Welcome back! Today's post is about the making of the mesh bra. Mesh bras were a common and often necessary part of the costumes of the dancers of the Golden Age of burlesque. They are simple in design and can be simple to make, if you have the right tools for the job.
I first learnt to make mesh bras in a class with Coppelia Jane at a burlesque costuming class held at the Bombshell Burlesque Academy. Patterning the cups is fairly simple with only a few measurements required. As you can see in the drawing below, you measure the distance under the breast that you want to cover as well as the distance from where you want the top of the triangle to start to the centre of the first measurement. These 2 measurements are used to make a triangle which forms your bra cup. Start by folding a piece of paper in half then marking the distance you measured from top to bottom on the fold. Then mark half the distance across the bottom that you measured. After cutting out you can create a dart at the centre bottom to improve the fit, although this isn't really necessary if your using a fabric with 4-way stretch. Adding this dart will decrease the coverage across the bottom of the breast as well as change the shape of the bottom of the cup (see below), so keep this in mind.
The materials I used to make my bra were stretch mesh and fold over elastic (FOE). The best place I have found for stretch mesh is Glitter and Dance. Thy have a huge range of colours available and finishes and will send you samples for a fee of 20 cents, which you can get back when you make a purchase. I ordered samples of 4 of the different pinks available and ended up going with the bubblegum pink. FOE is plentiful on eBay and is usually sold as DIY hairbands. The seller I bought from has 42 colours available and free postage. I got the light pink.
Sewing the bra was extremely easy. This partly because of the simple design and partly because of my new favourite thing - the walking foot. To assemble the bra you simply need to measure the length of elastic you need to both edge the cups and create the straps then pin the cup mesh inside the folded over elastic. Sew using a good quality polyester thread and the magical walking foot. A walking foot is a sewing machine foot with feed dogs. This means that fabric is being feed through by 2 sets of feed dogs - the ones on your sewing machine and the ones on the foot - and therefore goes through smoothly without stretching. This results in a trouble free sewing experience as well as professional looking stitching.
You can easily purchase a walking foot online or from most sewing stores. They usually cost around $40-50 AUD but you can get one in a 15 foot kit from Spotlight for $59 AUD. They are more or less universal however you can be slightly limited in needle position if the foot doesn't fit your machine perfectly. This is because the opening in the actual foot that the needle goes through may not line up with your needle for all positions and you therefore may not be able to have as wide a zigzag stitch as you want.
One thing to consider is where your closure is going to be. This will be dependent on your choreography as well as other considerations. I needed to have closures at the back to fit with my choreography but many mesh bras were front opening. I used 2 bikini clips on my bra, one at the back and one at the neck. These aren't the easiest to open one handed and got stuck in my hair twice on stage, so I swapped them for magnetic snaps. The magnetic snaps are actually a bit stronger than I would like so I am still on the hunt for the perfect closure.
The final touch is the embellishments. Traditionally, mesh bras had a pastie or applique attached to cover the nipple. Because I wear pasties underneath that have very large tassels covering the nipple area alone was not enough as the tassel would still be visible. I decided then to cover most of the cup with pieces of the same lace I used for the yoke of the tap pants. I hand sewed the lace on in a design I mirrored on each cup. I then glued on rose and light rose Swarovski crystals as well as some crystal AB as I did on the tap pants.
Overall I am pretty happy with the result. The walking foot made the stitching look so good and the quality of the mesh and elastic is great. I would love to make another mesh bra that is closer in design to the bras of the Golden Age, but I just need to get a good look at one. I'm really unsure as to what they used for the straps so if you happen to know what it was or a similar product I can use please let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading and I hope you join me again next week!