Find Your Perfect Bra Fit With Hamilton, Ont.’s Fairy Bra Mother
Beverly Johnson’s nickname, “the fairy bra mother,” is apt for two reasons: (1) As a tiny, elfin woman with chipmunk cheeks and dyed brown bangs, she truly does resemble Cinderella’s fairy godmother and (2) a bra fitting with her might change your life. Before she became an internationally known brassiere doyenne, Johnson was a home economics teacher, costume designer, sewing educator and drapery maker. In 1999, she launched her company—Bra-makers Supply—and decided to focus her talents on teaching women how to make their own bras with high-quality fabrics that home sewers hadn’t been able to access before.
Johnson first became curious about bras after taking a belly-dancing class while living overseas on a military base in Germany with her first husband in the late 1970s. She was enamoured with the glitz of the belly-dancing costumes but felt that most of the bras on offer were either skimpy or ill-fitting. Ironically, Johnson’s interest in bras was piqued during a time when many feminists were choosing to eschew the undergarment. “That was never an option for me,” she laughs. “I was not self-supporting past the age of 16.”
When Johnson first decided to learn how to sew bras, there were no patterns for home sewers, so she coupled her education in home economics with her expertise in sewing and began to carefully dissect off-the-rack bras, detailing their key design elements and flaws. Today, the effervescent yet no-nonsense seamstress runs one of the most popular bra-making classes in North America out of her aggressively-pink-hued retail shop in Hamilton, Ont.
“I was sick of spending money on things that didn’t fit. I thought, ‘If this woman can’t help me, it’s my last chance.”
She estimates that she has taught nearly 40,000 people—in person or through online classes—how to make their own bras. Business ramped up significantly in 2013, when website Craftsy asked her to record a bra-making instructional video for its site. “It took 10 years to teach the first 10,000 students in hands-on classes,” says Johnson. “With Craftsy, we reached 10,000 in a single year. We were the top-selling sewing class two years in a row.” To date, Craftsy accounts for almost 30,000 of Johnson’s students. Some of her Craftsy pupils have made a pilgrimage to her shop and been star-struck. “One woman said she has almost all of my script memorized,” she says.
For many women, finding a perfect-fitting bra is the metaphorical equivalent to the quest for the Holy Grail. In other words, it’s an ultimately unattainable sartorial goal. Johnson, however, has pioneered a foolproof pattern that can be nipped and tucked to accommodate any form, whether your breasts are cantaloupes or kumquats—or perhaps one of each. Many women who have undergone mastectomies come to Johnson to learn how to make a custom bra. “Sometimes I’m the first person who has seen [a student] naked since their surgery,” she says.
Megan, a curly-haired Wisconsinite, came to Johnson as a last resort. With a slightly larger left breast, a small rib cage and size D cups, she had been plagued by bra problems as far back as high school. “I was sick of spending money on things that didn’t fit,” she says. Even a dalliance with ThirdLove’s bras in half-cup sizes failed to solve her fit issues. “I thought, ‘If this woman can’t help me, it’s my last chance,’” she says. Megan had never handled a sewing machine in her life but learned how to sew specifically in order to take Johnson’s class. The bra she made is the first one she’s ever worn that fits properly—she finds herself reaching for it more than any other bra in her lingerie drawer. “When you’re wearing an ill-fitting bra, there’s this base level of being uncomfortable that seeps into everything you do,” she says. But in her custom bra, Megan feels a subtle boost of confidence. “If I hadn’t taken the class, I don’t think I would have found a better solution,” she says.
“When you’re wearing an ill-fitting bra, there’s this base level of being uncomfortable that seeps into everything you do.”
I signed up for Johnson’s two-day beginner bra-making course because I was intrigued by the possibility of sewing my own bra and also, frankly, because I needed a new one. Specialty sizes are pricey, so I only own three 30C bras, and I was getting bored with my current options. After a quick introduction, I found myself in a private room with Johnson having my breasts measured alfresco. She kindly noted that I have an “even set,” and it turned out my boobs had grown a cup size since my last measurement (one of the unexpected bonuses of weight gain). After the seven other students in the class learned their size, Johnson gave us a pattern that we snipped out based on our exact measurements. The fabrics we used—Powernet and Duoplex—sound more like high-performance hockey gear than delicate bra materials. First, we joined the cups together, and then we sewed them into the band. Next, we added the channelling, a fuzzy tube that encases the underwire. Using a zigzag stitch, we attached elastic to the bottom of the band and sewed on the straps. The final tasks were sewing on the hook and eye and threading the underwire into the bottom of the cups.
While my sewing skill level is decidedly beginner (the class calls for an intermediate level of experience), sewing the bra was easier than I had expected. Even if my stitching is off-kilter and the cups ended up slightly puckered, it still feels pretty good to wear. The band is much tighter than on my other bras, which adds support and moves with my body. It’s not a sports bra, but it’s baseline comfortable enough to wear to the gym. What it isn’t, however, is pretty. This is not a first-date-worthy bra.
“They don’t feel the wire digging in, they don’t feel the straps falling off and they don’t feel the band pinching them. All of those issues are suddenly gone. It’s like we’ve unlocked a door.”
Johnson’s favourite thing to hear from her students at the end of a class is that it doesn’t feel like they’re wearing a bra. “That’s music to our ears as bra makers,” she says. “They don’t feel the wire digging in, they don’t feel the straps falling off and they don’t feel the band pinching them. All of those issues are suddenly gone. It’s like we’ve unlocked a door.”