Diving into Swimwear!

It’s a good thing I whiz through my sewing projects as quickly as my blog’s name references.  There is so much I want to find time for!  There is still so much to create which I haven’t yet done before!  One of those seemingly “holy grail” items to attempt to sew has long been swimwear.  This year, certain occasions called for me to have a swimsuit that I felt completely comfortable wearing and has all the features I wanted.  Nothing I have found to buy seems to ‘suit’ me 100% – if it does, it is at a price that the cheapskate in me balks over.  As I have sewing patterns for swimwear already on hand in my stash, I realized it was time to pull out my bravery to try out something new.  It was time to check off another box in my list of achievements.  Now I can announce a successful achievement in handmade swimwear that I absolutely enjoy.  You truly never know what you can do until you try!

If you notice, my theme for this month has been both local pride as well as water related, so a swimsuit is the perfect way to end it.  Our pictures for this post were taken along the banks of the Big River in Missouri to visit my sister-in-law and for our son to have his first float trip.  However, my new swimsuit is very on point right now with the Olympics having started a week ago!  Also, the athletic wear of the 80’s is in focus right now and coming back in popularity with the new Apple TV+ drama series “Physical” about the rise of aerobics to counter the body anxiety of the times. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  one yard of a high density, lightweight, super stretchy, active knit polyester/spandex/lycra for both the print and the nude ‘bra’ lining with scraps on hand of a black scuba knit for the contrast.  The hibiscus print is called “Aloha Stripe” from Stylish Fabrics in Los Angeles, California.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #4301, year 1988, from my stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  4 yards of elastic, lots of thread, and a pair of molded bra cups

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished in 4 or 5 hours on the afternoon of July 2, 2021.

THE INSIDES:  clean! More on this later on in the post

TOTAL COST:  I spent only $15 on all the supplies!

This pattern was labeled as “The Creative Tank” by the prestigious Palmer & Pletsch instructional institute.  True to the 80’s era, this is can be a tank (for exercising and the like) or a swimsuit…it is whatever or however you want to make and wear it!  This may be a one-piece, yet there is complex but smart engineering to its construction.  True to Palmer & Pletsch, thankfully, the thorough and easy-to-understand instructions helped making this suit become palatable.  The stitching and finishing techniques are catered to serging (overlocking) but show three other ways to sew this, which was helpful as I only have vintage machines to use.  Every point to the suit design is adjustable to cater this to your taste and body type, and the instructions tell you just how and where to do those.  There are two options for leg openings (I chose the low cut), there are different strap stitching marks according to your torso height, and many bust and cup size options.  Together with the three different style views, this pattern has everything going for it and I couldn’t have picked a better one to help me make my very first swimsuit.

This pattern’s main selling point for me was the options and helpful assistance, for sure, but I absolutely loved the low dipped, fully open back as well as the bold 80’s color-blocking opportunity of the pattern.  I had some scraps I wanted to use as well, so I went with an adapted means to end up with view C.  First off, at the pattern stage, I raised the front dip of the neckline by 1 ½ inches and widened the back panty lines so as to have more booty cheek coverage.  All else is pretty much unchanged from the pattern lines…almost.  I disliked the idea of the bottom solid panty portion being its own separate piece, stitched to the rest of the suit’s body as a panel.  I do not yet trust my swimwear sewing skills enough to know for sure that such a seam will be strong and hold together for me, especially with that tricky center front angled point to manage.  So I cut out a full one piece suit (view A) and applied the bottom panty portion on top of the suit and top stitched it down.  This way the crouch portion has an extra layer of opacity and support since I was not going to add an inner panty.  Also, I didn’t have to stress out over whether or not my suit would separate on me into a two piece.

As one yard (at 60” width) was double the amount of fabric that I really needed for this suit pattern, I doubled up on the white striped print for the body.  This knit was super sheer, and getting it wet exasperates the issue…duh, it’s white.  The nude colored lining I chose for the bust area was very sheer on its own as well.  I figured stripes under more stripes will add a bit of confusion to the print, enough to cover any remaining sheerness of the fabric.  I put the two layers of striped fabric body cuts wrong sides together, right sides out, after the side and crotch seams were stitched.  I end up with two perfectly clean and mirrored sides to the body of my suit.  This was something not in the instructions, merely something I improvised so that there would be no raw edges to be seen inside.  Anyone who knows me or has followed me through this blog knows I am a stickler for a professional, clean finish.  In my defense, I was merely guessing that raw edges might be a bit uncomfortable to feel against the skin in this project, and so justified going the extra mile.  I’m so happy that I did.  RTW swimsuits that I’ve seen are not this nice.

As I alluded to already, there is an inner shelf bra to help shape and support this swimsuit.  I had to pinch in the bottom hem of the shelf bra because it ended up being too loose to do any supportive action, but that was accomplished with 3 tucks done next to the side seams and at the center front.  I also added molded foam cups.  As the swimsuit has completely different ‘finished’ measurements when it’s off of my body versus when it’s on being worn, I couldn’t justify tacking the sides of the cups down 100% along the edges to the shelf bra.  It was very frustrating and near impossible enough as it was to try and figure out where they needed to be placed evenly as it was.  I mostly did this job when the suit was on me, but ended up poking myself too many times and bleeding onto my new creation.  Luckily, swim knit polyester is hard to stain!  I merely tacked the edges down of each cup in a handful of strategic edge corners.  The shelf bra, once I got it to fit, does the rest of the job that my “almost floating” bra cups do. 

Yes, I am wearing my Captain America themed necklace – it was Independence Day!

Even still, the trickiest part of sewing this whole suit was definitely doing the elastics on the edges.  It wasn’t *hard* to do (yes, really) because I’ve done it before and understood the concept of stretching the elastic out to match with the fabric’s excess, and stitching it down while pulling the fabric taut.  The instructions also showed me how to do it with a zig-zag stitch very effectively, too, because swimwear finishing is NOT the same as sewing lingerie.  The main challenge was matching up to the suit all the separate points along the elastic cuts and dealing with completely differing amounts of ‘gathering’ and stretching.  It was both tiresome and very tricky to accomplish correctly.  For example, the leg opening from the hips down to the back crotch had a tighter “gather” in than the front which was about equal in length with the fabric.  This way the suit stays pulled in over the booty.  I luckily did remember to add or subtract all the inches I added or took out of the suit to the total length measurements of each cut of elastic.  Yay for me!  It was very hard to remember to do one more adjustment along the way.  There was a lot to remember sewing this thing together, and I was scared to whole time it would fail. 

At a family member’s pool here in this picture!

Even still, sure I didn’t get certain portions of the edge finishing just “perfect”.  This is still such a triumph of a sewing project anyways that I am saying “well enough” is good enough.  The seams don’t bubble, the finishing looks as good as RTW suits, and I feel it is sturdier than a bought suit.  It is also very comfortable.  It completely moves with my every move to the point that I forget I have it on.  This baby is solid.  Even with the entirely open back, the suit stays put where it should in all sorts of water fun or exercise…I’ve already tested it!  My swimsuit sewing success is sweeter than a summertime iced tea.

All this being said, I am generally uncomfortable to post this of myself in a swimsuit.  I am unsettled at being so “seen”.  I also am not in optimum shape right now.  So go easy on me, please.  This handmade suit though feels so right for me and I am so proud of this project, nevertheless, so I can’t help but share!  I had to be out where I love being in nature, near the water, in my favorite season of summer for me to be at ease enough to have these pictures taken in the first place.  I find that there is dual physical and physiological well-being in wearing anything I make for myself.  Thus, I hoped by making my own swimsuit that sense would extend into even a garment normally uncomfortable for me to wear.  I was not wrong!

Making your own swimwear is now something I can definitely recommend for anyone to try.  First make sure you are comfortable sewing with knit fabrics, however, but please do give it a go…especially if you can find yourself a copy of the same pattern I used.  You do not need much fabric – about ½ yard – (which means spending is a minimum) to end up with a big reward.  I completely understand why the nicest suits are so expensive though, now after making one.  They are challenging!  However, the risk is worth the possibility of the reward of a custom made swimsuit that can make you feel like a million dollars.  This suit is only the first in a new obsession of things I suddenly love to sew.  I have already made a 1960’s hot two-piece set, and have plans for about three more, including a golden 1950’s suit.  I need a pool membership at this rate, right?!

8 thoughts on “Diving into Swimwear!

  1. I love it! And you look great. Did you use any special elastic or hardware? We have a pool and live near the beach, so salt, sun, chlorine destroy both if these. And I know what you mean- my “good” suit cost a mint! I really want to learn this too, so thanks for posting- and posing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting and appreciating this post! It makes my day to hear it may help you to make your own fantastic swimwear. I had hoped my ‘bravery’ to pose for and write this post would be useful for others…

      I didn’t use any special hardware or sewing machine feet – just a ball point needle. The bra cups were labeled for swimwear. The elastic I used was whatever I had on hand – a combo of 1/4″ black poly elastic for the leg openings and a 1/2″ “ballet elastic” in a beige color for the rest of the suit. This pattern, though, and newer swimwear patterns, call for 3/8″ “swimwear elastic” which is cotton.

      The only other tip I forgot to add in my post was about the importance of trimming down all seams, especially where the elastic folds over a seam line. It get very bulky otherwise!

      Happy sewing! ❤
      Kelly

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You always look lovely in whatever you are wearing because you radiate pride knowing that you made the garment. I am so proud that my non-serger sewing hero was able to tackle a swimsuit from her sewing bucket-list! 👏. Hooray for pushing forward past your comfort zone. I am just in awe this morning. Thank you for leaving us with all your sewing notes. I too will have to add this to my own sewing list. I love a good RTW one-piece but they are hard to find in the stores that fit and as you said, have all the features that you want.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kindness and lovely comment, Florence!

      It’s great to hear that someone appreciates the fact I do not use a serger in my sewing. Realistically, it was the pattern itself that helped show me all the details I needed for using the zig-zag stitch on my swimsuit…otherwise I would have just been guessing and making do! I don’t miss having a serger, and now, with this swimsuit made, firmly believe I can do any project without one.

      I’d make me happy if this post indeed helps you tackle making your own swimwear. Happy pattern hunting…and then have fun sewing!

      Like

  3. The swimsuit is lovely on you, good job! I swim a lot and have sewn several swimsuits, including a Stretch and Sew pattern very similar to yours, complete with color blocking. (Mine is a leopard print top with black) I only have older machines, and using a twin needle on the edges to secure the elastic gives a professional finish that also stretches. Up until now my main problem sewing swimsuits has been frustration of the thread constantly jamming, despite special needles, special thread, tissue paper underneath and all the other tips I could find. However, this spring I got a 1977 Kenmore at a yard sale ($25!!) and it handles lycra/spandex great. New swimsuits are in the queue. (Near the end of it, but even so.) My ideas are for retro suits, so I look forward to your 1950’s iteration and any lessons learned.

    Like

  4. Stretchy things and swimsuits… definitely intimidating! It looks great! And so do you!

    I added what I think are the same bra cups to my 1920s swimsuit, and also just tacked them in a few places. I find that I appreciate the silhouette much more with them then without. 🙂 Sorry you poked yourself trying to figure out where to put them, but… I like to say that projects aren’t done until you bleed (and sometimes cry) on them. 😉

    Best,
    Quinn

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s