Sew your own swimwear - easier than I thought!

Sew your own swimwear

What possessed me to try sewing my own swimwear? Partly, it's because I can never find swimwear that fits. I'm not sure why I thought I had the skills to rectify it, but I did reason with myself that fitting garments from knit fabrics tends to go quite well, and I was looking for something a bit different from my go-to summer dresses, so worth a try. There's a lot that went well with this project, there were some adaptations, and there are a few things that I would do differently next time.

Sew your own swimwear

Pattern and Instructions

I used the Simplicity 1374 pattern, purchased from Sew Essential along with other supplies. I chose this because I find halternecks with straps that tie behind the neck to be easier to wear on holiday. I also liked the ruching feature over the top and bottoms. There is a separate option for plain briefs as well as a longline tank (and a drapey cover up as well) in the pack. As a Simplicity pattern there are a wide range of size options, divided in half so you don't have too many lines to follow. I made the size 14, which is the largest from the smaller size pack.
It's a commercial pattern, so instrcutions are not as detailed as some indie ones might be, nor are there photographs, but I do have to say that they were really easy to follow and the diagrams were clear, so I had no problems in making as per these. There's a special section on sewing swimwear using either a conventional sewing machine or a serger. I used both in mine but it is entirely possible to just use a regular machine so long as you have a zigzag stitch and stretch needle.
I did make quite a few adjustments though (see below), but they weren't around fit, more personal preference. They will have adjusted the fit of the top though as I didn't use the back band piece.

Fabric and supplies

For swimwear, you do need to source fabric that you know will be chlorine resistant, and, in my view, which will have stretch, recovery and dry quickly. It's got to put up with sun, sea, sunscreen and stand up to the job! Nylon is a prime contender and you can find fabrics specifically for swimwear. In the UK, it is harder to come by than most fabrics and I found mine at Sew Me Sunshine for £6.50 per metre, ordering 1m for my pattern. When it arrived I was pleased to find that it was thick enough not to be seen through and provide a little warmth whilst also being very flexible. Given that my pattern involved potential ruching, it needed to be able to gather well, which it does too. I would definitely use it again for a similar project.

Sew your own swimwear

You also have to buy swimwear lining, which is even harder to find! I got 1m of black lining from Fit2Sew, for £6.80 per 50cm. The lining is important in swimwear to add further protection for you and for your fabric. You can buy really lightweight swimwear fabric, but the lining from Fit2Sew comes in 3 colours and really does a good job. Again, totally recommend and would use again as easy to work with and comfortable.

Not an essential item, but something that's important to me is an extra layer for the bikini top so I also bought cups from Sew Essential. These are a fixed and moulded shape, which does do that protective job but isn't very flexible, or at times, natural looking. If I was making again, I would try to source foam (which I did look for the first time) or even recycle from a RTW bikini that I already have for a more comfortable and professional finish (I say professional, meaning looking mroe similar to RTW, as they certainly don't look like my moulded cups!). Finally, I also had some transparent swimwear elastic, but can't remember where it was from (probably here).

Alterations - lots

First, the top. The pattern includes a lower band with elastic that goes over your head in one piece. This is something I always struggle with to get on and off over my shoulders in RTW items, so I didn't want to incorporate it. Other tops that I have use clasps or ties. It felt easier to me to use ties to fasten. Instead of cutting out the back bottom band, I used the pattern piece for the shoulder straps and elongated them. Really I should have used an existing bikini to judge length as all these straps at the back feel too long when I'm wearing it (could be the shoulder ones to be fair). They were turned out and attached to the front band.

Sew your own swimwear

Next, I needed to add in the moulded cups as these are not part of the pattern. Instead of joining at the front, this happened later. I did do the centre ruching and proceeded with elastic and lining, moulding around the cup so it all worked to the desired size. It did take more fiddling than if I didn't have any inserts, especially when it came to lining up and attaching the sides/shoulder straps. I had to sew the side and bottom bands on with the cups in place, without stitching through them which is not as straightforward as it seems.

Sew your own swimwear

You will also notice a central band over the middle. This was to pull down the centre and get it to sit flat. Otherwise it was too far out and somewhat revealing. The band also helped to hide some less than even ruching! The loops that sit where the shoulder straps join are also my addition, hiding where my deviation from the pattern had resulted in a bit of a messy corner. There is meant to be ruching at the sides as well but this didn't work with my cups and how I needed the side straps to sit, resulting in a bit of 'making it work'. It did on one side, but I couldn't get it symmetrical.

Sew your own swimwear

Bottoms - I again used a RTW pair that are great to wear as a basis. They have a fold over top which I replicated. Instead of ruching the sides, I attached the elastic as per the pattern, overlocked the edge of the top portion and then stitched it in place at the elastic point.

Final thoughts

I need to add that I was worried mainly that when I added the elastic at the bottom of the briefs, it would look terrible on. It was perfect - not too tight but still snug. So much easier than I thought it was going to be!
I would totally recommend this pattern as a first for swimwear. If you want to make them without alterations, it will be fine. I wish I could say I could provide more guidance on how I did my alterations, but it really was just using the pattern pieces to fit around the cups, which I wouldn't necessarily use again if I could find a better alternative.


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Welcome to Sewing and Other Stories; my journeys with sewing and knitting; pattern reviews, tips and guides for beginners. I'm also the designer behind West Beach Knits knitting patterns and I host a Knitting and Sewing channel on YouTube where you can see all of this in person. Come have a look!

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