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Cloning Ulla

Recently a student brought me an interesting challenge. She purchased a ready-to-wear bra and wanted one just like it, but not necessarily the same fabrics. I call this… wanting something the same, only different! Her bra was a European sized at 34K and it certainly did fit her nicely. But could cloning Ulla in a 34K size work as well as it does for the smaller sizes, like D or DD? The bra has a horizontal seam with a split lower cup. So many of the larger cup sizes benefit by a horizontal seam – you can add so much shaping. On the upper cup, there is an internal power bar running from the strap to the seamline. This protects the lace on the upper cup from tearing under the tension on the strap and it also helps to direct the breast forward.

I decided to use my go-to method of cloning, instead of the one I talked about in this post. I have done cloning with pins for many, many years, and I still like it. As a creature of habit, I went with this method. The key to this method is the 1/2″ thick foam core board, but you also need sturdy pins (with a head on them), paper, ruler, pencil, curve etc. – round up your usual drafting stuff and get ready.

Place some paper over the foam core board and  we are ready to start.
You’ll  need to remove one wire from the bra before you start – that’s the only “damage” we do to the bra and the wire is easy to put back and close up again when this is over.
We are going to pin out each piece of the bra to what I call ” its pre-sewn flat condition” – in other words, the shape and size of the pattern piece right before it was sewn up. So, in areas where there is elastic, such as the back band, we need to stretch the fabric while pinning so that all the wrinkles are made flat. You can see the wrinkles here from where the elastic shrinks the size of the piece during construction.
Once the piece is pinned down flat, I go in between the pins with a larger T-pin. I actually use a diamond shaped florist pin. The idea is that you are creating an outline of the shape with pins to the paper underneath. The foam core board just holds the pins in place while you are working. That larger pins makes nicer holes in the paper and foam core that you can see once the outline is done and the bra is removed.
Once the pin marking is done, remove the pins and the bra but be careful not to move the paper from the foam board, or else you will not be able to see the pin holes. Trust me on that! Mark around the outline, connecting the dots until you have the complete outline of the piece. Pin a piece, then pencil the outline. Pin, then pencil.
I start with the back band because that is easiest to demonstrate to students how the process works, then move to the bridge and the frame. You can see my diamond pin here 🙂 The blue pin at the right marks the end of the bridge area – there is actually a short seam there. I was surprised to see the seam not directly below the lower cup seam, since that is where you will often find it.
Then I move on to the lower cups. In this case, the bra had a split lower cup so I had both an inner and an outer to pin out. Notice how curved that seam is – sewn bras offer the most shaping because of the curves we can build in. Don’t try to make that seam a straight line!
Here’s the lower cup after I connected the dots. You can still see the holes (wonder of wonders). I also mark the DoGS and I label each seam and corner. As you can see, a triangle shaped piece like this would be easy to get rotated incorrectly. On this bra, I got a surprise. The DoGS were not pointing toward the apex as I would have expected. Hmmm….cloning Ulla is proving to be enlightening!
Finally I do the upper cup. The upper cup is the hardest piece to clone and it requires special attention. You almost always have to do it in two parts. Pin out the first half as far as you can….

… then un-pin  from the front and let the second half swing around. You have to remove enough pins to allow the cup to swing, but leave enough intact to make sure the shape is accurate. it’s a tricky little devil!

The dark area you see above is an internal power bar that goes behind the lace from the strap to the seamline. No need to clone this piece separately, you can draft it from the upper cup piece afterwards.

The next step in the process of cloning Ulla is to clean up the lines once all the pieces are “pinned and penciled”. Lines that are meant to be straight, such as side seam and lace edges, I  use a ruler. Otherwise, I use my curve or free-hand if the curve is very shallow. The trick is not to actually connect each dot but to combine art with engineering (I love that!) and to hit as many holes as possible along the path. (that’s a bit like golfing, I think!)

If two seamlines aren’t the same length, and it happens, you have two choices. If they are off by 1/8″ or a few millimeters, I use my best judgement when they are together to see which is likely to be correct. if they are off by a lot (more than 1/4″ or 6 mm. I will pin the pieces out again. It only takes a few minutes and the results are well worth the effort.

I also walk the wire line seam around to make sure it fits and make notches where the seam of the cup hit the frame as shown above. All that’s left is to add the seam allowances and make up a test bra! Just be sure to use fabrics that are similar in stretch to the original. That’s the only way to see if cloning Ulla worked out well. But that’s for the next post!

9 replies
  1. Beverly Johnson
    Beverly Johnson says:

    You are very welcome! Cloning as a way of developing a pattern has been very instructional to me over the years, as I've been able to tell a lot about a company's sizing and their grade rules by pinning out one or two of their bras.

    Reply
  2. Mon
    Mon says:

    Hey Bev, thanks for posting the method to the madness. I'm assuming that in order to copy the cup you remove the underwire, is that right??
    Thanks again! 🙂
    Monserratt

    Reply
  3. sun
    sun says:

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    • Beverly Johnson
      Beverly Johnson says:

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      Reply

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