Hey ho, I have made my one trillionth swimsuit. Actually just my third. But three swimsuits is still a lot of swimsuits for a person who does not spend much time in the water. I used to be deep into water aerobics & water walking. I went almost everyday while I was pregnant with Ramona, & was back at the pool again as soon as I was cleared for water immersion after giving birth to her. But then I discovered sewing & it’s been a tug of war ever since. Do I want to suit up & head to the pool, or do I want to keep wearing my jammies & chill at my sewing machine, listening to podcasts? Sewing almost always wins.
I decided to get back into it last fall & splashed out (see what I did there?) on an annual pass, with the thinking that I’d definitely use it if I spent so much money on it. (An annual pass costs a little more than $200, which is a great bargain if you’re planning to hit the pool several times a week.) I was diagnosed with cervical cancer approximately two seconds later, & was forbidden any kind of water immersion during my treatment. I was just cleared to get back in the water (& that includes baths) in May.
Anyway, I have been wanting a pink gingham swimsuit for years. Having made two suits previously, why didn’t I make one of them in pink gingham? I don’t know! When I started sewing & realized that gave me complete control over the textiles, colors, & prints I wore, my immediate instinct was to make everything PINK because I love pink. There’s precedent. At one point in my 20s, I wore nothing but pink for a few years, right down to my shoes & shoelaces. I even dyed my hair pink & had pink-framed glasses. But I guess I had this idea that pink was too “expected” of me (by who?) & that having the opportunity to branch out & experiment, I should.
& before I sewed, I got most of my swimsuits from Modcloth, & usually chose a retro bombshell style in gingham, with a brief time-out for a woodgrain print with a cute belt, which exploded off of me one day at the pool when I was pregnant. I guess I didn’t want to sew one because they were too easy to find in RTW, even though finding a suit that was EXACTLY what I wanted/needed was next to impossible in RTW.
My big issue with swimsuits has always been support up top. I have a big rack, & it’s not very self-supporting. Swimsuits are not exactly known for their lift & separation. Halter necks are bafflingly prevalent in larger sizes, even though they are torture devices for women with large busts. I’ve also learned that I have an unusually high quantity of breast tissue deposited at the top of my bust, which makes finding a suit with decent coverage a big challenge. I want some lift to keep my bust from blending imperceptibly into my belly, but a bit of lift leaves me spilling out the top of a traditionally-cut suit.
Okay, so this suit: I decided to just follow my dreams & get some pink gingham swim fabric. I combined two patterns to make a tankini style with swim shorts. The tank is based on the Harriet bra from Cloth Habit, & the bottoms are hacked from the Closet Case Patterns Ginger jeans.
I made myself a Harriet bra last month that I have yet to blog, but I will say that I was quite impressed with the pattern. I’ll make a few small alterations next time, but I was generally very impressed with the fit right out of the gate. The cups in particular were absolutely perfect: no wrinkles, no flat spots. I did find the neckline & underarm coverage a little low–see again my proportionally larger volume at the top of the breast. Since I was adapting the pattern for a swimsuit, I knew I’d want even more coverage than I like in a bra, to keep me decent with all the other preschool moms (& dads!) at the wading pool. So I added an entire inch of height across the cup & frame.
I converted the cup pieces to make them suitable for foam (trace ’em off & eliminate the seam allowances where the cup pieces are joined together). I made foam cups & separate gingham cups & sewed them together along all the cup seamlines, to maintain that bra-style topstitching. Then I set them into a frame made of very firm powernet & gingham basted together. I added the channeling & wires as you would with any underwired bra.
For the tank part of the tankini, I just drafted it according to my measurements. It’s easy. All you need is your underbust, natural waist, & high hip measurements, as well as the distances between them. Quarter the diameters & draft yourself a trapezoid kind of shape along the edge of a big piece of paper, so you can cut your fabric on the fold. (The edge will also serve as your grainline.) No need to add seam allowances, as a bit of negative ease is desirable in a swimsuit. I added another 5″ to the back piece at the top to account for the height of the bra portion on the front, & I added 4″ of length to the front piece so I could gather it into the lining for a ruched effect. Seam the bra to the front, & then sew the side seams. There’s no need for a back bra piece because the back of the suit can serve that purpose.
I guesstimated the length of straps I’d need to cross over in the back (no surprise looking at a lot of my recent makes–I love crossover straps) & made them from two tubes of swim fabric with strap elastic sewn through. I finished the back & underarms with swim elastic, with the tension distributed the same way you’d finish a bra (neutral in the back, pulled taut along the underarm). To cover up the bartacks where I attached my straps & channeling, I sewed some decorative buttons to the straps, & added a cute little retro tie to the bridge. The tie is just a fabric tube with tapered ends, sewn to the center of the suit & then tied in a knot. I’ve never had good luck with the kind of tie that actually gathers up fabric from the suit because I really need the coverage there. I think my purely decorative tie is a really nice detail that pulls the whole suit together without compromising my desire to keep my cleavage to myself.
I decided to make swim shorts rather than a traditional swim bottom because I just like the idea of swim shorts. They’re not easy to find, you know? So often they are attached to an ostensibly thigh-concealing skirt, which just screams “I’m insecure about my body” to me. I mean, I get it. We are all constantly beaten down with a fusillade of insistence that we hate our bodies. Swimsuits are an especially fraught apparel concern for many women, as I learned from “Cathy” cartoons as a child. But my philosophy is that there’s nothing I can wear that is going to fool anyone into thinking I am slim. & when you actually go to the pool & look around, there are all types of bodies. Maybe especially because I got into the pool through water aerobics, that province of the elderly woman, I embrace the idea that EVERY body is a pool/beach body. You don’t have to earn the right to enjoy the water, or wear shorts, or go sleeveless, or wear a crop top, or whatever whatever, by making your body conform to a particular shape or size. There’s a lot of talk about figure flattery, dressing for your shape, etc, but I think the most “flattering” look a person can wear is WHATEVER THEY DAMN WELL PLEASE.
So, swim shorts. I was imagining a boxer-brief kind of thing, but shorter. I didn’t anyone to think “bike shorts” when they saw me. So I traced off the Ginger jeans pattern, extending the rise to my natural waist (& eliminating all the bits for the pockets & fly) & giving myself a 2″ inseam. I’ve seen a lot of bloggers write about trying to make shorts out of the Ginger jeans & it never works out well for anyone. & that is because the Gingers rely on negative ease & stretch denim to fit, while jean shorts tend to have at least 1″ of positive ease (think a fitted waistband on a skirt–form-fitting/skimming, not squeezing).
Negative ease is perfect for swim shorts, though! These were easy peasy to make. I drafted a waistband (ie, drew a rectangle) & fed through some elastic, & I used the Ginger fly piece to whip up a mock fly, which I just topstitched into place. I sewed on a few decorative buttons for that boxer-brief styling & voila!
This suit has already been pool-tested & -approved. I might shorten the straps maybe an inch or so, & might also try out a different wire in the bra portion. My bust situation has undergone some weird changes since my hysterectomy. They actually got bigger, which I really was not anticipating, but apparently it’s a pretty common side effect of hysterectomy/menopause. My high & underbust measurements are also smaller because I no longer have the hormonal fluctuations I once had. Instead of being a 40D, I’m closer to a 36E. It’s a small change, almost a sister size, but with bras, a tiny change makes a big difference.
pattern: Harriet bra from Cloth Habit & Ginger jeans from Closet Case Patterns
size: 36E for the top & 16 for the bottoms
fabric: 1.5 yards of pink gingham swim fabric, 1 yard of white swim lining, a quarter-yard of swim foam, a quarter-yard of firm powernet
notions: stretch needle, hot pink thread, 1 yard of strap elastic, 1/2 yard of band elastic, 1 yard of underwire channeling, two size 44 regular underwires, nine 1/2″ transluscent buttons, 1 yard of swim elastic
total cost of all supplies: around $25
alterations: added 1″ of height to the bra cups & frame
next time: use deeper & longer wires, make a wider waistband for the shorts, sew mock fly piece on before construction, shorten straps 1.5″ or so
remarks from the public: “I really like your swimsuit, Mama. [faux-contemplative pause]…I have an idea! We should go to the pool! I’m already wearing my swim trunks!” — Ramona (She is going through a big swim trunks phase. She has three pairs & zero “girl” swimsuits. The trunks combined with her short haircut is really inspiring a lot of gender panic among moms at the pool.)
photos: Ramona took the photos of me, I took the rest, as always