In the summer I used to hate the fact that I couldn’t wear all the cute little strappy sun dresses because of my large bust. I’m simply not comfortable without a bra, so now I make sure that I add a bra into my sun dresses when I make them!
I have a 46″ over bust, 51″ full bust and 40″ under bust, just to give you an idea of my proportions and to help you envisage how this might also work for you.
I started with the Sommer Dress by Made for Mermaids. It is a very form fitting dress design, with plenty of negative ease drafted in, and that makes it perfect for adding a bra into. If your chosen pattern is less form fitting, you will need to find a tightly fitting bodice pattern to make your inbuilt bra from, and mash the patterns together. I find swimsuits tend to work well for this!
For this version, I just chose to cut on the natural waist line and with the ‘style A’ straps. The pattern also has an empire waist option and that is where I started making my internal bra. If your chosen pattern doesn’t have an empire cut line, you will want to shorten your regular bodice pieces to bring the bottom of the lining bra pieces closer to your underbust. How much you chose to shorten them will depend on your own side waist and bust measurements. You may need to make a muslin version to practise on first.
First I cut my main fabric pieces:
1) Front bodice natural waist
2) Back bodice natural waist
3) Front and back maxi skirt pieces
I also cut a front and back bodice at the empire cut line from a lining fabric with great recovery, the pink fabric shown below – this is a matt nylon/lycra from my go to ebay supplier, a_fabrics here in the UK; a back bodice piece from power mesh cut at the empire line; and 2 front bodice pieces from power mesh at the empire line. If you have a smaller bust you may not need to use 2 layers of power mesh in the front, or any at all, but this works best for me.
The picture above shows the front lining piece and 2 power mesh front pieces.
If you would like to have the option to add removable cups, then you will need to cut a semi circle from the top corner of the innermost lining piece. Like this:
Optionally you can finish the raw edge of the curve with your overlocker/serger if you have one, but this is not necessary.
Baste around all three layers, making sure you don’t sew the little pocket you have just created shut, and then treat them as 1 piece from then on. This is what the little pocket will look like when you are finished, this is from another dress, where my inner lining piece is a pink cotton lycra. It allows you to remove the cups for washing, etc.
I also like to sew down the centre of the front bodice lining pieces, using a stretch stitch, if you will be adding removable cups. This helps keep them in their own pocket at the front of the bra. Apologies, I forgot to photograph this until it was all finished!
Baste the back bodice lining and back bodice power mesh pieces together also, treat as one piece from now on.
Next take your front lining/mesh and your back lining/mesh and sew them together at the side seams, right sides together.
Take some elastic (I used 1″ wide) and wrap it around your underbust to gauge the length you will need. Cut it to size, remembering to add 1″ seam allowance. Overlap the short ends by 1″ and zig zag together to form a loop. Quarter the elastic and the bottom of the bra pieces and sew the elastic around the bottom. I then flipped it up and top stitched it as you could see the white elastic through the fabric of the dress, against my skin. You may be able to get away with a thinner elastic here, but I get better support from a wider elastic, myself. You can see what this looks like when finished in the photo above.
Then take your outer bodice pieces and sew them right sides together at the side seams. Turn them right side out and slip them down over the lining pieces. You want the wrong sides of the lining and the main bodice pieces together here, with the little pocket for your removable cups innermost, against where your body will be, if you are using them. Baste them together around the whole top edge, this makes it much easier to add the binding.
Continue to construct the pattern as normal here. The only other adjustments I made were to widen the width of the binding pieces to 2.75″, keeping the length as drafted. I found that a thinner strap digs in more over the shoulder, and widening it just a little more makes such a difference in comfort and support for my large bust. Make sure you use a good fabric, with decent body and excellent recovery. I used an ITY here, which worked very nicely.
Whilst sewing on the binding, I also like to add clear elastic into the binding itself, to aid with greater support and general oomph!
I used a ⅜” clear elastic which aids the recovery of the strap without adding extra bulk to the binding as it is very thin. Remember to exercise your elastic before sewing it on, to prevent it stretching out with wear. I sew the binding onto the bodice as normal with a lightening stitch on the first pass (just like a traditional 3 fold binding). Here is an example I made for you after I had finished making the dress. I have used a contrasting thread so you can see the stitching more easily. Bodice below, binding on top, right sides together.
Then I go back and sew the elastic onto that seam allowance with a triple zig zag stitch. I used a thicker swim elastic here, instead of the clear elastic I used in the dress, so you would be able to see it more easily. You can tell from that skipped stitch it’s time for a new Super Stretch needle!
Finally fold the binding over to the back, fold the raw edge in and top stitch it down to finish.
Binding from the front:
… and from the back:
I used my Mettler Seraflex thread to sew the binding top stitching, so that I could use a long straight stitch on my sewing machine and still get plenty of stretch. I was gifted some a couple of weeks ago and it has come in pretty handy so far, so I would recommend giving it a go as it had some good stretch to it. If you use a zig zag stitch to top stitch the binding it can cause it to stretch out, so be careful. It is always a good idea to remeasure your binding after sewing it on to ensure it hasn’t lengthened.
Baste the straps in place at the back to check fit before you finalise their placement.
That’s it, all done!
I hope you enjoy wearing your new strappy Sundress without having to worry about having your bra straps on show.
If you would like to keep in touch, you can follow my sewing adventures in my blog and social media, here:
Dana is a sewing teacher and fabric fancier based in Suffolk, UK. She specialises in plus size sewing and crazy kids clothes. She loves making garments for herself and her family to wear.