The short version: this bra pattern was a big fat fail for me.
I first read about the Marlborough on Fehr Trade. Melissa raved about the fit. Kathy also mentioned in her writeup about it that it seemed less pointy than the Pin-up Girls Shelley bra. Like many smaller busted women my natural shape is a bit more conical rather than perfectly rounded, so one of the major things I look for with a bra/bra pattern is a rounded silhouette. I do better with bras that have vertical rather than diagonal or horizontal seams. So despite my reservations about the diagonally seamed Marlborough I decided to try it out anyway. Drafting varies from company to company and you never know if the drafting formulas someone uses for their pattern is your personal jackpot.
I know that British bra sizing is different from American and European bra sizing, so I carefully measured myself before choosing a size. My measurements – 33″ upper chest, 35″ full bust, and 28.75″ underbust – indicated I should try a 34B. My normal size in patterns and RTW is usually a 32C or 70C. Depending on the stretch of the band and elastic I sometimes go up to a 34B or 75B. (I don’t have a lot of padding on my ribcage, so I don’t like very firm bands.)
This pattern is made for very low-to-no stretch fabrics. I made it up using Duoplex for the power bar, bridge, lower cup, and side front. I used a stretch lace underlined with sheer cup lining for the upper cup, and the “fancy” floral powernet from FabricDepotCo.com for the back band. My elastics and findings were from Sew Sassy and the Etsy seller Porcelynne. I used underwires from BraEssentials.com.
Since I had no idea what to expect I worked quickly and didn’t spend too much time worrying about things like perfect topstitching. I got as far as stitching the elastics/cups/underwire casing in place and then I inserted the underwires, pinned the back closure in place, and tried it on. The result was BAD. The band felt like a good size, but the cups were too small. I had massive quad-boob going on and the diagonal seam was at least 1/4″ too low for me. I had a flat spot at the bottom of the cup. Also, my size 34 underwires suddenly seemed too small. It was very similar to my experience with Pin-up Girls patterns. Ugh.
So I decided to try again. This time I traced a 34C, a size I have never worn in my life. (Luckily I had some 36 underwires in my stash.) I put it together and this time finished the entire bra. I put it on. The cups seemed to fit better but I still had a few issues – the diagonal seam continued to be a little too low, and while it wasn’t nearly as bad as the 34B I still had a flat spot below the bust.) And everything, especially the band, still felt like it was tighter than it should have been. To make things worse I had that 1940s silhouette going on – not pointy like a 1950s bullet bra, but not as rounded as modern bras. It is very unattractive under clothing. Way more unattractive than my braless shape. Since it was a snow day and I was off from work I decided to put on a bra back extender and wear it anyway. If the fit turned out to be comfortable after a few hours I would just try to keep modifying the shape of the cup. Despite using the extender it still felt tight. I wore it for about five or six hours before taking it off, salvaging what hardware I could, and throwing it in the trash! Then I took the bra pattern pieces and put them in the pile of papers that will go into the wood stove. My test for bra comfort is being about to wear it at least nine hours without noticing it too much. The Marlborough failed miserably.
My conclusions about this pattern:
- I totally agree with many people (like Caroline Amanda from Sewaholic and Ms. McCall from Brown Paper Patterns) that this pattern runs small. If you make this you’ll probably go up at least one band size and possibly one cup size from your normal RTW bra size.
- It is not as pointy as the Pin-up Girls Classic bra, but it is still pretty darn pointy. (Look up 1940s bras and you’ll see what I mean.) I think part of this is the style and part of it is the use of Duoplex, which has zero stretch. My most successful diagonally seamed cup bra is Merckwaerdigh BHS10, View D, which I lined with a lightweight mesh. I think the stretch and give of the fabric helps smooth things out. If you are larger busted you may prefer the definition of the Marlborough when made in a non-stretch fabric, but when you’re smaller like me it makes everything look even smaller.
- I am pretty sure the bridge and the way the the cups angled after they are set into the frame was my biggest issue.
- I thought it was really odd that the lower cup piece didn’t have any alignment markings. It is very easy to not only mix up the diagonal vs underwire seam lines, but right vs left.
- Would I recommend this pattern? It is hard to say. I had a bad experience with it, but many people seem to love it. I personally prefer the more rounded silhouette of Make Bra patterns. All of my clothes look and fit better when I stick to bras that give a more rounded look because it fills everything out more evenly.
So for the sake of comparison I posted a couple of photos onto Instagram comparing the Marlborough bridge and band to my two most comfortable bra patterns: Make Bra DL01 and Make Bra 3226. (For the sake of comparing apples to apples I used the 34B Marlborough and 75B Make Bra pattern pieces.)
Here is a comparison of the DL01 vs Marlborough bridges. I matched them up at their respective center front folds. You can see how they start out the same width (about 3/4″ at the top of the bridge) but the Marlborough bridge turns out to be much shallower at the center front.
And this is the 3226 bridge/band compared to the Marlborough. There’s a couple of things going on here I should explain first:
- Make Bra drafts a band meant to be entirely out of stretch fabric, preferably a 4-way stretch fabric like nylon Supplex. You can stabilize the bridge, but the entire band should be out of lycra. The Marlborough is meant to have a front frame out of non-stretch fabric, with a powernet back band. That’s why the Make Bra band is shorter at the side – you stretch the fabric to fit the cup. (If you are using a fabric which does not have 4-way stretch then you extended the curve of the upper edge about 5/8″ or 1.5cm. With the Marlborough neither cup nor front band stretch, so the curves need match exactly.
- Since the Marlborough uses a mix of stretch/non-stretch fabrics the band is a little longer in length as well as width.
You can see how the Make Bra pattern is cut deeper at the lowest point of the cup, and how the frame is rounded and somewhat even. Meanwhile Marlborough is tilted, shallower, and asymmetrical. I used to think that I had a shallow, splayed bust because it is impossible for me to get that “kissing” cleavage (even with a push-up bra). But after trying the “fixes” for a splayed shape I now think it is mostly due to my smaller volume and shape. (I am also taller than average, with a medium bone structure. So more surface area for the volume to be spread across than for someone that’s a fine-boned 5’2″.)
I could probably keep trying to fix the Marlborough bra and get it to eventually fit, but it just doesn’t seem worth it when there’s other patterns that do work for me.