Within the last few years, I have become a greater fan of enjoying summer with some fun in the water. For far too long I have been overly self-conscious to fully enjoy or even desire some pool time, whether public or private. My first ‘dive’ into sewing my own swimwear last year (see my 1989 swimsuit posted here) helped me realize that crafting my own bathing suit bestowed loads of self-confidence. I never thought I could have this much enjoyment when daring to be baring extra skin! This year, I am more about enjoying lazing in the sun fashionably while playing in the water just enough to stay cool, yet still keep my hair and face dry. Following suit, I crated a bold burgundy two-piece set next…who am I anymore!?!
The 1980s swimsuit of last year bestowed me with an extra dose of experimentalism and I was in the mood for something I would never try to wear unless I had made it myself! I love how my newest bathing suit turned out. It is everything I could have hoped for and something I never knew I could enjoy so much!
All this being said, an undercurrent that will not completely go away is that I am still generally uncomfortable to post myself in a swimsuit, for all my maker’s pride. Please go easy on me with any judgment or estimation of my figure, and maybe I can find it easier to be gentle on myself.
FABRIC: burgundy solid matte finish nylon-spandex blend fabric lined in a beige toned athletic wear stretch polyester, with a thin foam “interfacing” layered into the brassiere
NOTIONS NEEDED: lots of thread, four buttons, and non-roll poly elastic
TIME TO COMPLETE: The top half took me about 8 to 10 hours to make, while I spent 4 hours to finish making the bottoms. Both were completed in July 2021
TOTAL COST: The burgundy solid was bought from “Fluky Fabrics” shop on Etsy (specializing in athletic and swimwear material), while the nude lining was bought from my local JoAnn Fabric store. One yard of the burgundy solid cost me $15 while the beige poly was about $8 and the interfacing about $5. My total cost was a reasonable under $30.
Louis Reard’s design for a 2-piece swimsuit, which he named the bikini, was introduced to the Paris media and general public on July 5, 1946. I figured this anniversary was as good of an excuse as any to finally share my version and kick off my summer posts here on the blog! Granted, my bathing suit is just that and not ‘technically’ a bikini. The term bikini has evolved to designate swimwear that is not only two pieces, which leaves an exposed midriff, but also having separated cups in the brassiere, often only connected by spaghetti straps or sturdy string. My suit pieces have more decent amount of coverage than that, and the top is definitely substantial besides being one piece with no strings other than neck-shoulder ties. It is said Louis Reard declared in his advertisements that a two-piece suit wasn’t a genuine bikini “unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring.” I am not that daring…so this is going to be a lined, padded, and tailored bathing suit set and not a proper bikini!
First of all, I need to point out that the pattern I used, being vintage from 1960, was meant for a woven fabric like cotton, denim, or linen. I interpreted it with a modern super stretchy swimsuit knit. My immediate solution to make such a fabric substitute possible was to choose one size smaller than what would pair up with my body measurements according to the chart. As a knit requires negative ease, usually you can go two whole sizes down when working with a stretch out of a pattern made for woven material. I did not want too snug of a suit, and the pattern envelope back points out this design is already “close fitting”, so I only went down one size, instead. You can always take seams in but you’re restricted when it comes to letting seams out!
After I had finished my bathing set, I later found out that the UK magazine “Love Sewing” had featured the “Thrifty Stitcher” – aka Claire-Louise Hardie, the first and original Sewing Producer & Mastermind for The Great British Sewing Bee – who had done a similar ‘woven-to-stretch’ conversion to this Vogue #9255 vintage reissue. Hardie slightly modernized the shape of the two bathing pieces, though, while I kept close to the vintage design. I am a big fan of her color blocked idea, nevertheless.
Looking at some vintage inspiration of patterns and photographs, it seems that this style of bathing suit was pretty common and popular for the time. My favorite example of a similar suit is in this 1962 photo of the Hollywood actress, singer, and animal rights activist Doris Day with her fellow actress June Allyson. Doris Day had another striped two piece suit in a wardrobe test (see picture here) for the 1962 movie “That Touch of Mink”. For yet another example coming from Hollywood, the main character Midge in the popular television series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” had a two piece suit that is the most similar to the Vogue reprint pattern. Midge’s blue and white polka dotted suit is in Season two, episode four, and supposedly takes place in the summer of 1959.
In all, I love this style of suit for the almost shorts-like cut of the bottoms, and the high waistline which lands above the belly button, something I am used to from regularly wearing vintage styles. Ingenious but unexpected back booty darts which radiate from the hem shape the bottoms closely into the body. The top is dissimilar enough from lingerie (so it’s not a nagging afterthought that I’m in public wearing my underwear) with a moderate amount of coverage. This pairing was the only way I can feel comfortable easing myself into a two piece suit.
I made the pattern as it was from out of the envelope, with a few minor tweaks and customized additions. For full booty coverage, I slashed and spread open the pattern as well as extending the hem length by an inch. I added an extra 5/8” to let the waist have an extra allowance for turning the elastic inside twice. Then, I made the top straps longer than given and left them free so I could have multiple tying options. The only weird part to this design may be the gathering ties at the front center to the top. The pattern said the leave a gap in the center front seam, and that just seemed fussy so I sewed it together. I hand tacked the center front tie to the underside, which makes it merely a decorative touch at this point, albeit one I really don’t know what to do with. The material is too spongy to go in a bow, and it is too bulky for a nice knot. I may come back in the future and do something different to the center front tie of this swim top.
Finally, as an inner layer to the swim top (as mentioned in “The Facts” above), I added a thin foam bought from my local fabric store in the interfacing section. It is slightly stretchy, poly knit mesh covered, and a scant 1/8” thick, much like whatever is used to make the sew-in, pre-made brassiere cups you buy in the notions sections of the fabric store. I have seen this stuff technically called “polylaminate foam”. I know most vintage original swimwear of pre-1965 had hard cups, but I was going for a ‘soft-with-structure’ ideal here by using the foam support. With a dual button closure in the center back, I figured the rest of the top and not just the cups probably needed foam for further stabilization. This was a good idea, but maybe not the best idea – too much foam means the top holds water all over. Even still, the swim top turned out better for the extended use of the foam. It was easy to work with, nicely dense, and something I can definitely recommend using.
Both bottom and top are fully lined in the beige toned athletic poly using the bag method so all raw edges are hidden for a smooth feel against my skin and professional appearance. I don’t actually remember if I was going rogue from the pattern for such a finish. I hate to admit that I didn’t refer to the instructions much at all but used the skills I learned from my first swimsuit. The sizing was spot on (once I sized down on account of my swimwear knit) so I didn’t have to spend additional time on fitting tweaks. Just like my last foray into sewing swimwear, this project was also surprisingly easy and finished before I knew it. This kind of sewing is quite addictive.
Looking back on my set now that it is done, I wish I had done better on some of the construction and finishing details. At the same time, I don’t know what precisely could make it better than it is because it fits me great, is insanely comfortable, and is everything I could ever want from a two piece bathing suit. I specifically went with this burgundy solid color because it would help pair with a full coverage “rash-guard” swim shirt I have had for years, besides matching with some other two piece sets I now plan on sewing in the future (from the 1970s and 1940s, for a hint). Thus, sewing my 1960 two piece suit appeased the insanely practical side of me, too!
I don’t think this looks homemade for all my gripes, nor does it look too old fashioned for being a vintage design (not that I really care all that much about public estimation of my fashion choices, anyways). I just love sewing my own “dream pieces” – garments that I have always wanted to wear and enjoy but never could when dependent on buying ready-to-wear! I also love finding out that the dream swimwear is more accessible than expected due to the reasonable cost of needing only ½ yard and the ease of a simple pattern. If this is only my second go around with swimwear and I am still thrilled, I can’t wait until my third try…three time’s a charm, as the saying goes, right? Since I have all the fabric and supplies needed for it, maybe I’ll tackle making a golden lamé 1950’s pinup inspired swimsuit next (using this Gertie pattern).
We now have a pool membership so I can have more opportunities to enjoy my (now two) different handmade bathing suits this summer! Natural water sources are the most peaceful and beautiful, but can be either dirty, dangerous, or full of bugs and critters, so a man-made pool is good for a safer (but sometimes crowded) option. This natural waterfall and pond down a rocky ledge was too pretty to pass up as a photo opportunity! What water do you prefer to play in – natural water sources or man-made pools?
I hope you enjoyed yet another post of my custom made swim wear. Making your own bathing suit certainly carries a real “wow” factor. As a consumer driven society, many people forget about the process – all garments have to be made in some way or another! Even still, bathing suits definitely do seem like an alien project compared to sewing a simple hair scrunchie. Both items are basically crafted the same way – by a human harnessing thread and material into something useful and creative. Be it suit coats, swimsuits, pillowcases, or hats, I see them all as merely a different version of the same sewing. This mindset gets me through my tough or intimidating projects. Maybe it can help you conquer your sewing challenges? Please do consider making swimwear for yourself. I dare say, you will be in for a treat!