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March 23, 2022 2 Comments
I hate to even say this, because it tells you how old I am, but I've been sewing swimsuits for 20+ years! In high school it was so hard to find a swimsuit that didn't show a ton of skin so I decided to take matters into my own hands. Patterns for swimsuits and swim fabric were sooo limited. It was just a handful from the big 4 pattern companies and whatever fabric you could find at JoAnns or Hancock fabric, which wasn't much. At that time there were ZERO tutorials on the internet and swimsuit sewing was not common, so I did a lot of experimenting, trial & error and had some big flops and some great success! I get asked all the time, What are your best swim sewing tips? I’ve decided to combine them all in one place and share my most frequently asked questions with all of you!
I'm so glad that times have changed. And the options are almost limitless now! Fabric and patterns options are plentiful and there are some great tutorials and tips online. Sewing swim is one of my very favorite things to make! I found Raspberry Creek in 2019 and promptly made my fist purchase (of only swim fabric). From then on, I was hooked, they are my go-to for all my swim fabric needs.
Swim fabric is made of polyester or nylon and spandex. It’s stretchy and is meant to hug the body. It’s perfect for swim or dance wear. Raspberry Creek carries my favorite swim fabric for a number or reasons…
FAQ: Does Swim fabric have a grain? Yes, the grain line runs parallel to the selvage edge of the fabric. The greatest stretch runs from selvage to selvage. However, RCFs swim fabric is 4 way stretch which means you can cut it another direction and have it work just fine! I frequently cut stripes the opposite direction they were printed on, or the bias for a design detail. This will not affect the fit of your suit. (Disclaimer- Grain line is important! It will affect the fit of garments, especially with woven fabrics. But, with RCF swim you can cut it in other directions!
FAQ: How do I tell which side of my solid swim fabric is the right side? If you pull it a bit you on the right side you will see the "rib" lines running parallel to the selvage edge. The right side also has a slight sheen to it. Its subtle but when stretched you can see it. On the wrong side you can see the "little V lines" running perpendicular to the selvage.
FAQ: Can I press/iron wrinkly swim fabric? Yes, but make sure your iron is on a synthetic setting. It can melt if your iron is too hot.
When I first started making swimsuits boardshort fabric was NOT a thing for home sewists. The first time I ever tried making boardshorts was when I discovered Raspberry Creek.
FAQ: What's the difference between boardshort and swim? Boardshort is for swim trunks. You could also use it for hiking shorts or jackets. It is a woven fabric with no spandex in it so it does not stretch at all. It also frays, so the seam edges will need to be finished somehow. You can construct board shorts on your serger (this is what I do except for top stitching) or you can construct on your sewing machine. If you do construct on your sewing machine you will want to zig zag or serge the the seam edges to prevent them from fraying.
FAQ: Can you press/iron board short fabric? Yes, but do it on a synthetic temperature. It will melt if your iron is too hot.
Swim lining is the fabric you line your suit with. It keeps your suit from becoming see-through and keeps all the parts you want to keep hidden hiding. Typically, lining comes in only 3 colors. Nude, White and sometimes black. Nude lining is my color preference. I use different types of lining for different things.
FAQ: If I use a solid white, or light background print and line it with a nude lining will it be see-through? No! I’ve made bottoms with solid white swim fabric and lined them with nude lining, and they are completely opaque when wet or dry. I wear them confidently.
Poly/Spandex lining- This is what JoAnns carries and its basically a swim fabric in a lighter weight. Poly/Spandex lining, or Actual swim fabric, can be used to line your swimsuits BUT, it is slippery so if you are newer to sewing swim I recommend you go with something a little easier to sew.
Power Mesh & Net- Both are used to give support in swim wear. Typically, I use the NET to give a little more structure to my swim bottoms to help keep my mommy tummy nice and snug. Deciding between the two will be determined by how much structure you want. Power NET is more powerful (less stretchy) and holds you in better than the MESH. Mesh, is sort of, middle of the road between the net and the regular lining. I like to use the Mesh on the bra area (sandwiched between the fabric and lining).
*Tip- if you are using net only use it on either the front, or the back, but not because you won't be able to squeeze into your suit.
Sport Mesh- This is what you want to line your boardshorts with. And let me tell you it is AMAZING!! It is so much better than most of the lining you find in store bought board shorts. The holes in this are so tiny that nothing will get caught or pinched, it is very breathable. It is incredibly soft. This stuff changed my life, and my boys love having some extra coverage and built-in undies in their boardshorts.
FAQ: Does it really matter what type of elastic you use when making swim suits? Yes (and No) Here's a breakdown on types of elastic and which one is my favorite.
Typically, elastic is made of Rubber or latex and usually covered in Polyester. Why? because it is versatile, less expensive, and durable. Usually, this type of elastic is fine for any knit sewing project. However, regular polyester elastic can break down when exposed excessively to chlorine and sun. It will go brittle (I've had it happen to my handmade suits.)
Here's my disclaimer... if you are using elastic for your kids suits they will, almost always, outgrow them before the brittleness/breakdown happens. So, I don't stress too much over this, especially with boardshort waistbands. It's difficult to find swim elastic in wider widths for waistbands, so typically, I just use poly elastic for thicker waistbands and don't have a problem.
There are, however, BETTER choices for swimwear elastic. When you have the option of using one of these elastics below, use them! You will have a better outcome with one of these choices.
Rubber- The positive to using rubber elastic is it has a lower profile, creating less bulky edge finishes. If you are worried about bulk this is a good option. If you want to try rubber elastic, you can purchase it Here and Here and from Various Etsy shops and sometimes you can find it on amazon.
Clear Elastic- Clear elastic is another good low-profile option. I love using clear elastic to stabilize shoulder seams and skirts on my regular jersey knit sewing projects. It is great for adding see-through straps to swim or dance wear in places that may need a little more help staying in placce. I have used my clear elastic on my straps and leg openings in a pinch if I've run out of my favorite swim elastic. The downside to clear elastic is that it is SLIPPERY! And it's not user friendly to work with. I've found it also needs to be stretched a few times before sewing. If you are wanting to try out clear elastic here are some options. Here, Here, Here.
Cotton Covered Rubber/Neoprene- This is my all time FAVORITE swim elastic! It is rubber elastic covered in cotton. It comes in a natural color and is commonly found in 1/4" width and 3/8" width. It is difficult to find it in 1/2"-1" width but I just found out that Raspberry Creek is now carrying it in 1/4" and 3/4" Hooray!
It is soft and it's by far the easiest to use. If you are just starting out this is what I recommend going with! You can find it at JoAnns locally, but I always get mine in bulk from Wawak. I prefer the 3/8" width because it is easier to work with and it is less likely to flip up when you are wearing your suit. I'm thrilled I can now grab elastic when I order my swim fabrics!
Again, depending on who you ask you will get different answers. Some recommend using Wooly Nylon in the loopers of your serger. Wooly nylon thread has a little more elasticity, it has extra stretch so it expands and contracts with tension making it feel soft like yarn. It is good for sewing stretchy fabric. I have used wooly nylon thread in my serger loopers before but after experimenting a bit I've found it doesn't make that much of a difference in the amount of stretch my seams have. It's not worth the expense, and the time to rethread, for me so most of the time I skip it. I sew almost all of my swim suits with regular poly serger thread.
I do, however, recommend using wooly nylon in the bobbin of your sewing machine if you are topstitching with a twin needle. (More on Twin Needles Below.) When you wind your bobbin with wooly nylon wind it by hand so it's not over stretched. I have found that this thread does help with the tension when using a twin needle.
FAQ: What needles should I use to sew swim fabrics?
Ballpoint, or Stretch I prefer the Schmitz brand stretch in a 75/11.
FAQ: Do you change the needles on your serger? The only time I ever change needles on my serger is if I break one. This is probably not the best policy but I have a high quality serger that is not finicky. So I stick with my universal Schmitz needles. Or sometimes I use Schmitz Stretch needles if I'm feeling generous. If you are experiencing issues with your serger. A change of needle (try a stretch or ballpoint) and a good retreading can solve quite a few problems. Make sure your threads are going through their tension discs properly.
FAQ: Do you need to use a special stitch when sewing swim fabric? Yes! If you are sewing stretchy fabric you need to use a stretch stitch. An overlock stitch on the serger is my favorite option but you can use your regular sewing machine too. If you are using your regular machine a lightening stitch or a zigzag is the way to go when sewing swim fabric. If you do not use a stretch stitch your seams will pop.
For topstitching you can use a coverstitch, a zigzag or a twin needle. A twin needle gives you a look of a mock coverstitch. If you use a twin needle make sure it’s the stretch kind, and that you lengthen your stitch and sometimes your bottom tension will need to be adjusted.
Twin Needles: Before I bought my coverstitch machine I would topstitch with a twin needle. learned this trick when I worked for a local custom swim wear company in 2016. A twin needle fits right into your sewing machine like a single needle but the bobbin forms a zig zag stitch (without switching to a zig zag setting. Make sure you get the twin needle with the blue bar (thats the stretch kind.) Not the red bar. Use a straight stitch settinge not a zig zag. The machine will automatically form the zig zag on the back. If you set your machine to zig zag the needle will hit your presser foot and break.)
Foam Cups- They come in a variety of types. You'll want to gauge what to get by the coverage, support and size needed. You can purchase these at your local Joann's or online. Wawak has a broad selection of Bra cups. Bra Makers supply is a Canadian shop that has lots of great info as well. Sew Sassy also has some. Your pattern should tell you how to insert your bra cups if it calls for them. There are also a variety of tutorials online. Here are a few I’ve come across that I think are helpful…
Tutorials for inserting bra cups:
If you don't need full cups in your suit you can add a shelf bra. Made with swim lining and elastic. Nicole, from Sew Hard of Hearing has a great tutorial on this!
You can also Make your own cups! This is a great option for those who may need a little more coverage than a shelf bra, but who don't quite fit, or need the support of premade cups. You can insert your own cups the same way you would insert premade bra cups.
Or you can create a little pocket to slide the cups in. This gives you the option remove them before washing your suit.
Poly Laminate Foam- Where can you buy it? I personally have purchased it from Sew Sassy here. You can apply heat to this one to create a more molded shape. I do this over my tailors ham. You can also get it here and from a variety of Etsy Shops here.
I have a pattern I made from an old ready to wear swim suit that I liked the fit of. I also keep a stack of cut out cups with my swim fabric, so they are ready to go when I need them.
You can also insert an old bra into your suit! I have found that this will give you the most support and makes me feel the most comfortable. I always save old bras with my swim fabric stash to use in my next suit. I’ve made some that just use the front of the bra and I’ve made some that leave the back clasp intact as well. If you wash on the gentle cycle and hang dry this will keep your swimsuits with added bras looking great!
FAQ: should I prewash my swim fabric? ALWAYS prewash. Swim fabric will not shrink in hot water (it doesn’t have natural fibers in it.) Fabric can get dusty and dirty during shipping and in warehouses. Also, Raspberry Creek also doesn’t do a final wash after printing. It saves so much water by doing this. So always prewash before you cut and sew!
Gluesticks: It took me a LONG time to get on board with using glue sticks in my sewing. I love my pins and clips and I use to think the glue stick was just an unnecessary step but I've come around. I only use glue sticks when sewing swim and have learned they can be especially helpful instead of "basting" lining to the actual fabric. A few dots of glue, regular washable Elmers glue stick, to stick your layers together before putting fronts and backs together can be helpful. When you have 4 layers of fabric being sewn together (front, back and two layers of lining) the layers can slip fairly easily. I always wait until the glue dries before I put it through my sewing machine so it doesn't gum up my needle.
FAQ: I've never sewn swim before and am a little overwhelmed where do I Start?
Now that you have all the info on the supplies it's time to start sewing. If you are new to sewing swimwear it can be intimidating, but rest assured you can succeed at it.
If you have never sewn swim fabric before I recommend starting with a rash guard. Most don't require any elastic or closures. Or euro style shorts are also a good option for starting out.
After you’ve gotten the hang of the fabric then you can move onto suits that require elastic in the legs and straps.
If your feeling adventurous you can move onto more complicated suits where you insert/build your own bras.
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