Thursday, July 22, 2010

How to Make a Micro Bead Breast Form

A new and inexpensive non-silicone breast form has recently become quite popular—the Silique Fabu-Forms Microbead Breast Form. I recommend the form in BreastFree.org's Breast Form section, under "Non-Silicone Forms." The Silique form is also sold as the Micro-Bead Lightweight Breast Form on the American Cancer Society's TLC Tender Loving Care website. 

LindaLou, a very enterprising and talented contributor to BreastFree.org, decided to make her own pair of micro bead breast forms. She documented her experience on breastcancer.org and has kindly granted me permission to share the instructions here. They are printed below, complete with an update with further suggestions and refinements. (Photographs originally accompanied the instructions, but unfortunately, they are no longer available.) Happy sewing!

I recently purchased a pair of TLC's Micro-Bead Lightweight Breast Forms. I have been thoroughly impressed with their lightness and comfort. While the TLC forms are reasonably priced at $40 each, buying a pair with shipping is $86. I decided I wanted to see if I could make comparable forms more cheaply.

I bought a bag of the Fairfield Polystyrene Micro Beads at Jo-Ann Fabric store. The bag is HUGE!  And dealing with the itty bitty micro beads that fly all over the place is a challenge.


I bought a lightweight polyester/spandex stretchy knit fabric in white to use for the front cover on the form. I wanted to find a slightly heavier and less stretchy fabric for the back cover so it would keep its shape. The back cover on the TLC form is 100% cotton with minimal stretch only. I decided to buy a piece of lightweight soft cotton corduroy in a pretty pink pattern. I preshrank the cotton fabric when I got home since I did not want it to shrink later after the form was made.

I decided to use my size 8 TLC micro bead form as a template to cut out the front and back covers for the new form. For the back cover, I set the form on its back and just traced an outline around the form using a sewing marking pen. I made the tracing about 1/4 inch larger to allow for the seam to be sewn later.


Here is the back cover fabric cutout. You can see the 1/4-inch seam allowance around the edge.


I then needed to make a pattern for the front cover. I decided to drape the front of my TLC form with the white stretchy fabric so that it would allow for the extra fabric needed to make room for the micro beads and provide some projection of the breast shape. I made a very rough outline using my marking pen around the form.


I then placed the pink back cover in the rough outline to compare sizes. I knew the white front cover would be larger than the pink back cover but wanted to make the shape uniform, so decided to add a full 1/4-inch margin around the shape of the back cover to create my front cover template. I thought this would allow enough ease in the front cover to provide movement of the beads similar to the TLC form. 


I then cut out the front cover pattern in the white fabric and placed the front and back covers together for comparison. When I make another form, I may allow a little more easement allowance on the front cover.


I then pinned the front and back covers together in preparation for sewing the seam. I had to work the larger front cover to the edges of the back cover and try to distribute the extra fullness evenly in the front. I used several pins to hold the covers in place.


I sewed the front and back covers together using a basic straight stitch about 1/4 inch away from the fabric edge. I had to go slowly and gently stretch the fabric to work the extra fullness in from the front cover. I also left about a 2-inch opening to use for filling the bag with the micro beads. I was curious what the weight of the covers was before adding the micro beads, so I used my kitchen digital scale to check the weight. They only weighed 0.30 ounces.


I then had to figure out how to get the micro beads into the form covers without making a huge mess. I decided to work over by the trashcan. I cut an opening in the top of the micro bead bag big enough to allow a one-cup measure that I could fill with the micro beads. I used the barrel of a cookie/frosting gun and placed the bottom end of the barrel inside the opening in the form covers. I held all this over the trashcan while I poured a full cup of micro beads into the barrel and into the form. The little micro beads are full of static and stick to everything. Make sure you keep a vacuum handy to clean up any spillage. You can also rinse your hands in water to get them off your hands. 

I filled the form up to the point where I felt it had enough fullness but still left some room so I could finish closing the seam with an overcast edge stitch. This is one place I goofed because I should have gone ahead and done the overcast stitching before filling the form with micro beads except for the 2-inch opening. It made it much more difficult to overcast the entire seam after the form was full of beads. That's how I ended up with micro beads all over my sewing machine!

The new form is a little fuller and less squishy than the size 8 TLC form. If I make the front cover a little larger with more easement, it will probably make it more squishy but I sort of like the way the new one is now. It doesn't shift shape as much and tends to stay in the right position slightly better than the TLC one. But overall the home-made form feels and looks a whole lot like the TLC one.  I put both forms into one of my Target camisole tops and you really can't tell a difference in clothing.  (the home made foobie is on the left side of the picture, the TLC is on the right)

I hope this has been helpful. I am glad to know that making micro bead forms is not all that difficult and certainly is a lot cheaper than buying multiple sets.

UPDATE:
I wanted to update my process for making the micro bead forms at home since I have made a few pairs now. Here are just a few tips with pics if you decide to make your own.

1) I found that trying to piece the larger top cover of the form to the smaller back cover was easier if I ran a simple basting stitch in the front cover first and then gathered it up evenly to fit the back cover. 

2) I also found that keeping the seams on the outside of the form tended to make ridges show through the bra or top you wore them in and they just didn't look as finished as I would like. So, I decided to leave a small opening (approximately 1.5 - 2.0 inches) when stitching the front and back covers together (keep right sides together). Then I turned the fabric inside out so the seam was hidden inside.  I folded the raw edges of the opening to the inside of the pocket and pressed them smooth. After filling the form with micro beads I then just topstitched the small opening closed using the sewing machine. 

3) Fabric selection is important also. The fabric for the back cover needs to be either non-stretch cotton or very minimal one-way stretch cotton because you need it to keep the triangle shape of the form. The material for the front cover of the form needs to be a two-way stretchy fabric with generous ease so there is room for the micro beads to fill it out with the desired projection profile in front. Both fabrics should be washable.

4) Stuffing anything with micro beads is a pain in the %$#@!  I thought I must just not be doing it the right way but I have spoken with numerous sewing store employees who say they have never found an easy way to get the micro beads into any project. I tried using a turkey baster but finally gave up (it was too slow to fill and got clogged) and started using a cookie dough press tube which was wider at both ends. I take the bag of micro beads out on my deck and try to fill the forms there to reduce the likelihood of hundreds of little micro beads floating around my sewing room. Definitely keep your vacuum handy if you use them indoors!

5) If you plan on making several pairs of forms it's a good idea to create a muslin pattern that you can label and include any markings as a reference.  I have made a couple pairs for friends and make a muslin cloth template of their form size so I can make more later if needed of the same size. 

Hope this helps any of you wanting to make your own breast forms. It really is not that difficult and certainly cost effective if you would like several pairs or different sizes!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Believe It or Not, They Don't Notice!

Many of us who have not had reconstruction find that it feels wonderful to go form-free. I often don't wear my forms when I'm at home, but (so far) I always wear them when I'm out in public. Some women, however, choose not to use breast forms at all and many of them report that people don't seem to notice their lack of breasts. One woman, Mia W., decided not to wear a breast form during her radiation treatments and wrote about her experience. She has kindly allowed me to publish her story, which follows.

Leading up to radiation, I was anxious that I would be too uncomfortable to wear my breast form. I had a unilateral mastectomy, so I'm a B cup on one side and concave on the other side — going without my breast form in public seemed unthinkable. When I finally felt brave enough to try, I learned that with some basic clothing camouflage and a little self-confidence, no one seemed to notice!

I built my comfort level with baby steps. My first forays in public were to my doctor appointments. I figured this was a group of people who would understand, if anyone would, and I wasn't looking to make a fashion statement. I resurrected my maternity shirts, which were loose and comfortable, and layered a jacket and scarf on top. When this went without comment, I tried just a jacket layer, or just a scarf layer. Both passed. Next, I wore a patterned shirt (which wasn't maternity wear) with a scarf. Still, no problem.

Going without a breast form (and indeed, without any bra or camisole) was so much more comfortable as radiation progressed that I decided to be braver in public. I went to a support group that way and no one noticed, even though I was sitting in a circle with other women who knew I had had a mastectomy!  I was the last to share during group, and everyone was very surprised. Not the polite kind of surprised meant to save my feelings, but actually surprised.

So, I tried several other venues, including a party and a lunch with co-workers. Again, it was no big deal. At the party, when the hostess turned up the temperature in the house, I took her aside and asked her to drop it a few degrees, as I wanted to keep on a camouflage layer. Because she was a close friend, I told her why.  She was surprised, too, but very supportive.

I am now one treatment away from the end of my radiation. My skin has come through better than it would have if I regularly wore the binding clothes that would've been necessary to support a breast form. I have also been more comfortable than I would have been. And, I am more confident of my appearance — if people didn't notice when I wasn't wearing a form at all, how likely are they to notice if my form isn't perfect?

I hope my experience is encouraging for you, too.