One of the goals that I’ve set for myself for this year’s summer sewing is to dive into making my own swimsuit.
It took me months of looking at different patterns for one-piece swimsuits before I finally landed on the Abigail Swimsuit designed by Ohhh Lulu Sewing Patterns. The instant digital download can be purchased in the Etsy store here.
This swimsuit has everything I was looking for. It has a vintage feel with its boy-cut legs, cut-out in the back and halter neck. It is sexy but gives me enough coverage so that I don’t have to deal with a bikini wax every time I hit the beach. The low v-neckline of the halter neck is good for minimal tan lines; while the fastened strap in the back provides a snug and secure fit for an invigorating swim in the water.
The sizing for this swimsuit comes in XS-XL. For my 32”/26”/35” measurements, I chose a size XS at the bust graded to a size S at the waist and hips. But after sewing this up, I think my next swimsuit will be a straight size XS throughout. In addition, I will shave off 1.5” off the length of the bodice. From the pictures, you can see that the pattern is a little too long and wide for my short torso. The ruched effect on the front bodice is not intended in the pattern, which means there is too much ease in this chosen size for me.
Since it was my first attempt at making a swimsuit, I didn’t know how to judge the negative ease with swimwear fabric; and I wasn’t sure how to make adjustments based on the measurement chart.
But now I know! Sometimes, one just has to take the plunge and struggle with the beast before the beauty emerges. So this swimsuit is my me-made debut swimwear beast. I took it out for a test-run at the beach and unfortunately, I reckon that will also be the last time I wear it. The weight of the water made it even looser and more wrinkly. The next one will be a better fit, and hopefully the more beautiful version. However, I learned a lot in the process of making my first swimsuit. I liked how the combination of prints on the fabric make it one of a kind. I am looking forward to making the necessary adjustments with the same fabric, because I am in love with that floral border print. Thank god I bought enough to make another.
The challenge that I faced in this make is dealing with swimwear elastic for the first time, and installing it to swimwear fabric. I did this without the help of a serger because I simply don’t own one. Yet. This swimsuit was made from just a regular mechanical sewing machine. Part of the struggle is for the hands to learn how to create the right amount of tension when sewing the swimwear elastic to the fabric; and the other part is adjusting the settings on my machine so that it will do the best job attaching swimwear elastic to fabric. The struggle was real, you guys. I used up at least 5 metres of elastic experimenting with different settings, and practicing the technique before I executed it on the actual garment. And even so, I was sweating buckets trying to get this fiddly diddly thing right. It was mighty tricky trying to even out the tension while stretching the elastic, and making sure I was sewing on the narrow 1/4” hem. It was a stretch (forgive the pun) for me. This was an exacting exercise in hand-eye coordination to say the least, and I definitely need to work on this skill more to get it right.
Another thing I learned is that bulk is not your friend when sewing swimwear elastic. So it’s best to reduce as much bulk as possible, especially in places where the elastic bands may crossover. For example, the corner of the halter pieces where the straps are attached will have many layers folded over. I did my best to shave off as much unneeded seam allowances at that location as much as possible.
This pattern’s sewing level is rated at intermediate/advance, and the instructions assume some know-how dealing with the materials to be used. I definitely checked out many YouTube videos to get a handle on how to work with the rubber elastic. For the elastic around the legs, I found it helpful to attach the ends of the elastic together first before sewing it to the garment. This way, I could gauge better how much tension to create by matching the quarter marks of the circumference of the leg openings to the quarter marks of the elastic.
My machine is a Singer 4432. I have named it Maria after my late maternal grandmother, who was known for her flair for sewing the Cheongsam, the traditional Chinese dress. She is my guardian angel when it comes to sewing, and so my machine is affectionately named after her. Maria has a setting for a double straight stitch for stretch fabrics, so this stitch came in really useful for sewing up the side seams and the crotch seams. Then I used the multi-step zigzag stitch whenever I was working with the rubber elastic. The setting for that stitch worked well at 3.5 stitch width and 1 for the stitch length. Throughout the project, I used an even feed foot and a Schmetz 75/11 stretch needle. I also reduced the pressure of the pressure foot, and lowered the thread tension to 2.5.
All this learning by trial and error meant that I was getting to know my machine in a more intimate way. I guess every machine has its own character and idiosyncrasies, and this experience of working with new materials deepened my relationship with my Maria.
Now that I’ve cracked the mystery of sewing with swimwear fabric and elastic, I feel a whole other world open up to me. The only way to get proficient is to practise more, which is the best excuse for making more swimsuits, and I am on the search for a two-piece pattern now. I feel ready to broaden my horizons and start making my own lingerie and underwear as well. Wish me luck!