Seamstress Erin joined us this spring for the Kanzashi Wall Clock tutorial and the Oakshott Lipari Patchwork Tote Challenge. Erin does it all with sewing, knitting, quilting and biochemistry too! After she sewed her recent Bombshell Bikini we asked Erin to give us some swimsuit sewing tips. She rounded up ideas from a whole group of talented swimsuit sewists! You’ll want to break out the Spandex after all of this inspiration… Our Favorite Indie Sewing Patterns series kicked off today with the Bombshell Swimsuit; be sure to comment on that post for a chance to win a free pattern.
Swimsuits are often considered one of those “holy grails” of sewing. Sewists don’t want to tackle them because they’re worried about finding good patterns, or sewing with challenging fabric, or knowing the right construction techniques. But you can (and should!) stretch yourself (ha ha, get it?) to sew a swimsuit this summer.
Carolyn of Handmade by Carolyn in McCalls 2772
To encourage and inspire you, I– SeamstressErin– have gathered tips and inspiration from a bunch of different sewing bloggers. Click on any of their pictures to be taken to their full blog posts about their finished suits. And pour yourself a glass of lemonade or ice tea, since you’re going to want to spend some time soaking in (another pun, ha!) what these inspiring ladies have shared!
Kat of Modern Vintage Cupcakes in Papercut Soma Swimsuit
Why Sew Your Own?
- “I drafted my suit from scratch. I wasn’t seeing anything out there that had exactly what I wanted, so I made it up. It took time self-drafting, but it was worth it. Making your own swimsuit isn’t necessarily cheaper than buying one. At least, not if you value your time. With the time I spent on this suit, it’s a $900 suit. It took me over 12 hours to draft everything perfectly for that flawless fit. HOWEVER, I would have spent the same amount of time in a fitting room, feeling discouraged about my body shape. Instead of spending hours thinking my boobs are too small or my legs are too big, I spent hours understanding my body shape. I came out of the experience feeling more confident and happy with the body God gave me than ever before.” –Melissa
- “I’ve sewn quite a few pairs of bathers for myself; that’s what we call them here by the way, and now couldn’t ever consider buying RTW (ready to wear) ones ever again… The reason? My own fit me perfectly, of course! When it comes to fitting your own bathers, there’s just no substitute for actually trying the things on during the construction process and pinning adjustments in the relevant spots that need it, and this means inevitably getting a few pin pricks in the process unfortunately! The upside is that you can draw those alterations onto to your own pattern and thus have your own perfectly custom fit pattern awaiting you next year. – Carolyn
Shannon of Shanniloves in Vintage Simplicity 5644 Swimsuit
- “Try to get a nice medium weight, matte Lycra/swimwear fabric– something that feels more substantial and has less shine to it. Less shine will mean less slippage while sewing, and as any dancer knows, a stretch with good recovery and no reflection will boost your beach confidence by leaps and bounds.” – Oona
- “Choosing the right fabric is very important when sewing swimwear. You need four-way stretch (just think of your poor crotch if you don’t!) and spandex. These fabrics were made to be worn wet, and to dry quickly. You also need a lining. For a child’s suit, there’s not as much concern about support. (Lucky children, their bodies are naturally firm and muscular.) So you can use a finer, lighter mesh-like lining and be OK. For myself, I would call in the big guns, and use a lining with a bit more lift-and-seperate power. The tradeoff though is a heavier-weight lining will not dry out as quickly. So expect your apres-swim shorts to sport a wetspot for the walk home.” – Suzanne
Lucinda of Sew Wrong in Kwik-Sew 4003 Swimsuit
- “Spandex quality varies, just like any other fabric. For a Spandex that has the pattern printed on to the fabric, when it stretches you can see the white base, and the fabric has a stiffer feel because of the printing directly on the fabric. A yarn dyed spandex has a more fluid, softer hand because the colors and pattern are knitted into the fabric. The same swimsuit out of two different Spandexes fits and feels differently because of these fabric characteristics.” – Lucinda
- “Swimwear is a project you can have fun with. For me all the fun lies in picking out the fabric. I’m a 9-5’er by day so this is my chance to step out of the basic office neutrals and really have some fun with bright colors and/or bold prints. One of my favorite online places to shop for swimsuit fabric is at The Fabric Fairy. They have a broad selection of Nylon/Lycra fabric in fun prints and bright solids. A couple of other favorites are Girl Charlee and Spandex House.” – Shannon
Oona of Oonaballoona in Closet Case Files Bombshell Swimsuit
- “Use your bust measurement without a bra on to get a true bust measurement and idea of what size pattern you need to make; bras have padding and underwires that change the shape and measurement of our bust (at least mine do, ha ha!). – Lucinda
Meg of Meg Made This with Ohhh Lulu’s Ginger Panties (bottoms)
and Pin-Up Girls’ Classic Full-Band Bra #1200 (top)
- “A rotary cutter is your best friend when cutting out Spandex! It makes a smooth, clean edge and prevents the fabric from slipping around when you’re cutting out the pattern. It’s much easier than using fabric shears.” – Lucinda
Lauren of Lladybird in Papercut Soma Swimsuit
- “Don’t want to insert bra cups but would like a little extra support and coverage? I decided to just cut multiple layers of lining for the bra cups and use that as a sort of padding. I think there are a total of four layers of lining on the bra cups (three for padding, one for the outer layer), plus the actual swimsuit fabric. By doing this, I was able to follow the instructions as written, I just had a little more bulk to deal with. Trimming the bulk down and then topstitching made everything lie nice and smooth.” – Lauren
- “When it’s time to start sewing up that fun fabric remember to use a brand new stretch needle. You will also find a walking foot to be super helpful. The regular pressure foot can smoosh the fabric too much causing wavy or uneven seams. The walking foot will feed the fabric evenly to prevent this. Don’t fear the swimsuit! Take your time and have fun with it. You’ll be laying on the beach in no time.” – Shannon
Erin of SeamstressErin in Closet Case Files Bombshell (bottoms) and Self Drafted (top) Swimsuit
- “If you’ve never tried sewing a swimsuit before, it’s far easier than you might think! And can even be done fully on a sewing machine (no need for a serger/overlocker). The instructions from the PaperCut Soma Swimsuit taught me a great way to attach fold-over elastic; just like with bias binding stitch one side down, then fold over and stitch down the other side. Simple! (And a heck of a lot easier than trying to attach it all in one go!)” – Kat
- “Consider inserting some plastic boning into your bikini top to help it hold its shape when wet. Slip the boning in between the fabric and the lining next to a construction seam, and then sew another line of stitching next to the construction seam through both layers of fabric to create a channel for the boning.” – Erin
- “Do you or your kid need to wear a swim cap? Consider using your fabric scraps to sew Suzanne of Beau Baby’s free swim cap pattern for a fun matching set.” – Suzanne
- “Are you sensitive to the sun or want a bit of extra coverage? Make yourself a rash guard. I recently used a t-shirt pattern from Hey June to sew myself a rash guard and have a tip for you. I like my rash guards to be fitted so they don’t droop, drag and move around when I’m in the water. Because of this, you should size down or take the sides of the pattern in a bit, or both.” – Teresa
Teresa of Dandelion Drift in Hey June Rash Guard
- “For an alternative to fold-over-elastic, try this finished leg seam technique:
1. Cut a binding that encases the elastic, plus room for seam allowances.
2. Right sides together, sew the binding to the leg opening, stretching slightly as you sew (can be serged or zig-zagged).
3. Flip the binding to the inside, and stitch it in place using a zig-zag stitch.
4. I did this all the way around the leg openings for a nice, clean finish.
I found this much more satisfying than turning the fiddly hems under twice, and sturdy enough for activewear.” — Meg
Finished Leg Seams at Meg Made This
The lovely ladies in this post represent a variety of swimsuit patterns: Closet Case Files Bombshell, Papercut Soma, Prudent Baby One Piece (for kids), Kwik-Sew 4003, Vintage Simplicity 5644, out-of-print McCalls 2772 and self-drafted. Other patterns you might want to check out are McCalls 5400, Jalie 3350 and Jalie 2447. If you have a favorite underwear pattern, like Simplicity 1426 or Ohh Lulu Lili, those work great too!
Melissa of I Still Love You in Self Drafted Swimsuit