Pattern Spotlight: Adding a Zipper to the Sweet Sixteen Bralette


I suppose it turns out that, when I find a pattern I like, I still can’t leave well enough alone.

This is the Sweet Sixteen Bralette Pattern, with a few alterations:

– zipper in front (back still has hooks, so that the band size adjusts)

– no rings for front strap attachment, they’re just sewn on

– there are rings on the back at the strap attachment point

– bottom band changed from fold over elastic/lace treatment to allow for 1-inch-wide elastic (the elastic is narrowed under the cups)

One change I wish I had made: I could have used underwire channeling along the cup/band seam. I don’t want to add underwires, but if I added that, it would have made the elastic more secure where I cut it and provided even more stability to the band.

When you add a zipper to anything there are a lot of ways to do it. Do you want the zipper tape completely exposed? Do you want the back of the zipper tape covered, if it’s not exposed to the front? Do you want a zipper guard?

I’ve made, loved, and worn my Greenstyle Endurance Sports Bras for a long time, so I decided to basically use the zipper technique from that pattern. For it to work, the front edge of the bralette has to be finished (with fold over elastic, for example). So, here are the steps I used for making this alteration.

Step 1: Cut down the center front (maybe)

If you’re testing your bralette for size, you might want to baste the center front and try it on before removing anything for the zipper. In this case, I’d made this size before and it fit well, so I didn’t do that. I removed the seam allowance, plus half the total width of the zipper teeth on each side of the center front. For this zipper, that meant slicing off 1/2 an inch, total, from each side.

Step 1.5: Stabilize

If you’re worried that the slightly stretchy nature of the bralette fabric will make it hard to sew it to a non-stretchy zipper, you could stabilize those front edges with either a fusible or sewn-in stabilizer such as stay tape.

Step 2: Finish the edge

I used fold over elastic. You could also use a binding or anything else that doesn’t require the edge to turn down or over.

Step 3: Measure for your zipper length and zipper guard

If you are finicky, you may want to measure the pattern piece to get your zipper length, remembering to take into account if you have folded the bottom band edge or used fold over elastic for the bottom band edge. If you’re less finicky, measure the edge you just finished.

Most zippers will need to be shortened to work. Separating zippers have to be shortened from the top. I haven’t tried these amazing locking zippers from bra-makers supply, but I will as soon as I run out of zippers. If you want a front-closing bra without a zipper that separates, I don’t understand your life.

If I remember correctly, my zipper needed to be 9 inches long, so I cut my zipper guard 11 inches long. This is so that it has just enough room to wrap around the top and the bottom of the zipper. I cut my guard from a relatively thick knit fabric that doesn’t curl and doesn’t fray, so there were no edges to finish on the guard. I curved the edges of the guard by just cutting it freehand, but you can leave it straight across or cut it on the diagonal.

Step 4: Baste the zipper guard to one side of the zipper tape

Use either machine basting or washaway wonder tape. Important note: Don’t baste the guard into its final position, yet. Simply center the zipper on the guard and baste it, flat. Don’t fold the top and bottom edges over. They need to fold over later.

Step 5: Install the zipper

If you’re feeling confident, you can fold the ends of the zipper guard into their final position and get all of this stitching done in one fell swoop. If not, simply sew in the zipper and then stitch the zipper guard ends by hand or machine.

That’s it! Enjoy your zip-front bralette!

Extra note: As I was stuffing the bralette for this photo (my dress form is a  b cup and the bralette is really, really, not a b cup), I noticed that, when it wasn’t stuffed enough, the front seam looked very wavy and lumpy. So, if that’s happened when you’ve made a bralette, you may want to try sizing down on the cup.


Muslins, Chainstitch, and Machines

If you are making muslins and don’t love using a seam ripper, you may want to look into having a machine in your arsenal that can perform a chain stitch. Chain stitching is very easy to pull out, so is convenient if you may have to open up seams. It can also be used to make very pretty machine embroidery.
Some, but not all, sergers are capable of making a chain stitch. I get the impression that you should expect chain stitch capabilities if your machine is also a coverstitch machine. As far as I know, a single-needle coverstitch is indistinguishable from a chain stitch.
There are dedicated chain stitch sewing machines, most of them early models, like Singer’s 20 and 24, Wilcox and Gibbs machines, and a whole bunch of others. Then you have lock-stitch machines (what most of us consider a “normal” stitch in a sewing machine) capable of chain stitch if you have the correct attachments, accessories and needle plates. Some industrial machines are dedicated chain stitchers. I see their work every time I open a bag of cat litter.
I’ve done cursory googling and searches of Facebook boards, so I’m not an expert, and you should read a manual for any machine you’re looking to purchase to see if it is supposed to be able to produce a chain stitch. It appears that almost all of the Singer Touch and Sew machines will chain stitch, with the correct attachments. These machines get a bad rap in some people’s books because not all of them have metal gears. If that matters a lot to you, they can certainly be found with metal gears – just bring a screwdriver when you’re buying and be ready to check! If nylon gears are ok with you, be prepared to replace them, if needed. I’m highly-motivated and I love bringing sewing machines back to life, so I don’t consider nylon gears a deal-breaker. (We’ll see if I still feel that way if the nylon gears I just replaced in a machine only last a year._

Plans Change!

Yes, I said I was going to add a center zipper to this bralette, but the fabric looked so light and airy in my basted fitting that I didn’t want to!

This is a piece of what I would consider medium-weight powermesh. I’d never seen printed powermesh before, so when I noticed this at the Textile Center Garage Sale in April, I couldn’t resist it. It was probably meant for a lightweight girdle. It has about 50% firm stretch in both directions.

They’re not my usual colors, and I don’t usually love florals, but I love this fabric! I have enough for at least one more project. Maybe my 1967 Touch and Sew is influencing me!

I used the Sweet Sixteen pattern again, but I made some changes. The front straps are simply sewn on, not attached with a ring.

I could have matched the thread to the elastic and FOE, but I liked the look of white thread as a little contrast.

I like to use rings on the back. I got the idea from a RTW bra.

The fabric isn’t scandalously sheer, but it’s a little too sheer for me to feel comfortable modeling it. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it fits!

For the bottom band, I’ve found that even with a very stable fabric, I just don’t feel supported enough with FOE binding. I was going to add enough length to the bottom band to do a covered-elastic application, but I found this firm lingerie-style 1-inch elastic in my stash from when I was testing waistband elastics, and decided to try it. I added one inch to the bottom pieces of the band and applied it just like a regular bra elastic. I used Beverly Johnson’s technique to get away with having the band wider than the portion of the bra(lette) under the cups.

Zipper version to come, probably after I use up the rest of this fabric!

Planning the Perfect Post-Workout Bralette

I do love the first bralette I made with the Sweet Sixteen pattern. But, I want to add a few elements to it.

1) Front zip.

2) Firmer bottom-band elastic.

Basically, I’m going to take those elements from my Greenstyle Endurance sports bras and apply them to the Sweet Sixteen.

First, I have to write down some notes. These seem like simple things, but it really helps if you sit down and figure it out before the rubber hits the road, so to speak.

I’m not very good at drawing, so I just printed out the front of the pattern and scribbled on it.

Not super-sophisticated, but it works! I’ll let you know how it goes.

Sewing Blackout-Lined Curtains: Some Tips

I made curtains! Victor is not shown to scale here. He’s about three feet closer to me than the curtains.

When I first started learning to sew, one of my friends said, “You know, you won’t save any money sewing.” Well, that’s debatable. Custom-made anything is expensive. It deserves to be! But, sewing curtains is one of the areas where you’re almost always going to save money by doing it yourself, no matter how simple or complex the window treatment.

We wanted blackout-lined curtains. I’d never sewn blackout fabric or lined curtains before, so I ordered a small sample of fabric and made a test run in plain muslin. I learned a lot from my test run! Mainly, if you want rod-pocket curtains (meaning, there’s no header or pleating tape), sew the rod pocket last. If you wait and sew the side seams last, you won’t be able to put the curtains on the rod!

I read a whole stack of my sewing books, and I also picked up Susan Woodcock‘s Singer Sewing Custom Curtains, Shades, and Top Treatments from my local library. She also has a few classes on Bluprint that I found very helpful. (Full disclosure: I used to work for the company that published Susan’s book and I’m a Bluprint instructor. I’m not getting paid to endorse Susan. I just think she’s great!)

I suspect it hasn’t been available to home sewists for very long, but part of my seeming obsession with Susan is she’s the only source I could find who really discussed blackout fabric.

It’s a bit tricky to work with. You see, it’s not really a fabric in the normal sense, but more a fabric that has been coated in a very thin foam. In some ways, it sews like leather, but it is also extremely stable and doesn’t stretch or give at all, really.

I couldn’t even get it to stitch well, at first! It would be fine for a few inches, then stitches would start skipping. I tried a leather needle. I tried a denim needle. Nothing seemed to work.

In the end, I went where I should have gone in the first place: the manufacturer’s website. Here are the tips I gleaned from there, from Susan, and from my own experience:

1) Do not use pins. The hole marks will show forever. I used wonder clips.

2) Use a teflon needle.

3) Use a long stitch length. I used the longest one my machine would make (6 stitches/inch).

4) Manage the weight of the fabric with care. Hauling this stuff around isn’t a mean feat! I was working in my guest bedroom, so when I was sewing, I could rest the weight of the part I wasn’t sewing on the bed. I had to build in time to fold up the pieces when I finished each session so that they wouldn’t wrinkle.

5) Since the blackout lining is so stable, you may want to stabilize the main curtain fabric. Otherwise, it can be a challenge to make sure the edges you cut to the same length stay the same length, especially when you can’t pin! Even a line of stay stitching may save you some frustration.

6) Pattern match from the right side using a double-sided fusible tape. Susan covers this method very well in her book. It worked like a charm.

7) I found the easiest way to cut both my main and lining fabrics was to mark where I wanted to cut with a ruler and square, then cut with shears. I’m normally #teamrotarycutter, but in this case, I think it would have been harder to keep accurate. Again, I was working on a guest bed and not on a proper cutting table, so you may have a different experience.

8) This is actually advice from my grandmother Eulalia. Choose a fabric that you LOVE! That will get you through any rough spots you have with the project.

Anyway, here are more photos of my curtains. I couldn’t love them more. I can’t get the color to reproduce well. Imagine a very light indigo on a very dark indigo background.