Wednesday, June 14, 2017

fitting the watson bra

I recently entered the glorious world of soft bras and bralets (see: Eulers one and two). While a well-fitting, underwire-free bra is a wonderful, comfy thing, the fitting process has proved to be more challenging than I expected! I googled around a lot before starting my Watson bra journey. There honestly wasn't a ton about getting the size and fit right, and photos of the bra on real bodies (as opposed to dress forms) were pretty sparse too!* So, in case anyone else out there is ever looking for similar info, I'm sharing a lot of words and cleavage photos about how I got this deceptively tricky bra to fit well after many attempts.

First of all, if you're unfamiliar, the Watson bra is a soft bra pattern by Cloth Habit. It's made more supportive with a lined cradle under the cups, but the lack of underwire means it's still comfier and less supportive than its underwired sister, the Harriet. I'll admit - as soon as I got a Watson that kinda-sorta fit, I pretty much stopped wearing my Eulers altogether, as I much prefer the Watson's shaped cradle over the less supportive straight underbust elastic found in the Euler bralet. The Watson is still comfortable, but it adds enough support that I feel great wearing it under my clothes for dinner or drinks, whereas the Euler is pretty much relegated to walking the dog and hanging out at home.

The Watson is a pretty quick sew. My latest one has fully lined cups and still took under 3 hours start to finish, and I think it would go even faster with more practice. But it did take four iterations before I felt relatively happy with the fit, and finally #5 was spot on. I made the first four using the same outer fabric (a sturdy, resilient swimsuit-like fabric that I got at a discount fabric store in SF), powernet for the band (black powernet from Tailor Made Shop), and cradle lining (sheer cup lining from Sweet Cups Bra Supply). I believe the cradle lining has less stretch than what the pattern recommends, but Lauren from Lladybird mentioned using it for more support in this post, and I wanted to see how much support I could get from a soft bra. The elastic and notions were switched up a little, as I ran out of things and tried to figure out which elastic worked best for the pattern, but all in all I kept the first four iterations as similar as possible so I could really see how my size and fit tweaks affected things. Unfortunately this means the photos are all of black bras, which are the worst to photograph well - apologies!

Watson #1

I already knew that I wear about a 30E in the other Cloth Habit bra, the Harriet. My ready to wear bras all fit pretty poorly, but I would guess that a similar size would fit well in those if I bothered to go out and try new ones on. However, when I used the measuring instructions on the Watson, it put me at a 32B. The discrepancy comes from getting the cup size in this bra by comparing your full bust and upper bust (which are very similar on me), rather than full bust and underbust (which have a much larger difference). No way is my chest fitting nicely into B cups, especially when the band is still sized to fit my relatively small ribcage. I agonized over this for a little while, as I know the Watson is supposed to fit differently from the firm, underwired Harriet. I ultimately decided to make my Harriet size (30E) and tweak from there, rather than starting from the size I was certain wouldn't have enough room in the cups.

I sewed up a straight 30E and it was honestly not too bad! It looks really nice from the front. The band felt pretty tight at first, due to me sizing down and using a firmer lining with very little stretch through the cradle, but after wearing this one a little more I don't mind the tightness so much. That said, it's definitely a wear-for-support bra, not a sleep bra as some people use the Watson.

The main issue with this size is with the center of my cleavage. It seems that the Watson is designed to support breasts that fall out towards the sides a little, and mine are very close together and almost fall towards the center of my chest. This made for lots of spillage at the top of the cup, especially after I move around for a few minutes. It looks and feels really annoying after just a couple minutes of wear.

Watson #2

I decided to avoid going crazy with alterations and instead try the simplest thing - increase the cup size and see if that allowed my boobs to fit more comfortably in the cups. Since the band was a little tight too, I went up a size in that as well. This took me from a 30E to a 32E (despite both being E cups, sister sizing means the band and cup are both bigger in the second size). I sewed this one up without any modifications to the pattern, and ... meh. Pretty much a worse fit across the board. The band was a little too loose now, and there was now baggy wrinkling at the top of the cups, which offered barely any support. The neckline wasn't quite as restrictive as in the first one, but it still compressed me in that area, creating a weird flat plateau along the front of my chest. At this point I also realized that the vertical seamline was pretty far from my apex (ie. nipple), which also indicated that my breast tissue was falling much further towards the center than the pattern expected. Clearly size wasn't the only issue here, and I decided to go back to the 30E for future iterations, as it was at least closer to a good fit.

The eraser is pointing to where the vertical seamline should hit. You can also see the bagginess in the top and along the seamline here. Definitely too big in the cup.

Better, but still flattening things out in front.

Watson #3

Time for pattern manipulation! I tugged at the bra a little, drew on the wrong side, and tried to visualize how this cup size and shape could fit better. I realized rotating the cup down and towards the center would create a shape with less of a diagonal cut across my boob, and I also moved the center seam across the cups so that the base of it still hit the same place on the cradle--this added more fabric to the outer cup and took away from the inner cup. I rotated the cup pieces a total of 3/4" inch in the cradle and shaved this off the of the underarm area, so the side seam aligned. Instead of adding 3/4" to the center of the cup, I shortened the center-top of the cradle to match, in order to give more of a plunge at center front. This is kind of tricky to explain in words, but the diagram below shows the old shape rotated and the new seamlines drawn in red.

I actually did this to the pattern by tracing the cup pieces next to each other, so that their bottom seamlines (minus seam allowance) met, redrawing the seamline across these, and then truing to the cradle piece. Something like this:

The final pieces looked like this, compared to their un-manipulated counterparts:


I also added 1/2" in width to the back band piece, essentially making a size 31. And here is the fully sewn bra. This was slightly better in some ways (the seamline was hitting closer to my bust apex), but it was clear the center front gap wasn't working well without an underwire to keep things in place. I tried adding a strip of elastic there, but the center front was still tight and caused some bulging as in my first Watson. Still with that neckline spillage!

I took this one before I added the center piece of elastic. I do like the silhouette, but the support was just not working. You can see the wrinkles in the top of my right cup in the photo, because nothing was being held in place where it was supposed to be.

Watson #4

I had been afraid to add length to the center front edge out of fear that the cup would become too big and gap, but at this point it was clear that it needed room there. I used my updated pieces from #3 and first added that 3/4" to the bottom edge and blended up towards the top, in order to come up to the center of the original cradle. Then I cut and spread to add 1/2" to the inner edge, giving the neckline more room. I used the original cradle pattern and my slightly lengthened band.

(inner cup shown here without seam allowance)

This one was so much better!! Finally no bulging or flattening at center front. Unfortunately my pattern tweaking measurements were slightly off and I had some excess fabric at center front, which I just sewed together above the cradle. There was also a little bit of gapping right above that area, just above the center where the cups meet, but the fit above that was finally just right. I finally felt like I could wear this bra without being constantly annoyed at fabric cutting into my cleavage. Hooray! I updated my pattern pieces with these small tweaks, so the next time I made it the cups would fit in the cradle correctly without that bit of gapping.

Yes! As I mentioned earlier, I made one more of these (not in black! yay!), and I got the fit spot on in that one. I'll post more on it soon! Now I'm probably going to destroy most of these for parts and possibly try to fix #4 up to get the fit just right at center front.

I hope this was useful or at least interesting to some of you! I learned some things about fitting the Harriet bra recently, too, and can share that soon. I find this stuff really fun and interesting, and hopefully I'm not the only one!

* Two notable exceptions to the lack of posts out there: 1. Helen posted photos of her Watson bra on, and it was so helpful to see it fit a real person correctly! 2. This post came out shortly after I had plowed through a few iterations of mine. At the very least her initial sizing issues would have validated my thoughts on the sizing before off before I got started, had the timing been a bit different. It's a great, comprehensive post about constructing the Watson!


  1. Just saw all your Watsons on Instagram and headed over here to read the full story - thanks for documenting it so well! I think I will need to modify my pattern too - like you, I'm suffering from the 'cleavage spillage'. I think the inner cup just needs a little bit more to it, or the middle 'point' of the cradle between the cups (I have no idea what you actually call this) needs to be a bit higher so the angle of the fabric up to the strap isn't as drastic. Thanks for the shout out to my post too - I hope it helped a little, and sounds like we had the same issues with crazy sizing! :)

    1. Aww, hi Sarah! Seriously when I read your post, I felt like the fit paragraph could have been written by me, down to the exact measurements. If you try modifying like I did, you can probably skip straight to step #4 - I think the rotation I did for #3 helped a little with some stuff but didn't have a huge impact on the final fit. Good luck! And thanks for your post as well, I really enjoyed reading it!

  2. Love this! Thanks for sharing, this is SUPER useful! I have a similar issue with my cleavage in these types of bras and it's really helpful to see how you puzzled it out. I will definitely use this when I (eventually) get around to making a Watson.

    1. Aw, it's nice to know I'm not alone in my fit issues! If you do end up having the same issue with this one, you may be able to skip straight to the change I made for #4 and see if that's enough. I'll keep an eye out - I'm excited to see what you make!

  3. So interesting! Definitely taking note of this post for if/when I get around to making my Watsons fit better. They are surprisingly good compared to RTW, but not perfect!

    1. Yay, good luck! I'm the same way - the fit is generally good compared to RTW, but once I know I can do better, I feel compelled to figure it out!

  4. Great job!! I'm so nervous to break into bra construction! I'll live through your post until I figure out where to start.

    1. I was really nervous too, but once I made one or two, I find it super fun!! If you're overwhelmed by materials (I was!) it can help to get a kit to give you a starting point, and be mentally prepared to have the first one or two not fit great. Good luck!!

  5. This is extremely useful. Thank you very much. Your patience to do this over and over is truly enviable.