I’ve made my own swimsuits for three summers in a row now. I haven’t bought a swimsuit since, uh, maybe college? At this point, I feel like I’ve mastered a few things, and want to share some tips and tricks.
1. Look for the same features in a sewing pattern that attract you to RTW swimsuits.
This sounds obvious enough. There are a limited number of swimsuit patterns out there, though, especially in the indy world of good instructions. My first two attempts at swimwear were with the Soma pattern by Papercut Patterns. Don’t get me wrong, this pattern is really cute, but a swimsuit made from it would never catch my eye in a store. I think this is part of the reason my first two swimsuits don’t get much wear.
For my most recent make (the black bikini in these pictures), I didn’t use a “real” pattern, but used this template as a guide for the top, and followed the instructions from this Curvy Sewing Collective tutorial. For the bottoms, I used an underwear pattern as the base (see below).
2. Bikini bottoms are easier to make than tops.
The Soma bottoms are great. I’ve mixed and matched my versions with other bikini tops. For my most recent suit, I used the Watson bikini pattern (originally intended as underwear) and made it into a swimsuit by cutting two pieces from each pattern piece and using one as a lining. Sewbon explains how she did this here. Really, though, you can use any underwear pattern that you know you like and offers enough coverage for the beach or pool.
3. Bra cups and/or structural support are a must.
The reason that my first two bikini tops weren’t too successful was that they didn’t offer enough support. Now, I clearly don’t need a lot of support, but I still want to feel secure and confident that there won’t be any wardrobe malfunctions while playing around in the ocean. All of my RTW swimsuits contain at least a removable cup insert. All of my me-made swimsuits going forward will too. I would shy away from any pattern that doesn’t at least include an option for a bra cup or an underwire.
4. Use quality materials.
Swimsuits are one of the smallest things you’ll sew. They require less fabric than any other type of adult garment, and take even less fabric than baby clothes. In my experience, a two-piece swimsuit takes less than one-half yard of fabric. So, go ahead and splurge a little on the fabric; you won’t regret it. There are tons of fun swimsuit prints online. In my experience, the thicker the fabric is, the better. Make sure you also get some lining fabric, or use self-fabric as lining. Take your time here. If you’re making a black swimsuit, black lining will look nicer than nude.
Also, make sure to use swimsuit elastic. It should hold up better in the pool, ocean, and the wash. I’ve been able to find it locally, but in very limited options. In my experience, thinner elastic looks more professional, so if you have an option between 1/4″ and 3/8″ elastic, go with the 1/4″. If possible, also match your elastic to your fabric. White elastic with white fabric; black with black; you get the picture. I was too impatient to order black elastic online for my black bikini, but it would have looked infinitely better on the inside.
It’s surprisingly easy to make swimsuit straps (or strings) that look like RTW swimwear. There are plenty of tutorials online, but basically, you cut a strip of your swimwear material that is at least three times as wide as your elastic. So, if you have 1/4″ elastic, cut a long strip of swimwear fabric at least 3/4″ wide. Then, align the elastic with the edge of the strip, and sew it on using a zig zag stitch, and no tension. Flip the elastic over twice and stitch down the middle to secure everything in place with a twin needle.
5. And, finally, making your own swimsuits can save you a ton of money.
Before I dove in (see what I did there) to making my own swimsuit for this summer, I did quick tours of Nordstrom Rack and Target to see if there was anything I could just buy off of the shelf. There were a few options I liked, but none were perfect, and I would have ended up spending at least $33 for a set. The swimsuit I made ended up costing me just $1.33. I bought one package of elastic, but everything else came from my stash. The black swimsuit fabric (which I also used as lining) was leftover from my running tights. The cup inserts were from an old swimsuit, and I didn’t need any notions other than swimsuit elastic (some of which I already had in my stash).
And there you have it! Have you been brave enough to make your own swimsuit? The fabric can be a little fiddly to work with, but if you take your time, and use quality materials, you’ll be amazed at what you can create.