At The Makehouse: Swimwear Basics
Swimwear Basics is a 3-part workshop at The Makehouse where I learned how to make my own swimsuit. This workshop was an ultra-fun adventure in learning to make swimwear. Jenny Ambrose (founder of The Makehouse) taught this workshop and shared oodles of knowledge, tips and suggestions about how to make your swimsuit best fit you.
This workshop started with selecting a pattern from The Makehouse's pattern library. I found a cute vintage style one piece with a tie in the back. Next steps were to trace out the pattern onto tracing cloth, take our own measurements, and adjust the pattern as needed. Then we were tasked to make a mock-up of the swimsuit with spare swimwear fabric to check the size and fit. After checking our mock-up and making the necessary changes it was time to trace out final fabrics and start cutting out pieces.
For my swimsuit, I decided to line it with swimwear fabric rather than just netting so there would be more structure and support. When your swimsuit gets wet, the water will weigh it down. No one wants a saggy suit. Using swimwear fabric for the lining created a sturdier bodice throughout for the one piece.
To sew our swimsuits, we used a lightning bolt stitch (looks like a lightning bolt on your machine) which is the best type of stretch stitch for swimwear fabric because it provides enough give without having the threads break. One of the most important things when sewing our swimsuits was to baste the pieces together before taking them to the machine. This means hand sewing a long running stitch along all the seams to prevent the pieces of fabric from shifting when sewing them together on the machine.
To make my swimsuit I made the lining and the outer shell separately so it was like I had two swimsuits. Once I had the inner and outer swimsuits, I basted those together through the armholes, leg holes, and the neckline. Then it was time to use the serger. The last time I used a serger was in high school about 8 years ago. I have to say that I love the serger. It is the best way to bind stretch fabrics. It also leaves a clean edge since it cuts any excess fabric off. Once my inner and outer layers were serged together, it started to really look like a swimsuit!
After the edges were serged it was important to try on the swimsuit again for fit so that any adjustments could be made. I had a bit of gapping around the back neckline and the legs but that could be fixed with elastic.
To sew in the elastic, we measured it for the space it was going in then subtracted an amount depending on the ease we wanted to remove. Then the elastic was pinned in quarters so that the stretch was evenly dispersed around the opening. For pinning elastic, it is best to put your pin through twice to create a solid anchor for stretching out the elastic when sewing. After the elastic was pinned we used a large zigzag to attach the elastic. It was important to try to evenly stretch the elastic with a bit of tension while sewing. Sewing with elastic is definitely a skill that takes practice. Make sure to practice on some scrap fabric before sewing elastic to your final project. After the elastic was sewn in, we turned over the edges so that the elastic would now be hidden. At this point, you have a choice to either do a three-step zig zap or to use a twin needle. This all comes down to the look that you want your swimsuit to have. I opted for a twin needle. I had never used a twin needle before and I found it fun and easy to use. There is the chance that threads can get tangled since it requires two separate spools being threaded through the machine. Just make sure to carefully thread your machine and to test out your twin needle on stretch fabric before using it on your garment.
Voila! A swimsuit! I am super happy with mine. I love that it is my own unique style and colours. The contrasting back is one of my favourite parts.
Tips for sewing swimwear:
- Use a stretch needle. It will depend on your machine, but a universal needle is not the best for swimwear fabric. Using a stretch needle will make sure that the stitches don’t skip, and it won’t snag the fabric.
- Use a polyester thread. It is best to use a synthetic thread because cotton thread will break down too fast with the chlorine and sea salt that your swimsuit is being submerged in. Using a polyester thread will extend your swimsuit’s life
- Baste your pieces together. This is one of the most important tips when sewing swim fabrics together. Basting your seams will make sure that your pieces don’t shift while you are sewing them on the machine. Take the time to do this and save yourself some wonky seams and headaches from having to rip threads out of stretch fabrics.
- Use a serger to bind your seams. If you are using netting for your lining you will bind this right onto each of your structural pieces before sewing the shape of the suit together. For netting you will definitely want to use a serger. For my swimwear fabric lined suit, I only used a serger for my finished edges because I didn’t have any seam edges that would be against the body. The serger will leave a nicer edge feel for being against the body rather than a bulky rough edge. The serger will also be the best for allowing ease and stretch without seams ripping in the swimsuit.
- Test out the elastic you want to use. I used a skinny cotton elastic for all my seams but there are a variety of different types of elastic that could be used for swimwear from plastic to cotton. Plastic elastics are a lot harder to sew into the suit but won’t break down as fast. They are also not as earth conscious, so it really comes down to choice. I used a skinny cotton elastic which I found nice and easy to work with on the machine.
- Pin your elastic in quarters. This will make sure that the stretch is distributed evenly or in a way that will provide the best fit. For instance, in leg holes, it is best to have a bit more tension through the bum so there won’t be any sagging when the suit gets wet and less through the front of the legs so you don’t cut off your circulation. However, make sure there is not too much tension through the bum, no one older than four wants a swimsuit that puckers in the bum.
- Watch your edges. Sew your elastic so that you won’t have an edge peeking out when the elastic is turned over. This will create a more professional looking garment.
- Have fun! Sewing a swimsuit can be stressful. It is important to take your time and have patience with the fabrics and elastics. Sew your suit in chunks rather than all at once as well and troubleshoot by asking questions or looking up things on YouTube.
The Swimwear Basics workshop was full of invaluable information. Jenny offers so much advice, feedback, and support throughout the process. It is so cool to have your own swimsuit at the end that actually fits and is your own unique style. I love my swimsuit and will definitely be making more in the future. The next swimwear workshop starts July 14th and you can always check in with the workshop calendar on The Makehouse website for other swimwear workshops. Swimwear Basics is the perfect summer sewing workshop. With your own unique swimsuit made for your own body, you will have everyone at the beach asking where you got it.
Just keep swimming.