Elementary, my dear Watson

Let me go ahead and get this off my chest (ha): I hate bra shopping. Hate hate hate. As a teenager, I would have to bypass all the pretty bras in the high street shops and go to the likes of Marks and Spencers and BHS to actually find a sensible bra that I wouldn’t fall out of every time I leant over and with straps that weren’t so thin they threatened to snap in a gust of wind. But we are all familiar with the sad fact that sensible does not (usually) equal sexy, and this did nothing to improve my enjoyment of wearing something that was uncomfortable AND ugly.

When I absolutely HAD to go bra shopping, I would consider it a success if I went into the changing rooms with ten bras and came out with one. Seriously. Even then, the ones that passed the many tests to come home with me sometimes failed at a later date – uncomfortable back bands, straps that dug in to my shoulders, underwires jabbing at my ribs.

A while back, I ditched underwires completely for a little while to see if that helped. While it was definitely more comfortable, I couldn’t really find anything that was ‘just right’. You either got lacy bralettes aimed at under-developed teenagers, or skimpy mesh numbers which wouldn’t even cover an A cup designed for the set of Fifty Shades of Grey. Certainly nothing that provided any level of support for everyday wear. So I abandoned my search and went back to wearing the least-uncomfortable bras in my underwear drawer, resigning myself to the fact that what I wanted wasn’t out there.

Then I kept seeing Watson bras being made on Instagram… and they slowly but surely lured me in. I liked the longline version A more than the shorter version B, probably because of its vintage vibes. I was a little disappointed when I saw that it was a PDF pattern, usually this puts me off – because, cutting and sticking. However the pieces for this bra are so small that each one fits on a single sheet of A4 paper so no cutting and sticking required! Yay! And if you roughly know what size you might be, you only need to print off four pages – cradle, inner cup, outer cup, and band.

There’s a measurements/size chart included with the pattern to help you decide which size to make. You have to take two measurements:

  1. Underneath your bust, around your ribs (for the band) – I came out at 29 inches and therefore made the band size 32. This turned out to be the correct size.
  2. Your full bust measurement, and your upper bust measurement – the difference between the two will give you your cup size.

Use the cup size guide with caution – my measurements put me *only just* a B cup. At which I laughed. I think it might be influenced by a broad back, which I wasn’t aware I had, or sloppy technique with the measuring tape. Either way, I knew a B cup was not the way to go. Usually I wear a C/D cup, there was no chance I was ever going to fit into a B cup no matter how much stretch my material claimed to have. As this was my first time making the pattern and I wasn’t sure how the sizing came up, I settled halfway on a 32C. This proved to be a mistake, and when I’d finished and tried on the bra (you can’t try it on until it’s completely finished), I discovered that the cup size was indeed too small and I should have trusted my instinct and gone with a 32D. I do have RTW bras in this size, so I think a good place to start size-wise is something you already have that you like the fit of.

Four-way stretch fabric is what’s recommended by the pattern, anything with at least 10% spandex is apparently a good contender – as is anything labelled as a dance or swimwear fabric. After looking at a few potential options on eBay (stretch velvet being one which I will revisit possibly in winter when it’s a bit colder), I found that a lot of fabrics either didn’t specify the spandex/lycra content or had too little. Not wanting to buy something that possibly wouldn’t stretch enough and therefore be too small and a complete waste of time (which the first attempt turned out to be in the end anyway, lol) I went for a stretch fabric from Funki Fabrics with 18% spandex. It’s pretty stretchy, but as the cups are the only place that get free reign of stretchy-ness it makes for one comfy bra with no cup-sagging.

 

I was a little confused as to all the different elastics and findings required to make a bra, and the materials list included with the pattern had a lot of different types and widths on it, and I was overwhelmed. They all sounded rather similar but were clearly for different purposes. Rather than source all these separately and probably end up the wrong thing, for my first attempt I decided to buy a ready-made kit from Evie La Luve’s Etsy shop. Once you’ve made one bra though, you can see how each elastic is different and you’ll know what you need to buy if you want to make another.

 

Cutting out the bra is really quick and easy. In the way of notches and markings, there’s one to align the two halves of the cup together, and another to get the completed cup positioned currently on the cradle. That might not sound like a lot, but really this is all you need to get everything where it should be.

Here’s my first attempt, the 32C, cut out and looking pretty:

The pattern suggests that you cut the back band pieces from power net. I bought black powernet but didn’t want the bands to be made solely of this (for purely visual reasons) so I also cut back bands out of the main fabric and just basted the two together. Additionally with the cradle they recommend something without stretch – tricot cup lining or interfacing being top of the list. I didn’t like the sound of the interfacing, so I bought some tricot nylon lining. What a mistake.

The fabric itself was rigid, and a little rough. I cut out the cradle and pulled on the piece to verify that it indeed had no give. And the whole thing got about 1 inch bigger and remained that way. Turns out that it only doesn’t have stretch in ONE DIRECTION. And without pulling on a little bit, there’s no immediately obvious way of determining which way you need to cut out your piece. So off I went again cutting out another cradle on the opposite grain of the fabric.

I only used the tricot lining on the first toile version, because after trying on the completed bra I realised there were a couple of things wrong with this decision:

  1. I couldn’t breathe. There was zero give in the lining and this felt really tight when I breathed in.
  2. It felt really rough against my skin.

From then on I used powernet for both the back bands AND the cradle, and it was much more comfortable.

Once you’ve got all your components cut out and ready to go, it’s time to start sewing the thing together. You begin with the straps, attaching the slider. As I bought a kit it didn’t affect me, but if you’re going this alone just be aware that sliders come in different widths and you should buy the same size slider as your bra strap. So if your straps are 13mm wide, buy 13mm sliders too.

**A quick note on bra strap length** The pattern advises that ‘most women need straps that measures between 15-18 inches long’. They also advise measuring from ‘your bust to your shoulder, and doubling the length’ to find the length of strap you should cut. Erm, measure from bust to shoulder? Which part of bust? Where you think the strap will join? Full bust? And, since the strap comes down a lot lower on the back than it does on the front, surely doubling it isn’t accurate? Anyhoo, The first time around I cut 18 inches, figuring that it’s better to be too long than too short. This turned out to be waaay too short, and put the sliders right on the front of the strap a couple of inches above the top of the cups. On the pattern pictures, they appear there too. Am I the only person that thinks this is weird, and that the sliders should actually be on the back of the straps?? On the bra that I’m wearing in the photos below, the straps were cut at 21 inches each and this puts the sliders slightly forward of the top of my shoulders.

Assembling the cups isn’t too much of a drama, line up the markings, pin it and stitch. Now’s a good time to talk about seam allowances – on the Watson, they are 1/4 inch (6mm). If you’ve only ever used 5/8 inch (15mm) this can be a little nerve-wracking, but some of the construction is so fiddly that using larger seam allowances would actually be harder. You’ll adapt to it, I promise.

When it comes to inserting the cups into the cradle, the instructions recommend sewing without pins. I was a little dubious about this, being stretchy fabric and a curved seam – and just to add to the carnage you’ve also got to line up the markings. With nothing to anchor the layers in place, there’s no way this would go to plan. But, they clearly know more than me (the total bra-making noob) so I thought I’d do as instructed. Well, I sewed and unpicked TWICE before I gave up and used pins. This was indeed a little fiddly, so I unpicked again and went back to my tried and trusted method that I use in times of trouble: PIN, BASTE AND SEW. On the two pictures below you can see that I first pinned, and then used a basting stitch and sewed the seam.

 

This worked like a dream. Yes, it took a little bit longer – but it came out perfectly. You can use an overlocker to tidy the edges – I didn’t do this on the first round, but did on the second. It looks a lot cleaner and neater, but my only gripe is that it gets a little bulky at seam joins (like where the cradle meets the back band) and especially at the join in the centre between the cups. I was worried that I would feel these when wearing the bra and it would make it uncomfortable (the ONE THING I was trying to avoid by making these bras!) but I can’t feel it at all. I trimmed down the corners as much as possible to reduce the bulk. You can see from the pictures below, with and without overlocking, the difference that it makes to the finish:

This was my first time working with elastic, and no amount of instructions can tell you the correct amount to stretch the elastic as you stitch it. I pulled it what I thought was ‘a little bit, but not too much’ and it seemed to be ok… it’s really one of those things you’ve got to try to see if it works out, and adjust as you go. I really liked that the pattern told you what type of zig-zag stitch to use where (normal or three-step) and also the stitch lengths to use – that way you can be consistent with your topstitching and everything will look uber profesh. One trick I figured out that helped me get the zig zag stitching positioned correctly first time (after a couple of rounds of unpicking) was to do a few stitches on scrap fabric first so you can see how far either side of centre the needle falls – this way you can eyeball your fabric placement under the needle to make sure that the outer points of the stitching fall where you want them to.

I’m really happy with the fit of the 32D and this will be the size I make future Watsons in. The longline version doesn’t ride up throughout the day, as I was worried it might do, and shape/support are good. I’m happy. But it’s all well and good me telling you this… so with the hope of helping someone decide whether this bra would be the right style for them – I’ve taken pictures of it on an actual real person. Me. There’s an awful lot of Watson pics online, laying flat, or on a tailor’s dummy, but not many on an actual human being so you can’t really judge the fit or imagine how it might look on your individual body shape. So in the name of… research?… here you go. Apologies in advance for having to look at my back fat. Diet starts Monday.

 

If you’re unsure about whether to attempt the bra, I’d say the most difficult thing is the elastic – firstly stretching it the right amount as you sew it, and also getting it around curves. A couple of practice attempts should sort you out quite quickly though.

There is a sew-along on the Cloth Habit website, with lots more pictures and detailed instructions, if you feel like you want the extra hand-holding for your first run-through. I’ve made two Watsons now, and have fabric cut out for two more. I need to master keeping my zig-zag stitching consistent over the seams where the cradle joins the back band – the bulk of the overlocked seam slows the feed through the machine a little bit and the stitch width goes a little crazy. It’s not too noticeable but I’m a perfectionist and I will not be defeated.

I haven’t quite figured out the best way to secure the tips of the cups through the metal rings at the front – on the orange bra above, I have actually hand stitched them to the overlocked seam allowance on the rear, so you can’t see anything from the front, but I’m not sure this is the most secure method. The pattern advises you to use a straight stitch and go right across, but obviously you will see this on the front if you’re not using a matching thread and it’s really hard to get the whole thing through the machine as the metal ring gets caught on the feed dogs. On the galaxy print bra below I did as instructed and stitched a small tight zig-zag stitch, but it looks quite messy and stands out a mile. I’ll have to dig out some of my RTW bras (or even better, go to Harrods/Selfridges and look at the posh expensive ones) and see how they are constructed.

I’m definitely a Watson convert and will be experimenting with different fabrics and designs (burgundy stretch velvet, I’m coming for you). I’ve bought different colour elastics and fastenings from Sewing Chest, now that I’m familiar with all the different elastics and where to use them. Some people I’ve seen even go so far as to dyeing white elastics specific colours to match their fabrics.

I hope I’ve encouraged you along your Watson journey – I’ve got two more in the pipeline so expect to see them on the blog soon!

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10 Comments

  1. May 22, 2017 / 5:38 am

    I love both of the Bra’s! I think I may try this as my first Bra instead. I really love how yours turned out.

    I’m so glad that I read this post too! The part about elastic is sooooo true !! No one can tell you how much to stretch the elastic Lolol. I’ve always wondered if I was doing it right , but finally decided to just trust myself! I used fold over elastic successfully the other day in this slip dress by Colette.
    So I think I may be ready for other types of elastic/ Bra making ! Your post has me so pumped!
    Allyse Jolie – http://www.AllyseJolie.com

    • Sarah
      May 24, 2017 / 7:51 am

      Thanks Allyse! You’re right, you just kind of have to go for it with the elastic 🙂 Well done on the slip dress – there’s no stopping you now! Can’t wait to see how your Watsons turn out 🙂

  2. May 22, 2017 / 7:19 am

    Both bra’s are so beautiful. The fabric is awesome. Perfect fitting underwear is so important and it’s great that the Watson suits you.

    • Sarah
      May 24, 2017 / 7:52 am

      Thank you Sonja 🙂 Yes it’s an absolute revelation to me to have a bra that not only looks cool, but it fits too AND its so comfy!

  3. May 23, 2017 / 5:55 pm

    Another great informative post, I’ll be referring back to this one at dame point!

    • Sarah
      May 24, 2017 / 7:49 am

      Ahh thank you Sarah! The bras were so much fun to make, and they are soooo comfy… I’m slowly replacing each of my bras with a Watson!

  4. May 26, 2017 / 4:51 pm

    I lobe both version. The fabric you chose is perfect …. 🙂
    _Moira_

    • Sarah
      May 26, 2017 / 9:27 pm

      Thank you Moira 🙂

  5. June 27, 2017 / 2:35 pm

    OH WOW – these bra’s look amazing – and the fabric is to die for. I think I will now be looking into attempting one of these – and you have a lovely figure – sod the diet 😉

    • Sarah
      June 28, 2017 / 4:08 pm

      Haha.. thanks Alison ☺️☺️ the fabrics are so cool aren’t they! Much more exciting than high street bras 😜 can’t wait to see what you make!

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