Is it bikini time? I believe so!
We’ve assembled our supplies; today we are cutting and marking our suit, and talking a bit about sewing swimwear fabrics with stabilizer!
First: this isn’t your typical sew-along, as several of us are making all kinds of swimsuits. I’m currently in an email back-and-forth with a woman sewing up Jalie’s 3134, a racerback swimsuit that (if you remember) was my first-ever swimsuit back in 2013. My friend Gwen is cutting merrily – several suit patterns I am not. As a reminder, I am demonstrating bikini B from 2446, and the swimshorts from pattern 3351. But I am here to help you with all your swimsuit-stitching needs!
I’m making my bikini in a stretch velvet, with a snow-leopard print. Because I like to be subtle and understated, hee hee! And I want to talk a bit about cutting this fabric, as it is both a napped fabric and a large and/or novelty print – the latter meaning that the print is large or noticeable enough that you need to cut with regards to symmetry (the same is true for stripes that are larger than about 1/8″). The nap means, I will want to cut all the pattern pieces with the top of the pattern piece (think collar vs shirt hem, or waist versus hem) directionally along the lengthwise grain in a consistent fashion.
Shown here, you can see the swimsuit cups and the briefs are cut with regards to the stripes of the tiger print (this is most obvious through the center of the briefs). Although this is not a particularly obvious detail, believe me it makes for a more pleasing appearance to the eye, and will be part of what grants your swimsuit so many compliments. If you are cutting with a large and/or novelty print, the extra time it takes to cut properly, is worth it!
So here’s an example of how I go about this. Below, I will be cutting out a band strap across the grain in a 24″ wide strip – coincidentally, the same length as one of my large plastic rulers. It is my goal, with this print, to cut every strap piece entirely symmetrical. So in this case, I put the 12″ mark of my rule right in the middle of one of the dark grey bands of the fabric, like so:
Shown below: the front of the Jalie 3351 swim shorts pattern. It is always okay to cut in one layer, especially if you’re not used to slippery fabrics. But you can in fact double up the fabric when cutting pieces, and still keep the garment symmetrical: I just need to make sure to fold the fabric right in the middle of a pattern motif (as I demonstrated back when we painstakingly cut out our plaid flannel shirt):
Now let’s talk a bit about cutting!
You may notice I cut with the rotary blade. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t. Cutting curves with a rotary blade takes practice. Just be careful! I have not cut myself (knock on wood) – and that’s the most important thing.
When cutting something “spongey” like this velvet, or some of the polyester-based swimwear, I have found it wise to rotary cut while applying pressure right near the blade. (I know, I know, I just told you to be careful. Maybe source some cut-proof gloves, if you’re nervous!) For most fabrics I apply this pressure with a ruler near the blade, using my body weight vertically above the blade. However with slippery fabrics – this stretch velvet is about as mobile as fabrics come! – the ruler will still drag the fabric. So I use my fingers to apply pressure near the cutting blade, and go slow and steady:
Once you’ve cut your fabrics, go ahead and mark them (I use 1/8″ snips for these suits), and set the pieces aside. At this point I like to fold up my source fabric and tidy up my space. But if you think you might need more fabric later, go ahead and leave it out!
One of the questions I’ve received recently is about washaway stabilizer. What is it, and why use it?
As to the “what”. Washaway stabilizer is commonly used for embroidery projects (machine or hand). It provides – as you can guess – stabilization to form a more even or firm stitch. It then washes out with water, making it (in my opinion) usually a better option than paper (less mess, too!).
My love of washaway stablizer is well-documented. But let me give you some pictorial evidence of why this will be fun to use for our suit. And while we’re at it, now is a good time to practice stitching with some scraps.
So first – in joining elastics, as we do before inserting elastic into the legs of our briefs. I like to abut the elastic ends together, and place this soon-to-be-seam on top of a little square of stabilizer:
I then stitch with a tight, wide zig zag (0.5mm length and 2.5mm width) to join these two lengths together. I am being a smarty pants here and joining all four of my elastics together (the two for the bikini brief, and the two for the lining in the swim shorts); I am also using black thread for visibility, for your sake:
Here’s the finished result! No overlap, bulk, or goofy mis-alinged elastic. You can simply trim away that stabilizer; the tiny bit that remains in the seam will wash out on first wear. This is especially handy when sewn in the same color as the elastic; your elastic join is invisible and can’t be felt:
Here’s another use for stabilizer: starting and finishing seams. This is an area I often want a very firm backstitch, and yet to backstitch here often means distorting the fabric, or even sucking it down into the feed dogs (as me how maddening this is!). If I use a little square of stabilizer, I can backstitch as much as I like, with good results:
And finally – providing stabilization in bulky seams. Shown bewlow, the topstitched join of shoulder straps on to the bound edges of the cups (yes – skipping ahead a bit!). This is a seam that would easily distort while stitching, but with stabilizer I can stitch several times forward and backwards, and keep a straight line:
Hopefully I’ve sold you on stabilizer – it is incredibly fun!
Now let’s talk stitching. You have a few options. One, is to sew construction seams with a straight seam, using a stretch thread or wooly nylon. And yes, if you’re like me and you’ve been stitching knits with a zig-zag forever, using a straight stitch on a knit FEELS CRAY-CRAY! But the stretchy thread really means it works. As demonstrated below:
And have no fear – I will be telling you which stitch I use and why, every step of the way!
So by tomorrow, you should have your pieces cut and marked, and have played around with your stitching a bit on some scraps. Sewing swimwear is often about getting used to the fabric(s) used! On Saturday the 2nd, we’ll get started constructing a bikini top. I made quite a few changes to my top, and I’ll be highlighting how creative swimwear-sewing really is.
See you tomorrow!