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.
The first 35 days.
I’ve officially been a lingerie designer for 35 days. Seven weeks. Two-hundred and forty hours (give or take the time I’ve spent looking for an apartment, getting a bank account, registering with various bureaucratic agencies, etc).
Is it what I thought it would be? Yes, and no.
I’m working on projects that are really pushing me to think, to problem solve, to be creative, to be resourceful. I enjoy that. It can be difficult though when there are days when I honestly am out of my depth, being a recent graduate, and there’s not a lot of people to turn to, we’re an incredibly small team. Other days are amazing when I feel like I’m in control of my projects and everything is trucking along just fine.
I’m learning. I am learning so much. Since I’ve just started, I’ve not got through a whole collection, or season just yet, but it’s really opening my eyes to some of the complexities of the industry. Working with various suppliers in different countries with different languages and unfamiliar terminologies has certainly led to challenges. Nothing that I can’t overcome, just things I will pick up over time. Do wish me luck that all the components I’ve ordered arrive on time for our upcoming production run!
I’m so incredibly fortunate to work for the company that I do. The unique position of being both a retailer and manufacturer allows me to see products from leading, competitive brands right in our own warehouse and pushes me to consider and evaluate details that I may not have considered, or been familiar with. With a focus on fit, and access to an in-house fit model, it’s simpler to see things immediately and consider the adjustments that need to be made to patterns.
It’s challenging to be on a small team, most days its just me working on design projects, with direction from the company owners, and supporting our freelance designer in another country, but it pushes me to solve problems on my own, and to recognise when I need to ask for help. I can’t help but feel that it’s both a pro and a con. I get to be involved in projects nearly every step of the way, responsible for everything that comes across my desk, but on the other hand, I don’t have a technical mentor directly at hand, she’s 763 miles/1,228 kilometers away.
Did university prepare me for my role? Not even close.
The focus at university was incredibly creative. A great amount of time was spent on such things as sketchbooks, and developing our own original ideas and designs. So far, not a minute of my ‘new’ career has utilised that. Costings. Fit evaluations. Pattern amendments. Usage calculations. Some of these things were obviously covered, but not in the depth that I need. This past week I felt really let down by my education while doing some fit evaluations. I am a highly experienced bra fitter, I know what I want things to look like, but when I’m standing there, looking at a sample on my fit model, and I’ve got the one and only garment produced, and it doesn’t fit, like at all, it’s hard to know where to begin to communicate the changes I want to someone else who can’t see it. It’s led to some confusion, and I need to find some new ways to communicate these thoughts.
I mentioned my frustrations on this gap in my education to my boss, and wish that we would have spent more time at university critiquing samples in a group setting a university. Doing fit evaluations as a group on what we think is good, what needs improvement, how to determine pattern amendments, and how best to describe these to the people that will be making the adjustments. It’s one thing to look at your own work, something you know what the pattern pieces look like, and what the final outcome should look like, but what about when it’s a pattern you didn’t design or make?
As a further ‘diary’ or personal sort of post - part of my new career has seen me move countries. Germany. Wow. Another language and culture. The environment I work in supports me for the most part in English with my day-to-day activities at work being primarily in English. Google translate is my best friend. It’s certainly a challenge to navigate such things as the bureaucratic elements like immigration and visas, registering for ID numbers, health care, bank accounts and finding an apartment when you don’t speak the local language. I have been able to easily make friends outside of work, but honestly, I wasn’t worried about that. I’m struggling greatly with the language (German is tough!) and it will take me a long time, with a tremendous effort to be able to have a simple conversation with German speakers.
My partner, who lives in the UK, has also been able to visit me once in Germany, and I will go to the UK for Christmas to see him and his family, along with my UK friends. The whole process has certainly been challenging, but also very rewarding. This opportunity gave me the chance to be home with my Canadian family and friends for six weeks and attend my sister’s wedding. The job that I have is exactly what I want to do, allowing me to be involved in all aspects of the design, pattern cutting, production AND retail process. I’m feeling incredibly lucky to be where I am and I am looking forward to all that is in store for me over the next few months, and hopefully years to come in Germany, my new home.
Facebook has been reminding me lately about what happened ‘on this day’ years ago, and I realized that I only attended WCFW as an attendee four years ago. Seems a bit surreal that this year, I was ON the catwalk.
When I was packing up and making my plans to come back to Canada to get ready to apply for my visa to go work in Germany, I realized that I was going to be around Edmonton during September, and could possibly attend, or even display my work at WCFW.
I only created four outfits for my final collection at university, so it was hardly a catwalk. It’d be over in mere minutes. Regardless, I looked up the contact information for Sandra Sing Fernandes, the woman behind the event and sent her a message. Since I was in England at the time, and had sent the email early-ish in the morning, I wasn’t expecting a quick reply. Surprisingly, Sandra was in Portugal and replied immediately, and she was impressed with my designs. We emailed back and forth before deciding to set up a Skype call to talk more about the event, how it works, and if I could pull off a catwalk with only four outfits. She challenged me to create more, and we settled on six, and I delivered! With only DAYS before I was travelling from the UK to Germany (quick visit with the new bosses) and then to Canada, I had a lovely helper, Sian, come for a day to help me get everything cut out, so I could sew it all together like a mad-woman with the limited time I had.
It wasn't until I arrived in Canada that I was able to get the ball rolling. I knew my biggest challenge was going to be finding models. I went to the UK because bras are tough to buy/find in Canada in a variety of sizes, so I knew finding models could be challenging, as they would not have access to the same range of sizes as women in the UK.
I was super happy when a friend pointed out two groups on Facebook for me to try to find models. It took a while to get approved, but finally when I was able to post a request for fashion week models, I had an overwhelming amount of interest. It was then the challenge to figure out what measurements the girls could take at home for me to sort of pre-confirm that the items might fit. It was really hard to tell women who wanted to help and walk in the show wearing my garments that they were too small or too big, as I really would love my garments to accommodate anyone!
I spent a week in Edmonton first part of September, right after my sister’s wedding, to drive around the city to model’s houses to get them to try my outfits and take their measurements. I met the most amazing women, who are so kind, generous, funny, talented, beautiful and helpful to model for me. Out of the six women I met with, each had an outfit that fit well and could strut the runway in! They all wanted to help, and despite that ‘worst case scenario’ voice in the back of my head, they all showed up too! You hear stories that models drop out of events day of…and I was so nervous!!
Once I had my models it was time to source my shoes - which I initially found in the clearance section on the ALDO website, and then found a shoe sponsor in the end! Turns out a woman whom I used to work with at the bank now owned the most fabulous shoe store in St. Albert, Tokota Shoes, and she was incredibly generous to loan me the most gorgeous and vintage-inspired shoes for my catwalk. Thank you Edna!! I wish I had more photos of the beautiful shoes you provided me with.
The night of the show, things went off without a hitch. The Western Canada Davines Session Team, which, surprise, included my own personal ‘Canadian’ hairstylist I’ve known since 2004, did the hair, along with the help of my own talented models (two are trained hairstylists!) and Raminta the most patient and talented MUA did the make up for my girls (who also helped as another two of my models are professional make up artists as well!). I just had to hand over my music and catwalk images that night, get the girls dressed, and hope that it'd all go to plan!
Here's the song that I chose for the catwalk, Code Name Vivaldi by The Piano Guys (who I saw perform in Nottingham earlier this year). This lovely instrumental and moody piece that I felt went well with the darker and more serious side of my collection, where I told the ladies modelling that they were secret spies from WWII.
The schedule for the night changed considerably when one designer dropped out last minute, but we still had a full and fantastic evening which included a live TV appearance with about 30 minutes heads-up.
The girls were dressed and ready to go on time. We rocked the stage, made the audience smile and cheer with our personality and had the most amazing time together. I honestly don’t think the show could have been better. It’s been incredible - meeting new people, making new friends, my new nickname as the ‘boob wrangler’, sharing my love of bras and lingerie, and photos of it all as well!
For catwalk photos, be sure to visit my Facebook Page.
It’s also been asked by a few people what it cost me to participate in WCFW - so here’s a breakdown for you based on everything leading up to my one night which involved six models and two helpers.
WCFW Registration Fee: $315
Shoes: $78 (minor damage)
Model Gifts: $150
Helper Gifts: $50
Black Shirt: $18
USB Sticks: $21
Beige Thongs & Nipple Covers: $66
Participating in the show came to a grand total of $913.
And so, the question is this: "Would you participate in Western Canada Fashion Week again?"
The answer would be YES, so stay tuned! ;)
I have a good friend who is just starting to learn how to sew. She’s currently making corsets and skirts, and I keep encouraging her to start making bras, because ‘they’re easy’ I say.
Today’s blog post is for all those who want to venture into bra making at home. I have provided a drawing with names of parts and pieces you may encounter, and below I’ll outline more about what I personally use and where you can purchase supplies for home bra making.
Might as well start with what I think is the most important piece of most bras, the underwire!
Getting good quality underwires, in larger cup sizes, can be quite a challenge! There are a few places online you can find different sizes, shapes and types. Wires can be made out of just plain metal, nylon coated steel, or even plastic.
I typically choose a nylon covered steel underwire, and I try to choose one that is strong, yet flexible and doesn’t contort when I ‘spring’ it open.
Wires also come in different shapes. Balconette shapes, strapless shapes, plunge shapes, etc. You need to choose the right wire for your project so that it 1) fits into the bra when sewn and 2) is the right shape for the style of your bra.
Sizing for wires is a bit unusual looking due to cross-grading or ‘sister sizing’. 34B is known as the industry sample size, so the wire size used in a 34B is labelled 34. A 36B will be 36, and a 38B, a 38. Because of cross-grading, a 34B bra is equal in cup size to both a 32C and 36A - so both of those bras will also use a size 34 underwire. Below is a chart to show you the cross-grades.
This chart shows the cross-grading, or 'sister sizing' of underwires. The 'B' cup size is the base, as the wire size matches the band. Note, there are bra sizes outside of what is listed - the chart covers wired bras that I can find available commercially, with the exception of Ewa Michalak sizes as the company produces underwires exclusively for its own use based on the designer's own theories and ideas.
It's important to note that on small bands and cups (AAA/AA/A) the smallest wire used is a 30. In these bra sizes, the width of the cup and wire remains, and the depth of the cup will be reduced. I don't personally have enough experience to comment, but find the rationing sound. The same could be said for larger cups that at a certain point the wire should stop grading wider and deeper and rather the cup should become deeper. Again, I don't have quite enough experience here to comment, but would love to research this idea further.
Straps can be thick or thin, stretch or non-stretch. A bit of stretch is nice for comfort, and it’s best to choose a strap width suitable for the size of the bra. A larger cup or band will traditionally have a slightly wider strap.
When choosing a stretch strap, you don’t want a strap that is ‘too stretchy’ or you will find that the bra feels ‘bouncy’. For smaller sizes, choose a strap in the range of 40 - 50% stretch, and for larger cup sizes, look for something firmer with 40% stretch or less.
The sides of the bra are normally made from power net or mesh. The band of the bra does most of the work, not the shoulder straps, so again, it’s best to choose something suitable based on the size or level of support of the bra. The band can also be made out of rigid materials, but you’ll need to consider this when drafting your pattern and elasticate the underarm and underhand accordingly.
Underband & Underarm
The top and bottom edges of the wing/band will be stitched with elastic. The width of elastic will vary depending on personal preference/comfort. In larger cup or band sizes, the elastic will be wider, but typically only along the bottom edge. You wouldn’t want a bulky half-inch elastic in your armpit!
Hooks & Eyes
These will come in various widths to be sewn on the back of your bra. One hook (19mm) is suitable for smaller bra sizes - although I have seen it up to a 36F! Two hooks are available as a narrow (28mm) and wide (38mm) and a 3 hook is around 57mm. Choose the width that you find most comfortable. Something to note - the hook portion of the bra will ALWAYS be sewn on the right hand side of the bra when it’s on the body, and the eyes on the left. There will also typically be 3 columns of eyes. This is so that you can tighten the band of the bra as the elastic wears and stretches.
Rings/Sliders & Adjusters
You’ll need some rings and sliders for your bra if you plan to adjust the shoulder straps. I personally don’t use rings, and instead stock up on sliders. Sliders are available in metal, nylon coated metal, and plastic. For durability, I always choose a metal slider, and to make use of limited inventory typically stick with silver and gold for easy colour matching.
You’ll need to make sure that your strap elastic fits nicely through your rings and sliders and can easily be adjusted. Choose a slider that is the same width as your elastic, or up to 1 - 2mm larger at most. If you choose to use rings to connect the strap to the front or back of the bra, you can usually get away with a ring a few mm smaller than your shoulder strap.
This can be a bit more tricky. For smaller bra sizes, you can almost get away with any type of fabric in the cup if the breast will not put a lot of strain on the fabric. Larger cups need firmer fabrics, with specialist bra fabric being ideal.
Lace, embroidery, firm nylon denier, simplex and duoplex are all fabrics that are traditionally used in bra cups - along with pre-shaped or moulded polyurethane foam.
There are many names for this part of the bra, and it comes in many shapes, sizes and forms. This part of the bra, that connects the cups, is rigid and has no stretch. Typically, you would use a coordinating or matching cup fabric and stabilize the back with a layer of non-stretch fabric like the nylon denier, or with double-sided fusible interfacing, you could laminate two pieces of fashion fabric, alternating the grain lines for increased strength.
A ‘cradleless’ bra will not have any fabric at the bottom of the cups, and the wire casing would be sewn directly to the bra cups, and not the cradle or frame of the bra. It will have just a small strip of fabric connecting the cups, or a small triangular shaped piece to attach them together.
To complete your bra, it’ll also be helpful to pick up such things as wire casing if you’re making a bra with wires, bows for covering stitch lines at the apex, where the strap connects to the cup, and coordinating thread. If you’re wanting a truly professional look, you may also want some narrow denier to cover seam allowances, although I’ve not found a successful way to apply it without a specialist machine.
I wanted to include some other words that you may come across when looking at bra patterns or tutorials. One thing I noticed studying in the UK was the fact that the APEX was where the strap connects to the cup of the bra, and the POINT OF BUST was the deepest part of the cup, where the nipple would sit. In North America, and possibly other countries, the APEX would be the fullest point on the bust, so do follow instructions carefully.
I also find that there are many names for a cup that has a panel on the side of the breast for an increased projected shape. Some may call it a side panel, power bar or sling.
Below are some links where you can find the supplies needed to make your own bras at home. If I’ve missed anything, or you have a shop I should add, please leave a comment or send a message!
Note: I’ve only listed sources that I have personally used before. Searching online you’ll be able to find other retailers that have small accessories and a variety of fabrics.
Made by Niki eBay Shop (unit427)
Vena Cava Design
Bra Makers Supply
Etsy for lace & embroideries
PRESS RELEASE: SMALL TOWN ALBERTA WOMAN FOLLOWS BIG DREAMS: Canadian studies lingerie design in UK, returns for Western Canada Fashion Week before starting dream design job in Germany
As a young woman, Kimberly Hamilton of Lloydminster, Alberta struggled to find bras in larger cup sizes. A selection of lingerie beyond a DD cup wasn’t widely available and in 2001, she discovered European brands at a small independent bra boutique in Edmonton and was hooked. Kimberly worked there during her Business Administration studies at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and continued to work in the bra boutique after her graduation in 2003, as a seamstress and bra-fitter for five years.
Always passionate about sewing and fitting garments, she studied locally in Edmonton with designer and pattern drafting instructor, Trudy Jansen, as well as travelling to Humboldt, Saskatchewan to train with Canada’s own bra-sewing guru, Beverly Johnson of Hamilton, Ontario.
In 2012, Ms. Hamilton decided to move from Edmonton to Leicester, United Kingdom, to pursue a Contour Fashion Degree at De Montfort University (DMU). The program, established in 1947, was created to support the local corset industry. Contour Fashion at DMU is the oldest and most successful degree-level course in intimate apparel and is widely regarded by industry experts as one of the best in the world. In July 2015, Kimberly graduated with First Class Honours and is working to establish herself as an intimates designer with her brand, Kimtimates.
“Returning to studies later in life was certainly challenging,” says Kimberly, who left a stable marketing job at the corporate offices of a regional bank, and her eight year marriage to pursue her dream to design lingerie. “The journey was certainly worth it. I had a clear idea in my mind that I wanted to learn everything that I could about designing larger cup bras, and how to create better fitting bras. I’ve had many incredible opportunities to work with people in the industry, and found a supportive mentor to guide me, and now I’ve landed my dream job, straight out of university. It’s never too late to follow your dreams, no matter how big they are,” she says.
Kimberly’s degree collection of six outfits, The Enigma Collection, is inspired by WWII codebreaking technology found at Bletchley Park, in the UK. It features highly detailed laser cut elements she custom-designed for the collection, silk trims and sheer panels, along with braided cord strap details and Swarovski crystals. The collection has been designed with the fuller-busted woman in mind with garments produced in 32GG and bottoms offering more coverage than most commercial lingerie designs.
The Enigma Collection will be featured on the catwalk Tuesday, September 22nd, as part of Western Canada Fashion Week (WCFW), held at the ATB Financial Arts Barns in Edmonton. WCFW is Canada’s second-largest fashion week and is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.
In October, Kimberly will relocate to Flensburg, Germany to join LACE GmbH as their Designer, working on full-busted blouses, lingerie and swimwear in bra sizes 30 - 38 E - H.
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