What is Wire Spring?
It has been a long 8 months since my last post. I can’t even begin to explain why I haven’t written more often, it has been a busy year. More on that on another day….
What is wire spring and why does the mention of it start a war between pattern makers, experts and sewers?
Wire spring refers to an underwire changing from its manufactured shape into an expanded, stretched shape. The natural wear of a bra springs a wire no matter how the bra was designed, this spring is caused by the pulling of the back band to make the bra fit snugly. The amount of pulling on the wire can vary vastly based on the bra itself.
Where opinions vary is whether wire spring should be built into bras or should bras be designed for the natural shape of the wire. To address both opinions, let’s start with wire spring being built into a bra pattern.
In ready to wear bras, spring is built in, but the entire band and frame are generally made in stretch fabrics. The stretch of the wire and the stretch of the band allow the cups to fit more people. (You may even find that the cups have stretch too, opening up the fitting to even more people.) Bra fitters are trained to fit you into a bra, not make a bra fit you.
Some pattern makers take this same philosophy in designing their own patterns. The more spring you have, the more likely you will be able to fit multiple people.
Now the case for no wire spring. If you are making a custom bra or having one made for you, the bra is being designed for you, not you and the next 20 people. Because you are having something custom, you can match the wire to the shape of your breast root, making for a perfect molded shape of your body.
The breast root is the mammary fold between breast tissue and the body. For some people this is more defined than others. Those people with younger, perkier breasts can find this definition fairly easily, but for those with more fleshy pancakes (like yours truly), it is a little harder.
For those of us who have very deflated breasts, whether its from breast feeding, age or weight, raising your arm will help you find a line for your wire on the side of your breast. The wire helps define the shape and places an edge to your breast.
The difference between underarm fat and breast tissue is not a lot different. Because of that, you will hear people argue that the fat under your arm and on your back is breast tissue. It is only tissue. The breast has a mammary gland with padding of tissue over it. Whether it all fits in the cup or into the band is really up to the end user’s definition of comfort and fit. If someone is insistant on training their back fat to fit in their bra cup, then the definition of where that wire sits will not be the same as someone who accepts that the fat should stay where it currently resides.
If someone wants to train their fat, let them, it doesn’t hurt you and the stupid arguments people have because of it is just unheathly to your own mental health. The idea of bra training is no different than waist training for a corset. They are forcing the skin, organs and fat to relocate to other desirable locations. For someone like myself, I accept where the fat lives, but I make a supportive bra band that holds it in place rather than pushing it out. Sometimes that means that the band needs to be taller and wider to achieve this.
Now back to the discussion of wire spring. There is a balancing act that happens in a bra, the breast fills the cup and where the wire sits is up to the bra, whether the placement is right next to the breast without spring, or sprung to fit on the side of the breast.
The arguments seem to touch on completely different subjects. One being custom fit and one being for the masses. There are different reasons to do different pattern drafting. An individual will determine their own comfort level in wearing bras. If wires slowly move down the body, it can poke and prod bones and nerves. This is the reason a lot of pattern makers will also include how to customize the pattern to fit the individual. This is where the concept of getting a wire to fit your root comes into play. That wire, as long as it fits your shape unsprung, is fine to use unsprung. But a wire that needs to spring to fit the root, will need that spring built into the pattern to teach the wire where to sit.
The most important thing with wire placement is that the wire does not sit on the mammary gland at all, no matter what, no exceptions! This can cause mastitis and can be very painful and dangerous expecially for pregnant women.
Ok, so you are now asking, do I add spring or not? The answer is to make a fitting band and make sure the wire is sitting where you want it to sit. Its too hard to determine that if you are also sewing the cups in on the first fitting. If the wire must spring open by a large amount, it can put strain on the wire causing the stress point to get annealed (soft) and eventually snap. If this is the case, try locating a different wire that has the end shape you need.
Here is a little tip as well, you can reshape a wire to a different shape about once in its lifetime. This means that you can make your wire wider permanently, as long as you do not spring that wire more than basic wear and tear of a bra. Changing the shape once isn’t enough to destroy the metal, but repeated stress on the wire will.
While I am covering all these controversial subjects, let’s touch on the argument that the wire is the cantilever of the bra. To be clear, the entire bra is a cantilever. The bra needs all parts to function equally to support the breast up in the air and balanced on the body. The cantilever is the full contraption. Just as a bridge can be a cantilever, it contains more than one metal post to hold it up, there are trusses and girters that all contribute to the function of a cantilever bridge.
The comparision of a well fitted bra versus a poorly fitting bra, is similar to a bridge that isn’t designed for its function. A rope bridge won’t hold a car and a giant steel struction is overkill for a footbridge. A bralette would not be considered a cantilever since the support of the bra is held between the band, cups and the straps. A well fitting bra acts as a cantilever, only needing the body to support it, meaning the straps are only there for a little reinforcement and do not function to hold the bra up.
A well built bra doesn’t even need a wire or could do without one. Just remember that underwires weren’t regularly used in daily wear bras until the 1960s and bras have been around since ancient Greek and Roman times. Mind you that bras back in ancient times were not supportive, but just because someone convinced the entire industry to use wires does not mean they are 100% necessary, nor is the concept of using sprung underwires for every occasion.
Ariel Bra Cup as a Bikini Top
I have a love/hate relationship with swim spandex. I mainly love hating it. I think because it is so stretchy that I dislike it so much. I love stable fabrics that do what I want them to do.
Despite my dislike of swim spandex, I do love the color combination of this set. I altered the pattern for a floating cup design otherwise called frameless. I also utilized the molded bra cups in my stock for this design.
I did mess up a few bits, and reshot some of it, so there might be a little jumping around a bit in the videos, but I show some really good info on there on how to alter the patterns. I had considered adding those construction steps to the standard instructions, but decided not to. The instructions with the pattern are sufficient for constructing the pattern as-is, but you can watch the videos on altering the patterns or follow my drafting book Bare Essentials: Bras.
Enjoy the videos.
Custom Bra Making Using the Bare Essentials Method
The talented Jennie McKern from Annie and Myras has worked out how to customize a bra cup for custom bra making by interpreting the drafting method of Bare Essentials. She did some video clips and I compiled it into a video for my YouTube channel. Below is her own write up about her methodology.
I had the pleasure of working with Jennie last month on the release of her pattern the Grace Bra. We worked closely on the grade of her pattern and I even created my PolyPattern Bra Grading course from her pattern. Be sure to check out her pattern and watch how she changes the pattern for a customer.
Adjusting the Horizontal and Vertical axis, and wire size within a cup pattern
by Jennie McKern
It was such a pleasure to “work’ with Jennifer Fairbanks on the release of my first pattern, the Grace Bra pattern, in August. I am now beginning to learn computer patternmaking and grading following Jennifer’s courses with the PolyPattern Design Pro software.
The Grace Bra allows for the possibility to choose your own wire size within a cup size, however this was something I had previously done by hand drafting for my bespoke clients.
I thought I may share my processes for adapting the horizontal and vertical dimensions and wire lengths within a cup size for bespoke clients. This was previously a method I had achieved by hand drafting , having adapted the method from the book “Bare Essentials” by Jennifer Fairbanks-Mattthews. I had found this an easier method than re-drafting a pattern completely again from customer measurements.
Bra Grading Course Official Release
Have you ever wanted to learn how to grade a bra pattern? Well now you can do it with ease with our video grading course. I follow the instructions in the book with some modifications since it is easier to explain some things with spoken words rather than written words.
Just as my other drafting courses are structured, each video clip represents 1 step so you can closely follow with me. I cover the 4 ways to grade a bra. The first 3 are the normal methods and the 4th is a special method that helps you adapt a single cup size for multiple wires.
The main course covers grading a band for band sizes, grading a band for wire sizes and grading a cup for cup sizes. I did a little run down of what the course covers in the YouTube video linked below.
How to Make a Plaster Cast of your Breast Root
Slight nudity warning!
Guest Blog Post By: Anne Bertha
I’ve been making bras now for two years. Very soon in that process, people told me that the first thing you should do is search for a wire that fits you. Well, that proved to be very difficult. By now I have a whole range of different sizes and styles of wires, but none of them really seem to fit me. After noticing a post on Facebook of someone who made a plaster cast of her ribcage and seeing the transformation in bra fit, I decided to make my own plaster cast. This is the tutorial.
You will need:
- Plaster gauze. For a cast of one underbust, I used 2 rolls of 3 m by 7.5 cm (3.3 yds by 3 inches).
- Scissors, to cut the plaster gauze in pieces.
- Latex (or other) gloves. It gets real messy.
- Petroleum jelly or olive oil. You want the cast to come off your body easily. For my first try, I used petroleum jelly and for the second one, I used olive oil. I must say I liked the olive oil better. It’s just easier to wash off afterwards.
- A bucket (not the best one you have).
- Towels (not the best ones you have) or a sheet of plastic to cover your working station.
- Preferably a person to put the cast on you. It can be done by yourself, but that makes it much harder.
When doing my cast, I stood in the bathtub. There will be splashing of plaster drops, so make sure you think about that beforehand. A day after making the cast, I still find plaster spots everywhere in my bathroom.
How to do it:
1. Gather all of your materials, and put them near you. Make a working station, preferably at a convenient height. Especially when you do your cast yourself, you don’t want to move too much or else the cast in progress will also move.
2. Cut up the plaster gauze in pieces of different lengths. When doing a cast of your whole underbust, make sure you have two piles, one for each underbust. That way the cast will more likely be evenly thick around.
3. You want to wear as little clothes as possible. I advise a bikini bottom which will wash out easily. If the side of your breast crease is hard to identify like mine, mark it with a (non-permanent) marker.
4. Fill the bucket with water of the temperature indicated on the plaster gauze packaging.
5. Find a comfortable position. This can be seated or standing, try to sit or stand as naturally as possible.
6. Put on the gloves. Time to do this!
7. Apply vaseline or olive oil (I recommend olive oil after doing this a second time) to your underbust, it’s best to cover a slightly larger area to be sure it will all come off easily. It’s best to be thorough but don’t add a layer that’s too thick because otherwise the plaster won’t stick well and slide down.
8. Pick up a piece of the plaster gauze, put it in water and take it out. Run it through two fingers so the excess water comes off, and stick it to your body.
9. Repeat to cover the whole area you want a cast of. Work sequentially from one side to another, and work as fast as possible. How quickly the plaster dries depends on a lot of factors, but mine did that quite fast.
10. You’ll notice at some point that the cast will start feeling loose, that’s a sign it’s drying. I followed the instructions on the plaster gauze so I stood for about a quarter in the bathtub waiting for the cast to be dry enough to be taken off my body.
11. If you want some additional dryness, take out the hairdryer and apply some heat to both the outside and the inside (if you can reach it) of the cast.
12. Gently put the cast somewhere it can dry completely. Depending on thickness, this might take up to 48 hours. Make sure to flip it carefully once one side is dry.
13. Take a good look at your own plaster imprint! You can’t see my smile on the picture but it was quite large.
Notes: the type of plaster gauze varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. I first tried making a cast using rolls from the hobby shop for this tutorial, for my second one I used rolls from the pharmacy. Those were substantially softer before use and harder set after use.
Anne’s Alternative Tests on Getting the Right Wire Trace
Guest Author Post By: Anne Bertha
While some people find their wire shape and size easily, it can prove to be a real challenge for others. There are some other ways you can make this process easier. All the methods have one idea in common: to make a mould of your ribcage so you can decide which wires are the best fit. There’s always a compromise to be made between ease, cost and accuracy.
I will be discussing the pros and cons of three methods: using masking tape, tin foil and making a plaster cast. Finally, I’m showing you my root trace on paper.
First up: masking tape mould.
The idea behind this one is quite simple: by sticking layers of masking tape to your body and carefully peeling it off, you’re able to replicate your wire root shape on paper in 2D.
Notes: You want to make a construction in which your breasts are encased, with kind of like anchor points. Otherwise, when you peel your tape construction off, it will lose its shape.
Pros: Easy and cheap way to get a rough idea of your root shape.
Cons: Can be painful to peel off, depending on the masking tape itself. Because you mould it to your body (3D) and try sticking it to paper (2D) afterwards, it’s not that accurate. It can be quite tricky to figure out how to stick it to paper without distorting the shape.
Second: tin foil mould.
Tin foil has an interesting property: it’s malleable and will hold its shape quite well. I made this one by moulding pieces of tin foil to my body and sticking them together as well as to my body using masking tape.
Notes: Try and keep the mould quite flat. I folded some tin foil, shaped it, but in some places I got a little overexcited and the tin foil piled up. It won’t stick to the masking tape as well then.
Pros: Easy and cheap way. A bit more expensive than the tape mould, but also much more accurate.
Cons: There is a hint of a 3D shape there, but it’s still much more of a 2D shape. You don’t get a clear idea if your ribcage is particularly cylindrical and you might need to bend your wires or not.
Third: plaster cast
For a how-to, read the separate blog post. Because this shape is very 3D, it can be tricky to translate it to paper to get an idea of your wire size and shape. I suggest taking a flexible wire, moulding it to the cast and then scanning that wire.
Pros: Very accurate method to get a 3D mould of your ribcage.
Cons: You need specific materials and, preferably, a second person to make the mould on you. It takes a while to dry so for the impatient ones amongst you, you’ll have to wait at least a day to start working with it.
As you can see above, I only made a plaster cast of half of my ribcage since I didn’t have enough plaster gauze. This root trace on paper is made using the tin foil mould, which was quite easy to translate to paper. Not only does this root trace allow for an accurate way to determine wire size and shape, it also makes it possible to make a custom bridge pattern.
Which method you choose is up to you, they all have their pros and cons and will all help you towards a better wire (and thus bra) fit. If you have additional ideas, suggestions, or want to share how yours turned out, feel free to do so in the comments!
New Bra Sloper Drafting Course
I have been working on my bra sloper drafting course for a few months now and I’m happy to say it is finally done and officially released today. To begin with, let me explain what a sloper is and how you can make one for yourself.
A sloper, by definition, is a block pattern that you create other designs from. In the third edition of my bra drafting book, Bare Essentials: Bras, I introduced a new type of sloper and a new method to manipulate it.
When I released my book, I had envisioned a pattern that would fit nearly everyone (unfortunately not everyone). That pattern became my Eve Classic. Over the past year, I released the Eve Classic in phases and for specific wires and cup shapes. This week I announced my official release of this pattern and am offering the pattern for 50% off for an entire month.
This week I also released a FREE Eve Sloper Creation Class to turn your Eve Classic into a sloper. This is nearly the same method you create your sloper from in my book, but this class has been adjust for a finished pattern, even a different pattern with similar style lines.
Today I announced the official release of my Complete Bra Sloper Drafting Course. This, I’m afraid, is not a free course, but I am offering one of the classes for free as a demonstration of what the full course is about.
Enjoy all my released this week and please share with others who might be interested.
Bending Underwires to Fit the Body
There are times in which you have done the wire trace of your breast root, but when wearing the fitting band, the wire tilts back and digs into your rib cage. This is usually caused by body frames that are more rounded and the wire does not do what you want it to do.
In this case, you may need to bend your wire to fit your body shape better. I did a little video explaining this.
On a quest to determine why the wires were not allowing the bra to fit properly despite her custom draft, Bare Essentials drafter Grace Horne decided to do a plaster cast of her rib cage to show how the wire needs to be shaped to fit her.
The first test is to cut the bridge front with wire out of cardboard and line it up to your body. If the cardboard cutout does something really weird at the side of the breast, you may need to bend your underwires.
These videos were shared by Grace to show her challenges. (Ignore the black box below. WordPress is doing something really strange).
To follow Grace’s work, you can find her at
grace_horne_designs on Instagram and Grace Horne – Knife and Scissor Maker on Facebook.
Bra Drafting Course and Third Edition Update
I have been super busy these days, between back to school, teaching workshops, making patterns and video editing my online courses, I have barely had time to share what I’ve been up to.
I started teaching 3-day workshops at my studio in Florida. They have been wonderful, but so information packed, that it is exhausting. I have two more workshops planned for the remainder of this year and I am thinking that might be all I do. While it has been fun to get back into teaching, I think I would rather utilize my energy to make content that everyone can enjoy, not just the few that can train with me on an individual basis. Next year I may offer one on one training by the day for those who want to pick my brain, but not sure if there will be any takers. Only time will tell. If you are interested in any of the spaces left for this year, my workshops are listed under the books & classes section of my website.
My online course is now live. It covers the basic draft for the band and cup, plus how to create the sloper and manipulate it. I have broken the videos into steps, so some videos are only 30 second long and some are a few minutes. I did it this way so you don’t skip a step. Watch the video, do the step, rinse and repeat. Here is the link to the online course.
I finally did a video announcing the third edition, only 2 months late.
Update on the rest of my life
Summer was a challenge this year. We did not do any camps for Emily, so she was needing our attention nearly full time. Although even when she had camps, I still felt like we were giving her our attention 24/7.
Emily started school a month ago and the direction her class was taking was not agreeable to us, so after about 2 weeks, we pulled her from school and enrolled her in a charter school. I am so glad we did. I have been feeling completely exhausted for months, possibly up to a year and I can now attribute it to Emily’s school. She was clearly unhappy and acted out at home, making us completely drained of all our energy. In the 2 weeks since she has been in this new school, everything has changed. I am no longer exhausted and feel like I can join the productivity train again. I even made it to the gym that I’ve been supporting forever but never go to.
Needless to say, my exhaustion was linked to Emily. Damn me and my empathy. I am back on the band wagon again. I finished my bra drafting online course and made it live a few days ago, but haven’t officially announced it until now.
The Spanish edition of Bare Essentials is almost done. Its just back with the translator to make sure everything looks good. My new pattern set is rounding up testing which I hope to release in about a month. I think that’s all?? But probably not.
My next big projects are to get back to my other unfinished books – one is a sloper drafting book for the Pattern Design series and one is the athletic wear book for the Bare Essentials series. Both books are already partially written, but far from finished. I’ll probably toss a coin to choose which is next, but likely it will be the Pattern Design book since that is fresher in my memory.
Now that a big portion of my projects are completed, I expect to start posting a little more regularly. I also think I have a few guest posts coming up soon. Stay tuned.
Anne’s adventures in bra drafting: from zero bra to hero bra
I am happy to share this guest blog post from Anne Bertha and her adventures in drafting. – Jennifer
My bra making adventure started in June last year. I am a large cup size: the last bras I bought are a European 90H but are still too small in the cup. I read that in a well-fitting bra, the wires should lie flat against your chest. Well, I haven’t had that in years. More like over a decade, actually. And I’m 33… I don’t have to tell you I didn’t know how a bra should fit at all.
I started by replicating the fit I had in store-bought bras using patterns. It was ok, but I kept searching for a way to get those damn wires against my chest. After making multiple sizes of a pattern and still not feeling happy with the fit I achieved, I almost threw the towel in the ring.
That’s the point where I heard about Jennifer’s book! Somebody on Facebook recommended her wide vertical flat wires for me, and from the moment they arrived, I became a huge fan of hers. I instantly bought the book when it came out, and started reading. The larger sized patterns weren’t ready yet, so I had two options: wait for them or draft one myself. Because I’m a slightly impatient person *ahem*, and also because I believed I could as well draft completely after my measurements since I’ve had no success with other patterns, I started the drafting chapter.
It was an early morning when I started drafting after Jennifer’s book, and by 7:30 AM I had the front and back band done. And then the cup drafting started… I made mistakes. A lot of them. Being a newbie to pattern drafting, I didn’t understand what the book was trying to tell me in some steps. That also had to do with my over-excitement and not trying to read and understand properly, I admit.
The first trial bra I made out of calico was from a draft that was wrong in a lot of places, but I kept on adjusting it until I had a reasonable fit. That process taught me a lot. It taught me different types of common adjustments, how curves affect the fit of a bra, what you can do to fix particular fit issues, … I ended up taking my fabric scissors and cutting my cups up a lot to see where I needed more room.
After sewing a bunch of trial cups, I was happy with the fit. I moved on to the sloper, but kept on needing a lot of adjustments. And then I found out I misread some of the steps in the book. Because all of the steps are kind of necessary, not doing a step right has quite an impact your draft. In my head, there was also this little voice that kept saying: “This book has a logical mathematical approach, and it doesn’t work that well for you, you must be doing something wrong!”
So I started over. And oh my god, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I tried on my first newly drafted cups in my tester frame. The fit is almost spot on, I only needed to remove some room around the apex. I pinched that out, pinned, and transferred it to the pattern. It’s like everything came together. Beneath you can see the difference between my first heavily adjusted draft, and the second draft with all errors eliminated. I made a draft for each cup since they are substantially different.
This was the best result I could get with tweaking a ready made pattern. This is, I think, the fifth size I made, and the best overall fit I was able to achieve in my first year of bra-making.
This is my first (wrong) draft after a ton of adjustments:
This is my first draft done correctly:
What stands out to me, is that in the last draft, the horizontal seam is… Well, horizontal! My next step is to work on the new sloper, and make a bra from that which will fit me almost perfectly and is a style that I like in a fabric I like.
I’d recommend anybody who wants to draft their own bra with Jennifer’s method to become a member of the Facebook group ‘Fans of Bare Essentials’. It’s a group dedicated to Jennifer’s method of drafting. If you become a member and get stuck on a step, you can ask for help. You then hopefully won’t end up making a lot of mistakes as I did.
However, if you do make mistakes, don’t beat yourself up. It’s a learning curve, and from doing wrong you learn just as much or even more than from doing everything right. Of course it’s always more fun if you get advice, explanation where needed, and encouragement. That is what the group tries to provide.
I wouldn’t change a thing about my drafting journey. It took me meters of calico, weeks of my sewing time turned into drafting time, but it feels so good to have fathomed a drafting system that works for me. I seriously feel like I’ve learned twice as much in the last month compared to the previous year.
I’ve become a true bra-liever. I didn’t think comfortable, well-fitting bras were made for me, and now I realise I can make them myself.
Anne started sewing just over four years ago, and is completely self-taught except for a few workshops here and there. She remembers her first weeks behind the sewing machine vividly because she always forgot to put the presser foot down. She started with sewing her own clothes, moved on to bags and now finally also bras. Being a physicist and loving mathematics, she found a new exciting challenge in pattern drafting.