Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Wearing the right size bra?!

I can't tell you how many fittings I've done where the person was wearing the wrong size bra, or even thought they didn't need one!

A properly fitting bra makes your clothes fit better, and can even make you look thinner!

80% of women are wearing the wrong sized bra!

Cup Size
People with small ribs tend to assume they are As or Bs (because that's often that's all that is available in most bra departments).

Your cup size is proportional to your ribs.  

The cup on a 36C might be about the size of an orange, but imagine sticking those oranges on the chest of an 8 year old. They would look huge! Now take those same oranges and stick them on the chest of a big guy.  You'd probably barely notice them.

Same exact cup volume
28G = 30DDD(F) = 32DD(E) = 34D = 36C = 38B = 40A
Large Male = they become pecs!

Heads Up!
Many stores will fit you in the size they carry. Meaning if based on your rib and bust measurements, you should be wearing a 28G, and the store doesn't carry that (most don't!), then they might put you in the next size up that they carry. Most likely they don't carry a 30F and they might not carry a 32DD, either so they'd put you in a 34D. Which means the cup size will fit, but the band will be too loose to be supportive!

Measuring for the Right Size Bra

  1. Band Size
    Measure around your rib cage, just under your breasts where your bra band will go. This is your band size. Round this number up or down to the nearest even number.
    Ex. 33.5" = 34 or 32.75" = 32
    It's always better to round down if your band width is not within a half inch of the next size up, because your bra will stretch over time. You can wear it on the loosest hooks when you purchase it, and tighten it as it stretches out.
  2. Bust Size
    Measure around the fullest part of your bust. Subtract your band size from this number. The difference between the 2 numbers is your cup size.
    Ex. Bust = 38" Band size =34
    38 minus 34 = 4" cup size
  3. Cup Size
    Every inch of cup size equals the letter part of your bra size. 1" = A, 2" = B, 3" = C, 4" = D.
    Unfortunately this is where it gets a little confusing.
    Different brands tend to use different letters for the same cup size.
    5" can equal E or DD
    6" can equal F or DDD (some companies even call this EE)
    7" can equal FF or DDDD or G
    8" can equal GG or H
    9" usually equals HH because most companies don't want to use I as it can be confused with the number 1.
    10" and up tend to use whatever letter they correspond with 10=J, 11=K, 12=L, 13=M, 14=N...
  4. Bra Size!
    Add your band size to your cup letter and Voila! You have your correct bra size.
    Ex. 32DD, 40D, 38GG...

You know your size, now what?

Just like jeans (my nemesis!), every brand and style fits differently.
 Some run small, some run big, some have stands or underwires that are high under the armpit, on some the gore and/or cups are super high and will show under lower cut tops. 

How to tell if a bra fits: 

  1. A snug band: The band is what should do the majority of the work supporting your breasts, not the straps. You should be able to put one or two fingers under the band, but no more. (This will probably feel more snug than you are used to because you are used to wearing the wrong size bra!)
    If your band is pulled away from your body underneath your breasts, this means your cups are probably too small.
  2. Sufficient side coverage:
    The bra cup should hold all your breast tissue. This means if you're wearing a bra with an underwire, the end of it should be pointing toward the middle of your armpit. You also shouldn't have any breast tissue coming out from the sides of the cups.
  3. A flat gore:
    The gore (the part of the bra band that's between the cups) should sit flat against your chest, without digging into your skin uncomfortably. If it doesn't, your bra cups are probably too small.
  4. A smooth curve:
    Avoid the dreaded "quad-boob" that results from the top of a too-small cup cutting into breast tissue above the bra. Instead, look for a fit that results in a clean silhouette with no stray tissue. (WikiHow To Measure Your Bra Size)
  5. Size and Shape:
    Breasts are usually slightly different sizes. If one breast is significantly larger than the other, then I recommend finding a bra that fits the larger breast and adding a small amount of padding to the bra cup (at the bottom of the cup).
  6. Bra Straps:
    If your band is the right size then your bra straps shouldn't be constantly sliding off your shoulders. This can be a big problem for those women with narrower frames wearing a band that is too big. The straps will be spaced further out on the band than they should be and therefore will be closer to the ball joint of your shoulder rather than the natural curve between the shoulder joint and neck - which means the straps will constantly slip over the shoulder joint and down the arm.

    If your bra fits well then the band is supporting most of the weight of your breasts instead of your shoulder straps. This means that your bra shouldn't be cutting grooves into your shoulder! 

Different types/ styles of bras:

  • Unlined - offer structure but are lightweight because they have no heavy padding.
  • Demi Cup - only covers about half the breast. This allows for low cut tops.
    Demi Bra
  • Balconette - similar to the Demi cup bra, but usually covers less of the breast. The straps are closer to the outside edge than a standard bra. They also tend to be more femininely embellished.
    Balconette Bra
  • Push-Up - has padding on the bottom or the sides of the cups to push up the breasts. The outside of the cups can also be padded to add up to 2 cup sizes.
    Push-up Plunge
  • Plunge - similar to the push-up bra, but with a deep v-neckline in the front. 
  • Full Coverage - for full-figured / busty women - this has more support and a sturdier underwire
    Full Coverage
  • Minimizer - usually worn by full-figured/ busty women who with to compress the breasts to make them less noticeable and/or clothing fit better.
  • Strapless - relies on the support of the band without needing straps.
    Strapless Pushup
  • Convertible - straps can be reconfigured so that the bra straps can be moved and reattached to work under a halter, racer back, backless, one shoulder.
    Convertible Straps
  • Sports Bra - usually made of stretchy fashion fabric. Designed to compress breasts and keep them from bouncing/ moving during vigorous exercise. Usually extends down the ribs a couple of inches like a longline bra.  Typically does not have adjustable straps or underwire. Can be worn under athletic clothes or by itself. 
    Sports Bra
  • Longline - provides a little more coverage because the bra band extends down the ribs , but usually in a lighter, more flexible fabric. Can be worn under sheer tops and be meant to be visible.
    Longline/ Bralette
  • Longline/ Bustier - usually strapless and extends down to the waist or hips. Often used in bridal wear for dresses that are low-cut and/or backless. Made of sturdier bra-type materials with boning, Usually has hook and eye closures just like a regular bra, but all the way down the front or back. Can be used for slimming the torso, waist and hips (if extends past the waist).
    Longline/ Bustier waist length and longline
  • Corset - Similar to a bustier, but made of fashion fabric instead of bra-type materials with build-in boning. Usually closed with ribbon through grommets laced down the front or back of the corset. Often tightened in a way that pushes up the breasts and compresses the torso (and waist and hips depending on the length), creating an hourglass shape. Can be worn as an undergarment or over a blouse or dress. 
    Typical Lacing
    • Underbust -fit around and under the bust but not actually supporting the bust (with straps this is usually considered to be a corset, without straps this is usually called a Waist Cinch or Waist Trainer). Can also push-up the breasts by supporting the base of the breasts without covering the breasts.
      Underbust corset - halter straps
    • Overbust - with or without straps
      - Push up the breasts without using a breast cup or molded form by compressing the bottom of the breast and pushing the rest of the breast tissue upward
      Demi cup corset

      - Princess seams - no individual cups, but the fabric is shaped to accommodate the breasts.
      Princess seams with straps
    • - Individual cups

For Those Of Us Who Wear Unusual Sizes

Not only do I have a small rib size and a large cup size (which regular stores don't carry), but I find that most of the time, the underwires on the sides of my bra poke me in the armpit in a lot of bras. Also, I can't always tell how much coverage the bra gives - will it show under low-cut tops? - will someone be able to tell if I'm cold? A lot of times the only way to tell is to just try them on.

Specialty Bra Stores
Every single brand and style fits differently. This is why I prefer to use a specialty bra shop and get fitted by a professional. (Not a store like V.S. where the secret is that their "trained" fitters tend to put you in the closest-to-your-size bra that they have in stock).

Specialty stores usually carry a wide variety of bras to try on to find a good fit and the type of bra that I prefer (coverage, style, brand...).

Tip: Since I can't find my size in the average store, and bras from specialty stores typically cost a lot, then if I can wait for , I usually go to a specialty bra store to get fitted by a professional. They bring me different bras to try on for fit. When I find one that fits well and that I like, then I take pictures of the tags and then purchase the bra online for significantly less.

Buying Online:
Every brand and style of bra fits differently. If you are purchasing a bra you haven't already tried on, you should definitely shop somewhere with a flexible return policy.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Wonder Woman Costume!

Wonder Woman! Well, if Wonder got older and had 4 kids (with Superman!)  I whipped up this cute costume for a Halloween costume party. I think it turned out great! 
Wonder Woman's Bustier
The red corset top started out as a (failed) project. When the gold satin Wonder Woman symbol was appliqued to the top of the red vinyl corset, it smoothed out some of the rough spots caused by trying to sew stiff vinyl into a curved bra cup and saved the corset!
(Notes: For large busted women, always use an underwire when making a corset. Be aware that vinyl is stiff and darts and seams will look pointy and sharp instead of smooth. Vinyl does not breath at all! You will get hot and sweaty in an unlined corset.)
Wonder Woman's Tiara
This headband is made from the stiff red vinyl cut into a tiara shape held on in the back with a wide non-roll waistband elastic. I cut a small star into a piece of the same gold satin used on the corset and covered the red vinyl tiara. Appliqued around the cut out star to show the red vinyl underneath.

Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth 
This was just some gold drapery cord I had laying around. 

Wonder Woman's Shorts
The more mature Wonder Woman is not about to wear her old swimsuit style undergarment! So this soft blue with white stars satin fabric was made with a simple sleep short pattern. The elastic waistband was covered with a purchased gold belt.
(Note: If you can't find a similar fabric, I have also made a version with white paint stenciled/ stamped onto a blue fabric. You can cut a star shape in a piece of cardboard and dab on the white paint, or cut a sponge into a star shape and stamp the painted sponge star onto your fabric. Be sure to let the paint dry before you move it!)

Wonder Woman's Boots
These iconic boots are a simple boot cover that's worn over whatever shoe you want to wear. I traced one of my own boots as a pattern. Then appliqued on the white stripes.

Monday, October 19, 2015


Life is like a canvas. It begins blank & every day is another brush stroke. Make your life a masterpiece.

Mary Brush's family and friends often refer to her as a "Renaissance Woman" and it's not too difficult to figure out why. She is passionate about a variety of things, including working with small businesses, sales and marketing campaigns, manuscript editing, copy writing, graphic and CAD design, web design, custom sewing, interior design, and therapeutic parenting. Her enthusiasm, talent and hard work ensure that she excels in all of them. Her struggle has often been deciding where to focus her attention.

Today, Mary Brush lends her years of experience to the corporate world. BrushStrokes offerings focus on corporate consulting (including restructuring operations, HR, profit and loss, and sales and marketing - including marketing campaigns and web site design) and editing (business writing, manuscripts, eBooks, presentations and speeches).

BrushStrokes began in 1988 as a clothing design studio, specializing in custom clothing and design, and quickly expanded to include interior decorating, architectural CAD design. graphic design and manuscript editing. Working with entrepreneurs and product development design expanded her skill set to include marketing collateral, presentations, web design and campaigns.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Making Open-bottom Wheelchair Pants

I designed several types of adaptive clothing for my mom with ALS. This post will detail how to make open-bottom wheel chair pants by modifying existing pants (I chose stretchy, elastic waist pants, but it would be possible to use other types of styles and fabrics with some tweaking).  When looking down (or from the side) at the person seated in their chair or laying in bed, the pants will look complete - you should not be able to see any bare skin. Only the person and his/ her caregiver will know the person's bottom is bare.

When my mother needed open bottom pants (to prevent the need to try to push pants down and out of the way when using the restroom and when she was using the lift), we found Silvert's open bottom wheelchair pants. These were great, but apparently they were designed to be used by someone who could stand and support their own weight - because while you could slide the leg part on while in a seated position, the waist closure was in the middle of the back, and this is almost impossible to reach if the person is seated in a chair or laying on a bed.

I decided to modify the Silvert's pants so that a caregiver could put them on easily while the person was seated in the chair or laying on a bed.

 For this project, I'm assuming you are fairly experienced at sewing, so I will not be drawing out every single step. If something is confusing, just let me know and I'll try to explain it better.

To alter a pair of sweat pants (or other knit material not requiring finished edges) to be open back for use in a wheelchair and/or with a lift:

Seated Side Measurement - When the person is seated mark where the person's back meets the chair at the waist, then measure another inch and a half toward the back seam. This is your Seated Side Point. Measure the distance from the center back to this point. This number is your Seated Side Measurement.

  1. Mark the Seated Side Measurement on the waistband. (In this example the Seated Side Measurement is marked on the left, but you can put the mark on whichever side is most convenient for the caregiver to access when securing the pants. Ex. if the person's bed is up against a wall then the opposite side to where the wall is would be the better place to put a closure so the caregiver doesn't have to lean over the person to access the closure.) 
  2. Stitch on both sides of this mark to secure the elastic. 

Seated Back Measurement. When the person is seated. Measure from the top of the waistband to the seat of the chair. 

Marking the cutting line.
3.   Add 2 inches to the Seated Back Measurement. Measure straight down the back seam of the pants the Seated Back Measurement +2" and mark the spot.
4.   Lining up with the Seated Side Measurement mark on the waistband (between the 2 rows of stitches), draw a line  the length of the Seated Back Measurement +1 inch straight down the back of the pants.
5.   From the Seated Side Measurement on the opposite side of the pants, draw an imaginary line straight down the length of the Seated Back Measurement + 1 inch. Mark this point.
6.   Connect these 3 marks with a curved line.
7.   Cut between the stitched lines at the waistband straight down to the curved line.
8.   Cut the curved line.
9.    Open the crotch seam from the curved line toward the front of the pants as far as is needed to allow the person to urinate easily without wetting the pants.  This opening will not be visible when the person is seated with their knees together, but should allow access when the person is seated on the commode with the knees slightly apart.
Adding Plackets:
Material: 2 pieces of fabric 4 inches in width and the Seated Back Measurement +2" in length. Plus, interfacing approximately the same dimensions. 
10.   Apply interfacing to wrong side of placket pieces. 
11.   Fold the placket piece in half (right sides together). 
12.   Stitch 1/2" from top and bottom edge of each placket.
13.   Turn placket piece right side out and press (you can edge stitch if you'd like this to lay a little flatter. 
14.   Apply preferred closures to plackets (velcro, large skirt hooks, magnetic purse snaps... can be modified slightly for separating zipper). 
15.   Stitch raw edge of placket to raw edge of pants openings. 
16.   On the placket piece attached to the side seam side of the pants, you will probably want to zig zag stitch the seam allowance to the placket (or even cover it with seam tape) to make it lay flat and prevent the seam from irritating the skin on the hips and buttocks of the person sitting on it all day.
17.   On the placket piece attached to the back of the pants, fold the placket in to the wrong side of the pant fabric and stitch or tack around all the edges (placket seam will be sandwiched between placket and pants.

To Use:
While person is seated or laying down, slide the pant legs up the person's legs and into place (legs will be completely encased in fabric, but the bottom will remain bare).
If the person is in a chair, lean the person slightly forward and slip the back panel between the person's backside and the chair. Secure the back panel on the side using closures.
If the person is laying down, press the back panel against the person's hip. Roll the person onto that hip and keep rolling until you can see the back panel. Smooth the panel flat on the bed and roll the person back toward you until they are flat on their back. Secure the back panel on the side using closures.

For comfort, and in case of incontinence, a towel or absorbent pad can be placed on the seat under the person. This pad will remain on the bed or in the chair when the person is lifted out.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

New Custom Bag - Leather Luxe

This is the bag I designed for the most recent BeTA Trauma Mama annual fund raising auction.

The winner of the auction wanted a simple black and gold bag that people would recognize as being custom. 
 The base and top of the bag are real leather as are the gold straps (which were covered with a black strap as the gold looked a little gaudy by itself).
 The bag zips shut at the top.  The inside of the bag has lots of pockets and is made with Ripstop nylon which is easy to wipe clean.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Open Bottom Pants for Wheelchair/ Lift/ Sling Use

I've been designing clothes for my mom as she has progressed through different stages of ALS.  I won't be using pictures of my mom out of respect for her privacy and dignity.

As my mom's left arm weakened to the point of immobility, she was unable to dress herself.  Unfortunately her husband, her primary caregiver, has Essential Tremors, and therefore had a lot of difficulty with snaps, buttons, zippers...  He is also pretty oblivious about comfort and fitting (He once fastened my mother's bra so that the bottom band crossed directly over her breasts.  Unfortunately since she cannot speak, and has less sensitivity on affected parts of her body, when I came by in the afternoon, it had been like that all day!  Ouch!)
Back opening dress
When mom was still using a walker, I made wrap dresses and front closing bras so that she could be dressed while sitting on the bed.  When she switched to the wheelchair full time, we tried switching her tops to back openings with velcro or snaps on the shoulders so that she wouldn't have to lift her arms as much (she was still trying to wear t-shirts - which had to go over her arm brace and her neck brace.).  This way the shirt could be pulled up over her arms, and then fastened in back.  Here's a link to how this works.  I called this a "Tulip back"

Tulip shirt front
Tulip shirt back
Electric wheelchair
Once my mom got to the point where she needed to be in a wheelchair all the time to prevent falls.  We quickly started discovering issues with the bathroom.  First of all, the wheelchair didn't fit in the tiny little potty room, so someone had to help Mom rise from her wheelchair, then help her balance until she could hold onto a grab bar mounted on the wall.  She then shuffled until she was in front of the toilet.  We had a second grab bar installed there, and she held on to that for balance.  Since by this point she only had the use of one hand, and that hand was holding the grab bar, that meant someone else had to drop her pants for her (and help pull them back up when she was done).  There was very little dignity to be found in this situation!

Suddenly we needed "open bottom" pants for my mom.

As she became less able to support her own weight, we quickly discovered that she needed a lift (including a lift in her spirits!).  The problem with lifts is that they lift you out of the wheelchair in a sling and then lower you onto the potty - which is great, except when/how do you lower your pants?!  The sling has a circular opening where your bottom "hangs out."  A quick bout of research (found an awesome site called Silvert's with some "open bottom options") and we quickly discovered this meant you had to go "commando" so your clothes had to discreetly cover you everywhere, except your bottom.

 That left mom with 2 options.

One, the tulip backed dress with a cut out for the bottom.  The person looks fully clothed when you're looking down from above.  The sides of the skirt are tucked under the person's legs and the back of the dress goes to the chair seat and stops.  We still had to add access to the PEG tube for feeding (see this post for details).
.Option two was pants, capris, shorts.  This was mom's preference, and with the purchase of a pair of Silvert's open bottom pants and this video which showed me how they worked, I thought we were in business!  She tried out the pants for a couple of days, before I made more, and I'm so glad we waited.

Step one, while still in seated
position pull pants up over legs.
Secure adjustable waistband.
"Flap" will cover hips, but
bottom is exposed when in
seated position.
In theory, these are awesome!  In everyday use?  Not so much.  The crotch seam was sewed so far down that you couldn't easily access the front parts of the body that need "wiping."  That seam had to be opened up to allow the slit to come further toward the waist.  In theory, the generous amount of fabric in these loose fitted pants, and the fact that my mom never sits with her knees spread apart, keeps them from gaping open enough to show the opening.

The worst part?  To secure the snaps in the back - already difficult for someone with Essential Tremors, Mom had to lean forward in her chair - which inhibited her breathing.  Not wheelchair friendly at all!
Original design

Shifted to side closure instead of center back.

So I opened up the left side of the back "flap" and added some velcro strips (could use a separating zipper as well).  That way the flap could be slipped behind the person and then secured on the side (much easier than trying to secure it behind their back).

This worked much better so I altered a pair of her loose fitting (she's lost about 70lbs on her liquid diet), elastic waistband, knit shorts.  Instead of velcro, I used magnetic purse snaps (my new favorite closure!).  It's pretty easy to alter the shorts (although it helped to have matching color fabric for the new flaps needed for the side closure), but I've also drafted a pattern so I can make new ones in any colors I wish.

I can add more details if anyone is interested in doing any of these projects themselves.
Here's my tutorial post about altering existing pants to be open bottom pants.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Modified Tops for Nursing and G-Tubes

I've been designing clothes for my mom as she has progressed through different stages of ALS.  I won't be using pictures of my mom out of respect for her privacy and dignity.

First she got a  feeding tube, also known as a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG).  This meant she needed access to the port and the carrier for the tube which is kind of like a fanny pack.  Clothing couldn't be tight across the area, and she didn't want to just lift her shirt, because that left her stomach exposed (or worse if she wanted to wear a dress), not to mention that the fabric had to be secured out of the way.

I immediately thought of some of the things I'd made for myself when I was nursing.
Fabric overlaps and secures with Velcro
Stretchy fabric is pulled out of
the way for easy access.

A similar concept with a knit fabric.  No need for Velcro because the fabric was overlapped more since it was stretchy.

I also began purchasing
"arthritis bras" and
altering her bras to
make them open in the front.
 She was actually fairly happy with t-shirts on a daily basis, but wanted some nicer dresses for church.  She'd also begun having issues with the use of her left hand so needed clothing that was easy to put on and take off (no awkward back zippers!).

Voila!  The wrap dress!

Next problem - if you untie a wrap dress, it drapes open like a bathrobe and once again shows everything. So I extended the under panel to go all the way across the body to the other side (in other words, the "wrap" part of the dress was pretty much faux.  The under panel covered the body of the dress and was secured with Velcro in the upper shoulder to prevent it from sagging.  Cut a slit in the under panel to accommodate the PEG/ feeding tube and we were done!

Until the next issue - Being dressed by caretakers and making accommodations for being in a wheelchair!