Quick fixes for bras

lacy lingerie

The first time I upholstered a bra I made a soutiengorge, an over-the-shoulder boulder holder, a concoction of silk, ruffles and kicking tartan that rustled under my dress when I moved. It was a black and white silk bra for under my red satin wedding dress and it was to match the bustle of netting I'd also made. I'd planned on singing some jazz tunes, dressed in a corset, bustle and fishnet stockings, because we decided against doing "the bride and groom dance" after the meal and speeches. Naturally, I'd left the corsetry to abler machinists than I, but the bra and bustle were all mine. I've since graduated onto making more practical daywear but that first bra and bustle were revelations.

Firstly, because it's damn hard to make a bra and secondly because it's equally difficult to repair one so you can get a little more service from something you already love for myriad reasons. The known pitfalls in bra-buying are in finding one that fits. It's a very rare bra that's going to fit perfectly in all the key areas. For instance does it give you flaps under your arms? is it spilling over the back strap? Maybe it's not spilling over the front enough? Does it give you too much cleavage but not enough oomph? Does it make your breasts too rounded, pointy or jiggly? The complexity of what you expect from your bra means that once you find some that fit comfortably and discreetly do justice to whatever outfit you've chosen for specific events, it's annoying to have to replace them. If, like me, you've also run the gamut of bra-buying (carefully chosen a sensible one that fits to making a supermarket dash buying lots of cheap frills that will last for a only few washes) then you may also have yet another baulk at the idea of buying new, apart from the obvious one in straitened times: you simply can't afford it. Fixing them can take a fraction of the cost replacing them does, and if you're already crafty it won't take too much time.

fast fixes

The Great Upholstered Bra that was my first re-working of expensive fabrics remains, it has to be said, a pitiful example of handiwork. Woegeous work, a waste of excellent silk, and two hours gone out of my life that can never be recovered. However its sentimental value has meant that it's still sitting in a box in the attic and the experience informed the next project. The 'experience' means that I know now that I should have separated out each of the tasks I undertook in recovering a fundamentally good bra that had become discolored and slack in the wash. All the tasks done then are practically all you'll ever need to extend the life of a bra or lingerie set you're fond of. It's a project for beginners in that it's not something you need a sewing machine for, but you will need a well-stocked sewing basket. It also means that you may have to practice your best kleptomania as you'll possibly be raiding other things for parts.

the parts

There are essentially only three parts to a bra, as in, the shoulder straps, the back straps and the cups. The shoulder straps should have slight give in them but not so much that the elastic boings all the way down to your navel when you hang those puppies off them. The back straps, likewise, need some flexibility to enable you to hook and unhook them comfortably. The cups are worth an essay all to themselves in terms of shape, cut and fabric but as we're working under the assumption that you simply want to fix your underwear and get back to having a life, we'll limit the fast fixes to a few suggestions that can be applied quickly.

The straps, both shoulder and back, are very often the first to need a little TLC. In normal households that white elastic tends to get thrown in with all your other washes and within weeks it can be a sad, tired grey that you're prepared to live with for all of autumn, winter and spring, this year, next year and for the foreseeable future. Jumpers and heavy blouses are the key fast fix here, coupled with slight movements that significantly reduce the chances of anyone you don't know seeing your dirty washing in public. But when the self same bra is being called upon to sit underneath your gauzy, lacy, glitzy, glam slam outfit, you may eventually have to acknowledge that yes, it's a summer's evening and I must take off the jumper.


Making the shoulder straps rigid takes about five minutes' sewing, saves everything else you love about that bra, and saves you the expense of a completely new one. Replacing just the shoulder straps solves the discoloration issue and strengthens the bra's lift.

In ascending order of time and money you can simply

1 LACY: Snip off the shoulder straps entirely and replace them with new white elastic, or differently colored elastic. Actually using shoelaces instead of the elastic works very well too. It can give the bra a 'girlish' feel to it if the shoelace is a spaghetti strap, a designer, "edgy" feel to the bra if it's a boot or sneaker lace, and do something else entirely if it's a leather thong or PVC ribbon you've attached to your favorite bra. I've used shoelaces to great effect on a predominantly feminine bra with black lace and white ribbons, a lilac lingerie set was salvaged with a neon pink boot lace to replace the shoulder straps and some rosebuds embroidered onto the cups and panties. Boot and shoes laces cost roughly the same as elastic and you'll be hard-pressed to find a whole new bra for the price of a pair of laces.

2 FUN: Snip off one side of the shoulder strap and cover it with new contrasting fabric. This takes longer obviously but it can cost nothing apart from the price of a remnant, or be completely free if you've the right remnant to hand. If you choose a fun fabric such as polka dots, gingham, or a pretty pattern, it gives a novel twist to your old favorite that's an added bonus to its extended function. Cut two pieces of fabric that are twice the width of the bra strap, allowing for an extra half-inch for hemming (this gives you a quarter-inch of a hem). Fold each piece over itself lengthwise on the wrong side and hem it either by hand-sewing or with your machine (if you're using one). Turn your sewn tube the right way out (putting a safety pin on one end and working the pin up through the tube is often the quickest way). Thread your sewn tube along your bra's shoulder strap and sew onto the body of the bra. If you've allowed enough fabric, that is, if your tube of fabric is slightly longer than the original strap, you can have a loose-fitting layer of fabric that's gathered along the length of the strap. You sew the tube to the bra, and on to two or more other points of the strap at the shoulder end, and secure the strap and its new cover to the front of the bra to fix it.

3 FLUTTERY: If you're a clever clogs and you can attach fabric to elastic by stretching the elastic to its taut length and allowing the fabric to gather evenly along the strip of elastic when it relaxes to its resting length, you could have a swish satin, fluttery strap on your bra. In this case, remember that you've to cut the elastic to a comfortable length so it won't cut into your shoulder by being over-stretched. (Another variation on this is to leave the underside of the shoulder strap bare and simply ruch the fabric on the top side.)


Taking the curved metal piece out of an underwired bra throws the bra off balance. If it falls out or breaks in just one cup you can have a lop-sided bust that seems pert and party-ready on one side and sadly deflated on the other.You could be tempted to take both out if one snaps, but as the bra's been designed with the metal parts in mind, the back strap will ride up your back more easily (and droop in front) and the cups won't fit as snugly as they did. As you've to sacrifice either lift, cup fit or the fit of the back strap beneath your shoulder blades, you may have to bid farewell to a bra in which one underwire breaks, but salvage the good wire and keep it in your sewing basket.

Underwired bras are sometimes called balcony bras as the underwires provide a platform on which your breasts sit and, often, the shoulder straps have been placed wide across your chest (close to your arms rather than in a line up from your nipples) to give you the best display of bare skin. You may have bought dresses or shirts strictly on the basis that your balcony bra is your Go To Underwear for square or open necklines? Then you'll want to keep that bra in your treasure chest (har. har.) of trusted trusses for as long as you can. The balcony bra is essentially a half cup that exposes flesh at the front, but still relies on the shoulder straps to lift your bust. Wearing it is usually a mesmerising jiggle-fest so use it sparingly if you need your audience to actually focus on the rest of you. But as it's decidedly money well-spent, it's worth keeping it in good shape.

BACKSTRAPS: The quickest and cheapest repair to a bra that fits you in all the key areas is to change the orientation, that is, swapping the hook and eye fastener from the back strap to the front. Simply snip off the fastener at the back and sew the two parts into one closed strap. Then snip the bra between the cups and sew the hook and eye parts on there.

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