Who’s up for sewing a bikini? Aw heck yisssss
So in a few days we start our Summer Dress in Double-Gauze sew-along. If you’re looking to schedule something for July, consider joining us in the Jalie-kini build! Jalie is one of my favorite pattern companies ever, with a large pattern size range, and an increasingly impressive catalog of print or pdf loungewear, dancewear, activewear, and underwear patterns.
There are general tips and suit sew-alongs on so many blogs and sewing sites (I’ve listed a few links below*). More than these posts, however, I’d recommend joining a few good support groups: Both Spandex Doesn’t Scare Me! and Sewing with Jalie are excellent resources. And of course – please by all means go ahead and Like my page, The Vegan Tailor, as I get back to questions quickly.
Now, if you’ve sewn with knits successfully for a while, sewing a swimsuit is going to be exciting. If you’re new to sewing knits, you might be a little overwhelmed! So to get started, I recommend the following:
1. Find the suit pattern you’d like to try. You can mix and match tops and bottoms, of course – check out my Patterns list below.
2. Choose your fabric and make a sketch. Email me for help with this!
3. Choose your elastic(s) and closures. You don’t have to use the elastic or closure methods recommended on the pattern; keep in mind if you make changes, you may have to change your seam allowances before you cut your fabrics.
Jalie patterns are so wonderful; a pattern of theirs was my first-ever swimsuit and I’ve loved them ever since. Two-piece Jalie patterns are as follows: 969, 2446, 3023, 3247, 3351, and if you like, the underwear pattern 3242. (You can find more one-piece options in either their swimwear or gymnastics catalog.)
I will be demonstrating bikini B from 2446, and the swimshorts from pattern 3351. Shown here in this post are the shorts and option C top for Jalie 3247, with a gathered front hack similar to that demonstrated by Dawn on her blog.
For best results, keep your eye out for a four-way stretch fabric. Four-way stretch means the fabric stretches along the crossgrain, the lengthwise grain, and recovers well (note: these terms can be very confusing, so don’t feel bad if you’re a bit lost!). Is it possible to draft a swimsuit from a 2-way stretch fabric? Why yes, it is! Is it beyond the scope of this sew-along! Probably, although I am always available for questions. To the extent you depart from a pattern instructions or a sew-along, just give yourself more time for your learning curve.
In general, you’ll want to use a fabric made of a blend of spandex (also called lycra or elastane) and nylon, and/or polyester. In a nutshell nylon and polyester are both strong, whereas spandex is supple and has good recovery. This is one of those wonderful things about fabrics: you can combine fiber technologies for the best of several worlds. For this sew-along, I will be demonstrating with a stretch velvet leopard print (oh I know, awesome huh?), in a polyester/spandex blend. The suit shown here is a spandex/nylon from Mill End Store, finished with fold-over elastic and cotton swimwear elastic at 3/8″.
This nine-minute video from Seamstress Erin is a pretty good primer on swimsuit knits. I especially appreciate her points about prints, and how they perform under stretch:
It isn’t strictly true that you can’t line with a two-way stretch fabric; you can. Which leads me into the final point on fabric – sewing with knits is as much art as science. I recommend you dive in with fabrics you love (you can always post here, or email for questions). Experience is the best teacher!
You also need a swimsuit lining, as I will be showcasing how to sew a suit that looks gorgeous on the inside as well as the outside!
Swimsuit lining is so inexpensive, and so versatile, you might as well buy a few types. For instance, for the white bikini shown here, I doubled up on the lining to prevent the suit from being sheer when wet. Also, keep in mind the lining doesn’t have to be as strong as the shell of the suilt. I am using a nylon lining from Spandex House; your local fabric chain will likely have have some, too. Finally: if you like, you can self-line the suit. This is a great option particularly if you know the suit won’t be sheer upon getting wet.
As to where to buy, the recent Curvy Sewing Collective post rounds up a few good resources for finding fabrics; in the comments people (including Yours Truly) have added a few more.
Don’t panic. The truth is, elastics aren’t rocket science. And it takes time and experience to achieve competence and confidence. And don’t worry, I have some wonderful tips for sewing elastic when we get there. For this suit, think about the look you want, and your comfort (and if you want to get seriously excited, check out the gorgeous FOEs on Etsy!). So pick the elastic style you like and when we get to tracing our pattern, I will help you plan for your elastic application. And finally: keep in mind different elastics perform differently in chlorine and seawater; general, cotton swimwear elastic or tunnel elastic amended with rubber, will give good results.
Notions & Et Cetera
In order of importance, for me:
Washaway stabilizer will deliver results with knits that are amazing. This stuff is not only fabulous for tissue and thin knits or sheers (knit or woven), it’s a livesaver for starting and finishing seams on delicate and/or stretchy fabrics. When it comes to this stuff, I am not playing. Yes, you can live without it. Of course. But why? I’ve seen people who own $3,000 sewing machines disparage the use of “fancy stabilizers”. “Fancy”? Because, um…? I have used many types – Vilene, unknown goofy things I find at the thrift store – but Sulky carries my favorites. I also use the Sulky Sticky Fabri Solvy (say that ten times fast!) as it is not only fabulous for applique and stabilizing, it is also printable (which can save loads of time when it comes to tracing motifs). I have a little bowl with squares of the stuff, and I use the cut-off scraps to paint seam allowances on fiddly fabrics. So anyway I am all set to marry washaway stabilizer, but let me get back to the sew-along!
The right needle. In general, in order of desirability: stretch, ballpoint, jersey, universal. Your stitch performance depends on your machine, your tension, your thread, your needle, your fabric, and your technique. Trust me, it is possible to have success! Get the right needle to give yourself the best chance of success.
Thread: polyester, stretch thread, or wooly-nylon. Avoid cotton, as it will not perform well over time and use. Again, experiment to find what you like. As per usual, higher-quality thread is best. But even Coats & Clark is fine.
And that’s it! Questions? Make sure to sign up for the sew-along! Email or comment for any questions you have:
Ready? See you July 1st!
* Some swimsuit sewing posts, in alphabetical order: the burdastyle DIY swimsuit post, Craftsy, the Closet Case Bombshell sew-along post, Pattern Review’s excellent member tip compillation, Seamwork, and SewMamaSew.
Would you recommend a power mesh for lining to add more support?
Yes! Power mesh merely makes the garment, or section of the garment, sturdier. The suit shown here, there are three layers instead of one, which also provides extra “support” (but was done to keep garment from being sheer while wet.
This top, however, without cups or wires, isn’t especially “supportive” – or at least not in the way an underwire bra is. I recommend you give yourself time to experiment with the mesh lining and see what you like.