A little over 5 years ago I made my first dance costume! It was a daunting task for someone that had never really quite learned to sew. It was a vote by hands of who wanted to make vs. buy. My troupe, Willowmoon had just purchased costumes the pervious year, but after looking at the quality and costs of what we got, we realized we could make better for about the same price. So I reluctantly agreed to go along. The ladies assured me they would help along the way.
Surprisingly, I thought making the skirt would be the hardest thing. Maybe because it was the biggest item. Janine, my troupe mate is a very talented and experienced seamstress and she quickly cut up the skirt fabric for us all. Then it was simple straight-line sewing. No biggie!
The part that I really struggled with was the bra! From the basics of lining to the design, which I felt was dauntingly overwhelming!
For making the bra, we cut off all the straps and using a pattern one of the ladies had, we rebuilt the side straps using felt as our base. We used double-sided fusible fabric by Pellon to adhere the bra fabric to the felt base. This was a pretty cool trick because it gave the felt a little more sturdiness, which it needs and it made sewing a little easier later on.
We attached the straps to the cups and that is something that requires experience to do just right. Attach it at the wrong angle and you end up with ill-fitting bra with gaps near your underarms, a bra that rises or sagginess throughout. Using pins to secure the straps in place I tried the bra on first before sewing.
A few lessons learned:
It’s much easier to attach straps after you have done all the beading on the bra cups, otherwise the straps just get in the way.
It helps to take a picture of the bra before you cut the straps off to see where they aligned with the original bra. You can use this as a guide for where to reattach more or less.
Give the straps extra length on the ends as they can easily be trimmed later.
After having done this a few years now, I’ve gotten pretty good now at figuring out just where to attach the straps and I don’t use a pattern anymore. I’m careful to cut off the original strap so that I can use that as my pattern and it has seemed to work quite well.
Nevertheless it’s still a pain and I was looking for an alternative method. This last costume I was making I decided to try a new method shown by a costumer named Ozma, where she kept the original straps on the bra and just sewed on thicker elastic to reinforce it. (Click here for photo) I modified this just a little by adding an extra piece of elastic to the connect the top and bottom straps. I also didn't do the cup covering as she did, I buy my cup bases already very strudy. She then created extensions to the ends, since the thicker elastic will prevent the straps from stretching as far as they would originally go. I used 2 pieces of felt sewn together as my end extensions.
At first I was doubtful of this method because I wasn’t sure how to get a nice transition between bra and strap, but with very careful sewing and I admit it helps to have a fabric that is has a lot of design, it actually turned out quite okay. The trick is to not sew to the top layer of the fabric. You have a little bit of seam edge that is folded over and so only sew the bottom layer of the seam edge to the bra base.
I’m pretty happy with the results. The fit is great, nice and snug and there are no gaps. The only change I would do is sew the elastic reinforcement to the inside of the bra, so that the costume has a smoother finish.
As for the design, well you see the results. Honestly, I think the design is the hardest part because that’s very subjective to your tastes and there’s no right or wrong, regardless of what people may say. It’s where creativity really takes over and you design what makes you happy!
There's also some lessons learned on how to sew your designs on. Lessons learned on sewing the covering, beads, sequins and fringe. But, that’s a blog topic for another day!
For more photos on the bras check out my album on my FB page.
There's a lot of resources out there already on how to attach/creating your own bra and straps, these are two of favorite: