Episode 28. Bra Making with Lily Fong of Lilypad Designs

Listen to the episode

Bra Making with Lily Fong of LilypaDesigns The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast

In this week's episode, we're talking about bras and bra making with Lily Fong, the designer behind LilypaDesigns (@lilypadesigns). Learn how Lily started sewing her own bras before starting Lilypad Designs to support the bra making community with patterns, supplies and knowledge. For show notes and a transcript of this episode, please see: https://asiansewistcollective.com/episode-28-bra-making-with-lily-fong-of-lilypad-designs If you find our podcast informative and enjoy listening, you can support us by joining our monthly membership or making a one-time donation via Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective


Patterns & Designers mentioned

Coco Bias Skirt by Staystitch Pattern Co

Qipao Jumpsuit by Porcupine Patterns

Koma Wireless Bra Pattern (A-DD)/(DD-GG) by LilypaDesigns

Fabric Stores mentioned

Melanated Fabrics, U.S.-based, woven solids and prints, knits, denim, suiting, notions, etc


A Bra that Fits, Reddit / Website
2022 Great Bra Sewing Bee Conference 

Show transcript

Nicole: I feel like my bra standards have like devolved. Not that I don’t like high quality things but honestly, like my only requirement is that like the bottom of my boob is not touching my waist anymore. That’s it. If I could just have something that just went like that, that’s all I care about.

Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community.

Nicole: In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities, and our shared sewing practice as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies.

Ada: I’m your co-host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado. Denver is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese-American marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own natural skincare business called Chuan’s Promise. That’s C-H-U-A-N-apostrophe-S promise – and sharing my marketing tips on my blog. Most importantly, for this podcast, you can find my sewing at @i.hope.sew on Instagram.

Nicole: And I’m your co-host, Nicole. I’m based outside of Chicago, the original homelands of the Council of the Three Fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m a Philippine-American woman, a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram at @nicoleangelinesews.

Ada: Before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us about your current sewing project?

Nicole: Yes, I feel like listeners are familiar with me hesitating, because I don’t always have something I’m currently working on. But have you ever signed up for something Ada and then forgot you signed up for it?

Ada: Rarely, but yes, it does occasionally happen to me, I will say it happens a lot more to my significant other.

Nicole: So I signed up to pattern test. And I received it yesterday. And it’s with Staystitch Pattern Company. I really like the company like their designs, super beginner friendly. I had apparently signed up to pattern test through an Instagram story. And I’ve pattern tested for them before. So I think it was like, oh, maybe this was a mistake. And so I emailed back and said, I don’t remember signing up for anything. I do actually think this will fit in my schedule. But I’m just letting you know, in case it was a mistake and like no, you signed up, like oh, okay, let’s do it then. So it’s a bias cut skirt. 

Ada: Ooh. 

Nicole: So they’re releasing one that’s a midi length. And then I think a mini length. I think I am not really comfortable with the idea of a bias cut mini skirt. I like-I don’t mind mini skirts. I don’t believe in the whole “if you’re over 35, blah blah blah,” but the swishy-ness and like, I’ll do the midi. So that’s what I am working on. I did print it and tape it together. And I’m going to be using a leopard print like slinky kind of material. I don’t have a better way to put it. Maybe you would class it as a charmeuse.

Ada: It’s a woven, a woven for sure.

Nicole: But I bought it from Melanated Fabrics and when they first opened like there was a hyper on their launch, and you will not at all be surprised to know that it’s leopard print. So that is what I’m going to be working on in very short order. What about you?

Ada: I am 0% surprised that it’s leopard print. Every time I see a leopard print, I think of you. Unfortunately, most of the ones I’ve come across lately are upholstery fabric and I don’t really think you want to wear that. Like it’s not, it’s not garment-able is how I would say.

Nicole: Fair.

Ada: Maybe quiltable? I am working on a wedding-related project not for me. But for my friend Alexis who is officiating. She has a bit of a harder time finding things that fit well at least we think off the rack. We’ve kind of gone down that road just as her friend and so as a thank you for being officiante and helping me get my stuff together.

I am making her a Quipao Jumpsuit from Porcupine Patterns. I pattern tested that pattern way back, maybe like end of last year, at some point-probably six months ago. And she is a different size from me so it’ll be really interesting. I have made the toile in muslin fabric. I sent it to her when she was home visiting her parents. So she had an extra pair of hands to help pin and mark the muslin and I sent her a prepaid envelope to send it back to me because while we were pinning and her mom was commenting on the armscye, I was like taking notes but I was like I really kind of need this back so I can see the exact measurements not that I don’t trust your measurements but like kind of want to double check. 

Nicole: Yeah, totally. 

Ada: So all the pieces obviously are cut because that’s how I made the muslin but she is, I believe that patterns drafted for a B cup. She is larger than a B cup. I believe she is somewhere in the D range. Although I haven’t personally measured her and you know, measuring yourself when that’s not really what you do all the time can be difficult. So related to today’s topic, but we’re going to be making lots of different adjustments. I sized up and decided we would just start like hacking away at the pattern pieces. So I have some of those notes written down, but I want to make sure that I get the muslin back so that I can compare them first before I cut into the paper, even though you know, it’s paper. I just don’t want to tape it again is what I’m saying.

Nicole: I know I am definitely team cut. And I was thinking about this question about TNTs last night, and I’m very much a person that like will try one once. Even if I love it, I’m ready to try something new. I have ones that I’ve made a couple times. But when I do go back to wanting to make another pattern again, and if the situation calls for me needing to tape it again. That’s when I wish I had made different choices. But I’m too lazy to trace so I mean, good for you. But that sounds like a really neat project. Will you be sharing the final results perhaps after the nuptials?

Ada: I will. I mean, her outfit can be shared as long as she’s okay with it being shared. The plan is once I get this muslin fabric toile back to make her a second wearable toile in a similar-ish enough fabric to see how it would drape and kind of lie on her with all the adjustments because she lives in Honolulu. And so she’s so far away. I can’t really go there to do fittings and sew it there. So that’s the plan. We’re just gonna be mailing it back and forth for the next few months.

Nicole: I mean, sounds like a good plan to me.

Ada: Hopefully. But today, I should turn to our guest. We’re really excited to welcome Lily Fong, a blogger, designer, and instructor of all things bra related from LilyPaDesigns, which is @lilypadesigns. One D, so L-I-L-Y-P-A-D-E-S-I-G-N-S on Instagram. Welcome, Lily.

Lily: Hi, thanks for having me.

Nicole: We’re so happy that you’re here. And we do ask our guests about their cultural background. And if it influences their sewing process, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started sewing?

Lily: Okay, my junior high actually offered a sewing class. And so it was one of those rotational things, you know, before home ec and all that stuff got ousted from the school system, it was part of the rotation. So you got to spend a few months in home ec, or a few months in typing class, a few months in woodshop. And so you got to experience four different crafting related stuff within that time. And that’s when I used my very first serger and kind of learned to read a pattern and all of that, that kind of definitely started things. And from there started with costumes, Halloween costumes, because, you know, it seems silly like why am I spending money on a costume that I’m only going to wear once that is mostly plastic or something of that nature and may fall apart on you on the night that you were wearing it. So I was like, You know what, maybe I’ll just throw something together. In terms of my background in sewing. 

My, I guess Asian-ness doesn’t really play a huge role in my lingerie-making. Although I do have some Asian brands that I take inspiration from, I really like their design elements. And it has played a very important role in where my company went and how my design aspect has evolved. I will say that the names of my patterns are Asian-related. So my latest pattern, this one right here, this is called the Kona. That is a Japanese name. I believe it’s botanical, the meaning escapes me at the moment. I don’t have actual Japanese roots from a biological perspective. But I am Taiwanese. And my grandmother spoke Japanese because of World War Two. And she worked for a lovely Japanese couple. And so Japanese culture was very much ingrained in my growing up, which made things a little confusing when I got older. But I didn’t realize some of our traditions were Japanese and not Taiwanese, and that was a big eye opener as an adult.

Ada: Okay, have an actual bra related question. But can I ask a fellow Taiwanese question of like, do you call your grandma a-ma or do you call her obaachan?

Lily: I’d call her a-ma? Yeah, yeah, ‘cause she’s Taiwanese, like xiangxia.

Ada: That’s a phrase, for our listeners who don’t speak Mandarin, it’s somewhat, I don’t want to say it’s a little derogatory. It just kind of means that you’re from the countryside. Yeah. Which is how I would describe parts of my family as well. Yeah, that’s interesting because my I mean, we called my grandma the same, a-ma, which is grandma in Taiwanese, I know that some of my aunts and uncles because they were older during the end of the occupation, they actually had they had to use all of the Japanese familial terms. So they actually sometimes carried over and just would like, slip out.

Lily: Oh, interesting. 

Ada: Yeah, I think it’s colonialism. So, you started sewing in junior high. When did you start sewing bras? Like what led you to that of all things from costumes?

Lily: Right. So this bra-making thing is relatively new in my I guess we’re bordering on 25 years of sewing experience. Now, within the last four years or so, I did bras and like so many who start sewing lingerie, this was a need. I needed bras that fit, I needed bras that did not give me large, dark, not welts, like spots that caused major sources of pain. This was one of those things where I didn’t really know that I needed it until I needed it. I had basically stopped nursing. This was after child number two, I stopped nursing. I was like, “Okay, time for some proper bras”.

Again, we’ll do some pretty ones because I’m tired of the ugly, ugly beige monstrosities that nursing moms have to deal with. And yes, they are seamless, and they are functional, but…gosh, they look terrible. And I was like, “Okay, so now it’s time for a proper, but let me try my old bra on, it’s probably not going to fit.” But oh man, it was not not even close. Okay, I might have gained some weight, maybe some boobs came along with it. 

So you know, I go to the store. And I figured you know what, I’m going to try Nordstrom. So I’m going to try a dependable department store that is known for the little old ladies in the fitting rooms who can just eyeball you and go you are this size, and let’s get a bra that fits you. And we did get one that fit. Okay. It wasn’t quite, you know, great. It wasn’t quite ideal either. I thought it kind of flattened. Like, I think let’s not flatten me out any more than we need to. 

I stumbled upon something called A Bra That Fits. And it is a Reddit forum. And there is an entire boatload of information on how to fit ready to wear bras, as well as how to adjust your current bras to be a better fit your body. And they’re assuming small things, like we can’t change the cup volume too much. But if your band is too big, you know, say the cup and the style that you want, it only came in that 40. And you had to sister size into like a 40 D like, I need a 32 band. So they’re like, “Okay, so this is how you take the band in.”

And I was like this is reasonable, I can do this. It’s like a straight stitch, I can handstitch this, which is exactly what I did for that very first one. I’m like, “Okay, I have a sewing machine”. But I’m like, “Okay, I’m not really sure what I’m doing,” maybe this just has to just and “Oh, this was much better”. And as I kind of delved into that group more and more and started learning about breast shapes, and all the different ways that bras are drafted and what shapes that they were designed for, I started making more and more adjustments.

And at a certain point, I was like, I am spending so much time adjusting ready to wear bras like why? It’s just like wait, I just need to make my own. I know how to sew, I’ve been sewing for years at this point. And somehow it did not occur to me, “Hey, you know what, I can just make a bra from scratch.” And then because I’m already making these adjustments, and I had a better idea of what better fit my body. And so that whole thing launched from that.

Nicole: I do feel like that’s a similar story to folks who find themselves pattern hacking a lot. And then they decided I’m just gonna go ahead and start drafting because I’m making all of these adjustments myself. So why not start from scratch? That’s really cool.

Ada: Also, I mean, not all ready to wear bras are expensive, but many of them can be and so if you’re already like, first of all, I would be nervous to take any adjustments needle and thread, scissors to anything that costs like 80 to $100 retail price like I would be so afraid to be like, “Well, you can’t return it because you cut that”, that does kind of make sense to me. So how did you get from “I’m just going to sew my own bras like I can do this” to “I’m going to start Lilypad Designs and have a whole company around this”.

Lily: So that was a strategic move on my part. Once I got a bra to fit me well like, this is a revelation. I don’t know about you, I’m at the stage where the boobs when they are not supported in a bra, bralette, or anything. They sit on the belly.

Ada: You mentioned that earlier.

Lily: They sit on the belly and when it is sweltering, it’s it gets to 110 degrees, where I live in LA sometimes, and you have the A/C on, but there’s only so much that you can do. And you’re sitting there at that table and you’re working on projects or whatever. And there’s just the pool of boob sweat that is sitting on top of your stomach. This is not going well. So you put the bra on, so it lifts it off your belly. And it’s like, well, I mean, this is better, I don’t have to worry about sweat. But you know, now I’m confined in a bra that doesn’t really fit that well, again. So once I got that bra to fit, I’m like, Oh, my gosh, this is amazing. It’s lifted, it doesn’t poke, it doesn’t create indentations where there shouldn’t be. And, you know, when they’re lifted, it’s like, oh, goodness, I look like I lost a little weight, I’ll take that. I want to do this for other people. As a profession, I have a master’s degree in Education. So I actually taught— just Asian stereotypes here. I taught Algebra to middle schoolers. So I was like, You know what, it’s, if I can teach other people how to get into a bra that fits, that would make me so happy. I also have a bachelor’s degree in Business. So this was my way of kind of merging the two, I can apply my business degree, I can apply my education background, and I get to work with people who are invested, if they are willing to sew, they’re willing to learn. And as an educator, this is the best sort of people that you want to work with who are already interested. We already have one foot through the door, like they want to learn this. This sounds like a good idea. So I went into bra-making, went into learning to draft. I started my own company with the intention of teaching others. That was my goal. And it still is.

Ada: I bet teaching people who are motivated to make their own bras and make them fit, they- I mean, I guess you said, like, they’re kind of an already captive audience, unlike middle schoolers who may or may not be interested in algebra.

Lily: Right, right.

Ada: I kind of have all these questions. But is there a difference, that you would say that’s pretty noticeable between bra sewing or lingerie sewing and regular garment sewing?

Lily: Yes, yes. Unfortunately, a lot of the skills are not transferable. Unless you have made swimsuits and worked a lot with stretch fabrics, like high percentage of Lycra in them in elastics, at specifically sewing to piece of fabric together, so maybe ruching that sort of deal. The closest comparison that I’ve heard, and then it’s probably the most accurate, would be sewing the bra cups to the frame, the cradle portion is closest to easing in a sleeve, right? Because you’ve got concave and convex curves that need to kind of go together. What I tell beginners, you know what, just use a ton of pins, use pins to your heart’s content, if that’s what makes you happy, because that’s how I started, I’d had a bajillion pins every like half an inch. Because again, it concave and convex curves like they don’t like to stick together very well. And so it’s just a ton of pens. And then as you get more comfortable with the curves, you don’t have to use as many pins and now I can get away with maybe two, you’ll get there.

Nicole: Ada, and I, our faces were like, Whoa, two!

Ada: I, I think I use 20 on like a swimsuit hole, like armhole, armhole, just the armhole.

Lily: Right. And it’s, I think it’s experience and blind confidence. So learn your trade learn, you get your experience up with the cheap $2 fabrics, right that you don’t care of, oh, gosh, I mess up. I’m just going to cut another one, no big deal. So, you know, I stock up on the cheap muslins in the most hideous prints ever because it was two bucks. And that’s how I started with, you know, making clothes and I have that same approach. I just need to kind of train the fingers, you get the muscle memory, right.

Nicole: So I have never sewn a bra before and you know, I’m like, my only requirement is that that the lift just to get that you know, sweaty part, you know, not sweaty. I’ve never thought about it before, but I have sewn swim. And of course now I’m thinking about all the things that I hated about bra buying when Istarted to feel like I needed to growing up and I’ve never felt like it’ll fit Now, I’m like, I think that maybe it would be great to try. And you’ve mentioned, so I have not sewn bras, I have sewn swim. So that was like okay, maybe I can do this. Okay. You mentioned working with stretch knits, maybe a little bit of ruching experience. Are there any other like types of techniques or maybe things that people should brush up on? If they’re absolute beginners and getting started? Like, I mean, I guess perfecting your zigzag stitch or do even zigzag stitches in sewing bra. That type of thing.

Lily: Right? No, excellent question. One of the things I really like about bra making, it’s it’s one of those garments that when you so you really cannot escape making muslins. 

Nicole: Fine.

Lily: So you can practice to your hearts content on your muslins. And I guess the one thing that people may not know of if unless you actually have sewn bras before, is bras are kind of like swimsuits. They have negative ease. But the cups usually don’t unless we’re talking about a bralette. So it needs to fit your body perfectly. Which means that fitting is really important. I know a lot of people we maybe initially shy away from making lingerie and bras in particular, like oh my gosh, is so tiny pieces. And like I don’t know how to even sew all that. Honestly, if you have sewn before any amount of sewing, you can sew a bra. The hard part is not sewing, the part that actually takes time and effort and thoughtfulness is fitting. Right? I have no doubt that you both of you, all three of you have enough some experience to sew bras. But the fitting it’s like you know what, maybe you might like a little help a little guidance like what do I address here? What do I do here? And that would be the case for most stylists.

Nicole: So as we are looking to achieve a well-fitting bra, how would you define what a well-fitting bra is? Like? What are some things to try to, I guess, achieve while you’re making it?

Lily: Most importantly, the answer actually depends on if you’re talking about a wired bra, or a wireless bra, or bralettes, which I categorized as a separate aside from wireless bras because the support system is a little bit different. And you’re mostly going for cute and comfort versus like I need to hoist these girls up. But with wired bras, which I think most of us have succumbed to at some point or other, you want to have the bridge that little triangle piece between the breast that should be touching your chest wall, it should not be sitting on breast tissue. And that portion, I think, for a lot of people, especially if you’re more well-endowed, can be hard to fit. So that’s number one, that means to touch the chest wall. Number two, your band needs to be tight enough, it needs to be firm enough to actually counteract the weight of your breast. Support of a wired bra comes from the band. So the majority of the weight, let’s just say 70-80%, just throwing it out there should come from the band itself, it should not be coming from the shoulders. The shoulder straps are just kind of like, oh, so they don’t kind of fall over or fall out when I’m leaning over to pick something up. Or if I reached over on the shelf to pick up something so it relatively stays in place. Most of the support should come from the band. So those are the two major things. Some other things, obviously, the you know, the cup should follow the contours of your breasts. Well, I think most of us see that, that’s probably the most important thing. What I find that the average person does not realize is that under wires come in different shapes, not just different sizes associated with your bra size, they come in different shapes entirely. Let’s just say you have a plunge bra and I want lots of cleavage, you’ll notice the wire is much much shorter in the front. So you can kind of push the breast tissue in towards the center. But let’s say you are more endowed and you are needing more support. That wire is going to come up much much higher in the center to fully support the breasts when you are standing walking leaning. Some wires are a little bit more vertical. So the ends kind of goes a point straight up and down. And some wires they point out to the side. So the regular quote unquote regular wires are the ones that kind of point out to the side. So think of that as a semicircle, right? So it’s a halfmoon shape where it kind of flares out a little bit at the end. And then we have underwires that are more vertical. These wires are there because breasts come in different shapes. So that’s another thing that maybe the average person is not aware of, because let’s face it, how many of us stare at different shaped boobs all day long? Actually, I didn’t know that nipples came in different colors until I think my 20s. I’m sorry I’m not in the habit of looking at porno magazines and I didn’t you know and then when you do see them you know on TV or magazines whatever they’re either blurred out or they are strategically placed so that just the nipple is covered in like what you what I have mine to look at and that’s my only reference there. And I saw someone else’s and like, <gasp> they’re pink! Oh my goodness. They’re pink! Wow!

Nicole: So I am dying laughing because I know the exact moment and when I realized that not all nipples were the same color. Like this new thing. Same thing. I was in college, the movie 300, I used to love that movie. I still like it a lot. I appreciate it. But that was one of the movies where I went to the theater to see it multiple times, because I felt…

Ada: Oh so like, big screen.

Lily: In your face!

Nicole: Yeah. And I was like, Oh, I Oh, okay. And there’s a scene where there’s a person, that’s an oracle that’s like dancing. And I was like, Oh, okay. And so I’m just like, I think that’s so funny. Because it’s a very, there was a very distinct moment in my life where I had that realization, and …we’re well off bras, but it’s still really funny to shoot to hear that, that someone else had that experience too. I was like, oh, okay, great, we can have something to relate to. I mean, bras shouldn’t be stigmatized to any gender, you know, so everyone should be comfortable with talking about it.

Lily: I do have some male participants and you know, I’m happy to fit them too. I will teach anybody and anybody who wants to learn to make a bra. Like you know, if you want to put a bra on a dog fine.

Ada: I can’t imagine mine. 

Nicole: Just looking at my dog. He’s really cute, though. So he would look cute in a bra.

Ada: Make a matching set.

Nicole: An excellent idea. Ada, you’re always like, do a matching set and I never get around to doing. I only sew for myself. I mean, lots to talk about of course. And all of this talk of underwear. You know, I have I gave up on the underwire game like years ago because I’m just like, I can’t deal with this. But what I’m hearing, Lily, is that digging is not a requirement for wearing underwire. 

Lily: Oh no. No no.

Ada: Poking, poking in the when you were saying they have different they go more vertically I have that problem. I’m not as endowed as the two of you are. I do not have the boob sweat problem. Only, you know only if I’m like really exercising, will it pull on my sports bra. But I have that problem where because they’re smaller and a little lower and wider set. Anytime I get a bra from ready to wear that has wires in it. The wires literally like poke my underarm ribcage, arms to death like I will take it off. And I will have poke marks.

Lily: Yup, yup, yes.

Nicole: I have scars actually in between my breasts from what you were talking about, Lily, that triangle I have scars from like pushing. And why am I going to look now they’re they’re like, but um, but yeah, I remember being like traumatized from one bra experience because, Oh, it was it was a front closing bra I think. And so like, whatever clasp was there really just didn’t work. And it’s so encouraging to hear. Of course, I knew that bra making was a thing. But I’ve never actually sat and talked with anyone who is, you know, very much invested in teaching people how to make their own bras so that they feel good in them. And so that they like what they see whatever that is, if you like what you see and how you feel, like it’s such a profound thing to think about when it comes to bras because at least for me throughout my life, because I haven’t been able to fit them well. It’s just been like a meh experience. So yeah, this has been really cool.

Ada: It’s almost like I think I mean, you brought up the very common experience of your breasts changing, if you give birth, your breasts will change. If you are nursing or you’re not, your breasts will change. It’s, it’s a whole, you’re growing a human it’s a whole body changing experience. Like I don’t know how else to put that. But if you’re, if even if you haven’t, or you’re just like going through body changes and fluctuations, like my weight has definitely changed. And my proportions have definitely changed over the last like 10-12 years, to the point of like, you know, when I first started needing to wear a bra to now the sizes are very different. And so even, I think we just forget, right? Because we’re so like, well, this is a thing I just need to wear, I’ll just pull the size, and just order whatever or try on whatever and kind of settle for mediocre, less than mediocre stabbing and poking. What you’re pointing out is that you don’t have to, it should be a structural garment that actually does help you lift that weight, literally.

Lily: So you brought up two very important points. As women, our bra size should not remain static. Your body changes and your breasts change multiple times throughout your life. And so as you said you should not be able to fit in the same bras that you were when you were 17, you are in the minority. That is not normal. Most of us, because of, you know, either pregnancy or other body changes. I mean something that I get to look forward to is menopause. Your body will change again. Because your hormones change, your skin elasticity changes, your requirements change. And that definitely the hormones change which affects our breast tissue. This is something that a lot of people tend to not think about, because it’s not really talked about. But the other thing is that you touched upon is we are so so accustomed to just, oh, let me go to the store and just pick up the size, we associate our identity with a specific size, how many of us have thrown a tantrum in a dressing room because we didn’t fit in our normal 2, 4, 6 20 size at a particular brand. And that’s kind of the same thing with bras, it’s like, Well, I’ve always worn you know, a 30D, 40D, whatever the case is. And so that’s my size. Well, our body changes throughout our lives. So that may not be the case anymore. That actually brings me into why my pattern does not use those bra sizes. So I don’t use 40D 30D as a bra sizing, because there is too much stigma, especially in the US. In the US, in particular, if you are larger than the D, and just oh my gosh, you are double DD cup, you must be huge. No, no, no, no. If you’re a 28D, that’s not a very huge cup size, because a 28D is the same as a 30C, which is the same as a 32B cup. That’s not huge. And even though that same breast volume is on a smaller frame, it still doesn’t look huge. So those letters are kind of meaningless by themselves. Because there’s so much stigma, “I am this size”, “I’ve always worn this size” and whatnot, I just said you know what, forget it, I’m not going to use that sizing system, you want to make your own bras, again, I have a kind of a captive audience who already interested and invested, I’m going to teach you a new sizing system that you can use to better identify size to start with what size to choose.

Nicole: I know that sewing has empowered me to think of measurements and sizes, as just like data, really ignoring what everyone says the sizes, even with the sizes on the pattern envelope or the pattern itself. It took some work to break that stigma, you know, like, and even the idea that the higher the number, or the higher the letter, like your bigger is should be like avoided. First of all, you know, of course, you know, that’s very fatphobic. And I love how your normalizing, like these don’t mean anything. So let’s get rid of those conventions so that people are only thinking about what works for them and their own comfort as opposed to comparing it to what the people at Nordstroms would say the size bra is. So that’s really cool. Can you talk a little bit more about your sizing? How your sizing system works? And if it’s possible, how would you say someone who fits into like a 38B, which is generally me? I mean, it doesn’t really work, right? Like it’s all just kind of crappy. But how does it translate? I think for folks who are just used to the common sizing, or maybe it doesn’t, and that’s the purpose. 

Ada: Yeah, the US American sizing. Also maybe even like, I guess you’ve mentioned in our prep for this episode that UK and European sizing can be different. How does one kind of boil it all into using a Lilypadesign bra size.

Lily: So for our listeners who are not in the US, like they don’t understand how difficult it is. So in the UK, bra sizes, you do A, B, C, D, DD, E, F, FF, G, GG, like you just start repeating letters, you have the letter and you repeat it. And so it’s fairly consistent. And you can easily anticipate, oh, this is the next size. This is what I know it’s going to be next. In the US, because we have quite a few legacy companies who when they first started, I can’t remember but I want to say one of the big legacy companies for me was like Maidenform, one of the really old companies created the cup sizing system. And they only went up to a D. So as we got bigger and the breasts got bigger, they just kept adding Ds. So you can be a 32D, 32DD, 32DDD, 32DDDD. And if you are a 32 F in other countries you are a 32DDDDD, okay. Yeah, yeah, so that doesn’t help with this whole sizing stigma. So one of the reasons that my sizing system is different is because to kind of avoid the “I’m always the size so I’m just going to pick my normal size”, basically forcing you to use your measurements. For those of us who have already sewn regular garments, you look at the size, but mostly you kind of ignore it. And you turn the packet over and you look at the back and you look down the chart for your measurements, because for most patterns, they are different than your ready to wear sizes. So my pattern is the same thing, you get to choose your size based on three key measurements. So that is your ribcage. That one’s pretty standard, it’s the same one that they use at the retail stores. The second one, what I call the horizontal hemisphere. So it is the horizontal measurement across the breast. So we’re measuring just the breast, not your torso, just the breast. So you may have two measurements, one for each side, because you know what, a lot of women are asymmetric as well. So you have the horizontal measurements that will tell you your cup fall. And then you have the vertical measurement, which I call the bottom cup. And that is the distance between your underwire and your nipple. So if you think about the breast as a semi-hemisphere, as a half a globe, you’ve got the horizontal and you’ve got the vertical measurement. And these two measurements will identify your cup size. And then you have your ribcage size. And that is just your band size. Nice and easy.

Ada: That’s so smart having not made a bra I have made swim. And I’ve made a certain bustier pattern that I may have mentioned on the last season, where the only measurement that overlapped with what you measured was the horizontal hemisphere. And so I was fitting this bustier and you’re trying to like figure out why this three piece cup was not working. And playing with the different pieces like this measurement is not enough, I guess? I was, I was just fed up after a week of fitting, refitting, trying different sizes, and then just had to bust it out because I needed to wear that dress.

Lily: So most patterns will have you measure your bust two ways. You have the overbust, which is the one where you go all the way around the body over your bust. And underneath the armpit that kind of feels weird. That’s the upper best measurement. And the second one they use in retail bra stores is you take measuring tape, you go all the way around the body, and you measure over your apex your bust point. And that’s supposed to, you know, give you your size. But what that doesn’t account for is what if you have broad shoulders and small boobs, then your measurements want to be larger, right? Or what if you have a very tiny torso and very large boobs, you are going to have the same measurement as someone who has large shoulders and small boobs. There is no way that these two people should be wearing the same size bra or that the tubs would fit the same because they are very, very different physically.

Ada: That makes a lot of sense. Now that you say it, I am that broad shoulder kind of like smaller, busted person. And it always like sometimes I got measured and they’d be like you’re 36C. And I was like, that’s doesn’t make any sense. There’s too much volume in here. Like, I don’t understand what this means. So would you say that your system is since it kind of bucks, the trend or the status quo of what we’re used to, at least in the US means that it’s more size inclusive?

Lily: Absolutely, you take away some of that stigma. The whole sizing system is kind of a mix and match thing, in the same way that someone may be grading from one size to one waist size to one hip size on a regular pattern or clothing pattern, you can do the same thing with bra patterns. So you can select one size for the cup, another size for the cradle, the wire portion, and then another size for the back. Because you may have a larger or smaller ribcage than what the parents expecting. So you just kind of mix and match to fit your needs.

Nicole: I have to resist like looking down at my own chest right now. Because as we’re talking about it, you know, also acknowledging it might be difficult for some folks to think about their bodies like this, but I’m just I have not thought about fit and what I want in a bra, like pretty much this in-depth ever. So it’s really exciting to think about, you know, accommodating what mine are like, I believe I’m a B cup. I’m definitely wide set. So you know, the 38B is kind of like, I mean, that’s kind of the best fit I’ve ever had but it doesn’t feel right. You know, something like the idea of just being able to have cups that are a little bit spread out, you know, like a little bit further out because you are picking and choosing from the different parts of the bra instead of just making one thing that fits one size convention. So you said you could do the cradle, the cup and the back as all different things. I think I would need all that. But most people who wear bras probably do need all those different things. So that’s, that’s really cool. So for those of us who are a little intimidated by sewing a bra like buying all the materials getting started, we do want to point out that Lily does offer bra making kits on her website. They include all the materials, you need to make that specific bra pattern. So if you’re eyeing a Lilypad pattern, you can grab a kit to go with it. But Lily, I wanted to ask you for those folks like myself, maybe Ada counts herself in this category, but who are wanting to dip their toes into bra making, is there a kit that you feel like would work for a beginner on your website?

Lily: I sell something that I call a muslin kit, it gives you enough fabric and findings and the elastics. And all of that stuff to make bras in everything is packaged in there ready to go. It’s not pretty, it’s not cute. It’s very plain black or white, very utilitarian. But it is the proper materials, with the proper stretch percentage, that’s one less thing to worry about. And it will work with most bra patterns. So whether it’s one of my patterns, or someone else’s, the muslin kit, will have enough for just everything. It’s a good place to start just because it can be intimidating, because these are different fabrics and different elastics and different widths and stretch percentages that we have not thought about before. I know when I started, I actually bought a findings kit. So that’s just the elastics and the rings and the hooks and all of that stuff. And I use whatever scrap fabric from my stash to get started. It’s kind of funny, because I went into this experience saying I’ve set myself a budget, I’m going to make my own bras using the same amount of money, it would cost me to buy a new one. I just spent what was like $70 at Nordstrom to buy this one bra that fits okay-ish. So that was the budget, I said, I have $70 right now. And I included a pattern in that. And I’m just going to do whatever materials that within my budget, and you know, see what I can do. And that kind of kicked things off. It was reasonable, because how many of us have bras in our drawer that we bought, and we either never wear or it’s the last one to pick up when everything else is dirty and in the laundry? Right? Like, okay, I can spare the cost of one bra. I’ll try it. This is my tester piece, right?

Ada: There’s like a bra hierarchy. So if we get started, and we get a kit, and we need more help with bramaking, or maybe we’re just like, intimidated, can you tell us about the additional services that you offer?

Lily: Right, because of my teaching background, I want this to be accessible to everybody. So I do have a little bit of a hierarchy. So if you are on a budget, you can do everything yourself. And that’s going to be the cheapest method. You can get advice for free on any of the Facebook groups, sometimes people will email me directly. That is one tier. You can get help from me directly with photos and videos through my fitting session. And I can walk you through, okay, this is what I see and how it fits. These are the changes that you need to make. I have had some people they’ve actually picked up, here’s my pattern piece, what do I do, and I will show them and we’ll draw that line and the chain and what they needed to do, because that was what they’re requesting. It’s a virtual session. So there’s no need to travel anywhere. A lot of my sessions are on the weekend because this is you know the reality you have to work on weekdays. And it’s basically whatever it is you need. Some people sign up for a session for feeding some people send that session because they want to start their own business and they just want you know, kind of some inside info, I guess.

Ada: And every year we were talking about this before but every year there’s a team of laundry designers, suppliers, instructors, including you that hosts the Great Bra Sewing Bee, which is coming up again this summer. I definitely, I attended the like re-recordings last year. So can you tell us about the conference and what’s included and when we can kind of look forward to signing up for it this year.

Lily: So I believe that details just came out on the website, not sure what the other teachers are teaching, but I can tell you what I’m teaching. So the Great Bras Sewing Bee is anything and everything bra related and sometimes panties as well. Everything from how to get started. So there’s an entire beginner session that you can take. They’ll talk about fabrics and patterns and adjustments and all that stuff. And then there’s another category where we talk about, “Hey, how do I make these adjustments,” a little bit more advanced or “How do I draft a bra pattern?” And in my case, I am teaching the first ever computer related class. So that one is how to take your paper patterns and make it digital, and why you would want to do that aside from the space factor. But I’ll also touch upon using the projector while sewing, which is related to the computer drafting and all of that. I’m also teaching a class on where cosplay crosses with bras and lingerie. So that one’s going to be kind of fun. And of course on underwires.

Ada: That is amazing. So for listeners who are interested, I believe by the time this episode is out, registration will be open but registration opens June 1 and the Great Bra Sewing Bee, say that five times fast. For beginners, the session that will be mentioned is July 30, and 31st. And then the main conference, so if you have sewn a bra before maybe you take the beginner track first, that main conference is August 4th through 8th and we will have the links to sign up in our show notes.

Nicole: Is it a in-person conference or virtual?

Lily: No, it’s all virtual.

Nicole: Okay, cool.

Lily: You don’t have to leave your house. And because it’s international you can take classes at 3am if you are a night owl!

Nicole: Very cool! I’m looking forward to learning more about that. I don’t think I’ve heard of it before I am relatively new to the sewing community anyway, but Ada, I’d love to talk to you about like your experience because after today’s discussion I really am you know, interested in I say that a lot, don’t I on the podcast. But I mean, really, a bra is something that a lot of people will wear on an everyday basis and I just like forego wearing because I hate it. But I can learn to love it if I make ones that fit me so we’re really grateful that you’re here today, Lily. Before we wrap up, can you remind our listeners where we can find you on the interwebs.

Lily: My website is www.lilypadesigns.com. That is one D and an S at the end.

Ada: Awesome. Thanks for coming on today.

Lily: Thank you.

Ada: Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. If you like our show, please consider supporting us on Kofi. Your financial support helps us with overhead expenses and allows us to give back to our all volunteer team. You can make a monthly or one time donation at ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective. You can find this link in our show notes on our website and on our Instagram account. Check us out on Instagram at AsianSewistCollective. That’s one word AsianSewistCollective. You can also help us out by spreading the word and telling your friends. We would appreciate it if you could rate review and subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Pocket Casts or wherever you get your podcasts.

Nicole: All of the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website. That’s asiansewistcollective.com. And we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments or even voice messages if you want to be featured on future episodes at asiansewistcollective@gmail.com This episode was brought to you by your co-hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Shilyn Joy, produced by Shilyn Joy and edited by Sareena Granger and Henry Wong. Thank you so much to the other members of our Collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.