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A perfect fit: inside a course on lingerie making

After years of loving lingerie, working in a high-end lingerie boutique and even basing my university thesis on it, it seemed only fitting to finally learn how to sew it. My at-home experiments had been unsuccessful, so I decided to get an expert to teach me. Here is what you can expect from taking an UAL summer short course in London.

To sum up the experience in a few sentences: The title of class was ‘Structured Bra-Making’. All bras are made in the size 34B. You’ll make three different styles and all materials are included in the course fee. You have to bring your own tools and if you sew quickly you can even make a pattern from your own bra so you’ll also have one in your size. The course went for five days with five-and-a-half hours of class every day and one hour lunch and a 30 min tea break. It took place in the University of the Arts London building in Mare Street.

As a complete beginner I was probably the least prepared person in the class. The other people there were almost all interested in starting their own lingerie brand or were already selling their own designs online. Some were fashion or design students interested in expanding their skill set.

The teacher, Linda Wing, is a lecturer at the London College of Fashion and also works as a designer and technician for lingerie brands. Linda introduced every bra by explaining the materials and presenting us with the patterns. We also got a written instruction and a beautiful technical drawing of the style we were making. Linda told us how the fabric should be positioned so that the softest possible side goes against the skin. Making a bra might be a highly specialised and technical undertaking but the end result is a sensuous and sensual garment after all! Considering the different skill levels of the students Linda made sure that her feedback was appropriate to their abilities. When a messed up wire casing meant my spirits were sinking, she cheered me up by pointing out how the inside of the cup had turned out nice and neat and how well-shaped it was. For more advanced students she had more criticism. For those aspiring to be business owners she made sure that their sewing was to a high retail standard.

With plenty of quick eating options around, I used the lunch break to get to know my fellow students. Karla* (*name changed by editorial staff) for example has come all the way from Mexico. Over green smoothie and olives we compared our respective countries’ attitudes to lingerie. Why do women wear it? Do men appreciate or even like the lingerie of their girlfriends? What styles are popular? We agreed that the reign of padded bras is generally over now. Karla has her own small lingerie business. She told me that her bestseller is a softcup triangle bralette. Another student, Elaisa* is working on creating a swimwear brand in Egypt after a successful career in advertising. Despite age and culture differences, conversation was flowing and topics ranged from lingerie designs to sexist politics. As we discussed the role of the right bra when making made-to-measure, Linda joined in and shared that bra fitting models at large retailers have to inform the pattern makers about their menstrual cycle as hormonal changes can change the size of their breasts. Ultimately, I did not just learn how to make lingerie. I also got a peak behind the scenes of the industry and a glimpse at lingerie through the eyes of cultures from places as distant as North Africa and Central America.

By the end of the five days, I had made 3 bras (though the last one is missing the straps after I miscalculated the time – oops): a lace soft cup with an underwire, a lightly padded 3-part cup with underwires and a wireless soft cup with a pretty lace trim. I tried them on the mannequin and am ecstatic that they fit.

Overall, the course left me with exactly what it had promised: the skills necessary to understand bra patterns, to cut parts correctly and sew them together. I was introduced to different industrial machines like one for wire casing, and had the chance to practice the techniques under the instruction of an expert. Am I now able to make my own bras? No, I am not. I can neither pattern grade nor design. But the class left me with a stable base to continue learning and even more respect for the designers and seamstresses creating the beautiful things I so adore.

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