I find strapless bras to be one of life's challenges. You need one for the 2 days a year (max) that you decide a strapless dress is a really good idea...even though it often isn't. So every woman really should have one, and most of us do, but usually the fit is terrible and they turn out to be uncomfortable wretches with plasticky elastic that sucks on to your skin like a leech. Not to mention the fact that, for the larger breasted demographic, they are more likely to be reminiscent of scaffolding than of anything remotely sexy.
During one of my busiest weeks of the year so far, I decided to have a go at making a strapless bra. But not just any strapless bra - it had to be pretty, and lacy, and appear ever so delicate even though it should be capable of transporting a bowling ball. Talk about making life hard on yourself!
So while waiting for my car to be serviced, I made all the men in the dealership's waiting room rather uncomfortable by pulling up photos of models in strapless bras on my laptop and making copious notes.
Back in my studio I pulled out the fabric I had in mind - some gorgeous ivory/white lace poppy fabric that I got from Bra Makers Supply. I also bought it in pink as I couldn't choose between them, and when it comes to fabric, why should you have to choose? It has no stretch, but would give me a nice frilly edge to the top of the cups and the bottom of the band.
But first things first - what is different in a strapless bra, apart from the obvious lack of straps? Some of the main differences are that the frame is higher at the side, as is the back band; and there is boning inserted at this seam to help keep everything upright. The plasticky elastic that I mentioned above is actually called gripper elastic and is meant to adhere to the skin as this also helps prevent the bra from slipping. Another thing to note about strapless bras is that the back is straight - there is no cut out for a scooped back as there will be no straps - and you would have a wider hook and eye closing at the back than you would have on your regular bra.
All of these changes had to be incorporated into my draft. I was lucky in that I had already used balconette cups in my Black Blossom Basque and I could use these again here. The other changes were fairly easy to accomplish and at the last minute I decided on 3 more minor changes. I would pinch an extra 1/4" from the side seam so that my band would be extra nice and snug; I would use a wider band elastic (5/8") than I would normally use (1/2"); and if I was going to all this trouble to make a stapless bra, I may as well add tiny fabric tabs so that I could add straps if I wanted to get more wear out of it.
Firstly the cups. For a strapless they have to be foam - a soft cup simply isn't going to work - so these were whipped up in the usual way, cut and sew with a bit of fold over elastic to bind. Then I made tiny tabs out of duoplex and attached these to the fold over in the inside of the cup, about 2 inches in from the wire line.
The pretty poppy fabric was then carefully pinned into place. As this lace doesn't stretch I had to make a choice, either to add a dart or to add a few decorative pleats. I like the idea of the pleats, I felt it would give that lightness and frilliness that I was looking for, so opted for those.
Once the cups were made I made the band in the usual manner, but decided that I wanted the frilly edge at the top of the cups to be mirrored on the band, so left the poppy fabric longer and painstakingly fussy-cut around the lace at the very end of construction. This sounds really simple, and should be, but only if you are very careful to keep your excess out of the way of the needle. If, like me, you mind wanders you end up reacquainting yourself with your seam ripper!
I also added another two tiny duoplex tabs and a fat black bow. And here's the finished article:
She is so very pretty, and really a lot more comfortable than I could have hoped for.
I then made my straps adding G hooks to the ends so that they could be tucked under those little tabs that I'd attached to the bra. I also made them a little longer than normal so that I could wear the bra in the normal way:
Or with the straps crossed over in the back:
Those tiny pleats are barely visible and don't interrupt the pattern in the way I feared a dart might. I've worn it for a good five hours and there has been no slippage.
This is easily the prettiest strapless/multiway that I own and I may even consider strapless dresses more than twice a year now!