought one pair of nursing clips from Amazon, and another from a bra-making supply web site. In each set, there are two nursing clips - one for each side - and each nursing clip is comprised of two pieces. There is the bottom piece, which attaches to the strap and side sling and has a "hook" of sorts, and the top piece, which attaches to the top of the cup, and clips over the "hook" on the bottom piece. It was really quite simple to attach these components where they needed to be. In the case of the top of the cup, I used a small tab of the strap material to attach the nursing clip, since there was no built-in tab. Voila! Time to add straps . . .

Adding Adjustable Straps


bra making 1940's vintage sewing tutorial linen batiste white pattern
In my modern finish bra, I created adjustable bra straps

For my "modern-finish" bra, I opted to create modern adjustable straps. Most modern straps are made with elastic material, but when I was shopping for my bra-making supplies I found a lovely plush strap material that was non-stretchy. Just what I wanted! I bought a couple sliders and rings to go with the straps, and I was ready to go.


When the time came to create the straps, it was pretty simple to create by looking at one of my modern bras and seeing how they fed the strap through the slider to create an extra loop of strap material so the straps could be adjusted. The rings were used to attach the straps to the back of the bra. At the front of the bra, the straps were simply threaded through the top of the nursing clips. Wow! I was really impressed with how much the adjustable straps upgraded the appearance of this bra! Now let's talk about the differences between how I finished the two bras . . .

Vintage Vs. Modern Bra Finish


For the linen bra, I chose to give it a fully vintage finish, which meant that I finished all edges with either bias tape or ribbon, and even used petersham ribbon for the straps. These weren't adjustable of course, but I tried on the bra to decide on the exact length of strap I would need, before pinning and sewing it in place.


For the modern-finish bra, I used modern bra-making elastics to finish the edges of the bra. I also used some plush elastic to stitch to the under-cup seam allowance, which cinched it in a bit and added a bit of comfortable support (without the need for underwire).

Conclusion


bra making 1940's vintage sewing tutorial linen batiste white pattern
I even made a matching vintage garter belt to go with my bras!

How do I like the bras? I love how both of them turned out, though they are certainly not perfect! I like both of them equally, but of course they turned out differently. The linen bra with the vintage finish turned out to be more structured, mostly because of the choice of fabric. It is very supportive, and slightly closer to a sports bra fit than the batiste bra. The batiste bra is very lightweight, and the elastic edging and under cup elastic create more curvy cup shaping to this bra. It definitely looks and feels more like a "real bra" with the elastic picot edging, and the adjustable bra straps.


bra making 1940's vintage sewing tutorial linen batiste white pattern
I love how both of these bras turned out!

How do both of these bras compare to my modern bras? First of all, the fit is much better, obviously, since these are custom made for my body. As someone with a larger cup size relative to my band size, I find that most modern bras never fit me correctly, even when they come in my size.


These vintage bras are also significantly more supportive, uplifting, and flattering than my modern bras. While they aren't as "flattening" as a modern sports bra, they are pretty close to the supportiveness of a good sports bra. I chock this up to the shape of this vintage bra pattern, the woven fabric I used, and the boning which lended extra support.


Both of these bras currently have a pretty annoying flaw, which I will need to fix pretty soon. What is it? It's a problem with the boning. The boning at the centre-front and the side of the cups is a little too long, and it has a tendency to poke in to my skin after some time. Yea, pretty annoying. I am fairly sure however, that if I trim the boning down to be shorter, and then sew some stitches into the channel as a "stop" point, at least one cm up from the bottom, then that should solve the problem.

I hope you all enjoyed joining me for this vintage bra making adventure! If you are interested in making your own vintage bra, check out my very own version of a 1950's longline bra pattern, for free for you to use!

Have you, or would you, ever try bra-making? Do you like the look of vintage bras?


Contact me at katherine@katherinesewing.com


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