How I Save Money While Sewing Lingerie (And Where I Don't Scrimp)
Bra making can be pricey, but it doesn't have to be. Here's how I save some money while making bras.
I'm always looking for a way I can save a couple of extra bucks.
For me, making my own bras has been a great way to do this.
Before I started bra making I was purchasing bras at a specialty store for upwards of $50 each. What's terrifying about this number is that in terms of specialty prices, this is actually pretty cheap. Regardless of how comparative inexpensive my bras were, this was 100% out of my budget, so as a sewist I started looking for other options - aka sewing my own bras.
Surely that has to be cheaper, right?
My first supply order from Tailor Made Shop cost $61 (granted, $16 of that was shipping). This works out to $81 Canadian.
At this point, bra making seemed astronomical.
But as I've continued making them I've learnt a thing or two about how to save money while sewing bras and it's turned out to be quite economical. So I'm here to tell you how I save money while sewing bras and share some tips that you might want to incorporate into your sewing practices.
First things first, I want to address three things:
- Your Mileage May Vary. My number one tip for sewing bras on the cheap really should be to have small boobs, haha - less boobs to cover, less fabric and elastic required. Unfortunately, boob size isn't something we can control. Since I don't have a lot to cover I can squeeze multiple bras out of one piece of fabric, whereas someone with larger boobs simply won't have that luxury. When I'm talking about my price breakdowns, I know that not everyone will be able to get as many uses out of one piece of fabric as I can, but I want to share in case it's helpful for the other members of the itty-bitty-titty-committee.
- Bra's that you save serious cash on may not look as nice as those you splurge on. Seems simple, but a lot of the things that make a bra pretty are the things that cost more. Take that into consideration when choosing which tips you'd like to use in your own sewing.
- There are some things I don't recommend scrimping on. I'll get to those at those and why I think this way at the end of the post.
Now that we've covered all of that, let's head onto the tips! I've organized this master list of tips by item type for easing reading and reference.
Tips for Saving Money While Sewing Bras
Scraps are your friends, guys. Whenever I'm working on a sewing project I organize my scraps based on their future potential use. Anything larger than 3"x3" that is in a fabric suitable for bra making goes into my lingerie scrap bag. I've never purchased special body fabric for my bras before - all of my bra and undie projects are made from scraps found in this bag that I will sometimes supplement with some lace. By doing this I'm eliminating having to buy this part of the project completely, PLUS I'm saving the planet by using pieces of fabric that would typically go to waste.
But what types of fabrics do I re-use for lingerie? Since I always use foam in my bras, I keep anything knit or woven that I think would be cute on a bra. I look for pieces of fabric with a soft hand and smooth texture. Tee-shirt knits, laces, satins, and quilting cottons can all be found in the bag.
Lace gets its own category because it's really expensive. Scalloped lace usually runs me about $4.50/y and from this I can get one bra and one pair, or maybe with careful cutting, two pairs, of undies. This is the stuff that makes a bra BEAUTIFUL, but there's no doubt, it's costly.
So I use it sparingly. Instead of doing full lace cups, maybe I'll just do the upper cups and cover the rest in a coordinating free fabric from my scrap bag. And of course, I save every scrap I can out of this lace because, truly, you never know what you could use it for.
If you don't want to sacrifice the lacy-look, consider trying lace yardage in your project instead. My local fabric store often will sell a yard of this fabric for less than $10, and although it's missing the scalloped edge, it can still look beautiful on a bra. You'll have to finish the edge with elastic, but if you use a pretty elastic (maybe something in a contrasting colour) it will look really nice. Another idea is to supplement your scalloped lace with a similar lace yardage to make the scalloped lace stretch further. Instead of doing the upper and lower cups with scalloped lace, just do the upper and leave the lower cups and contrasting parts of your matching undies for the lace yardage.
And of course, you could always consider not using lace entirely and stick just to scraps. This will save you even more money!
Fitting & Foam
What's tough about fitting a bra pattern is that you need to use similar fabric to the fabric you're using on your bra to making a muslin - plus all that elastic to finish the edges! As Gillian mentioned on Instagram, for her this is the most costly part of the bra making process. If you're making five iterations of test garments before you even get into making your bra it's going to cost more.
Here's how I've avoided some costs associated with fitting.
One of the tips I read on the internet when I first started bra making was that bras with foam cup lining are easier to fit. I'm not a bra-making expert, but in my experience making bras, so far this has rung true. I've only had to make one fit adjustment, lengthening the upper cups of the Bolyston bra, when using foam.
I think this works because your boobs mold to fit the foam, instead of the fabric having to fit perfectly. This is probably why most RTW bras are made with foam cups - they tend to design pieces that will fit the most people possible. So although foam is an added expensive, if it saves you a few muslins it might be a cost-saver in the end. The fat quarter I bought for $8 USD ($10.50 CAD) has gotten me through four bras already with plenty leftover for more.
Plus, when using foam you have more flexibility in terms of fabric choice for your bras, allowing you to better use your scraps instead of purchasing a more expensive fabric like douplex. If you've considered using bra-foam in your bras before but have been put-off because of the cost, I recommend you give it a try. Since you don't need to use seam allowances when sewing foam you use surprisingly little for a bra.
Not to mention, the foam is super comfy.
Rings, Sliders, Hooks, etc.
Using these things in your bras will make them fit better and look better, no doubt. But if you're custom making your bras to fit your size, you can absolutely do without them in a pinch - especially the rings and sliders. If you're using something like power net for your bra back you might not be able to get away with not using hooks at the back, but I always baste it to try just in case.
If you're anything like me, you have a drawer of old, ill-fitting bras somewhere. Instead of donating them, take them apart and save the hooks, rings, sliders and underwires for future projects. This will save you TONS of money! It is also possible to recycle underwire channeling from old bras, but since the fabric used for channeling is quite plush it's really hard to rip the stitches out. It can absolutely be done, but be prepared to spend some time doing it. I don't always do this step, but I will in a pinch.
A surprise plus of recycling your hardware from RTW is that you might find some interesting colours you can't find in stores. The teal hardware pictured above would be nearly impossible to find in a local store, and at least a little challenging to find online. I think it pairs nicely with the teal lace pictured above, don't you?
Lingerie elastics are always one of my biggest costs when making bras since I have to buy them new every time. If you're about to buy the supplies to make your first bra, it doesn't make sense to buy more supplies than you need since you have no idea if you'll enjoy bra making or not. If you already know you enjoy bra making, however, stocking up on elastics in basic colours (I do black and white, and just recently I've expanded to nude as well) in larger quantities of yardage will save you lots of money.
Say you have 1m of elastic, and you use 0.9m on your bra band. Now you have a scrap of elastic that's 10cm long that's going to be hard to find a use for - it's probably going to go to waste.
If you keep buying 1m cuts of elastic and only using 0.9m on your band, after ten bras you will have wasted an entire metre of elastic in useless 10cm scraps.
If you would have bought 10m of elastic in a continuous cut, you could have made 11 bra bands instead of the 10 you could have made with the 1m cuts.
This reasoning also holds true for things like underwire channelling as well. Buy more to save more in this areas.
Having a variety of patterns in your collection is lots of fun, but purchasing new patterns can be costly. Not only are you paying for the price of the pattern, but also for every pattern you buy (especially with bras) you'll need to make a muslin to test the fit, costing you money in supplies.
I would recommend having a small but versatile collection of patterns that serve a variety of needs. Here's the formula that works for me:
- One underwire bra that's designed for foam. This makes it ideal for using either woven or knit fabrics, making it easier to use your scraps up. I currently own the Bolyston by Orange Lingerie, but Cloth Habit's soon-to-be-released pattern looks extremely promising as well.
- One soft cup bralette that can be made with knits. These are the perfect comfy bras for days where you'd like a more natural shape. For a while I was using the Bambi by Ohhh Lulu, which uses bias-cut woven pieces for the cups, but recently I've been preferring the Jasmine (also by Ohhh LuLu). While it's nice that the Bambi can be made with wovens, I think the Jasmine is infinitely more comfortable. I've been adding foam cups to this pattern to give me more coverage and have really loved the effect.
- One underwear pattern that is suitable for wovens in some capacity. Wovens aren't usually thought of as good fabric for undies, but there are a few patterns that incorporate bias-cut pieces as contrast or are made up of gathered wovens with lots of ease. What's nice about having a pattern like this in your collection is that it makes it super easy to mix and match your undies to a bra you've made in woven fabric. I recently pick up the Lyla by Evie La Luve to fill this need - I'll let you know how it goes!
- Another knit undie pattern. There are a million different options for this type of pattern that have been made by Indie Lingerie Designers, but you can also find quite a few freebies online (Interested in free patterns? Stay tuned ;)
Where I won't Scrimp
There are two places I never scrimp on: elastics and channeling.
When I first started sewing bras and undies, I didn't understand why I couldn't just use the regular sewing elastic I had in my stash on projects. The reason why you need to use different elastic is because lingerie elastic is infinitely more comfortable.
We're talking like a zillion times more comfortable.
Do yourself a favour and buy something really plush and luxurious for your elastics - you won't regret it.
For channeling it's the same deal. Underwire channeling is plush for added comfort, plus it's a little stronger to prevent the wire from popping out. The traditional channeling used to put boning into a dress just won't do the trick.
What are your tips?
Whew! That was a long one! I hope this post was informative for you and helps you save some money on your next project.
I was hoping to do a cost breakdown on some of my most recent bra makes, but I think we've chatted enough in this post. Maybe I'll do a seperate post outlining that later on in bra month?
I would love to know the other money saving tips you guys have come up with for sewing bras. Let me know down below what your secrets are!
Until next time!