A bra-making odyssey…but can I do it zero waste?

Folks, these are dire times: since Target Country closed their doors in April, there isn’t a bra shop within a 2-hour drive radius of here.

As daughters have growth-spurt after growth-spurt, something must be done – but alas, the options are few.

With these distances, it’s quicker to sew a bra than drive to the bra shop. So that’s what I’ve been doing this week.

Of course, first I needed a pattern.

To start with, I didn’t attempt zero waste because I’ve actually never made a bra before. I know – surprising, but I’ve made plenty of structured swimsuits and strapless tops at work so I’m not a complete newbie 🙂

I looked at a few pictures of bras and took some measurements to make a pattern. There were two books in my professional library that were handy: Ann Haggar’s Patterncutting for Lingerie, Beachwear and Leisurewear and Lee-Ann Burgess’s Making Beautiful Bras.

Bra making books
Bra making Ann Haggar book
Ann Haggar’s book shows how to draft a bra from a basic bodice block; I read it but didn’t make my pattern that way.
Bra making Lee Ann Burgess book
Lee-Ann Burgess’s book was much more helpful, since the whole book is dedicated to bras. There’s no pattern drafting in it – her strategy is to take a pattern off a shop-bought bra to use as a starting point. However, there’s lots of excellent line drawings and construction/fitting advice.
I’m trained to make a pattern from looking at a sketch, so this was just what I needed.

Failure is not an option with this project: there’s only one chance to impress before Mum-made bras get written off, forcing a drive to a bra shop.

The first bra fitting went okay – better than expected.

Bra making odyssey bra number 1

The second bra with the adjustments made was intended to be worn to check for comfort, but it wasn’t deemed supportive enough even though the fit was spot-on (after a minor cup adjustment).

Bra making odyssey bra number 2

Not defeated yet! For the third bra, I decided to change tactics and make one in stretch fabric, a bit more sports bra-y.

Maybe this one I could make zero waste? I recalled there was a pattern for a bra in Zero Waste Wardrobe’s collection of free zero waste patterns. You might remember the zero waste underpants I tried earlier this year were from Zero Waste Wardrobe.

It turned out there were two bra styles. Out of curiosity, I tried the second one to see if it would fit.

Zero Waste Wardrobe bra sketch
From Zero Waste Wardrobe.
Bra making odyssey bra number 3
It has a beautifully shaped neckline and is very easy to sew.

Unfortunately I could see it was going to be too small in the cup department, so I didn’t get any further – I didn’t even sew it up. The pattern is a single size with no provision for making it bigger.

Btw, here’s the pattern:

Bra making odyssey zww bra layout with text
From Zero Waste Wardrobe, English words mine.
You can see that the side panel is nestled within the neckline. The whole bra is self-lined.

But several inspired ideas have sprung from this bra, the biggest being that it’s not impossible! Until this year I had kind of written-off the idea of undies being zero waste without even exploring the possibility.

If you think it’s too difficult, then you must try it” was my mantra for the fourth bra, as I aimed for both zero waste and multiple sizes.

My thoughts are that the key is modular pattern pieces, so that even if it isn’t zero waste for one whole bra, all the pattern pieces form squares or rectangles (and who ever makes just one bra? You need at least 3). Here’s my pattern:

Bra making odyssey bra number 4 pattern zero waste
The pattern pieces all form rectangles (the centre front panel, at right, tessellates on the diagonal edge).
The fabric needs to be stretchy in both directions because the side panel is cut sideways.
Like Zero Waste Wardrobe’s bra, this one is self lined.
Bra making odyssey bra number 4

It doesn’t look too special here, but I did a fitting this afternoon and I’m smelling victory.

To be continued……


  1. Laurinda on June 21, 2021 at 3:18 am

    Being an unusual size, I’m always on the lookout for a bra pattern that might actually fit (I’m fat, but I don’t have large breasts)
    I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with

    • lizhaywood on June 21, 2021 at 9:00 am

      She’s testing a wearable prototype this week, so I’ll have a full report next week. Maybe this bra could be The One?

  2. Val Freebairn on June 21, 2021 at 3:38 pm

    I recall making a bra pattern many years ago at Panorama TAFE (alas now a bare site). The lecturer had a student who lived in Hobart who had made a bra pattern because she could not find a commercially made one to fit (she was a very large lady). When Tasmania had the disastrous Black Tuesday bushfires in 1967 the only thing she grabbed as she evacuated was the bra pattern!

    • lizhaywood on June 21, 2021 at 5:01 pm

      I love that story! (I would take my trouser block)

  3. Lesley on June 21, 2021 at 7:29 pm

    Feeling inspired and await an update. I would love to make a simple styled bra. As a larger lady with small shoulders/arms: expensive many pieced bras with wires and preferably stretch lace topped cups are what I buy. The soft sporty bras either don’t go up to my size, or if they do are so ‘robust’ to be uncomfortable.

    • lizhaywood on June 21, 2021 at 10:19 pm

      Hi Lesley, I’m no bra expert, but bra-making friends tell me it’s very satisfying to make and wear your own, so I hope this is something you get to do!
      Bra #5 is being test-worn this week 🙂

  4. Donna on June 22, 2021 at 1:50 am

    Hi Liz.
    You must be a mind reader! I’ve just finished making a bra this week (the George and Ginger Little Black Bra) as I failed to find any RTW which were non-mono boob, supportive, without wires and without clasps.
    I made some mods (1.5 inch elastic under the bust gives me enough support) and I left small gaps in in the side seams to insert for my ‘little helpers’ It’s good, but not zero waste so your blog post came at the right time. Can’t wait for the next instalment.
    Would it be possible to line the bra do you think?

    • lizhaywood on June 22, 2021 at 5:12 pm

      Hi Donna, that looks like a good pattern.
      Gee, I hope this zero waste bra lives up to expectations!

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