A Little More Oomph: Making Bust Padding

One of the reasons I rarely wear my first version of Vogue 1174 is the fact it makes me look completely flat. Not just not busty, but super flat. The foundation and boning is so stiff, it presses everything flat as a board. So it looks great from the front, but from the side – not good at all! I know I’m not the most well-endowed girl, but I still want to feel comfortable and pretty in the dresses I wear.

So, this time around, I padded the bust! I made padded bust cups out of cotton batting, attached them to a layer of cotton batting, and sewed it into the muslin bodice lining. It’s not quite a push-up bra, but it rounds out the silhouette nicely. The best part? I’ll show you how!

You’ll need:

  • your front bodice constructed of cotton batting, like we made in this post
  • cotton batting, at least 1/4″ yard
  • hand-sewing needle and thread
  • paper and pencil, about one letter-size sheet will do!

I’ll show you what I did, step by step. Depending on the dress pattern you use, you might need to make a few modifications, but the general theory will be the same. Ask if you have questions!

First, you’ll need to make a layer of your front bodice in cotton batting. Sew the cotton batting using butted seams – see how in more detail here!

Next, we’ll take that padded bodice layer, and lay it down on a scrap piece of paper. Trace around your bodice layer on the piece of paper.

Now, in the middle of the traced bodice, draw a circle where the centre of the bust is likely to fall. It doesn’t have to be super accurate, just a general circle in the middle of the bodice is fine.

Cut out the circle, smoothing the edges as you cut if the lines you drew are sketchy and rough.

Let’s check our circle against the bodice, and see how it looks. This circle is the shape of our bust pad, and the shape of the layer we’ll start building our pad on. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking for, as this was my first attempt at making bust padding. Mine fills out the hollow, while fitting inside the seam allowances. (Which I have not cut off the padded bodice layer yet – just a note!)

Take this circle template, and cut two circles of cotton batting. This is the fun part, we’re going to make a tower of circles on top of this first layer. Each circle will be slightly smaller than the last one.

Cut another set of circles, a little bit smaller than the first two:

Keep on building more layers of padding. I stopped at five, but looking back I wish I’d piled my stacks a little higher! I compared my circles to a padded bra insert, but the cotton batting does compress itself once the pads are sewn in. So I’d go for a little bit more than you think you need.

You can arrange the circles on top of each other, or angle the circles slightly to one side. I layered mine so the bottom would have the most padding – again, based on the shape of the bra insert pad. It’s thicker at the bottom, I suppose to push things upwards and make the most of what you’ve got!

This is what the thickness looked like, from the side view:

Now, we’ll do something called feathering the padding layers. Take your fingernail, and scrape the ridge of each layer downwards, smoothing it out.

Here’s a side-angle shot. The top layers are not feathered, and you can see the ridges. The bottom layers are feathered, and the padding softly transitions from layer to layer.

Compare the padded bra cups, side by side. Can you tell which one has been feathered?

Can you tell now?

This seems pretty advanced, I know! It’s not hard to do, it just takes time to put these together. What we’ll do next is tack the layers together. Thread a hand-sewing needle, and stab the needle through all of the layers. Make small stitches (called stab-stitches, how appropriate!) tacking the padding in place. Kind of like a shoulder pad!

You’ll stab-stitch in a circular motion, more or less. The point is to secure all of the layers together, it doesn’t have to be pretty. Here’s what it looks like from the wrong side:

Keep going until all of the layers are tacked together. Repeat with the other pad.

Now, we’ll place these bra cups into the padded bodice layer. Pin them in place, and ‘try on’ the padded bodice layer as best as you can. I pinned the whole thing to the dress, and tried it on to get the placement closer to the right place.

You can hand-sew it into place if you like. I machine zigzagged around the edges of the outermost layer to hold my cups in place.

Another thought: instead of sewing the padded cups into the bodice, you could cover them with muslin and make them removable! It would be like a shoulder-pad. You could make a pocket to tuck them into, pin them into place, or add snaps. Or Velcro if you wanted.

What I did next, was make a muslin lining for the bodice, and attached the padded layer to the muslin. I also added boning to the muslin lining, which I’ll show you as well.

What do you think: are these inner-workings interesting to see? Is this something you’d ever try on future projects, or is this way too complex for your style of sewing?

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45 Responses to A Little More Oomph: Making Bust Padding

  1. AnaJan June 1, 2011 at 6:14 am #

    Hi Tasia,
    I love seeing construction details, so keep posting them!
    I have one question tough. I was wondering whether the padding adds warmth to the garment, since it’s a summer dress. Summers in Serbia can be very hot and humid at the same time, and having even light clothes on can be unbearable sometimes. Hence I avoid any layering (including lining) whenever I can. This results in having no strapless dresses, because they need boning, and boning requires several construction layers… You get the picture.

  2. sula June 1, 2011 at 6:30 am #

    This is a great post–one of those ideas that I have wondered about but have never taken the time to experiment with. Thanks!

  3. Vicki June 1, 2011 at 7:21 am #

    Thanks for this tutorial and the last one. Now that I’ve finished nursing, I’m back to being a founding member of the I.B.T.C. and need a little help on top!

    BTW, are you going to / participating in the Maker Faire in Van. this month?

  4. CGCouture June 1, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    I really like this type of post. I may not be making anything that will require this knowledge today, but I bet I will someday and it’ll be nice to have this to reference when I do. :-) And this definitely looks a lot easier when it’s broken down into steps than I originally imagined.

  5. magdamagda June 1, 2011 at 7:47 am #

    nice! I totally agree! And great pics and explanations for the tutorial!

  6. Amy (quixoticpixels) June 1, 2011 at 8:01 am #

    Wow! This is incredible. I’ve always been curious about how that was done, but never looked into it. Thanks!

  7. K2 June 1, 2011 at 8:21 am #

    Have you washed the dress yet? Are you worried about the cotton batting melting into a shapeless lump?

  8. Mandee Jo June 1, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    I love posts about the details like this! Keep it up.

  9. Sam June 1, 2011 at 8:33 am #

    I’ve just looked back at your first Vogue 1174 and it’s such a shame you don’t wear it much as the fabric is gorgeous. Can you do anything with it to make you feel happier about wearing it? I guess padding is out as you mention in your post that it was rather constricting.

  10. Bess June 1, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    This is great! I wouldn’t do this for myself, as I’m already well-endowed in the bust region, but I often sew for a friend who would definitely benefit. I’m actually in the middle of trying to make hip pads in a similar manner, because (unlike with the bust) I could actually do with some help there, especially with New Look-inspired styles.

  11. Abigael June 1, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    I have to comment on this, because you couldn’t have posted at a more perfect time! I was just talking to one of the sewing techs at my school about this concept two days ago, and I was left puzzling how I would put it together. This answers all of my questions!! Thank you so much!

  12. Laurel June 1, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    Very timely post! I second the questions on added warmth and washability. Our summers require cool clothing that can be machine washed. It’s already blood-hot out there.

    I loved this pattern so much when it came out, but after seeing it made up many times, I’ve decided it’s not for me. It’s very beautiful and the details are nice, but the bust definitely has a flattening effect. I think part of it is the snug fit, but most of it is the pattern itself – the pieces just don’t have enough curve for a contour bust pattern. It’s not just a fit issue – the very straight seams also contribute to the flattened look. A more exaggerated curve on the seamline would give the impression of a curvier bust.

  13. Alice June 1, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    I love these more advanced technique posts! Not because my technique is advanced – but it shows me where I can get to if I keep at it! And gives clear instruction that isn’t in any sewing books I have around! So many sewing books it seems – at least the ones in our local shops – are for beginners. And that’s so amazing and great, but it’s also good to get this ‘taking it up to the next level’ stuff too.

    I’m working up my skills to make an 1174 for a fall wedding. i don’t know if I’ll need the oomph since i’m reasonably busty, but i might put some in anyway. is it much better or easier to use this batting method or to just buy some cups?

  14. Irene June 1, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    A brilliant solution. I always avoided such styles, because I assumed that they just weren’t for my figure type.

  15. Dilliander June 1, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    Thanks Tasia, I’m find these posts very interesting, especially as I plan on making this dress for summer (yesterday was the first day of winter here, so I have lots of time). I like your idea of a pocket too, and was wondering about using the bra cups cut from an old bra. Was there a reason you chose to make the shaped pads rather than use the commercial one in your picture?

  16. Ellen June 1, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    I love this! Thanks so much Tasia. The pictures show the feathering are fantastic . . . No way would I have understood without them.

  17. kristin June 1, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    oooh i love these posts! i’m not in need of this particular tutorial, but i can see how i could adapt it to something i might need (like making a supportive bra in bodice!), awesome!! thank you!!

  18. Lisa June 1, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    Thank you SO MUCH for this. I have the opposite problem – I have A LOT of boobage and need the extra padding in leiu of a bra ( like you said a little push up). I have tried to do this in the past and you could see the ridges ( I didn’t do your blending step). I can’t wait to go try again – I still have the dresses that I just couldn’t part with.
    Would you recommend adding additional room if the dress isn’t made already? I know for a few snug fitting tops that even changing the bra that I wear can affect the fit – did you feel there was any issue? Or was the batting thin enough that it didn’t make a difference?

  19. Casey June 2, 2011 at 4:33 am #

    I really appreciate you making a little tutorial on how to do this! :) I’ve been wanting to try this technique for a long time (it’s popular in couture especially)–especially since I’m another gal who has trouble with boned bodices flattening everything. hehe! Sometimes it takes a little bit extra to keep from looking like I’m wearing a Elizabethan corset (which pretty much pressed everything flat). haha!

  20. Musetica June 2, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been coveting a strapless dress for so long but the fear of seeing my ribs where they shouldn’t bee seen :( i kept on putting it off. This seems the perfect solution. Could you please go in more detail on how to incorporate these padding pieces into the final dress itself (not the muslin)? i have no clue on how to do it but i know i NEED them :) Thank you!

  21. Tasia June 2, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    Hello, everyone! Question and answer time :)

    @Musetica: You bet! I have another post planned, showing how I put the whole thing together. Coming soon!

  22. Tasia June 2, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    @Casey: Totally – that’s the feeling, like an Elizabethan corset. Pressed flat, just how we *don’t* want to look! Glad it’s interesting to see. I’d suggest going for more padding than you think, as this barely added enough to keep things from being pressed flat :)

  23. Tasia June 2, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

    @Lisa: Well, I cut this dress a whole two sizes smaller on top than it was supposed to be. So it all depends on your body, your measurements. Comparing the two dresses, I made the exact same size the second time around, I didn’t add any extra to compensate for padding. That all depends on how much padding you plan to add, and how the pattern fits you to begin with!

    I’d suggest making a muslin, making the padding, and getting the fit right with the padding included before proceeding to the real dress. It sounds like a lot of work, but there are a lot of variables involved!

  24. Tasia June 2, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    @Dilliander: I didn’t use the commercial pads, because I ‘borrowed’ them from a bra for comparison. Afterwards, I put them back in the bra. But, that’s a good idea! You could take padding from an old bra, once the bra is worn out, and keep the padding for future sewing projects. It would be faster, and you’d know it would fit your body already! Probably it would be synthetic, and easy to wash. (Just watch out for those water-filled or gel-filled bra pads, from the super-push-up styles. I don’t know what’s in those but I’d hate to poke a needle through them!)

  25. Tasia June 2, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    @Alice: That’s up to you – if you can find cups you like, then go for it! The ones I could find looked really stiff, scratchy and weren’t very padded, and I didn’t like the way they looked. Plus, I always wanted to try making my own!

  26. Tasia June 2, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    @Laurel: You’re totally right! Or, a snugger fit under the bust would help for a better silhouette. It’s very straight from the cups, it doesn’t hug the ribcage nicely. And it’s a hassle to alter because there are foundation and lining pieces with completely different seamlines.

  27. Tasia June 2, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    @Sam: Probably I could add padding to it. I know, it’s SO pretty. The fabric and colours and shiny piping, I love it! I’ll still wear it, but it has to be a time where I don’t care about looking flat from the side. It’s also really hot, being polyester, but then it’s strapless, so it’s cold too. Kind of a tricky dress on the wearability side, although very pretty to photograph!

  28. Tasia June 2, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    @K2: Nope, I haven’t washed the dress yet. Probably I’ll hand-wash it very carefully, or dryclean it. I hope they don’t turn into mushy lumps, that would be sad! I was inspired by Couture Sewing Techniques and they don’t seem to worry about washability with a lot of the techniques used. I suppose that’s the difference between sewing couture and sewing for everyday life! :)

  29. Tasia June 2, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    @Vicki: Thanks for the link to Maker Faire – I hadn’t planned on attending but it sure looks interesting, maybe I will check it out :)

  30. Tasia June 2, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    @AnaJan: It does add warmth, you’re right! So this may not be the best technique for your climate. For me, it doesn’t get too hot here, and with the padding I can skip wearing a bra. So the cotton padding is cooler than a synthetic nylon bra, which is a good trade for me, but might not be the best idea for you. For linings I’d suggest cotton voile or batiste as a cooler, more breathable option to polyester or rayon linings.. but I know the feeling when you want as little as possible touching your skin!

  31. Nina June 2, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

    inner workings are the best posts! Really, I feel that I can learn so much from them, it makes complicated projects more approachable for “intermediate” sewers :)

  32. Mary June 5, 2011 at 4:21 am #

    Thanks a million for this incredibly helpful and informative post! This is something I have always wanted to do, but had relegated to the “yeah right” list. Now I can see myself adding bust padding to lots of upcoming summer projects! Yay! I love your blog.

  33. Elisabeth June 5, 2011 at 8:19 am #

    I made up Vogue 1174 over Christmas break and despite being a not-flat type of gal, discovered to my dismay that it is a very flattening dress! Very annoying, because that’s not what I was intending to do with the dress. Thanks for the tutorial, I just might have to try that in the removable style to see if I can push things up and out a bit more (ahem). I’ve also considered going in underneath and trying to pull and pin things into a better shape. Ahh well, live and learn.

  34. Lucy June 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    Technically, it should be okay to wash – I mean, you can wash cotton quilts with the same stuff inside, can’t you? I’d just put it on a delicate cycle or handwash. Also, if your machine is a front loader it’s probably better because they’re much gentler on your clothes than a top loader.

    But then I’m known for disregarding washing instructions. I have a silk dress that says ‘dryclean only’ and it’s totally fine handwashed (I might add, though, that it was only $5 from a charity shop, which is why I risked it in the first place). I haven’t had a disaster yet!

  35. The Slapdash Sewist June 7, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    I appreciate this type of tutorial. I’m with you on needing a little boost in some styles, though I’ve always felt weird about “false advertising” with padded bras and the like. I will be tucking this idea away for future reference.

  36. Sarah July 10, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    I really like these kinds of tutorials. I too need a little help in the bust department with these kinds of dresses (I hate strapless bras, so its always better if the dress comes with its own padding) I usually just save old bras and cut them up to use, but making my own pads seems so much better. Thanks=)

  37. TeaMyDear August 5, 2011 at 6:40 am #

    Thank you so much for this tutorial! I really like technical stuff like this! :)
    I was especially interested in this one because I often prefer to not wear a bra in the summer, but feel uncomfortable with nipples showing. I think I’ll try figuring out a version with a pocket so the padding is removable.
    I also like the idea of using pads from old bras, I have a few lying around!
    This post in going into my useful things personal wiki :)

  38. TeaMyDear August 5, 2011 at 7:05 am #

    Oh oops I’m clearly late to the party… Maybe the padded layer you showed in your previous tutorial will be good enough for limiting exposure…

  39. Neeno - Sew Me Love October 24, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    Thanks for the tutorial!! Just what I need, I’m making the M6349!


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