What’s all this stuff about narrow Polish underwires?
Well, there are some very interesting (and highly accurate!) ideas coming from Polish brands like Comexim and Ewa Michalak in terms of wires. The UK has been a leader in intimates design since the industrial revolution, and seems to be the country pushing a broader range of sizes into the mainstream commercial marketplace. Like finding G cups at ASDA, aka Wal-Mart to all my North American friends.
With the increase of small band and large cup combinations, it’s possible to use wires that are too big, or should be described as too wide, for sizes over a GG or H cup. Wires get proportionally bigger, so a little bit taller and a little bit wider with each size, and when we keep going up to very large cup sizes, these wires just seem highly inappropriate for someone in a 28, 30, 32 or 34 inch band. You'll notice this when the wires seem to take up 2/3 of the bra and the wings are about 1/3...and you wonder if you have breasts under your arms and around the back...
What these Polish brands seem to have caught on to, is that the wires should be narrower. The breast doesn’t grow wider and wider and wider on the body as it gets bigger in the cup, at a point, things just stop. Just because you’re a 32J and your best friend is a 32F, doesn’t mean your breasts start wrapping around your underarm over to your back - they just get fuller and more projected. These Polish brands are designing their own wires and making the cups deeper, not wider, to get the cup depth that they need.
Here's a 'clone' I had made of a wire from an Ewa Michalak bra. You can see the dramatic shape on the right, where under the arm the wire comes straight up. This is a narrow shaped wire in a large cup size (EU 85HH). **note, yes, I did mirror the image because I took it the wrong way. I prefer to look at the 'right' side of my projects!**
With more and more bra fit discussion happening online, such as the Reddit, A Bra That Fits thread, and Bratabase, women are finding out more about their shape and learning if they do have narrow roots, and these narrow-rooted women are singing the praises of the narrow underwires from the Polish brands.
Well, why can’t more brands just get on with making bras with narrow wires then?
In my very casual and frank bra designer voice, I don’t know *exactly* why, but I have some ideas. Developing your own underwires is a bit of a pain in the boob. We’re working to precise measurements each and every day in our jobs, to the millimetre, and more. When developing my own patterns on the computer, I’m working to tolerances of .3mm. Yes POINT 3 MILLIMETRES. So, the width of just a couple of hairs. So, back to developing underwires...
You’re probably best to do a bit of research, a few bra fittings, and a few root traces (which I wrote just to go with this sentence), and figure out what shape of underwire you need. Then draw it on CAD, grade it and send off your bra wire blueprints to your bra wire factory to see if they can manufacture some samples with pretty much no deviation from your CAD submission.
Then from that, you need to draft your pattern. So, if you’re Big Bra Company XYZ, chances are you have tens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of bra patterns that you can use for new block patterns. How much fun will it be if you change the width/shape of your underwires? That's a lot of cradles to sort out. Can you catch my drift?
Another issue when we’re making wires is the dreadful minimums. It’s a lot of work to produce bra componentry, so they don’t want to fire up the machines unless you’re making a big commitment to volumes. I’ve not yet found a factory to custom-build me my underwires in quantities less than 500 - 1,000 pairs. Yup, pairs. Can’t tell you that I’m off and out and about to make 500 bras…in one size, but there’s the one advantage to cross-grading! I can use those wires in a few different sizes, yay! My final university collection proposed 78 different sizes of bras...and I'd require 15 different sizes of underwires to commercially produce my collection. I honestly couldn't tell you what I'd do with 7,500 pairs of wires if a half-pallet showed up at my door.
All I’m guessing, is that it’s not a simple change to just ‘switch’ to making narrow wires.
The other thing we have to keep in mind, is that not everyone has narrow roots. There are some people that a lot of these bras in these sizes work just fine for! I'm having a discussion on a bra-making Facebook thread today about finding bras with a wide base and shallow cup for someone post-surgery.
I did come across an article this week about Katherine Hamilton Intimates (honestly, no relation) developing a narrower underwire for their large cup bras. It’s only a matter of time before we see more brands adopt this as a unique selling point.
Looking for even more information about underwires? See post Underwires 101.
There’s been a lot of discussion online about breast roots. Do you have wide roots, narrow roots, short roots, long roots? It all sounds interesting, but what is a breast root?!
The breast root is the inframammary fold. It’s basically where your breast attaches to your torso. The advantage to figuring out your breast root shape is to identify which wire shapes or styles might work best for you. This is extremely helpful if you are making your own bras and can select your wires, but even having an understanding of your root shape may help you in selecting ready-to-wear bras based on other people’s feedback.
So, how on Earth do you determine your breast root?!
The easiest thing to use is a flexi-curve ruler. It’s a bendy ruler that you would use for drawing or drafting, and it has come in handy when I’ve made paper patterns.
With the flexi-ruler, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve ‘bent’ it in a bit. I have two of them (a short one and a long one) and they are rather stiff when you first purchase them.
If you have large or pendulous breasts, you may also find it helpful to round up an assistant so that you don’t warp the shape when you remove the ruler from under the breast. You can lift up your breast while the helper moves away the ruler.
So, with your flexi-curve ruler, place it underneath your breast and mould it into the shape of your root. Easy as that!
Your root at the centre front begins where your breast attaches to your body. The root under the arm can be a bit more difficult to spot on some women, but it will be where the breast tissue ends. The idea is that the underwire of your bra follows the shape of your root. You don’t want the wire sitting on breast tissue, so make sure the ruler is capturing the shape of the tissue to the end. You want to capture the entire shape of the root, so if you have larger (not longer, lol) breasts, invest in the longer ruler.
It can be made a bit easier to make a small mark on your body with a pen or eyeliner pencil to mark where you believe your breast root ends and begins. This can make for a good check in the mirror before you begin. When I’m taking breast root traces of other women, I will use my fingers on the ruler to make a note of where the root ends and begins. When I place the ruler on a sheet of paper, I will have the model grab a pencil and mark the trace between where my fingers are positioned on the ruler to get the most accurate length. Four hands are better than two.
I then scan my trace and pop it into Adobe Illustrator to draw over top to darken it up and take measurements. You don't have to do this, but if you have your flexi-curve ruler with measurements, give it a measure. You can then line up your wires overtop to find the right shape for the breast root - or have a bit of a better idea of what you're looking for if you're shopping online.
I’m writing you this article from my temporary home in Nothern Germany where I don’t have a proper stash of supplies, it's currently all in the UK while I sort out my life, so I don’t have a photo of wires laying over top of the root. You’ll have to imagine it. Lay the wires over top of the shape to find one that seems to be the closest, and keep in mind you’ll want to splay the wire open a bit at the underarm. The tension on the band and cradle will force the cup and wire to widen a bit when the bra is put on, so do calculate that into your trace.
My friend Lyzzy Beswick has a great image of the root trace and a wire overtop over here on her Bra Underwires 101 on The Lingerie Addict.
I hope you find this helpful in your quest to find your perfect underwire fit!
A few weeks ago I was part of a heated discussion (or what felt like one) on a Facebook bra-makers group about underwires, and in particular, this discussion was about cross-grading and sister sizing and how wires are sized.
To make a long story longer, here’s pretty much everything I know about underwires in a ‘short’ little blog post. Laughs. This has now become a series of posts. Watch for Underwires 102, 103 and 104!
How are wires sized?
Underwire sizes can be confusing for the home sewist. 32, 34, 36, 38, 40…these sound like band sizes, not wire sizes…? Well, that’s because they are! Wire sizes are based on the sizes of B cups…so a 32 wire is the size of a 32B bra, 34 is a 34B, 36 is a 36B, and so on.
So how does this work for all the other sizes of bras? Well, that comes down to what we call in the industry, ‘cross-grading’ or what you may know as sister sizing.
A 34B bra is the equivalent in cup volume to both a 36A and 32C. The chart below shows wire sizes with their UK cross-grade equivalents. Yes, their UK equivalents. This is important to note as many regions have their own size systems. The UK uses many double letters as the cups get progressively larger, so we see D, DD, E, F, FF, G, GG, H, HH, and so on.
This UK wire chart shows the wire size required for each bra size. In small cups & bands, wires start at a size 30 - the depths of the cups will be different, the smallest sizes being the shallowest in depth. Ready-made wires available for home sewists will only go to a size 60. Brands that utilize these larger cup and band sizes will design and manufacture their own underwires.
In Europe, sizes follow the alphabet with D, E, F, G, H, I, and J cups available.
In North America, sizes can be a bit more erratic. We see some brands use D, DD, DDD, F, G, H, and others D, DD, DDD, G, H and others D, DD, DDD, DDDD, DDDDD…D's until your eyes fall out.
Standard ready-made wires come in a whole range of sizes, from sizes 30 to 60. Wires start at a 30, for even the smallest of cup sizes. The width of the breast root for a small bust and small frame will be similar enough to a woman with a deeper cup, the deeper cup size being just that. Deeper and more projected. The base of the breast is still a similar width. At the other end, a 60 wire is a very long and wide wire. It’s not necessarily going to be suitable in shape for those needing such a large wire, instead the wearer needing something with that width and shorter, or a narrow wire for increased cup projection.
At the end of the day, there is no consistency with bra sizing. There is no standard, and each company can do as they choose. It makes it frustrating for us as shoppers, but it does give us variety!
So that's it for Underwires 101. Stay tuned for 102 where we'll discuss these popular 'new' narrow wires from Poland!
It’s a challenging word for some, but not to me. I’m from a small Canadian city found on the border of two provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan. I identify with being a Canadian first, and an Albertan second. The truth of the matter is that I am firstly Canadian…but I have a small secret, my birth certificate says I’m a Saskatchewanian.
What does that have to do with the Saskatchewan Stitches Conference (SSC)? Well, nothing, but let me tell you more about this conference.
Growing up in a small city, sometimes there aren’t a lot of opportunities. I never went to summer camp, or ‘sleep away’ camp as a child, only once participating in something camp-like, as a 16-year-old, in my own city… Anyways, I try to describe SSC as sewing camp and sleep-away camp for adults, who like to craft and sew!
The 2016 conference will be the 14th annual conference, and is a remarkable place to create and meet like minded people. I first attended the conference in 2010, where I fell in love. It was the first time in a very long time that I was pattern cutting, and the absolute first time that I made bras from scratch. I met some incredibly talented and passionate women (including a few men!) who love to craft and create.
The conference is put on by an independent sewing shop that is located in Humboldt, Saskatchewan. It’s nearly smack in the middle of Saskatchwan, which means it’s in the middle of nowhere, making it a perfect retreat. Wendy Toye, of the Haus of Stitches, has been the mother hen of this conference and puts on an amazing event, whether you’re there for one day, or all ten. Yes, ten days!
This isn’t just some small-time thing held in the back of a store. This is a full-fledged event with various classes and classrooms, instructors and students, including a small sewing store, spread out through a monastery. Yes, another shocking fact for you - the conference is held just outside of Humboldt, in Muenster, at St. Peter’s Abbey, the oldest Benedictine Monastery in Canada. On the peak days of the conference of the three years I attended (2010, 2011 & 2012) there were over 100 students.
What makes the conference so special?
Well, there are instructors that come from all over Canada and the USA to teach such things as knitting, crocheting, garment construction, rug hooking, quilting and so much more. Oh, and most importantly, bra making with Beverly Johnson from Bra-Makers Supply in Hamilton, Ontario! Class sizes are small, and instructors are exceptionally helpful and friendly, with years of experience teaching their craft. Here's the schedule of classes for the 2016 conference, and the registration form here.
It’s an incredibly supportive atmosphere, with students helping each other and sharing all sorts of hints and tips. I didn’t feel out of place there as a mid-20’s something woman, although, if I had to guess, most of the students were twice, or three-times my age. It was a place to meet other people passionate about your hobbies, something I have found difficult in the past as the majority of my friends and family have very little interest in crafts, let alone sewing garments, or bras! I have made a number of friends, some of whom I keep in regular contact with through Facebook.
What happens at sewing camp…stays at sewing camp…
That could be said, especially when bras are involved, but what happens at sewing camp is just truly incredible. The quiet (minus the church bells) and calm surroundings in a rural setting make it a perfect retreat. You wake in the morning, possibly in a shared room, enjoy a hot breakfast in the cafeteria with your fellow students and then begin your class at 9am. You’ll take a short break, maybe around 10:30 to refresh your tea or coffee, grab a cookie, browse other people’s projects, and return to your project. At noon, the church bells will ring, and you know it’ll be time for your hot lunch. The menu, created with wholesome food, prepared by the Monks with produce from their own garden, will leave you satisfied. You return to your class at 1pm, and continue working through until your class ends at 4pm. Supper is usually served around 5pm, if I recall correctly, and again, a hot, wholesome meal awaits you. You’ll have some free time in the evenings to wander the facilities, the grounds, venture into Humboldt for a trip to the grocery store, or attend an evening talk from one of the instructors, or participate in a show and tell type setting. You can also use this time to read, or perhaps even keep working on your projects. With no wifi, and one shared computer with a dial up connection, and limited cell-phone reception…and no dishes to wash, it truly is a retreat.
The goal of my blog was to create a place for technical information to share with fellow bra-makers, but I find it’s also a place for me to share more about my journey. I can certainly say I would not be where I am today without attending this conference. This was the launch pad to waking up to what I wanted to do with my life, and what I wanted to achieve. I think it’s so important to surround yourself with supportive people, and those that can understand, or relate to your passions. Attending the conference showed me how much I enjoyed sewing and making lingerie, enough for me to realise that I wanted to make it my career, and that I’d do anything to achieve this goal. The knowledge that was shared with me left me wanting more. So much more that I wanted to get a degree in it, once I found out that such a thing existed.
So, if you’re an aspiring bra-maker, wondering what to do with a week’s worth of summer holidays - I would certainly recommend a trip to Saskatchewan.
Educating women on the benefits of proper fitting bras is important to Kim. Designing lingerie that complements the fuller figure, and is comfortable, on-trend and beautifully constructed is her mission.
We are in charge of our bodies, and we make the decisions that are right for us, with no judgement. Kimtimates supports those who make their own choices about their own bodies. #yourbodyyourchoice #mybodymychoice