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Adapt a Bra to Accommodate a Prosthesis

Threads #81, Feb/Mar 1999

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 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 inch down from the strap, diagonally to the top edge of the upper cup, about 1 inch 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 inch from the strap, diagonally to the armhole edge, about 1-1/2 inches 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 was a bra designer and owner of Élan Pattern Co. Her article “The Bra Dilemma— Solved!” appears in Threads #71.

Drawing: Bob LaPointe


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  1. popoagie | | #1

    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.

  2. User avater
    strangerbox | | #2

    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.

  3. ladyofsnow | | #3

    how do I print the pattern for the bra prosethis...

  4. jean22l | | #4

    I am so glad that you mentioned the mastectomy bra. The bane of my existence for about the last twenty years. I wear a 46 A bra. They just figure that if you are a 46 you must have a bigger cup size. For years I have bought either ill fitting store bought ones or purchased the pockets that you sew in your self. Just about every place that sells a prostheses or bra will have the pocket you can buy. It is rectangular or square in shape, has a rounded edge with elastic sewn on the curve. That allows you to slide the prosthesis in the pocket. Now I have this hot lump of plastic sitting on my chest. One of my shoulders has pulled forward because there is no weight for it to pull against. I have no pride and the first thing I do when I get in the house is pull the bra off and fling it. (I don't fling it as much as I used to because I am tired off searching for it later). My balance is a little off so I have been known to list to one side and hit the door jam with my shoulder. I am great fun to be with. Just a couple of months ago I was looking in a catalog that had a beautiful white lace bra with wide straps that don't fall off the shoulder and the cup fits perfectly. Now I want to make a copy of the bra in red lace with tassels. (Did I just say that?) I don't wear the bra outside my house doing yard work and I am so small no one notices. The breast I have cooperates by hanging flat down to my waist.If I sound like I am complaining I'm not really. I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people on earth. I did not have to have chemo or radiation. When I go over a speed bump only one of them hits me in the eye. It doesn't get much better than that.
    With much love,

    1. User avater
      JenSSews | | #5

      As a double mastectomy BC survivor I really appreciate your humor! Thanks!

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