Although I got there in the end with my yellow lace Merck bra, the road was not exactly a straightforward one. I’ve already posted about how I improved the fit, and now I’d like to share a few of the construction tips that helped me along. Merckwaerdigh’s instructions are not known for being super clear or helpful, and as a beginner to sewing underwire bras maybe I should have started with a company that is more hand-holdy, like Cloth Habit or Orange Lingerie. With encouragement from Treefrog (who has sewn lots of lingerie) and other folks in the forum over at Pattern Review, however, I decided to go for it. I had to do a little research and head scratching along the way, but in the end it all came out fine.
This isn’t really a tutorial, but rather how I muddled through some of the more difficult parts. Hopefully it will help other beginners like me or prompt some bra sewing veterans to jump in with some useful advice.
Adding Seam Allowances and Getting Ready to Cut
One of the first things to note about this pattern is it doesn’t include seam allowances. The instructions tell you exactly where to add them, however, so all you have to do is read carefully. I ended up liking this, because now my pattern pieces all have the SA marked which really helps for going back and making alterations. The process of adding them also helps you reason through why you need a seam allowances in certain areas and not others. For example, if you’re going to align your pattern piece with the scalloped edge of your lace, you won’t need to do any finishing along that edge and therefore you won’t need a SA.
If you want to use a wider elastic along the bottom of the band, you might want a wider SA there. If you’re going to use fold-over elastic on an edge, you don’t need a SA because the elastic finishes the edge without having to turn it under. I found that thinking through these things reduced the intimidation factor of sewing a bra. It’s all logical in the end, and once you understand that logic you can change things up depending on the types of finishes you want or fabrics you plan to use.
Scallops and Lace Placement
When it came time to cut out my lace, the scalloped edge marking on the front cup pattern piece threw me for a loop. The scallops are drawn in with the high point of the lace touching the edge of the pattern piece (see below).
I took this illustration as a literal indication of how to place the pattern piece on the lace, but that’s not the case. This edge has no seam allowance, so according to various sources I consulted – Beverly Johnson’s Craftsy class, Facebook bra making community, Cloth Habit blog, etc – it should be placed at the low point of the lace scallop, like in the photo below from Cloth Habit.
But while writing this and studying the piece again, I began to wonder if that rule isn’t a little fungible. The thing with scalloped lace is since the width of the fabric on a scalloped edge varies, you have to plan ahead to make sure your seams match neatly. You can see in Amy’s picture above (and in her nice explanation here), that she has marked the intersecting seam point in blue pen on the right side of her pattern piece, and then she made sure that the scalloped edge of the lace intersects with that point. On the Merck pattern piece, it still kinda shows the scalloped edge of the lace intersecting with the seam line (remember there are no seam allowances on this pattern piece yet), it’s just that they have chosen to line up the high point of the lace on that seam. So I guess you could do it either way, and maybe your choice will depend on how big your scallops are. I cut out a few mock patterns pieces with scalloped edges from paper to test this theory:
Above is sort of the traditional way to place your scallops for the neckline of the bra, with the seam lines meeting at the low point of the lace, and below is the opposite which I think might still work, with the seam lines meeting at the high point of the lace.
Anyway, food for thought and hopefully I haven’t totally confused/bored you. Moving on…
Constructing the Cups
First, I used spray adhesive (which I learned about from Madalynne) to attach my lining to my main lace fabric for the inner cups. Then I attached narrow elastic along the top of the cup. So far, this is pretty much following the Merck instructions.
The Merck instructions have you do essentially the same thing for the outer cup, and then sew the two right sides together. The only thing is, this gives you a raw seam on the inside. I know I said before that I didn’t care about concealing my bra seams neatly in the lining the way some people do, but turns out I’ve changed my mind. If found this helpful video tutorial from LizSews that made it seem totally doable. Her method works great on the Berkeley bra she’s using to demonstrate, and it would also be super easy to use on a Watson bralette. The inverted corner where the inner and outer bra cup pieces on this Merck bra, however, makes things trickier. Here’s how I did it. (Disclaimer: This method is definitely not perfectly, and I would love to hear suggestions on how to do it better.)
First, I stacked my bra pieces like the picture below: the outer cup lining (mesh) right side up on the bottom, and the inner cup lace and lining (already glued together with elastic added as above), right side of lace up, on top. You can baste two together at this point as indicated by the red dashed line if you want to make things a little easier.
Then I stacked the lace outer cup piece on top of the rest, with the right sides of the lace pieces facing each other. I stitched everything together just up to the dot indicated on the pattern piece.
Then I flipped things over and trimmed back that seam allowance, but only up to the dot where the outer cup and inner cup meet.
Next I flipped the outer cup lining piece toward the front and pinned down the upper neckline edge to the lace where the two are were not attached yet.
And I basted the two together along the bottom of the scallops, just to the point of that dang inverted corner again.
Then I lined up some narrow elastic along the bottom of my lace scallops and zigzagged it in place.
Then I flipped the outer cup lining back in its proper place, folding it over the elastic I had just added. Next I zigzagged again over the elastic, now with the lining on top.
That inverted corner still turned out a little messy, but I think it’s good enough for this time. If anyone can show me how they handled this on their Mix30 Bra, I would love to know!
Attaching Cups to the Cradle, Adding Elastics
I don’t have anything helpful to add to the construction process on how to sew the cups in to the cradle or add the underwire channeling. This part seams pretty consistent from one bra to the next, so if you’ve done it before you should have no problem here. You can go check out the Liz Sews tutorials that I linked above if you want more detail on how it’s done. She inserts the cups to the frame around the 9:45 mark in this video, and the underwire channeling is added at the beginning of this video.
The last part that is a little tricky on this bra is attaching the underarm and band elastics. Normally this part is pretty straightforward. You lay your plush elastic with the plush side up in the seam allowance on the right side of the bra, stitch it down, fold it to the inside (wrongside) of the bra, and stitch it down again. On this particular bra, however, I have places where scalloped lace edges (with no seam allowance) meet non-scalloped lace edges (with seam allowance). This includes where the cup meets the band at the underarm and where the bridge meets the band under the cup, as shown in the two pattern illustrations below.
The solution is pretty simple, and maybe I’m silly for thinking this would be a stumbling block at all for others. First, you lay you elastic plush side up on the right side of the bra along the section that has the seam allowance (no scallops). You stitch it down with a zig zag, stopping right where the non-scalloped edge meets scalloped edge. Back stitch. I forgot to take photos of this on the yellow bra, but I grabbed a quick photo while constructing the pink bra below which uses the same method.
Next, turn the elastic to the inside and do your second pass of zig zag stitching on top. When you come to the place where the non-scalloped edge meets scalloped, continue sewing, lining up your elastic with the bottom edge of the scallops. This will be the first and only pass of stitching along the scalloped edge.
Beverly Johnson’s Craftsy course provides a very clear demonstration of this, and I highly recommend it. It’s a little tricky getting things neat where the scallops end at the underarm. I had to do a little unpicking and redoing here. If you plan ahead and make this seam line hit at the low point of the lace you’ll have an easier time.
That’s all I have to say on this bra. I hope some of these explanations are helpful to others who are stumbling along the bra making learning curve like me!