​Talking Full-Bust Bra Construction with Kimberly Hamilton

by Estelle Puleston

Last month, we published a post on why bras cost what they do, which touched on the reasons why many DD+ bras cost more than their A-D counterparts. Today, we will delve into this in a bit more detail, and speak to DD+ lingerie designer Kimberley Hamilton of Kimtimates to break down some factors that go into designing a full-bust bra.

Kimberly Hamilton alongside model Amber Dutchekwearing one of Kimberly’s lingerie designs. Photographer: Blaise van Malsen, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology/Techlife Magazine

Welcome to the Zathiya Lingerie blog! How did you get into lingerie design, and full-busted lingerie specifically?

Hello! Thank you for inviting me to join you on your blog. I’m Kimberly, a full-busted woman (36GG) who has made large cup bras all her life. Coming from a small town in Alberta, Canada, shopping for bras was difficult as a teenager. I only discovered DD+ lingerie and European brands when I moved to ‘the city’ after high school. I was hooked with my first proper fitting bra at the age of 18, a life-changing experience, and eventually got a job at the boutique I frequented.

I worked one-on-one with clients to help them find the right bra with our wide range of sizes, much like you offer at Zathiya. I wanted to help women experience what I had by having a great fitting bra. I was always interested in sewing, and when I had the opportunity to learn how to make a bra for myself, I jumped at it. After a few years of learning to make bras at ‘summer camp’, I discovered a degree course specifically in lingerie in the UK, and made a somewhat spontaneous decision to go to university in England when I was 29. While studying I focused on large cups, graduating only last year, and I now work as a designer for a large cup lingerie, swimwear and full-bust clothing brand in Germany.

ewa-michalak-chp-opium.pngPictured: Ewa Michalak CHP Opium bra

A DD+ bra is often different from its core-sized counterpart than may first meet the eye – what are the typical design changes between the two?

A DD+ bra will usually have firmer fabrics to help lift and shape the bust, and a heavier weight of powernet in the back band to keep it sitting firm on your back. There will usually be more seams or structure in the cup to help direct breast tissue forward, to avoid that ‘East and West’ shape.

Design and fabric choices vary like slightly higher necklines to hold the bust, slightly wider and firmer strap elastics will also improve the support, and underwires will be a heavier gauge (made out of a thicker piece of metal) to help support a heavier bust.

The seams on the cups of the Curvy Kate Luxe bra make it a viable strapless option, providing structure for many large-cup sizes

What would a DD+ bra look and feel like if it were graded up from a smaller size without these changes?

In the industry, we would describe this as ‘not fit for purpose’. You may find that the bra doesn’t provide a lot of lift or shape, with breasts sitting low on the torso, and perhaps that ‘East and West’ shape if the fabrics are not strong enough. Shoulder straps that are too thin or too stretchy may hurt, or feel ‘bouncy’ when you walk.

The grading itself must be considered – the way the bra patterns are adjusted – for all of the other sizes. The grade ‘rules’ used in A-D bras are much different to the ‘rules’ used in DD+ bras. Normally the increments are applied symmetrically in A-D cups, so the cup grows proportionally to the left and the right. In DD+ cups, we grade asymmetrically, so there is less growth in the pattern between the center front of your bra and the nipple, and instead more growth is added at the sides. This allows for the deepest part of the cup to remain central on the body, pointing forwards, otherwise you’ll have more of that ‘East and West’ shape.

The wider band of the Ewa Michalak S Syrena 90H (bottom) vs that of the 65C (top)

How do these changes add to the cost of a typical bra, in terms of materials and labor?

Having more pieces adds to the cost, like adding in non-stretch linings as well as firmer and wider elastics and the heavier powernet in the back. Heavier wires are also used, and many brands customize the shape and length of their wires, adding to the cost.

Large-cup bras also have more pattern pieces, and they’re bigger pattern pieces which means the bra itself takes longer to sew. Sewing costs are calculated by the number of minutes it takes to sew the garment. [Plus] the larger your pattern pieces are, the more likely you are to have wasted fabric, where you can’t physically fit another pattern piece on the fabric.

It’s also important to understand that not all factories that make bras can make large cup bras either. They are usually highly specialized factories that are used to working with incredibly small tolerances (this is the amount of ‘error’ that the garment can have when comparing the actual measurements to the pattern pieces). A large cup bra can only be out tiny fractions of an inch, most seams between 1/8” - 1/4”, and some measurements have to be exact. It takes a lot of precision and highly experienced sewing machinists to make a great quality large cup bra.

Many people complain they can't find delicate-looking bras for fuller busts – sheer fabrics, thin straps, demi cups, that sort of thing. Is such a bra even possible for larger cup sizes?

Lift and support is created with fabric and structure. The more coverage you have with fabric, and the more seaming and panels you have, the more you can shape the breast. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s the compromise that needs to be made: heavier fabrics, wider straps or more coverage.

In larger cup sizes it is more obvious when the bra is not lifting or shaping the bust as desired, and it will remain unsold. No matter how cute or pretty you may find the bra to be, if it doesn’t give you the lift and shape you want, chances are you won’t buy it.

Elastics need to be firm and not too stretchy – both through the underband and on the shoulders to help keep the bra in position. The band of the bra should take most of the weight of the bust, but the straps still do a small amount of work, so they should be appropriate for the size of the bra. Bras can be made with lighter fabrics but they must be fit for purpose. They have to be strong and stable with just the right amount of ‘mechanical stretch’ to give a nice, rounded shape.

7b58b9ede4870969ff6ddd0d01f9450b.pngPictured: Curvy Kate Wonderland bra

You've created patterns for many DD+ bras yourself – a task that may not be glamorous, but is absolutely crucial to get right for the bra to look glamorous on the body! What's the hardest part of drafting a pattern for a full-bust bra?

Creating patterns for full-bust bras is challenging and time consuming, but it’s a very rewarding process! I think having the patience to keep with it is the hardest part. You have to be prepared to keep making samples over and over and over again to perfect the fit. 1/8thof an inch can make a difference between something you’re happy with and something you’re not, in terms of shape or the curve of a seam.

You may also have a pattern that you’ve made over and over again, but as soon as you change the fabrics, there will be more small adjustments and tweaks to be made. The fullness and weight of a full-bust will put more strain on the fabric than a smaller bust, and you’ll see the differences between various types of fabrics.

It’s not at all uncommon to go through 10 or 15+ prototypes on the journey to perfect a pattern in a large cup size. This can make it a very time consuming and expensive process for a brand to develop new products.

charlotte.png

Pictured: Parfait by Affinitas Charlotte bra

What would you like to see more of in the full-busted lingerie market? Is there anything currently missing from stores?

I'd love to see more variety of interesting combinations of non-traditional fabrics and details. Fit, shape and quality are really important to me when purchasing a bra. Sometimes I'm a girly-girl, but bright floral prints aren't really my thing. Luxurious laces and embroideries in jewel-tones are what appeal to me.

I'd love to see more geometrics or 'masculine' inspired designs. Not necessarily polka dots and pinstripes. I'd love to see more boudoir-styled pieces as well, along the lines of the Scantilly collection from Curvy Kate, Bluebella or the luxury loungewear from the likes of Amoralle, or even high-fashion lingerie pieces like the bodysuits from Bao Tranchi. Oh, there's so much I'd love to have in my wardrobe! I’d better get sewing!

Lastly, which is your favorite piece here at Zathiya and why?

Oh! I've recently purchased for myself the S Saint Tropez Ewa Michalak bikini and I absolutely love it. It's my first Ewa Michalak set – a must have since I live near the sea. It's modern looking and has little detachable decorative straps that can accent the bust. The fit of the bikini top is amazing with so much projection, it gives me a very “boobalicious” shape, that's the only way I can describe it!

I've searched for years for a set like this with really nice full, high-waisted bottoms. They're incredible, and lined with powernet so they give me a bit of hold and support through the tummy. I can't wait for more sunny days to wear this to the beach! I anticipate many more Ewa sets in my future, as I think they're the perfect shape for my bust.

"The fit of the bikini top is amazing..." Kimberly loves Ewa Michalak's Saint Tropez bikini

Model: Jenny Rieu; Photographer: Jason Kamimura Photography

We’d love to know what you think of the points Kimberly made – did you know just how much extra work goes into creating a full-bust bra? Have you ever worn a DD+ bra that just didn’t seem properly engineered for the job?