How to Sew a Built-In Bra (With Cups!)

How-Do-You-Do-Bardot Maillot (left), Bubblegum Top (right)

I recently wore a dress to a wedding that had a gorgeous back to it, however, usually when there’s a gorgeous back there’s no room for a bra. Christine from Daughter Fish has come up with one of the most life saving tutorials you could ever want to fix such problems, How to Sew a Built-In Bra (With Cups!). If your problem is a see-through bra making an appearance through a black dress you should also check out her tutorial for Lining and Covering Bra Cups. If there’s a heat wave at home sew up her Burda Beach Blanket Bikini and this dress that is perfect for this transition from summer to fall.

Your life with forever be changed now that you know How to Sew a Built-In Bra (With Cups!)…

How to Sew a Built-In Bra With Cups

For the past year, I’ve been sewing built-in shelf bras, with cups, into maillots (unitards), t-shirts, and tank tops. My original inspiration for this came from several vintage garments—a dress and bathing suit—that I wear regularly, which have built in bras. For me, there are several advantages to building a bra into a garment. I like to design shirts with dramatic, low back lines that would usually show a traditional bra.

Built in bras also just happen to be comfortable. And in contrasts to the simple shelf bras in sports tops, adding cups to a shelf bra also provides a pleasing silhouette (no tube boob!).

A few other bloggers have asked me to share my technique. I can’t say that it’s the prettiest or most sophisticated. I’m sure that some of you out there with lingerie sewing experience could add a few pointers on materials and techniques.

What I can say is that this tutorial is relatively easy, and you can do it on a home machine. My tank top pattern happens to be self-drafted, form-fitting, and low-backed. If you were to do this technique with a looser tank, you’d just need to make the bra section tighter/more form fitting. I sew most of my seams with a serger, but you can easily sew a stretchy tank on a regular machine using a stretch stitch.

Here’s how I do it:


I like to use a soft cotton-lycra blend knit (it won’t pill like rayon or bamboo knit), 1 inch wide elastic, and sew-in bra cups. Make sure the bra cups are your appropriate cup size and that you like the shape they give you. Slightly padded cups will keep your girls from “tuning in Tokyo.” I buy cups in the garment district, where there are lots of different shapes to choose from. If your resources are more limited, Dritz makes cups sold at JoAnn’s.

The elastic should feel comfortable against your skin. I like to cut everything out on a cutting mat with a rotary cutter and sharp scissors (but of course!). For my pattern, I drafted a simple sloper based off of my maillot pattern.

When cutting out striped jersey on the fold, I line up my stripes and pin them before cutting out my pattern. This will ensure the stripes on the shirt are indeed horizontal, and not listing to one side or the other.

Step 1: Cut the pattern pieces

Cut out your front and back pattern pieces (3, 4). For the bra pieces (1, 2), I use the same tank top pattern, but just use the top third portion. Measure from your shoulder to under your chest (or to where you want the bra to hit) to gauge how long to cut the bra pieces.

Note: I generally use the same jersey fabric as the shirt for my built-in bras. This results in a very soft, cami like bra that stretches exactly like the tank top. When the fabric stretches, the bra usually ends up hitting me around the lower rib cage. If you want the bra to hit you right under the boobs, adjust for length. For more support, you could use polyester swimsuit lining or another lining fabric with more structure (or even wicking abilities….Maddie of Madalynne has some good info on this for sports bras).

Step 2: Position the cups

Hold the front bra piece up to your chest, stretching it across your chest as if it were sewn to the back piece. Take note of where your girls land on the front piece; this is where you’ll want to position your bra cups. (I realize that’s not very scientific!)

Lay your front bra piece on a flat surface, wrong side up. Position your bra cups on the front bra piece. Make sure the bra cups are positioned so that they’ll nicely fit your boobs once you have the bra on. I always hold the cups up to my girls to get the right angle, and then mimic that placement on the front bra piece. Generally, I place the top of my bra cups about 1 inch below the neckline; the center of the cups generally fall about 2 inches below the V of the neckline. I place the cups 1/2 to 1 inch apart. (I use a B to C size cup.)

Experiment with the placement of the cups and pin them in place. At this point, you can again hold the bra front to yourself to see if the cups are close to where they need to be. Just remember that the cups will stretch away from each other, once sewn in, so it’s sometimes better to have them closer together (so you don’t end up with bra cups on the side of your body!).

Step 3: Sew the cups

Sew the cups onto the front bra piece, just around the edge of the cups. If you’re not sure about placement, baste them on with a long straight stitch, and then hold the bra piece to your chest again to make sure the cups are falling in the right spot. Sew the cups on with a stretch stitch. And don’t be afraid to cop a feel on the cups! It’s the easiest way to rotate the pattern piece as you sew.

When you’re finished sewing the cups, your pattern piece should look like the above.

Step 4: Cut away the excess fabric

Cut away the fabric that’s covering the inside of the bra cups. I like to snip a section toward the middle of the cup and cut away from there.

Step 5: Sew your bodice and bra pieces

Right sides facing, sew your front and back bodice pieces together, and your front and back bra pieces together. At this point, it’s a good idea to slip on the bra to see if it feels like it will fit snuggly (keeping in mind that you’re still going to attach an elastic band around the bottom).

Step 6: Attach the elastic band

Wrap the elastic around your ribcage, just below your breasts, stretching it slightly, so that it feels snug but comfortable. Cut the elastic to this length. Butt the ends of the elastic and use a zigzag stitch to secure them.

Divide the elastic into fourths and mark with pins. Divide the bottom of the bra into fourths and mark with pins. Pin the right side of the elastic band to the wrong side of the bottom edge of the bra (at the four pin marks). Using a stretch stitch or zigzag, sew the bottom edge of the elastic band to the bottom edge of the bra, stretching the elastic between the four marks. Fold the top edge of the elastic to the right side of the bra, so the elastic band lays flat. If the band doesn’t lay flat, use a hot iron to press the fold where the band and bra meet. Sew the top edge of the elastic band to the bra.

*Note: This explanation for sewing on the band is a little simplistic. You may already have a preferred method for finishing the band in a more professional way. Just note that sewing the top and bottom edges of the elastic to the bra will make the bra more secure. You might also want to try the bra on at this point to make sure it fits the way you want it to. If it’s not tight enough, and you feel you won’t have enough support, take in the side or shoulder seams to tighten everything up.

Step 7: Pin bra to tank

With the tank top inside out, and the bra right side out, slip the bra over the tank top. Line up the shoulder seams of the bra and tank and pin in place. Line up the under arm seams of the bra and tank and pin in place.

Step 8: Baste bra to tank

Baste the neckline and arm holes of the bra and tank together. This will keep the tank and bra from slipping apart as you finish the neckline and arm holes.

Step 9: Finish the neckline, arm holes, and hem

I like to finish all edges with folded strips of fabric. I find this gives the cleanest look that I can achieve on my home sewing machine and serger. For this tank top, I cut the bands so that one white strip runs down the center of the band. Once the band is folded in half, there’s just a thin peep of white at the top edge of the band.

For more information on finishing edges with fabric bands, check out this great Threads tutorial video on a neckline binding. The same technique can be used for finishing the arm holes.

Step 10: Wear with attitude!




This is a great feature! I laughed out loud at “tune into Tokyo” and “cop a feel.” Plus, I think I feel confident enough to try this sometime soon, even to modify a wonky existing garment. Thanks!


Hi this looks great. I wondered if you did a tutorial for larger women? I’m desperately searching for one!


Agreed! I have a smaller frame with a large bust (32f) and this just wont work for me. 🙁

Laura Guerro

Hello, Ty! I, too, have a large bust, and in order to make this work, I’ve found that using a wider elastic (2in or more) is supportive for a larger bust. I hope this helps.


Where do the cups come from? I love this idea especially for the sexy lingerie but I need a K cup. Where do i find them????


Cut the cups out of your old bras and save them. You will then have a supply of bra cups.

Rose ann

Just what I was looking for. I am making these because I am having shoulder surgery and need something soft and easy to get off & on. Will come in handy when I have PT , but will be using a thinner strap. Thank you!


this is great! however, my chest is kind of enormous. do you know if anyone sells cups with underwire, and do you think those would work out well with this tutorial?


That is a great idea, but I with Ashley, have the same problem, do you think this would work for us?

Daughter Fish

Ashley and Canne: I have had a bunch of bigger busted ladies ask this question. As someone who was once a bit bigger on top (a DD), I’d venture to say this technique is going to work best for C cups and down. For bigger ladies, I think you’ll need more structure and lift to make it truly comfortable. I’m working on a design for this, so keep an eye out for the tut on my blog soon:)


Hi There! Did this tutorial (for bigger busted ladies) get posted? If so, where would I find it? I was thinking of using an old bra for the cups and then use power mesh and lining for the back of the bra. Could that work?


I’m so glad you did this and I’m looking forward to your tutorial for larger busted women. For now, casual at home days in my pajama pants just got more comfortable!! Thanks so much!

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The best and easiest manner to sew your own clothes with a built in bra, thank you. Has anyone done it for the larger busted ladies?


I was reading your article on how to sew bra cups into a T-shirt the dilemma that I have is I had a double mastectomy due to breast cancer a few years back. I would like to know how I could actually make breast forms and sew them into my T-shirts or other clothing since having the double mastectomy I have found clothing just don’t want fit right and I would like to learn how to even put a pocket into my shirts or blouses that won’t show on the outside of the shirt I am new to sewing I’m trying to learn these things myself as I cannot afford to pay $65-$75 for a T-shirt that has a built-in pocket in it for breast form. I would love it if I could find a pattern that I could just print out on my home printer anyways thanks for listening loved your information about the built-in bra in your T-shirt


Can you pictures on as well? It’s helpful for those of us who are still learning sewing.



I know this is an old post but it’s exactly what I was looking for. It’s an excellent tutorial, very easy to follow, thanks! I have one question tho- and this is probably my inexperience really showing here but- I’m confused about the stop where you pin, then sew, the cups onto the bra. It shows the cups pinned down with the outside facing up, onto the “wrong side” of the fabric. I have always understood the wrong side to be the side that goes next to your skin, the right side being the side that faces out, and is visible. It looks like your fabric is the same on both sides, so I can’t tell the wrong side from the right side, but it doesn’t seem to make sense that you’d be pinning the cups, facing out, to the inside of the bra..? Or am I misunderstanding the whole right side/wrong side concept??

susan nickol

Would it work without the elastic? I’m looking for the padding in a tank tap but no elastic I’m having surgery and need the padding for protection against a adorable toddler but elastic would rub against stitches.

Melissa Barrow

BRILLIANT. Before my double mastectomy I was a 34DD but now I am completely flat as I opted not to have reconstruction. Sometimes I want the look of a naturally small chest, but the mastectomy bras or padded bras are uncomfortable and look terrible.

Your design makes me want to learn to sew and do this to every top I own. Thank you. You have given me a solution to this issue of mine. Much appreciated.


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