Adapt a Bra to Accommodate a Prosthesis - Threads

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Adapt a Bra to Accommodate a Prosthesis

Creating a post-mastectomy bra from a purchased garment requires only basic sewing skills and a little attention to detail.

Creating a post-mastectomy bra from a purchased garment requires only basic sewing skills and a little attention to detail.

From Threads #81, p. 12

I want to help my friend modify her bras to accommodate a prosthesis because the ready-made ones are just too expensive. Which bra style works best, and how do I adapt it?

Tracy Shaw, Mesa, Ariz.

Cindy Elam replies: Your question is a good one that affects many women. The process of adapting a bra to accommodate a prosthesis is not difficult nor time-consuming. It requires only basic-to-intermediate sewing skills and a little attention to detail.

To create a pocket for a prosthesis, you can either use the instructions below to adapt a purchased bra, or adjust a bra pattern and make your own bras from scratch. Either way, start with a style that fits the woman's frame and existing breast properly. Almost any style will work, provided it fits nicely and doesn't put pressure on the scar tissue, which can cause discomfort. I find that a full-coverage bra like Élan B530 (www.elanpatterns.com) can be easily adapted to this purpose.

Use a soft, lightweight cotton knit to create the prosthesis pocket. My instructions produce a double-layer pocket that provides a bit of insulation from the initial coldness of the prosthesis and helps absorb perspiration in warm weather.

To make the pocket pattern, you'll cut the shape of the cup as it lies flat on a table, with the bust point sticking up. I prefer the paper-and-pin method for making the pattern, which requires first taping two layers of paper over a piece of foamcore or cardboard (you'll use the two layers of paper to cut the top and bottom layer of the pocket bag).

Next tape the bra to the paper, smoothing the armhole and the cup's upper and lower edges as much as possible. Don't worry about the bagginess at the bust point of the cup.

Beginning at the strap, use a pin to poke some holes along the edges of the cup, working across the upper cup, along the seamline where the cup joins the center front, along the curved lower edge of the cup, along the side seam where the cup joins the band, and at the armhole edge up to the strap. Remove the bra from the paper, and trace around the holes with a pencil, smoothing out the shape (a French or dressmaker's curve is helpful). Repeat for both layers.

Prosthesis pocket

On one layer, draw a line from the armhole edge, about 1 in. down from the strap, diagonally to the top edge of the upper cup, about 1 in. from the cup's center seam. This line forms the open edge of one layer of the lining, as shown in the drawing.

On the other layer of paper, draw a line from the upper cup edge, about 1 in. from the strap, diagonally to the armhole edge, about 1-1/2 in. up from the side seam. This forms the open edge of the second layer of the lining. Label the pieces, so you'll know which is the right side, armhole edge, and so on.

Cut each piece from the soft cotton knit, and finish the open edges with either a narrow zigzag, a serged edge, a fold-and-zigzag hem, or with narrow stretch lace. The cut edges won't ravel, so your purpose is to stabilize the edge without adding bulk.

Baste the two layers together, leaving the finished edges open, as shown. Pin the pocket into the cup, and zigzag around the raw edges (a three-step zigzag looks nice). If you're working on an underwire bra, fold under the edge along the channeling, and carefully straight-stitch along the edge, or hand-sew it with small stitches.

When you wear the bra, simply slide the prosthesis into the pocket from the top. It will stay put, even when jumping, dancing, or bending over.

Cindy Elam lives in El Cajon, Calif., and is a bra designer and owner of Élan Pattern Co. (www.elanpatterns.com). Her article "The Bra Dilemma— Solved!" appears in Threads #71.

Drawing: Bob LaPointe

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Comments (3)

ladyofsnow ladyofsnow writes: how do I print the pattern for the bra prosethis...
Posted: 5:08 pm on February 1st

strangerbox strangerbox writes: Great information! Thanks... I write articles and reviews on bras in hard-to-find sizes (mostly on the small end of the spectrum, as I wear a 32aa). I've seen mastectomy bras for sale online, but usually there is not much information on the product pages. I would be totally lost trying to figure out which style would be right for me. Your sewing directions are easy to understand, and I'm sure you have helped lots of women save money.
Posted: 10:44 pm on October 3rd

popoagie popoagie writes: This is a great idea, as masectomy bras are typically much more expensive than regular bras AND they are often not available in the full range of sizes and styles. I personally have found it impossible to find a 34DD underwire bra with a youthful, no seam shape. So, I use a high quality regular bra and a "stick-on" prosthesis. Unfortunately, the lack of moisture absorption gives me red, irritated skin. So, I end up wearing a masectomy bra anyway.

Since I only have a lumpectomy (partial masectomy), how would you suggest I change the instructions for adapting a regular bra? My prosthesis takes the affected breast from a small C to a small DD--two cup sizes. I really haven't had any trouble with regular masectomy bras and my prosthesis, other than the selection issues mentioned above.

I would also like to point out that it may be a good idea to do this to both cups and use a thin foam cup-shaped insert in the unaffected side so that you don't get a nipple showing on one side and none on the other. These thin foam inserts can be worn without the pocket, but they sometimes don't stay in place. You can buy these an better department store lingerie departments and they come in different sizes. I used them before my masectomy for modesty and highly recommend them for a smooth look.
Posted: 5:13 pm on September 7th

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