The first term of first year involved an Illustration class and assignment, beginner pattern cutting and Critical and Contextual Studies (CCS), the academic portion of our program. We were set a project for the 1st term, the Little Black Lingerie Project where we were instructed to make whatever we want, preferably a bra and knicker set, which were to be in black.
This blog post came about as a request from Maria in New Zealand, who also loves to make lingerie. She asked more about the designs that I did at De Montfort University (DMU).
So, let me take you on a journey of the DMU Contour Fashion program…
The Contour Fashion program is the oldest of its kind, founded in 1947 to support the local corsetry industry. From the early 19th century to the end of the 20th century, main industries in Leicester were hosiery (covering many forms of clothing) as well as footwear – along with the engineering that supported these industries. There still is an industry in Leicester for textiles and clothing, but a considerable amount has now moved offshore.
Ok, so more about DMU now.
For the application process to DMU, all prospective students are invited to attend an interview day with the lecturers to show their portfolios. As an international student, this wasn’t required of me (well, the attending part!) but I did have to submit a portfolio, of which I posted online.
Once you’re accepted on the program, time flies by!! We were set a summer project where we had to purchase a 34B bra (industry sample size) and size 12 bottom and take them apart and reconstruct them. I had decided not to do this project until I actually arrived in Leicester. The results were both disastrous and hilarious. Thankfully, I don’t have any photos to show you!
Pattern cutting continued through the 2nd term, and included a new project, this time an external client project for H&M. We were to conduct market research and trend analysis to come up with a design we could imagine for sale at H&M. Other classes now included a CAD class where we were learning how to use Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, as well as a Dragon’s Den group project where we needed to present a new product for the intimate apparel industry.
Upon returning to Second Year, which we all can agree is the busiest year, we were promptly greeted by further CAD classes in both Photoshop and Illustrator, along with a specialist software class for Lectra Modaris pattern cutting. We also continued our pattern cutting classes which included both practical construction and technical pattern cutting and grading. Along with modules in the first term for Corsetry and in second term, an external client project for Lepel, for our Swimwear module. Top this off with Style & Colour trend prediction classes where we build a professionally printed trend publication AND our Cabinet of Curiosities Project where we’re encouraged to just ‘go wild’ and then all of a sudden, you realize that another year of your life has gone by. Oh, right. And then there’s ‘CCS’ the academic part of the program. An essay.
Life on the Contour program never stops. Between first and second year, we were issued with summer projects. One of which was for industry, Stretchline, where we were to come up with uses for a silicone adhesive they had developed and were actively trying to market. The other was our Six Knicker Project where we take 6 pairs of commercial knickers and recreate them.
By the time you reach third year, nothing tends to faze you anymore. Bring on the coursework. The summer between Second and Third Year saw another external client project, for Berlei, as well as the beginning of the Six Bra Project, which quickly turned into the Three Bra, and subsequent Two Bra Project nearer the deadline. Again, tasked with choosing commercial bras and replicating them. We were also set another external client project, this time for Aubade and Lectra, check out the video they made below!! Our classes involved a whole lot of Lectra in third year, as well as our CAD classes where we were taught InDesign and learned more Photoshop and Illustrator hint and tips. Once Christmas comes around, you will become immersed with your Final Major Project, affectionately known as FMP. This is your degree collection, and it’s what all the blood, sweat and tears have been about since the start of the program.
For FMP, you can choose the Aesthetic Route or the Technical Route, for which I chose the Technical Route. There aren’t too many different deliverables for the hand-in, but the marking is considerably different. For students choosing the Aesthetic Route, much more weighting is given to their sketchbooks and design development, where for Technical there is much more emphasis placed on the pattern cutting side of things. Through the Technical Route, there is also an emphasis on utilizing the Lectra Modaris software, and we were given additional instructional hours. As part of the Technical Route this year, we were given the option of making either six outfits or four outfits. If you create six outfits, you are able to present your collection to an industry panel for catwalk selection, which was our big event in London at the beginning of June. If you make four outfits, you cannot try for catwalk, and your collection will also be assessed even more on the technical side of things – Lectra Modaris. I chose to make the four outfits as I thought it would be better to have four outfits I was really proud of and that fit well, rather than have more outfits that were not as well constructed. I knew that by choosing a 32GG size, it would be difficult enough to find catwalk models anyways.
It’s hard to believe that all of this, plus more, happened in the last three years. It’s an incredible journey truly built on blood, sweat and tears. All of the students on the course make tremendous sacrifices to be here. It is an incredibly demanding program because of its global reputation and the watchful eye of industry. The financial cost of the program is huge as well. Printing costs, art and material supplies, fabrics, trims and componentry all add up with each project. It’s very easy to go overboard and over budget! We’re all glad to be finished the course now, and we’re even more excited that graduation is just a few weeks away!
As a side note, the projects change each and every single year on the course. In 2013 and 2014 enrolment in the course was much higher than in my year, 2012, and therefore the current course is structured differently. Do check out Yelena’s website as she features some of her university and personal projects, as she prepares for her final year at DMU.
Core Size (Symmetric) Grading
Core sizes are typically defined as those falling between 30 – 38, A – D, sometimes including DD. The grade rules that are applied to the cup are symmetrical. The increments we apply on the left of the cup are equal to those applied to the right of the cup. The image below has been drafted and graded in Adobe Illustrator.
What is grading?
Grading is the formulae for creating different sizes based on a single base or core size, originally invented in Germany in the early 1900s by clothing production engineers. (FAUST, M-E., and CARRIER, S. (eds.), 2014)
Bra grading is complex and varies from brand to brand. It is not something that brands discuss or share openly, as it can be seen as proprietary information, but if you have a couple of bras from the same range in relatively similar sizes, you can measure the bras and try to ‘crack’ the measurements they use.
In the diagram below, traditionally we grade the depth of the bra cup by 12.5mm and the width of the cup by 12.5mm. The distribution of the proportion will depend on the size of the bra.
Plus Size (Asymmetric) Grading
Plus sizes are typically defined as those falling beyond the D/DD cups and all band sizes. Plus size cup grading is considerably different from Core Size grading as the grade is applied asymmetrically to the cup. More cup volume is added to the cup nearer the underarm, rather than near the centre front, in order to keep the point of bust centred and forward facing. In the pattern pieces below, you can see that the growth of the cup radiates outwards from the point of bust (nipple area of cup). The image below has been developed and graded in Lectra Modaris software.
Plus Size Wire Grade
Plus size underwires grow by a smaller amount, and 16mm is commonly seen in UK lingerie brands. The overall growth is smaller as there are typically more sizes in a range, where a 21mm grade would have an oversized wire when getting to very large cup or band sizes.
Band Size Grading
Another method of grading to consider is the grade applied to the band size. Outerwear garments are typically graded by 2” or 50mm, as are the bands of many bra companies.
A 40mm system, typically attributed to the French, is also seen in band grades. This method of grading will affect the fit of a bra, and the wearer may find certain brands feeling tighter or looser than others.
The grading system used by manufacturers is not typically transparent, and becomes a part of their ‘trade secrets’ but information can be deduced when measuring bras for comparison.
I was able to measure a few brands and conclude the following:
40mm system (French)
50mm system (others)
- Curvy Kate
Industry standard sample size is traditionally a 34B. There are standard measures used when drafting patterns for band size and bust projection and depth. A 34 band is typically 64cm in length with the cradle of the bra 32cm and each wing of the bra 16cm.
Core Size Wire Grade
A 21mm wire grade is common. There is a line of wires available in a variety of styles developed for Marks & Spencer that are widely available for independent brands and hobbyists to use. The ‘MS’ wires are predominantly available in core sizes and grow in length by 21mm for each size.
Underwires also have a grade rule applied to them. Each increase in wire size will grow by a measurement anywhere from 14 to 21mm.
As you can see by the charts above, there will be subtle fit differences in the underbands at the ends of the size range depending on the method used. It would explain why some wearers find some bands looser or firmer than other brands in the same size, as well as why some people may find the same brand to be firmer than usual or looser than usual depending which side of the base size you are on.
For example: when comparing a bra using a 40mm system, perhaps a Freya bra, against a bra using a 50mm system, perhaps a Cleo bra, someone wearing a 28” band may find that the Freya bra fits looser than the Cleo, and someone in a 38” band may find the opposite, and that the Freya is tighter. This would be due to the 40mm system being used and comparing the fit to a bra using the 50mm system.
Grading can be laboriously done by hand, or on the computer. Adobe Illustrator can be used for basic grading shifting points along a X-Y axis, although more specialized pattern software such as Lectra or Gerber are used for pattern development and grading in the apparel industry.
FAUST, M-E., and CARRIER, S. (eds.) (2014) Designing apparel for consumers. Cambridge: Woodhead Publishing Limited
Manuelo of bra blog Under the Unders is a bra aficionado, much like me, and is currently studying fashion design in Brazil! She commented on my Facebook page that she’d like to know more about my design process, so here we go!
This is an outline that was suggested to me in my first year of Contour Fashion studies at De Montfort University, and it’s been quite helpful. I don’t consider myself an artistic or creative person, but more of a technician, so I often struggle with this phase of a project as it involves sketchbooks and drawing, and my strengths tend to be in pattern cutting and constructing garments.
I build my sketchbooks quite differently from most of the other students, using an A3 sized ring binder and printing off a lot of my photographs and doing doodles in Adobe Illustrator.
1) Primary Research
Each project we undertake in university requires first-hand observational drawings. We need to be able to observe something directly with our own eyes and use as many of our senses, in particular sight and touch. Early on in our studies we did an exercise where we were blindfolded and held an object and described it to our peers. Did it feel smooth, rough, furry, silky, hard, etc.? Coming up with key descriptive words helped us choose which mediums to use in our sketchbooks. Perhaps a rougher paper with oil pastels, or a delicate tissue paper with shiny nail polish would help us progress our ideas as we drew.
Since I really struggle with drawing by hand, I try to create a lot of my drawings on the computer in Adobe Illustrator, or find other ways to get through the creative process. For my final degree collection, I had to break my primary research down into more manageable chunks, as I had a number of inspirational elements, and determine what possible aesthetic outcomes I could reach, or what materials or techniques I could use and begin my exploration. I quite often create mind maps for my design process to help me see additional angles to my inspiration.
3) Market Research
When designing commercially, it is important to identify a target market and research your competitors. Establishing a market position and price point is also imperative for a commercial collection. It needs to fit within the market. Through my own market research I designed an online survey and tried to distribute it among women who would normally purchase a bra in a larger cup size, G+ cups. I wanted to get a sense of what they wanted in a bra, what brands they were familiar with, as well as collect demographic information to further build the parameters of my collection. I was able to survey in excess of 500 women and tailor my collection to the needs and wants of the majority. Competitor research of brands that sold bras in similar sizes was also conducted looking at the sizes offered, price, quality and availability.
4) Current Trend Research
As students, we’re incredibly lucky to have access to such valuable resources as the online trend prediction website WGSN.com and library access to digital files from Nelly Rodi and Carlin. These three resources have trends specific to lingerie and are used globally by top brands, and are incredibly pricey. Designing your commercial collection with these trends in mind will ensure that your collection sits well within the market and that you keep a fresh approach to your designs.
The trend prediction tools available to us forecast fashion trends 12 to 18 months in advance. WGSN with its online presence is able to react quickly to emerging trends and fashion industry news.
As a technical designer, again, this is one of the elements that I struggle with. I’m not adventurous or fashion forward with my own apparel choices and I’m quite comfy at home in my sweatpants! However, I do like my lingerie to be ‘special’. I like pieces that are beautiful, colourful and feminine.
5) Colour Research/Colour Palette
The trend prediction tools also build colour palettes into the trends. Each trend will have a palette with the primary colours for the trend, as well as complementing colours. Colour is important for a commercial collection as it needs to sit well within the market alongside competitor brands and appeal to consumers’ fashion choices.
6) Current Fashion Catwalk References
“Fashion comes from the catwalk.” That’s what we’re told at university, and it’s true. Trends that we see from couture and high fashion designers at the London, Paris and New York shows quickly trickle down to fashion collections available from high street and fast-fashion retailers. WGSN is a great resource as it will post catwalk images immediately from fashion events from around the world, as are high fashion magazines such as Vogue.
As you can see, it's a lengthy process to get from our inspirations to our final garment design, as there's still lots of pattern cutting, sewing samples, fittings and adjustments, along with developing our patterns further in Lectra Modaris to grade them... but I hope you enjoyed the design journey!
An introduction, of sorts.
I’m fairly certain I was only eight or nine years old when my mother took me to Sears for my first bra. It was a traumatizing experience for both of us, as I don’t think either of us was ready to admit I needed a proper B or C cup.
Fast forward ten years through the awkward teen years of finding poorly fitting bras from a box in the back of Superstore, Zellers and all the Post-it’s in the Sears catalogue of 40DD’s, there was a ‘hallelujah’ moment when I was 18, moved to ‘The City’ and finally found a specialized lingerie boutique carrying a much wider range of bra sizes that I was used to.
Once I realized that I couldn’t really afford PrimaDonna bras as an 18 year old college student, I applied for a job in that very boutique. It was there that I found my passion for bras, and in particular, obtaining a good fit.
As a young teenager in the late 1990’s, I was certainly interested in fashion. Ripping up my Vogue magazines and blue-tacking the pages to my bedroom wall, I was surrounded by high fashion. When I was only 14 years old, we had sewing classes at school and I quite enjoyed them. At age 16, I splashed out on the best sewing machine I could get my hands on. Bernina, oh, how I love thee and miss you dearly. I began to learn how to manipulate patterns and sew basic garments. It was from that stage I was hooked. Expensive trips to Fabricland were then part of my social outings.
I did particularly well in my sewing classes in High School, but it never really felt like a career, only a hobby. Although, these basic sewing skills I had attained were what helped me get that position in the boutique, as the owner needed a seamstress. A bra seamstress, who knew?!
I worked mostly that first summer as the seamstress at the store. I was constantly ripping the back hooks off of basques for brides to make the garments tight throughout the body, lowering the cups for their beautiful dresses and chopping up wires where needed. It was demanding and time-sensitive work, and I really enjoyed being able to help these women look their best on their special day.
I was only half-way through my 2-year Business Administration - Marketing diploma at the time, so I worked alongside my studies that second year, and when I returned full-time to the shop after graduating, I stayed for a number of years as the right-hand woman taking care of marketing tasks, tradeshows, bra fittings and overseeing the seamstresses and support staff for the boutique. When it was time to move on, I still couldn’t leave bras behind.
Shortly after I left, I discovered the Fairy Bra Mother – Beverly Johnson. Beverly has a shop in Hamilton, Ontario where she retails a plethora of bra making supplies (www.bramakerssupply.com) as well as teaching classes. I certainly couldn’t travel from Edmonton to Hamilton to learn how to make bras, so when I learned that she travelled to Muenster, Saskatchewan to teach bra making, I knew that I had to attend.
I never really had the chance to attend ‘sleep away’ camp as a kid, but The Saskatchewan Stitches Conference is just that – for crafty adults. Hidden away in an Abbey, filled with Benedictine Monks, hundreds of women, and the odd man, would come for a retreat where they could learn new crafty skills such as knitting, quilting and sewing for just a day, or the whole ten days of the conference. Over three summers, I spent a week there each time, making the best of friends. It was an incredible experience – to wake up each morning and know that you got to sew all day and chat with friends while all the cooking and cleaning was taken care of for you!
Furthermore, upon discovering another bra making student from Edmonton, upon her suggestion, I began taking outerwear pattern drafting and constructing classes with Trudy Jansen, where I was able to further develop my skills.
The biggest opportunity and challenge that I faced was when I discovered the Contour Fashion program (a Degree in making underwear!) at De Montfort University in Leicester, United Kingdom. UNITED KINGDOM. That’s a pretty far off place for a Canadian girl from a small town that straddles the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. Again, I knew that if I truly wanted to make bras, I would have to investigate.
It took me a year and a half to be able to attempt to scrape together the funds (aka, a loan from the bank where I worked) I’d need to come to Leicester and take a short course. It seemed like the impossible dream that a 29-year-old woman would cash in life as she knew it (great job, family, friends, marriage, and a home) and move abroad to study. After being in Leicester for just a few days, and again, meeting new friends that were supportive of my bra sewing dreams, I realized that I couldn’t wait to make this happen. I was going to apply for the three-year program and move to the UK.
I tried to believe that everything happens for a reason, and that I was meant to come here. I have had some of the most amazing opportunities to build my skills and along with that, some of the biggest tests of my strength of character to see it through. It was ten weeks from the end of my shortcourse to the day that I arrived back in the UK for my studies. Hands down, it is the craziest and best thing that I’ve ever done for myself. Don’t be afraid to follow your dream. Do what you love. All these clichés are true.
The biggest challenge for me still exists. Finding meaningful employment where I can best use my skills in bra fitting, pattern cutting and sewing. As a Canadian in the UK, there are real barriers to overcome. I have to remain positive that it will happen. I have surpassed so many obstacles to get to this point that I have to just believe that again, this is meant to be.
So, that’s the shortest version of how I got to this stage of bra-making, and I hope that you’ll continue to follow me on this journey, as it’s sure to be exciting! I plan to share what I get up to with you, as well as take requests on the ins and outs of making bras, in particular, big ones!
Cheers and love,
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