Category Archives: Swimsuits

Swimsuits part 7: How to make a one piece swimsuit

Now that you know how to make a two piece swimsuit, it is very easy to add a little extra fabric and sew it together into a one piece.

Begin with your pattern for bikini bottoms. Measure your side from your bra band to just bellow your hip. Extend the pattern for the bottoms up until both sides are this length. For the back, draw a line straight across connecting these sides. In the front, connect the two sides with a peak in the middle.

Cut out the front, lining, and one strap like you would for a bikini top. You will not need a second strap. This swimsuit only ties at the neck, not at the back, so the single strap loops around and ties to itself (it’ll make sense when we get there).

Gather the center of the top front (like for the bikini top), pin this piece to its lining with the right sides facing in, and sew along the top edge. Turn right side out and, holding the main fabric and the lining together, sew the bottom edge of this piece to the top edge of the front bottom piece. The front of your swimsuit is now complete! Pin the front to the back with the right sides facing in, and sew up the sides and the crotch.

Following the instructions for bikini bottoms, put in the lining and add elastic to the leg holes.

Fold the straps in half with the right side facing in, and sew up each side, leaving enough space in the center for the sides and back. Sew the unfinished edge of the strap to the swimsuit along one side, across the back, and up the other side.

Take your new swimsuit to the beach!

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Swimsuits part 6: variations on the bikini top

There are way too many styles of bikini top to describe them all here. I’ll stick to some simple variations of the gathered bikini I described yesterday.

Perhaps the easiest thing to add is a small strip of fabric covering the gathers. This gives the top a sort of bow shape. Cut a piece of fabric twice as wide and twice as long as you want the center of your bow to be. Fold it in half lengthwise with the right side facing in and sew up the side. Fold it right side out, wrap it around the gathers in the middle of the top, and sew up the other end.

Another easy modification is to add a more substantial back. Cut a rectangle of fabric as long as your back (accounting for the fabric stretch), and sew it to both sides of the front. Shown above with elastic straps attached in front and in back and bellow with the usual straps sewn on in front and tied as a halter. The swimsuit bellow has a tapered band (smaller in the middle, larger at the sides) rather than a simple rectangle.

IMG_5937 (1) 

A tie front is a slightly more complicated modification, but still quite manageable. I’ve sketched the shape of the front pieces. Cut two pieces in this shape from the main fabric and two more from the lining. Sew the lining to the main fabric, turn right side out, and sew to the back (or straps) as usual. Tie the front.


Next week: How to make a one piece.

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Swimsuits part 5: How to make a gathered bikini top

The simplest of the tops I make is the gathered one you’ve seen in most of the swimsuit tutorial posts so far. It is made from two straps, a rectangle for the front, a matching rectangle of lining fabric, and optional molded cups. The first step, of course, is making a pattern. For this swimsuit the pattern is so simple I won’t give you anything to print out. Just take a ruler and start measuring.

You only need one measurement to make this swimsuit: the distance between your arm pits, measured over your breasts. Subtract 2-4″ inches from this, depending on your size and how tightly you want the swimsuit to fit, and you have the length of your front piece. Measure out this length along the edge of your fabric. Measure up 5-7 inches, depending on your size and how much coverage you want. Cut out a rectangle with these dimensions (2-4″ less than your armpit to armpit measurement X 5-7″).

For the lining, cut a bow tie shape that is as long as your rectangle and has the same height sides, but dips in at the center. If you don’t have lining material, cut this out of your main fabric

For the straps, cut two strips of fabric 3″ wide and as long as your fabric (45″-60″). You can taper the ends if you want, or leave them square. Place two marks 5-7″ apart (the width of your center piece) near the middle of each strip. This is where you will sew in the front of the swimsuit.

The first step in sewing up your swimsuit is to gather the center front. Using a long stitch length, sew a line down the center of the rectangle. Tie together the two threads at one end. At the other end, pull on one thread and push back the fabric so it gathers. When the gathered center is the same length as the center of the lining, tie together the two threads on this side. Sew over your gathers a couple of times to reinforce them.

I strongly recommend you sew in some sort of padding. They give the swimsuit a bit of structure and hold the edges right where you want them. You can do this with elastic instead, but reinforcing the fabric with pads makes for a much more comfortable swimsuit. Removable pads don’t really do this. They have a terrible habit of trying to remove themselves while you’re swimming, and you don’t really want to be standing on the beach rearranging them. Make sure you’re using something that can go through the washing machine and dryer of course, but anything that goes in a swimming pool should be washable. I cut out an appropriate shape from a sheet of bra-making fabric, but if you’re only making one suit it makes a lot more sense to buy molded cups.

If I’ve convinced you that you need to sew in molded cups, this will be the next step in making your swimsuit top. Sew the cups to the lining using an 1/8 inch zig zag.

Next, pin the lining to the front with the right sides facing in (for the lining, the cups are sewn to the wrong side). Sew along the top and bottom (the long sides) and turn right side out.

Fold the straps in half lengthwise with the right sides facing in. Sew up each end of each strap up to the marks you made using a slight zig zag stitch. Turn right side out.

Sew the front of the bikini to the straps between the marks. To make this look tidy, sew the back of the strap down first, then fold over the front and carefully top stitch. If that doesn’t make any sense, just sew them together. It will look good on, and that’s all that really matters.

Next: other bikini top styles.


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Swimsuits part 4: variations on the bikini bottom

There are endless different ways to vary the pattern for high waisted bikini bottoms, and most of the fun of making your own clothes is coming up with your own variations. But to get you started, here are some of the versions I’ve made.

In pink above and immediately bellow, a version with gathered side panels. To do this, cut a three inch wide strip off the side of the pattern for the swimsuit front. Extend this piece upwards by several inches and add seam allowance. Gather these side strips on each side, and sew to the front and back pieces.

Bellow are a few pictures of a boy short bikini bottom with gathered sides. To make this swimsuit, cut an inch or two off the top of the bikini bottom pattern (not much, since the gathering will also shorten it). Gather along the side seams in front and in back. The edges of this swimsuit are finished without elastic, just rolled and sewn, so they ride up a bit. Personally I don’t like this look as much, but perhaps you do.

The swimsuit used to illustrate this pattern and sewing instructions has a waistband that ties at one side. To add ties to your waistband, cut the waistband 10-14 inches longer than your swimsuit waist. Fold the waistband width-wise with the right sides facing in. Sew up each end of the waistband along the short end and 5-7 inches along the edge (depending on how long you made it). Turn right side out and sew the unfinished middle portion of the waistband to the waist of the swimsuit. Tie the ends.

Next week: bikini tops.

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Swimsuits part 3: sewing a bikini bottom

Now that you have your fabric and your pattern, it’s time to make the swimsuit (or at least the bottoms – tops are next week).

Reminder: You will need less than 1 yard swimsuit fabric, a very small piece of lining fabric (can be replaced with more of the main fabric or left out entirely), 3 yards 1/8 inch elastic, and matching thread.

Cut out the front and back from the swimsuit fabric and the liner from lining fabric.

Pin the front and back pieces together, with the right sides facing in. Sew up both sides and along the crotch, using a slight zigzag stitch. Pin the liner to the inside of the crotch. I used to sew it in place separately, but Prima who did this part on 5 swimsuits this weekend reports that there’s really no need – you can sew it in with the elastic.

Sew the elastic to the wrong side of the fabric at the edge of the leg hole, using an 1/8 inch zigzag and beginning at the crotch seam. Hold the elastic tight, but don’t stretch it. When you reach the end, cut off the extra elastic. Fold the edge of the leg hole over so the fabric wraps over the elastic. Fold again. Sew down this folded edge, stretching the fabric and elastic slightly as you sew.

The simplest way to finish the top is to put in elastic, just like you did for the leg holes. It’s easier to sew this seam, since it’s straighter.

Alternatively, you can sew on a waistband. To do this, cut a strip of fabric as long as the waist of your swimsuit and 3″ wide. Fold this piece in half lengthwise with the right sides facing in, and sew up the short end. Fold the loop you’ve just created so that the right side of the fabric shows on both sides. Sew the raw edge of the loop to the top of your swimsuit using a slight zigzag stitch.

Next: variations on the bikini bottom.

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Swimsuits Part 2: a pattern for bikini bottoms

These are the pieces of my pattern for high waisted bikini bottoms:

The pattern comes in two sizes: “small” (24-30″ waist, 33-38″ bottom) and “large” (28-36″ waist, 36-46″ bottom). I don’t think these sizes correspond very well to standard sizes, they’re just the two sizes I have my pattern in. Use the measurements above, or the more detailed measurements bellow to figure out which size is better for you. To use the pattern just click on each of these pictures and keep clicking until you get the full size image. Print it out, check that the 1″ mark really is 1″, tape the pieces together at the stars and dots, and cut out your swimsuit.

Swimsuits are stretchy, and these two standard sizes will fit a range of people pretty well, but I always adjust them to more closely fit the person they’re for. To do this you will need these measurements.

1. Waist. Measure where you want the top of the swimsuit to be. For this high waisted style that will be your natural waist, somewhere near your belly button.
2. Bottom. Measure around the largest part of your lower body.
3. Thigh. Measure around the top of your thigh.
4. Side height. The length you want the side to be, from the edge of the leg opening to the waist.
5. Front length. From the waist in front to crotch center.
6. Back length. From the waist in back to crotch center.

Next, scale those numbers for swimsuit fabric. Swimsuit fabric is stretchy, and you want the swimsuit to stretch a bit when you wear it. This will help it stay on and keep it from sagging in an unflattering way. Your swimsuit should be at 10% – 30% smaller than you. All of the swimsuits shown here are on the 10% end, because we’re not fans of the skin-tight slightly squished look a smaller swimsuit gives, but we’re also not serious swimmers. A tighter swimsuit is more secure. For a splashing around in the ocean swimsuit, multiply all your measurements by 0.9; for a looking-cute-while-swimming suit, multiply by 0.8; for a bikini you can dive in, multiply by 0.7 and take the elastic option whenever there’s a choice of how to finish an edge.

Using your adjusted measurements, make sure that the pattern measurements match your measurements. Modify the pattern as needed, keeping in mind that it will stretch more over your bottom, while the elastic or waist band can bring it in slightly at the waist (my measurements are waist 25″, bottom 38″ and the size small fits me perfectly).

The pattern measurements for the size small are approximately:

1. 27″
2. 33″
3. 16″
4. 8″
5. 10″
6. 11″

For the large:

1. 29″
2. 36″
3. 17″
4. 9″
5. 10″
6. 12″

Next: sewing together your bikini bottoms.

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Swimsuits Part 1: the fabric


I spent all day Sunday making swimsuits, with help from Rosalie and Prima (and will probably be spending most of my time making swimsuits for the next couple of weeks). Making swimsuits is not as hard as it sounds, and very rewarding – you get the swimsuit you want. One that fits well and covers what you want to cover and shows what you want to show. It’s no more work than a dress and a fun thing to add to your repertoire.

There are several steps that might be confusing to a new sewer, and I’d like to go over them in more detail than I sometimes do, so I’m going to break this into a few posts. To begin with, lets talk about the fabric. You really want spandex. It holds its shape when wet, is easy to move in when you’re swimming, and holds up pretty well in chlorine. If you’re just going to be lounging on the beach you can use whatever fabric you want, but if you want to swim in your suit, it’s worth getting material designed for that purpose.

One lucky day I found a bolt of swimsuit fabric at one of my local fabric stores, and I hope that you will also be so lucky. When I’m not I order it online. There are a few Etsy sellers who carry it, although the only one I’ve ever purchased from has closed. Mostly I buy from Spandex World, which has a $20 minimum order, but a huge selection of swimsuit fabric. I like the milliskin matte fabric, which is somewhat less shiny than ordinary spandex. If you’re trying to fill up a $20 order, it’s nice to have mesh lining fabric, but if you’re buying from your local fabric store and they don’t have any don’t worry about it – you can always line with your main fabric.

When your fabric arrives be sure to wash and dry it the way your usually launder your swimsuits.

You will also need matching thread, 3 yards of 1/8 inch elastic (more for larger sizes), and may want some of those molded bust pads that many swimsuits have.

Next: A pattern for bikini bottoms.

Posted in Sewing, Swimsuits, Tutorials | 4 Comments