“Azure Tropics” Mid-1960s Bathing Suit

It is now September and I’m sad that it’s time the public pools are closed, the summer heat is waning, and the official start of our fall season is not far away.  I love the summer season, and hate to see it go, but September is happily National Sewing Month, at least.  Thus, I’ll see off the summer of ‘22 here on my blog by sharing one last swimwear set.  I squeezed this project in before the end of August for our last visit to the public pool. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a modern, very dense, stretch poly print for the fashion exterior and the inside lining material was a 92% poly & 8% spandex content

PATTERN:  Vogue #6175, featured in the pattern book for April/May of 1964 as well as the pattern book for December 1964/January 1965

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, a waistline’s length of elastic, and a handful of buttons

TIME TO COMPLETE:  about 12 hours in total time – this was finished in the end of July 2022

THE INSIDES:  all raw edges are cleanly hidden inside the lining, so it looks so perfect inside

TOTAL COST:  The printed swim material was something I have had on hand in my stash for far too long to remember its cost anymore, but at half a yard I probably bought it at a very good deal!  All the other notions I used were from the stash I inherited from my Grandmother.  The two tank tops for the lining as well as the foam bra cups were my only true cost and came to a total of $8.00…how amazing is that!

I know I had said in a previous post I hoped to go all out and make a golden 1950s style Butterick #6067 by Gertie this year.  I ended up not having the time or energy for something so involved…and just succumbed to sewing a relatively easy two-piece set even bolder – but from the same era – as my last bathing suit (posted here).  With each swimwear piece I make, I am experimenting with techniques to improve the quality of something as inherently tricky as swimwear is to make.  Now I can proudly say this set is the best I have done with swimwear yet.  This doesn’t feel handmade – it feels deluxe.  It is so comfortable and easy to wear.  The print is so fun, too (though sadly our pictures aren’t showing how blue the colors are in real life)!  It is has such complimentary design lines that are interesting yet subtle and so tasteful – something which melds well into feeling like a very modern interpretation of a vintage style.

I love how the design is just slightly more risqué than my last two piece of 1960.  The skimpier top is just enough to ease me into a proper bikini, yet there is still a high waistline and full coverage fit to the bottom half that I am comfortable wearing.  My husband actually surprised me with this swimsuit pattern one day about 5 years ago – it was something he picked up when stopping at a local antique store – so I suppose this was obviously a vintage sewing project that equally appeals to both of us!  True love is when your better half encourages your passions, in this case my sewing.  He knows how ridiculously happy I get over sewing supplies.  He was hoping it was from a year that I needed at pattern from, and was so close to being spot-on – this pattern is from 1964 and I was needing something from 1965.  I have since found an appealing 1965 pattern to use in the future to fill that blank spot in my decade page, but can we all give my hubby a hand for having a good trained eye?  I must be wearing off on him, he he.

You can tell I am getting more at ease with sewing swimwear because I had to re-work some ready-to-wear items just to finish sewing this set.  Once something becomes a refashion project, you know there is a good story behind that project.  Nothing will stop me when I have a mission on my mind and a project idea I desire to see fulfilled sooner than later!  You see, I have specific blocks of free time for sewing, so that free time of mine often happens to be in evenings when the local fabric stores are closed.  That often does not stop me because I have a good stash that almost always has what I need in an emergency sewing situation. 

This time, I realized halfway through that I did not have plain white lining material for the inside of my swim set pieces.  I only had one more free evening to complete my swimsuit before we would have another open evening to go visit the pool.  I am getting good at estimating how much time my sewing projects will take and realized I could only finish the suit if I had found what fabric I needed that night.  I had this new suit in my craw and needed to see it done!  The knowledge that I had everything else on hand ready to be assembled was reason enough to go out of my way to sew what I did not technically need.  Why do I sometimes decide what I want to wear from out of my fabric stash instead of my actual wardrobe?!?

We stopped by our local 24-hour Wal-Mart store – I dislike setting foot in this store otherwise, so it proves how crazy and determined I was.  Where there is a will, there is a way, as the saying goes.  My husband (again) aided my project by finding some athletic wear tank tops which were perfectly suited to be swimsuit lining.  Clothes can be regarded as supplies just the same as raw cut material!  They were soft brushed in finish, with the right fiber content, and there were only two side seams to the tank tops – simple enough to fit more than one pattern piece.  Two tops were enough to do the job.

Then, I found a discounted sports bra that I could cannibalize the removable foam liner cups from to use for my swimsuit project as well.  This swim top was going to have soft, minimal structure and the little foam cups – stitched directly onto the lining during construction – were there just to keep a level of decency.  My swim set ended up better for cobbling my supplies from ready-to-wear than if I would have shopped at the fabric store. 

I love how challenging circumstances can squeeze out a whole new level of creativity that creates a pride in my sewing more than if I had gone about things in a conventional way.  Once I begin to see swimwear as not all that alien to garment sewing after all, and only that it merely needs certain materials that are not my everyday supplies, I was able to turn my bikini into a refashion project.  Seeing it this way not only saved the project but also saved lots of money (at $3 per tank top) and I was able to enjoy my new suit for our last pool visit after all.  Sewing saves my sanity and this newest suit gave me my necessary creative passion for that week, but getting to a good final place was really challenging.  Hubby was a very helpful project assistant this time, without which I would have had a different week! 

I didn’t use the old instructions and instead did some modifications to level up many aspects to this old pattern using what I have learned from the last two swim suits I have made.  Firstly, this bathing set is my first to have no visible stitching showing.  Leaving off the top stitching is contrary to what I feel like doing (I still want to think I need to stabilize every seam to the max for swimwear) but is one small step which really creates a smooth fitting suit with a professional finish.  This is something not just to be appreciated at a close distance (thank goodness)! 

Then, I adapted the bodice to the bathing suit to be a true front wrap closure for ease of dressing.  The pattern calls for a mock wrap front with a button closing back, but I did that closure for my last suit and was not completely thrilled with the results.  Doing the suit my way makes it truly unique, too.  I tried to do an internet search for a wrap-on swimsuit and couldn’t find anything.  Now, that idea may sound like an invitation to a wardrobe malfunction in the water, but I made sure the closures would be secure yet also versatile in fit.  There is a line of buttons along each wrap end so I can vary the sizing depending on how I feel like wearing the top, and I made a sturdy chain loop.  Flat buttons, sewn down very tightly, also make the loop closure more secure as well.  There is enough stretched tension in the wrapped swim top that I am confident when I wear it.  The success with which it stays in place on me in the water was really tested out when I went for a trip down the big water slide!

Before any cutting out or sewing could happen, though, I had to dramatically resize the original 1964 pattern, figuring how to make it work for a stretchy modern swim material.  First, I traced out all the pattern pieces I needed onto sheer medical paper.  Next, I added in 4 inches to grade the size up for a proper fit.  Then, I subtracted the “wearing ease” so my pattern would be compatible to working with a stretch rather than a woven.  I kind of knew how to figure this out after doing my 1960 two-piece set (posted here).  It’s a good thing the pieces were so small to work with because otherwise this step would have been a pain.  Even with grading up, I was surprised that everything fit onto my small ½ yard cut of swimwear material…just like all the rest of the swimwear I have made!

I portioned out the making of my suit in easy increments.  First, the pattern tracing, re-sizing, and cutting out took two hours altogether.  The assembly of the top and bottom in the printed swimwear took 2 hours, then doing the same thing to the white lining was another two hours.  Tweaking the final fit of the pieces took an hour, while bagging the lining and the printed swimwear together took 3 hours to stitch, clip, and turn inside out and adjust.  Finally, another two hours went into all the finishing touches. 

My husband took a good amount of time to avoid me having a meltdown when my water soluble ink pens were not washing out of my finished suit.  I recently tried out some LEONIS brand marking pens and it seems that between the fact they were new and I was working with polyester, the blue ink is mostly gone but still a bit of a permanent shadow.  The time I spent in the pool was the only way that most of the markings came out.  I do not recommend the pens at all.  Nevertheless, I do highly recommend sewing your own swimwear – I have only had good experiences doing so, and what I make always turns out fantastic and wonderful to wear.  Sewing in small increments – yet getting something significant done at each step – makes creating swimwear capable for anyone, even the most time crunched person! 

Swimwear is something so particularly suited to the personal tastes of each individual, yet buying just what you may want to wear for some fun in the sun may be non-existent or just something that could easily burn through a budget.  I hate to be repetitive, but seriously – creating swimwear is everything that sewing is all about, and definitely not as hard as it looks once you know what materials to use for success.  I know summer may be past for where I live but it is yet to come for the hemisphere opposite of me, so hopefully this post will inspire someone to find their own dream swim suit to sew.  What (if any) are your plans for the rest of National Sewing Month?  

1960 Two-Piece Bathing Suit

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.

THE FACTS:

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

PATTERN:  Vintage Vogue #9255, a 2017 reprint of a 1960 design, originally Vogue #9996

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. 

Butt darts!! There I said it.

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.

My fur baby is never far from me when I am sewing!

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!