Canada Rocks! Right? Right! And this July 1, we’re celebrating our 149th birthday. (We’re still looking pretty good for our advanced age.)
What better way to show off our remarkable country and the impressive talent we have than to showcase a few of our sewing designers, teachers and suppliers in a Canada Day 2016 Blog Hop? And right here, right now on Day 2, I get to shine the spotlight on the totally adorable Beverly Johnson, aka the Fairy Bra Mother.
BREAKING NEWS: Stop the presses! This just in… Craftsy has given us a special link to get Beverly’s classes at half price until July 3. Now, that’s how our Southern neighbours help us celebrate! (But we’re still not becoming “neighbors”, no matter what discount you give us!) Here’s that magic link: http://shrsl.com/?~cy2w
The first time I ever heard of Beverly — and of people sewing their own bras at home, for that matter — was in one of my Facebook sewing groups. There was only one possible reaction to that kind of information, “Did someone knocker these women over the head?? Bras are the most complicated piece of engineering we strap on our bodies. Best leave it to the geniuses at Vogue*.”
* Beverly was recently featured in an interview with Vogue Magazine.
But more and more, the presence of this mystical Fairy Bra Mother started seeping into my consciousness. My sewing friends online kept going on about Beverly Johnson’s bra and swimsuit sewing classes on Craftsy. They couldn’t wait for the next class to release. They gushed about her inventive ways of fitting a bra. They took vacation days and travelled halfway across this 92HH** expanse of a country just to attend bra workshops with Beverly. I found out that this boob specialist lives “just down the way” in Hamilton. Oooh! She’s Canadian! But I still thought people who made their own bras were a little loopy. Because, well, I am apparently one of the lucky ones who fit perfectly into ready-to-wear bras right off the rack. I sleep in them, for real! And I’m always thankful for my itty-bitty-titties.
** My best calculation of Canada’s bra size in thousands of Km, or Mm if you will. (Too much time on my hands, maybe?)
Fast forward a year or so and I meet Michelle of Michelle’s Creations during our bag making virtual road-trip. It tickled my ribs to no end that Michelle specialized in making bags and bras, which I consequently dubbed “Michelle’s Brags”. Michelle introduced me to Beverly online and an insane collaborative project was born. (We’re not baring all until August, because I’m a push-up tease like that.) So, yeah, bra-making.
Come to find out that Beverly doesn’t just teach classes and workshops, she runs a shop that supplies all the delicate lacy bits and hard pokey thingies that little bras are made of. The whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle, including patterns.
Working with Beverly on our top-secret project and interviewing her for this blog hop has been a hoot. Both of us have had to hold back from making every breast pun known to womankind, but a pair might have slipped through. How I would have loved to sit down with a cup or two of tea and chat in person, but alas! we’re only a full day’s drive away from each other. Anyway, strap yourself in. Here we go…
Who died and made you… What spell turned you into the Fairy Bra Mother?
Actually Camille Murrain of Sweet Cups Bra Supply gave me that name. She was a student in my Professional Bra-makers course and one day she described what I was doing as “bra magic” and told me I was like her Fairy Bra Mother. The name stuck. Previously a student named Mugsie Pike of Renegade Lingerie called me the “Wizard of Bras” which I loved too…but Fairy Bra Mother suits my personality better.
Q – This is such a highly specialized field. Was there one incident or turning point that got you into bra-making?
Not one incident, but an accumulation of various bits. I entered university in engineering, but quickly realized I didn’t want that at all, so I switched. I was on a scholarship so I had only a few options I could choose without forfeiting the scholarship. One of the options was Education – Home Economics to be specific. I loved the teaching, I already knew how to sew, so it was a good match. I became a Home Ec teacher and taught high school for two years until they deemed that subject unnecessary and cut it from the curriculum. Budget cuts…grr!
However while I was in university, I got a taste of pattern drafting, and I was hooked. I read everything I could about it. I had my own drapery fabrications business (after teaching) and I had to do all the patterns for the fancy valances and slipcovers myself. It was fun and I loved it. Then as fate would have it, I got married at 40 (what was I thinking?) and moved 1000 miles away from family and friends. It was time to change careers and go back to the garment sewing I loved best. I started teaching heirloom sewing, and other decorative thread arts. I even worked for Sulky Threads for 6 years… whatever it took. But once I could leave all that and concentrate only on my fledgling bra business, I was one happy girl.
My first catalogue of supplies was one page and we offered white or black elastics and fabrics…woohoo! I gradually grew to include beige, then ivory. I thought that was great. Then I made the leap and started having colours made for me…bra colours, such as pink, red and brown (it was so popular a few years ago!) it was a huge expense but to me it was worth it to not rely on suppliers who would discontinue products on a whim. Now we have 14 colours of all the findings and fabrics to make bras, and the white elastics are dyeable if you don’t like our colour selection. I tend to carry what I call “bra colours” but once in a while I will go a little bolder, like the fuchsia, lilac and turquoise I have. But I personally love those colours, so it wasn’t hard to twist my arm when we were choosing!
Q – For those of us who dream of one day getting an invitation to the ball, how did you get to be a Craftsy instructor?
I had proposed a bra class to them but didn’t hear back, then a student suggested that maybe Craftsy wants someone with a following. I already had 20,000 customers, had written 3 books, and created 18 patterns by that time and I thought…Good grief…what more could they possibly want? Then I realized it was the social media element that was a bit spotty. I’d had a blog that was quite popular several years earlier, but I had discontinued it. (I didn’t think anyone was reading it!) I started it up again, with some of the older articles re-posted from the first blog. It must have worked, because Craftsy called me while I was in Sweden teaching. I flew to Denver to film the first class about 5 weeks later. It’s not quite 2 years later and I am filming my 5th class with them next month! They are a great company to work with!
(Thanks Beverly! Way to dash my dreams, send them up in smoke, sweep them out with the embers…)
Q – With so many students and customers under your belt, I’ll bet you’ve seen every configuration of backs and breasts imaginable. What is the most important thing a woman (or man) needs to know about fitting a bra?
Your fabric choice is critical! People assume that once they have a pattern that fits, they can go ahead and use any fabric in their stash and the bra will fit the same as the original, and they are genuinely shocked when it doesn’t. A bra is the most closely fitted garment we have, and if the fabric behaves differently than the orginal, the fit will be different. You cannot believe how many women think spandex fabric is a great choice for a bra….and yes, I get it…if you are self-supporting, you can make a bra from Kleenex and it will look good, (One Kleenex bra coming right up!) but most of the real women I deal with, are NOT self-supporting. They cannot use stretchy fabrics without some kind of lining underneath… whether that lining is another fabric or foam, you need something for support! Funny story… I had a lady email me about her bra pattern not fitting. She had come to the class and left with a bra that fit. She went home and made another right away. Epic fail! Of course she emailed me to ask if I had “changed” her pattern after the fitting. Of course I hadn’t! I asked her what fabric she used, turns out she had used a bamboo/spandex blend because “it felt so soft”. OK. This lady was a 44F. <sigh>
And another thing… (you know I can go on and on) (Yes, I’ve become aware of that.) Don’t get hung up on the size a particular bra pattern designer uses. I used mainstream (read big 4 bra industry) methods to measure and create my bra patterns because I didn’t think anyone would embrace a “new” way to measure for a bra. I was selling mainly to Canadian and American customers at the time, and believe me the sizing is different in Europe…and Australia. You cannot assume that a 34F from my Pin-up Girls patterns will fit the same as a 34F from another pattern company, or even fit like your favourite ready-to-wear company. Don’t be hung up on those numbers! The most reliable method of measuring is the Bottom Cup Depth, in my opinion, which is the distance from the wire line to the apex. A variation of that is using the cross cup measurement, which is the measurement across the bust point from wire line to wire line at the fullest part. Using either of those two measurements will give you a better, more accurate bra size, because only the breast measurement is involved – you aren’t having to consider if your back is wide, or you are retaining fluid etc.
(Bottom Cup Depth?? The only thing I know about cup bottoms is that if I see it, my drink needs a refill.)
Q – What is the biggest intimidation factor to overcome about making your own bra?
I always say…if you can set in a sleeve, you can make a bra! (Well there ya go, Beverly! I can’t set in a sleeve!) People marvel at us being able to make a bra, and often they say, I don’t know how you can work with those underwires! The wires are put in last after everything else is sewn. You don’t actually have to sew with the underwires in! There are lots of parts to a bra but remember some of those you don’t have to make yourself. The hooks and eyes come already assembled, for example. There are 5 little pieces to a bra…so it’s not difficult sewing. You have to pay attention to the details, and accuracy is important, way more important than in a regular dress for example where 1/4″ may not be the difference between fitting and not fitting. Making a bra is very satisfying…in an evening, you can create something you will actually wear. If you have daughters, you can save some serious coin. Better yet, teach your kids to sew. If they are spending their money on fabric, you know they aren’t spending it on drugs!
Q – And how do you get past it?
Just do it! Don’t worry about the fit of the first bra, just sew one up in any fabric, just to get the hang of the techniques. There is always a bit of a learning curve when sewing something new, and this is no exception. You don’t need to be perfect the first time…save that for the second bra..lol! But you cannot get better if you don’t start. I don’t know why we are so afraid to “screw it up”? It’s only fabric in your stash. Practice, practice, practice. Remember the first sleeve you put in? Someone assured you that sleeve would fit in that armhole and you believed them, they helped you all the way through the process. the second time you sewed a sleeve, you may have had to look at the instructions but you knew it would fit, and you knew you could do it. By the third sleeve, you were doing it all by yourself! It’s exactly the same with a bra. (Um, about that sleeve… I might need your wand to make it fit.)
Q – What are some upcoming projects (classes, workshops, online classes) that we need to get people signed up for?
I have classes listed on my website at www.bramakers.com and also in my newsletter that comes out the first Monday of the month. I have filmed 4 classes with Craftsy and a fifth is scheduled (can’t tell you what it’s about, though!) and I have some other plans in the works that are still firming up. We’ve had a lot of requests for more patterns, another book and an app, so I am thinking about all of that and more…my only concern is will I live long enough to get it all done?
(That magic wand and fairy dust is going to come in really handy.)
Q – What else is rattling around in that brain of yours?
We really need to have more sewing content on TV in my opinion. Look at the popularity of the Great British Sewing Bee and Project Runway. I would happily be involved in a Great Canadian Stitch-Off…what do you think, Marsha? Where are the TV producers out there? We have SEW much talent out there….we need to have a show like this!
(Abso-freakin-lutely! Because we need to drag Michelle and her Brags into yet another top secret project. But hellz yeah! I’m in!)
Q – [I probably should never have asked this question, but since we’ve already spilled the milk, might as well go with it…] What is the craziest bra incident the Fairy Bra Mother has ever had?
Oh dear…there are lots! Here’s one that is going in my memoirs! It’s about the time I got BUSTED! On one of my trips to Edmonton for a sewing show, I decided to treat myself to a trip to the West Edmonton Mall. It boasted 7 bra shops and even though I wasn’t going to buy a bra, I figured it would be good to see what the market had to offer, what colours were popular and what style lines were being used. My husband was not particularly happy to go to the mall in the first place, and even less enthused to go bra shopping.
Seven bra shops indeed. After 6 of them, I was discouraged. The bra shops were all chain stores and offered nothing different from what I could see back home. But then, like a beacon in the wilderness, there ahead tucked in an alcove was a bra shop whose name I did not recognize. It was a private bra boutique, not a chain. I felt my pulse quicken.
My hubby resigned himself to sit on the bench in the mall hallway until I was done. I went into the store and looked around. They had some beautiful bras, in colours and pretty laces. Bra Heaven!
Most stores don’t carry the “larger” cup sizes so when I saw a plus-sized drawer marked 34D, I imagined there might be dozens of bras in my size inside. I went to open it. A clerk quickly rushed over to me to assist. Clearly her drawers were off limits to customers. When she opened the drawer, there was one (1!) bra inside. But what a bra! It was a lovely lilac shade with a lace up front in a tone on tone satin. I thought it was worth a try-on, even though I wasn’t going to buy it.
I went into the dressing room. I could feel my husband’s eyes follow me from his perch in the mall hall and knew he was thinking, “Why is she going into the dressing room when she isn’t going to buy anything?” Men just don’t get it, do they?
I stripped to the waist and tried on the bra. Oh my! It was perfect! In every way! I had never before seen a bra back with this shaping, it was so comfortable, the styling was incredible and the colour gorgeous. I HAD to bring the knowledge back to my students — the knowledge of what made this bra band work. But how? I checked the price tag. 120 dollars. What? 120 dollars marked down from 250. Well, it wouldn’t have mattered – there was no way I was going to buy the bra. 120 dollars indeed. I could make it for 15!
Then I had a brilliant idea. I could clone the bra right in the dressing room. I had developed a way to copy a bra without taking the bra apart. I actually wrote an article for Threads magazine (#99) about the process.
(I’m very afraid of where this is going, but I’ll just hang loose for now.)
Well, that method involves pins, foam core board and a pencil. I looked in my purse. I had a souvenir serviette from the mall, a ballpoint pen and one safety pin.
I knew I could do this. In the spirit of a female MacGyver, I took off the bra, then took the serviette, unfolded it and placed it against the wall, then held it and the bra to the wall as well as I could with only one pin. My plan was to hold the bra flat with my left hand and trace around the back band with the ballpoint pen. I would have to be careful. I did not want to touch the bra with the pen. And I would have to be quick, no time to put my own bra back on right now. I was just drawing the strap scoop when the dressing room door opened and the clerk walked in and said, “Are you all right in there?”
What could I say? What possible motive could I come up with for being naked, having a bra pinned to the wall and a ballpoint pen in my hand? Would she believe me, even if I could have come up with a plausible reason for being half-naked tracing the outline of a bra band? She looked me straight in the eye and said, “You ARE buying that bra, aren’t you?” My face crimson, I meekly replied that yes, I was.
After I returned to my husband in the hall, he looked at me kind of funny, shook his head and said, “I thought you weren’t going to buy a bra.” I told him the clerk was most persuasive. And besides, it was on sale. Less than half-price.
Aaaand on that note… Don’t you wish you could go to the mall with the delightful Fairy Bra Mother Beverly Johnson? Just once?
In case you, like me, would like to pop in and listen to more stories of mayhem and misadventures, this is where you’ll catch a glimpse of this magical creature:
- Blog: Fairy Bra Mother Be sure to visit again in August when we reveal our top-secret project.
- Store: Bra Maker’s Supply in Hamilton, Ontario. There’s shipping via Canada Post if you don’t mind putting your eggs in their basket.
- Facebook page: Fairy Bra Mother
- Craftsy class: Sewing Bras: Construction & Fit
- Craftsy class: Sewing Bras: Foam, Lace & Beyond
- Craftsy class: Sewing Bras: Designer Techniques
- Craftsy class: Sewing Swimsuits: The Supportive One-Piece
Coming up: Beverly has a new book in the works. A new Craftsy class (Sewing Panties) set to be released late summer. And, of course, our top-secret project scheduled for mid-August.
Now that I’m bosom buddies with the Fairy Bra Mother, she’s doing her darnedest to talk me into making my own bra. I’ve enrolled in her Construction & Fit class, but I’m still too
intimates intimidated to make anything. One of these days, Beverly, one of these days.
On a slightly more serious note, Reece has put together a giveaway of some pretty cool prizes, and enticing discounts, from some of our favourite Canadian shops. I’d add all those details here, but your trigger finger must be itching to click away by now. If you want to know what the prizes and discounts are, you’ll have to at least go see Reece at Happy Okapi.
Go ahead and enter the giveaway now. Off you go! Good luck! Bonne chance !
À la prochaine
PS. While you’re waiting to see if you won any of our prizes, might as well try for these giveaways over at Craftsy
PPS. I asked in the giveaway: Tell me what your dream destination is. 😉
Oh Canada! Where pines and maples grow, great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow…
Canada Day 2016 Blog Hop Schedule
Be sure to visit each of these brilliant blogs this week for more on our
outstanding Canadian designers and suppliers:
And, of course, to enter our giveaway for some sweet-like-maple-syrup prizes.
June 24: The Tour Starts HERE at Happy Okapi
June 28: Nicky guest posts on Seam of my Pants
June 30: Michelle @ Michelle’s Creations
Canada Day–June 31*: Ula @ Lulu & Celeste
July 2: Marsha @ Seam of my Pants
July 3: Keshia @ Sand Dollar Design Studio
July 4: Wrap Up @ Happy Okapi
July 6: Giveaway winners announced
* Yes, we know!