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.
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.
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.
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?!