Cheeky Creations: Upcycling Bras
I love a beautiful bra. And as much as I love seeing a glorious supporter of one’s tatas, I adore making them... or at least refurbishing them. Burlesque can be costly, but it doesn’t have to be. In one of my first blog posts, I mentioned upcycling your costume pieces, and here I am sharing some of my favourite methods. I try to never throw out my bras, even after they have been worn out for quite some time. Because what may be a currently old lackluster pain in my bosom is destined to be a showstopping essential piece to my performance. There are many ways a performer can either create their own bra from scratch or upcycle an old one. This is the process and the techniques that tend to work for me, at this point in time. They’re simple, but I find them very effective and affordable. For the sake of simplicity, this post will focus primarily on tips for bras, but most of these tricks can be applied to any costume piece.
Do Your Research
Before I begin any project, I like to explore my options. Has my idea been done before and possibly exist with tips on how to execute my plan? What style do I want to influence my creation? Are there unique materials I could use? Usually I have an idea in my head of how I want my bra to look or come off, but many times I will also find inspiration from photos and videos. Other times I will just "go with it" and see what magic happens. Similarly, sometimes I will sketch out my idea to refer back to, but mostly I just return to my reference photos.
Find a Bra
The next step is probably pretty obvious to most, but here's a reminder that you gotta have a bra to start your project! Some people may choose to purchase a new bra from a lingerie store or online, while others may opt for an already owned bra that may not suite your daily needs anymore. Maybe you want to completely refurbish an old burlesque bra even! One thing that I would recommend when looking through your options is to try your bra on with your pasties before you decide to use it for burlesque, especially if you're not planning on changing the elastic band or straps. Many times I forget this step, only to leave my bra fitting smaller than intended because pasties do, in fact, add filling.
Cut it Up
Cutting a bra can be intimidating, but now you have the ability to make your bra look however you wish! You will find that there are unlimited ways you can re-imagine your brassiere. Most of the time, I cut the straps and band off all together, so I can add new elastic later. Once my straps are removed, I can begin to reshape the cups simply with a pair of scissors. Just keep in mind, that if you're planning on cutting a new shape into your cups, it is better to cut a little at a time, and keep trying your bra on until you get the desired effect. Try not to go ham all at once. If you have a smaller bust, then you can often get away with cheekier or more intricate designs when reshaping your cups. And if I ever reshape my bra, then I make sure to cut the straps and band off LAST, so I do have the ability to see how the cups will most likely fit.
Paint it, cover it, dye it... do whatever to have your old brassiere already look unrecognizable. I live by regular acrylic paint from the dollar store. Many others I know will use fabric paint, dye, or fully cover their bra all together with fabric. I love paint, because I find that I can easily add more dimension with shading and various colours. Sometimes I will combine both paint and covered fabric (as shown with the photo on the far left).
If you choose to paint, be aware that fabric often likes to be difficult by either absorbing your paint or having the colour look uneven and spotty. I prefer to "dab" my paint on rather than use regular paint strokes to help cover the surface, especially if there's lace. But if you DO have a bra with lace, you can always use it to your advantage, because once painted, the lace will stand out beautifully! You will most likely need to paint your surface more than once. One coat for your base, which will help any future layers of paint to cover more easily too. Most often, my bras take about 2 - 3 layers of paint. Make sure to let each layer dry thoroughly before adding the next! Once the bra is all painted, you will probably want to squish the cups and any straps or pieces that you've painted a few times to help loosen the fabric back so it's not so stiff.
If you're covering with fabric, you'll want to pin it first and then hand sew the edges. Though, I have had great luck (and needed lots of patience) adding fabric or ruffles to a bra with a machine. Keep in mind, that if you choose to use a machine, it may change the shape of your bra. If you search Google or Youtube for "How to Cover a Bra" you should find plenty of incredibly insightful resources. Speaking of covering, adding lace or appliques on your bra is another simple but impactful change!
This is a good time to note that often the inside of your bra (and all costume pieces, really) will most likely be seen from the audience at some point. Something to keep in mind when there's the possibility of a gorgeously flawless bra suddenly losing it's effect when the inside may be the opposite colour of the outside, or perhaps not as cared for. For this reason, more recently I've started being conscious of the asthetic of my bra and costumes from all potential points of view.
If you're planning on having removable bra cups, snaps, hooks, or quick releases, this is usually a good time to add them. Most items - if not all - that are used to remove your bra will need to be hand sewn. My go to enclosures are usually snaps, Ariel Helvetica's costume quickies, and more recently, rare earth magnets. What you need to use will depend on your needs for your bra. If you want to learn more about adding snaps for removable cups, Viv Clicquot has an incredibly informative removable cup bra tutorial on her blog. If you're curious to know more about the various types of enclosures and ways to make easier reveals with your costumes, I am currently working on a post with tips. Until it is finished, please feel free to send me a message and I will be happy to chat.
This is one of my favourite parts: putting a bra back together! I looooove straps. So most of my bras have brand new straps included to add fun designs and styles. There is a very real possibility that this will be the longest step in the whole process for you. There will be a lot of trying, removing, adjusting, and re-trying on your bra until you reach the desired fit. Some people will go for comfort, others may opt for security, and many will probably go for both. I'm more of a "security and smooth removal first" and "comfort last" kind of showpony.
If you choose to use elastic to keep your bra together, keep in mind that you will want to use good quality and wider elastic, especially if you have larger breasts. DO NOT USE FOLD OVER ELASTIC. Though it may have many pretty colours and designs, fold over elastic is meant to be used as a trim or to cover other elastics, such as braided elastic. Otherwise, it quickly wears out and loses it's shape and elasticity (therefore, much shorter wearing life). Ribbon is another useful replacement if you're changing your band or straps. Again, you'll want wider and good quality ribbon.
When constructing your look, everyone's preferences are different, but I prefer to add the band for my torso first. This helps keep the bra in place when I later try it on to add the shoulder straps. And then, slowly, I add one strap at a time. I like to pin my elastic to the back, pull it to the front, and then cut it to the desired length and stretch while I'm wearing the bra. Once it's cut, I'll sew it into place and move onto the next strap. If my bra is symmetrical, I still measure each strap independently, since breasts and bodies are rarely symmetrical in size and shape. Though, you can always play around to see what works best for you.
One tip that I find useful, especially if your garment is especially strappy, is to not sew the elastic to each other. This is more so a rule that I apply to harnesses, but it also sticks with bras and other strap-based pieces. It may seem like a good idea to sew the crossover pieces to each other to make it easy to put the garment on correctly, but more often than not, I find those points of contact never sit the same way the second time and my costume piece does not fit me correctly again. Instead, I either leave my straps independent of one another... or if I insist on keeping them "together" for ease of putting the piece on, O-rings are often my saviour, as they still give the straps freedom to move around, but stay bundled for less tangling. Once the bra fits how I like then I can go ahead and add any extras like fringe or other adornments (not including rhinestones) to help make it pop.
Time for Sparkle!
The last step of any costume piece is the sparkle! Not all costumes need sparkle, and many performers choose not to use rhinestones or gems to any of their costumes, and that is completely valid and great. But if you are a performer who thrives on adding rhinestones, beads, or other sparkle to your costumes, remember to only add your embellishments once you are happy with your costume and do not have any foreseeable extreme changes or alterations needed.
One tip that I use for almost all of my bras and costume pieces is to specifically and consciously rhinestone my "reveal points." I'm a very tactile performer, I try to let my eyes focus on the audience and my hands focus on my reveals, if I can. For example, if I have a bra that has a regular hook in the back, it is much easier to grasp and unhook the bra if I rhinestone the hook's bridge. Or if I have snaps or quick releases that may be in a more sneaky spot, then I find adding larger rhinestones on top helps me to find them without needing to look at the enclosure. Likewise, if I plan on using a regular bra clasp, it helps to slightly bend the hook outward for a smoother unclasping.
Be Ok With Needing Later Additions
A fact that you will learn to accept with your acts and costumes is that, no matter your experience level, you will need to settle for "good enough for now." Our acts are living and thriving entities all on their own. Often we may have an idea, but that idea most likely will need more time to be fully realized than when we create the first version of a costume piece. Like our performances, our costume pieces develop overtime and go through many transitions and editions. Seeing the growth of a costume piece or full outfit can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Like this tutorial, even seeing the beginning and end results of a bra often leaves me proud and inspired to work on my act further. I have many costume pieces that I've been wanting to update for a while, whether it's adding beaded fringe, rhinestones, replacing straps to a piece, or recreating a garment altogether. And within time, I will get there. But for now, I hope you find some use of this tutorial and I would love to see any creations you come up with! Happy creating!
P.S. I'm always happy to share insights and work on making burlesque more affordable and accessible. But I am aware that there are times when people wish to donate something in return. If you find this tutorial, or any of my posts helpful and would like to make a donation, you can send donations to paypal.me/cheekyburlesque
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