Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Bras, hypersensitive skin, summer and McCall 8092



Warning: this post contains no gorgeous embellishments, almost no lace and no pretty colours. It does contain a review of a vintage bra pattern McCall 8092. I did not make the bloomers because my fiancé begged me not to.

Contact dermatitis is the bane of my life, especially in the hot humid Queensland summers. As many women with very sensitive skin will know, there is a dearth of suitable bras in the shops. Instead I find a bunch of irritants that I am supposed to place in close contact against my skin:  scratchy lace, exposed overlocking  and rubberised elastic, and plenty of heat-rash inducing padding and foam.

There was one model of bra I could reliably wear in summer for several hours without problems. I will not name the brand  because I am so peeved that I may be tempted to vent my spleen in an unseemly way. I walked into the lingerie shop and found that my formerly soft and comfortable bra had been transformed by cheap manufacturing methods: rough overlocking and exposed rubberised elastic. Although the label still suggested a super-comfortable silky wearing experience, it had become  Just Another Rash-Producing Instrument of Torture (JARPIT)  with a hefty price tag.

I stormed out of the shop vowing to liberate myself from JARPIT manufacturers forever. I would make my own. Cruising through the vintage pattern offerings on Etsy, I found McCall 8092 (1930s). Here are the details from the back of the pattern:


The bloomer are substantial. My nannas would definitely have approved. My fiancĂ©, however, gasped and looked a little unwell when he saw the pattern.  I promised I would only make the bra. Sorry, Nanna S and Nanna F. Those bloomers are probably not suited to the climate in Australia.

Anyway back to the bra. On first examination, these were my thoughts:


  • one seam only
  • instead of finishing the edges with binding as suggested  it will be easy to line by making a duplicate and sewing the two together


  • like many vintage bras, exposed elastic at the back – fortunately I have some nice soft woven elastic that should be OK
  • eight darts (16 if you count the lining) because you need darts if there aren’t any shaping seams
  • some nervousness about fitting. The only information given with the pattern is the 32” bust measurement – presumably this is the high bust measurement. The sketches on the front are unusually realistic and suggest a build similar to mine.

I made up a toile from an ancient poly-cotton sheet using my 1936 Singer (it is after all a 1930s pattern). To my astonishment the fit was great. I have a slight gap just under my underarm where a shaping seam would be in many patterns, but I am willing to call this breathing space.

The only alteration I made was to ignore the pattern piece for the elastic length and opt instead for what felt right (a little longer).

The toile was so comfortable and soft, I decided to use it as a lining. By now I should be moving toward a discussion of the delightful floral or polka-dotted luxury remnant that would be perfect with the addition of some feminine touches of lace and ribbon. Unfortunately, I have a penchant for thin white blouses and tops in summer. The outside of the bra is a flesh-coloured silk with some body. It also turned out to have an annoying amount of cross-wise stretch so I used a very light non-woven interlining to stabilise it.

My elastic was white, so I stained it with some very strong Assam tea and salt, producing a flesh colour that, as yet, shows no signs of washing out. With some trepidation I sewed a little piece of lace to it. I really hoped I was not accidentally creating my own JARPIT by doing this. I used a trouser bar and hook for the fastener because I have a lot of those in my haberdashery drawer.

I have worn it on several stinking hot humid days without any adverse effects. The lace on the elastic seems to sit far enough away from my skin so it isn’t scratchy.

You will have to take my word for the fit as Brian, my dress-model, is the exhibitionist in the house and he’s a bit lacking in the chest area:


The back view:


In retrospect, I shouldn’t have used wavy lace. I should also have dressed Brian with more care, as in real life it does look a bit better than that. I will be making several more.

For anyone considering a pattern like this, I can say with confidence that the McCall 8092 in size 32” bust (size 14 in the 1930s) with some adjustment to the elastic comfortably fits a body with these measurements:

  • upper bust 32”
  • full bust 34”
  • under bust 30”

It probably would not be suitable under clingy or tight-fitting  garments.




  1. I get so annoyed that any bra over a DD cup instantly turns into a stretch lace and underwire nightmare. And ends up irritating my skin.
    In winter in the past I've resorted to doing the 'historical' thing and having a soft vest as a chemise then putting the bra over the top (well it worked for 100's of years for ladies of the past who wore corsets).
    I'd like to make a pair of bloomers & bra like in your pattern but I always worry they wouldn't be suitable for anything over a B cup without major changes I'm not capeable of doing.

    1. I do the same! I can't even stand the nylon or elastic on my skin, so I have to buffer it with a thin undershirt (we call it in the US) under the bra. Glad to hear that others do this too!

  2. I share your horror of underwire. Ouch. According to a bra size calculator a 30" under bust and a 34" full bust equates to D cup so the changes may not be as major as you think, if only you can find a pattern in the right upper bust size.

    1. I'm a 27"underbust but at 37" full bust. So quite a disparity between the two measurements. Not sure if such exists in vintage undies. lol! I find it hard enough to get modern foundations that fit (actually I've never found any that fit comfortably.)

  3. After fighting these ridiculous rashes for decades, I may have to finally give up and start making my own bras. So many people seem to be doing it, and your success gives me some hope that a wearable one can be had with no more effort than a vintage blouse or skirt. My main problem is my bust is showing its age by sliding rapidly downwards. I'm afraid an advanced engineering degree will be required to stabilize the situation!

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