Making A Breast Form
Draping To Make A Bra Pattern
Draping is a fast, easy, non-mathematical way of creating a bra pattern for the individual home sewer. It is NOT a technique that should ever be used on retail clients or by the dress maker. It lacks discretion and professionalism. But if you have a close friend around whom you feel really comfortable and who feels comfortable sticking bits of tape on your naked breast then this may be a way to make a good fitting bra.
The concept of draping the bust to create a bra pattern is by no means new. Draping body forms has been around since the times of the Greeks and Egyptians who used it to create forms for shaping leather and armor.
Indeed, draping the breast with plaster or gummed fabric to create bust forms by which to model wooden breast forms for corsetry has been used by the French for centuries. I was taught how to do the procedure more than thirty years ago in college by people who no doubt had it taught to them 20 years before that, and so on.
I say this because making body forms for pattern making has seen resurgence in recent times with numerous individuals claiming to have invented the techniques in order to gain credibility for selling books. Not only is this fraudulent, but moreover he insults the years of work put in by many sewing and fashion teachers, including myself. These people generally don’t have fashion qualifications and use harmful adhesives, chemicals and accessories in their process … be careful!
Back in college, we learned pattern making the old fashion way ... drawn on paper from measurements taken from the body. It's done this way because taking measurements is more discreet than sticking tape all over your client's body or breasts.
Draping was left to the artificial body form (onto which you may well have attached those varying sized French wooden breast blocks). For fun we were shown how to drape for bras directly to the body. This involves supporting the breast in a former of ribbon, referred to by some as a sling (2" bias cut cloth or crepe bandage) to get it to the height you want and help anchor it in place while you tape it. I have never much liked the former method as it means the model can't move around much or the shape will constantly change. If you aren't fast at draping, then your model will get a sore back from standing stiff or sitting upright for extended periods. The way they relieve that pain is by leaning forward which they can't do in a former. Instead the better way to lift and hold the breast in position is with 25-30mm medical paper tape. The tape falls off really easy at the end, is hypoallergenic, you can write on it easily and, most of all, the model can move around without it coming off or moving. How you lift the breast into position often depends on the size of the breast, but the photo below shows where I place the tape to create the initial boundary and lift of the bra.
Ok so now we have the breast in a comfortable and lifted position. At this point I place an underwire of the size and shape I intend to use in the bra in the correct position and tape it there as a guide so I can gauge the shaping process. Notice I have placed a line of tape flat to the ribcage first. This is so the wire doesn't directly contact the body. Most women perspire greatest under and between the breasts and sweat is alkaloid. This means using wire may cause a chemical reaction which in turn causes a skin irritation if it's left in contact long enough. The hypoallergenic tape acts as a barrier. Never use copper, tin or leaded wire against the skin as some others suggest. Most copper wire has some amount of lead alloyed in to it to make it malleable. Lead is a poison that reacts with alkaloids and is absorbed through the skin. If you've ever seen the green or black residue left on your skin from cheap jewellery then you'll know what I mean!
The wire should never be too close fitting but allow a 5mm gap between the centre of the wire and the underbust crease. This space allows room for the wire casing. For the next stage you can use paper or cloth, but I prefer cloth as it gives a better sense of what you are trying to create. Paper doesn't move or stretch. Cloth can stretch on the bias so you need to position your pieces with the grain line parallel to where you want the lift to be maintained. If you use paper, you may find the garment stretches in unpredictable ways!!! Once you have a layer of cloth taped in place cover it with a few layers of tape to hold the shape (being careful not to tighten it in the process ... you're trying to lock in any stretch that has occurred).
Next create a panel that reflects the position of centre front ensuring that it extends a little beyond the underwire at centre front and drops below the wire at underbust. Tape it in position and mark the centre front line. Do the same with the side to centre back strap. Measure the length of the shoulder straps and mark their start and end points on the cup form and back strap.
Remove the breast form from the body and get the model to wash the area with neutral pH soap to remove any residue from the tape. The finished cup form should look like the photos below. Draw on the form where you would like the final style lines to appear.
Cut along the lines, flatten out the pieces and draw around them onto paper. You really can do pretty much anything you like when it comes to style lines as long as you remember that the panels need to end up flat. You'll get it with practice. Take a look at where the lines are on existing bras. I've done mine this way because I know it'll give me a rounder cup better suited to a fuller style. If I were making a smaller demi style cup I might use only three panels. From the style I've made I will be able to treat it as a block and cut lesser coverage patterns from it.
If you have a look at the pieces in the photo above you will see they don't sit perfectly flat so you need to adjust the pattern piece to allow for the extra curvature by widening the pieces a little at the curves but maintaining the corners in the same place. The grey lines represent the traced pattern directly from the form. The red lines are where I've tweaked the pattern a little to make the curves symmetrical, the same length and square to the next pattern piece (which is why the corners moved a little).
That's really all there is to the pattern. It's wise to make up the bra from calico before trying it in expensive fabrics, just in case you need to tweak the pattern a little. I like to make up a full coverage form and cut it vertically and horizontally through the bust point (or at 45 degrees as I have in this case) so I can use it to make other bra styles later.
Now the smart people will realise that this is a zero ease pattern. If you take a little space out of the centre front in order to pull the bust together (most commercial bras are like this) then you need to add it to the centre back to maintain the round. This is especially important if you are designing a corset. If you're designing a bra then the back panels will be made from stretchy fabric and will need an amount of horizontal negative ease in the back panels only (see above illustration). The amount of ease depends on the fabric, but the softer and stretchier the fabric the less stable the bra will be.
There's a bit more to bra assembly but that's beyond the scope of this website as a pattern making discussion. It is fairly obvious that you can create almost any shape into which the breast can be manipulated. If you want to use a push up insert then apply this to the breast and tape it in place before you start draping ... as it will sit between the breast and the cup, you need to put it in that position before draping the cup.