DixieDIY’s Summer Swimsuit Sew-along Pt 4: Gathering

This looks like it’s going to be a leisurely sew-along. I just got my serger back from being serviced and now my sewing machine is in the shop for the same reason. I couldn’t be without both machines at the same time!

For now I’ve brought out my old blue Kenmore I bought in high school and I’m amazed it still works (mostly…). It’s quite an adjustment, though – no thread clipper or drop in bobbin or needle threader on this one, but I can survive. 😉

Today we’re working on the front gathers of our swimsuit.

The pattern pieces for the front (Piece #6) have notches toward the bottom for the end of the gathers. I’ve marked my notches with pins but you could use clips or chalk or whatever you prefer.

This part is pretty simple – stitch two lines of stitches (long stitch length), one along the seam line (3/8″) and another within the seam allowance.

Kwik Sew gives a great tip that I’m surprised I never learned before – to keep your gathering stitches in place wrap the the thread tails around pins in a figure 8 pattern


 

Once you’ve made all four sections of gathering stitches we’ll work on the center gathers. You’ll need a ruler to measure from top to the lower notch. Remember how I added 1/2″ in length to my pattern pieces? Well, I’ll have to factor that into these gathers.

 

Kwik Sew says my measurement for size S should be 8″ so with 1/2″ added to that it comes to 8 1/2″. (The gathers make the fabric ripple a bit but trust me, laid flat my measurements are correct.)

 

Next we cut a piece of clear elastic the same length as that previous measurement (which in my case is 8 1/2″). Clear elastic is important because it is less stretchy than regular elastic. This means the gathers will stay in place but stretch just enough to adapt to your body. Places like armholes and legholes deal with a lot more movement so they need stretchier elastic while this center line needs more stability.

Kwik Sew says to stitch these two pieces together and then attach the elastic separately in the next step.

I combined these steps and pinned the two pieces right sides together and serged them. I didn’t pin my elastic to the fabric. Instead I just fed it through by hand which worked just fine.

If you think the elastic plus bunches of gathers will be to unruly for your machine go ahead and do the two step system.

Originally I planned on doing this center seam with a zig zag stitch but after a couple tests on my old Kenmore I realized that wasn’t going to work. The tension was off and the machine kept skipping stitches (I haven’t used this machine in almost 5 years so I can’t expect it to work perfectly). So zig zaging was out. Instead I used my serger which works just as well.

Alright, it’s starting to resemble a real swimsuit now… sort of.

 

I’ll seam rip out those gathering stitches and we’ll be ready to move on to more sewing later. Next post we’ll do the bust pieces, stitch up the back and and do neckline elastic!

Pt 2: Supplies

DixieDIY’s Summer Swimsuit Sew-along Pt 3: Cutting

Wow guys, my bad. I realize it’s Saturday and not Friday so I’m a day late on the next sew-along post. Oh, well, I just gave you an extra day in case you were waiting for fabric in the mail or something like that…

Anyway – onward!

(If you’re just joining us be sure to read Pt 1: Supplies)

Picking a Size

Swimwear and activewear patterns have this strange phenomenon called “negative ease” which is a fancy way of saying your body has to fill out the garment rather than hanging loosely on your body like, say, a t-shirt. So the final measurements of the swimsuit will be slightly smaller than your body measurements.

The pattern comes in five sizes, XS-XL and in my experience Kwik Sew sizing is pretty accurate. I’d say pick the size closest to your measurements. If you are smack dab right in the middle of two sizes you can cut in between those sizes on the pattern pieces. That might be easier to deal with than having a slightly too big or two small suit later if you go up or down a size.

One change I’ll make this time –  I’ll need to lengthen the body of the suit by about 1/2″. The pattern gives you lengthen and shorten lines on almost all the pieces. Compare your shoulder to waist measurement to what’s listed on the envelope if you think you might need to do this adjustment. I’m adding 1/4″ to both the higher line and lower line.

If you need to do an FBA, you can! Snug Bug’s tutorial is great because the bust piece is a similar design to the front bodice piece in our swimsuit. Just bear in mind that because of that “negative ease” thing, you won’t need to add as much to your FBA as you normally would. Try adding 1/2″ less in the length and width. They idea is the same (yet opposite) for SBAs. Here’s another tutorial from Lazy Stitching for a gathered, under the bust, empire style pattern piece which is similar to our swimsuit piece. You’ll end up with more fabric to gather at the bottom seam.

Cutting the Fabric

I don’t pre-wash my fabric because it tends to curl at the edges and becomes unruly. Since your fabric doesn’t have natural fibers it won’t shrink much, anyway. If you have to iron use a low setting and a press cloth.

The pattern pieces usually have two lines drawn labeled “Grain of Fabric” and “Greatest Degree of Stretch.”

 

The GDoS is usually on the cross grain for most knits. The fabric rquirements state that you need a 2-way stretch fabric with 75% stretch. (There’s a guide on the back envelope flap to use). My fabric is four way stretch (common for swim fabrics) which is totally fine for this pattern

Remember that for knits the front side has predominately vertical ridges and the back has horizontal. The selvedges may curl towards the back.

If you remember from the Never Fear Knits sew-along it’s best to use pattern weights and a rotary cutter and mat to cut out pieces to prevent the fabric from stretching with shears. If it helps you can trace a full size piece for the front lining rather than placing it on the fold.

Now I’ve cut out my pieces and I’m ready for stitching!

In the next installment we’ll work on piecing together the lower, gathered part of the suit.

Pt 2: Supplies
Pt 3: Cutting

DixieDIY’s Summer Swimsuit Sew-along Pt 2: Supplies

The votes have been tallied and we have a winner – Kwik Sew 3779 B. The votes were mostly spread between three top contenders but KS 3779B had a few extra votes.

Good choice ladies. This is a flattering cut for many body shapes, has decent support for those with larger busts, and gives some tummy camouflage with shirring. And lucky for me I’ve already made it once so it should be easy to whip up again.

If you plan to participate and want add a button on your blog just copy and paste the text below.

At the end if you want to share you can post your creations (modeled or not) on the DixieDIY Flickr group and let everyone else oooh and aaaahh over your mad skillz.

You won’t need everything I list in this post for this pattern. At the end of this post I’ll tell you exactly what to get for the sew-along.

***Alright people, buckle up! We’re in for a wild ride! …or something like that. First we need to gather supplies.

If you’ve never made a swimsuit before finding supplies can seem daunting. What kind of fabric? Do I really need special elastic? Where do I even find it?

Fabric

(swim fabric from the fabric fairy)

Some fabric websites have sections for swimwear knits. Some mix them in with activewear knits (not all activewear fabric is suitable for swim). Fabric.com I’ve noticed has a swim section but not all their usable fabrics are in that section. Lame. I’ve found that the best way to find fabric on sites is to search by fiber content.

Most swimwear knits are a blend of nylon and spandex (Lycra is brand name of spandex). Anywhere from 80% nylon/20% spandex to 90% nylon/10% spandex is good. I’ve seen some poly blends but I’ve only used nylon blends.

What you don’t want in your swim fabric is natural fibers. Fibers like cotton just don’t hold up to sun, salt, sand, chlorine, sunblock and repeated washings. So if you’re looking to make an organic swim suit you’re out of luck.

Lining fabric is easier to locate online as it is usually labeled as such. You can also find it at most chain stores seasonally. Lining fabric varies in stretch amount. I’ve seen some lining that looks more like mesh and also some that is solid and opaque. Lining can be all poly, all nylon or a blend of synthetic fibers. Generally, you want black lining for dark outer fabrics and nude or white for light colored outer fabrics.

Here are a few places I’ve found swimwear fabric:
Spandex House
Spandex World
Fabric Fairy
Fabric.com

Most fabric sites carry a few swim fabrics here and there but you might have to search for them.

Elastic

(“cotton” swim elastic that doesn’t actually have any cotton in it…)

Regular old white elastic won’t cut it for swimwear because it will degrade over time (if you are making a kid’s suit that will only be worn for one summer before she outgrows it you can go ahead and use regular elastic). There are two kinds of swim elastic to look out for: one uses natural rubber and the other is a cotton blend.

I used to buy Dritz brand elastic from Joann which was labeled as Cotton Swimwear Elastic even though it contained no cotton (weird). Sew Sassy sells both types for fairly cheap. I like the rubber kind.

Some patterns call for clear elastic. Your pattern will tell you what size elastic to use. The standard is 3/8in (1cm).

Needles and Thread
Use plain old all-purpose poly thread. If you want to use that fancy wooly nylon stuff on your serger you can, although I never bother with it.

Just like with any knit sewing use ball point/stretch needles for your machine and pins. You don’t want snags!

Support
There are a few bust support options available. I don’t recommend the swim cups sold at Hancock and Joann. They’re either too stiff or big and clunky and need to be cut down to size.

My faves are these kind that I bought at Sew Sassy but I’ve also seen them on Etsy and other sites. They’re soft and flexible and provide more coverage and gentle shaping than “lift.” They come in several sizes.

If your bust is on the larger side you can combine these cups with a shelf bra in the lining (elastic support under the bust with more room for the “ladies”) or you can use a bra-style suit or bikini top and use pre-moulded cups or Poly Laminated Foam as an interlining.

 

Poly Laminated Foam is often used in swim bras and sometimes regular bras. It is usually a 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick dense but flexible foam with a soft fabric layer on either side. In normal bras the tricot or power knit fabric provides minimal stretch while still supporting the cups. Although the design may be the same, in swimwear the fabric is way too stretchy to hold in the mounds (know what I’m sayin’?) so the foam gives structure and support without much bulk. You can cut the foam to fit your needs and make your own cups if you want.

Unless you have a specialty shop in your area you’ll have to order it online. The scrap shown above came from yardage bought at Sew Sassy in the US. In Europe Make Bra carries it and in Australia you can buy it from Booby Traps. Vendors have various names for it but Poly and Laminate are usually in there somewhere. It comes in basic colors like white, nude and black.

Extras
Plastic or coated metal (no rust!) hooks and strap sliders are best. You’ll use these for back hooks or to hook removable, bra style straps to your suits. They come in a variety of sizes. Again, I get mine from Sew Sassy.

Patterns
Here are a list of brands that currently make swim patterns: Kwik Sew, Jalie, Merckwaerdigh, Danglez, McCall’s has a couple patterns out right now and Butterick has a nice plus size one-piece pattern.

A note on vintage patterns: Up until about the mid 60s most vintage swim patterns you’ll find are more “lounging” designs rather than “swimming” designs. As such those patterns are made with woven fabrics and aren’t related to the kinds of swimsuits I’ll be talking about here.

(1977 swim pattern. Source: Selvedge Shop on Etsy)

You can easily find swim patterns from the 70s and 80s from the big four companies, Kwik Sew and an old brand called Stretch and Sew on Etsy and eBay. The back envelope will tell you what kind of fabric to use.

Machine
You can use a serger and a sewing machine or just a sewing machine. Either way you’ll need your machine for top stitching with a zig zag stitch or a twin needle. Technically you could make an entire suit with just a zig zag stitch on a regular old machine!

What You Will Need for the Sew-along

  • The Pattern, Kwik Sew 3779 B.
  • Between 3/4yd and 1 1/4yd fabric for the outside (or more if you are grading up the pattern higher than an XL)
  • Between 5/8 yd and 3/4 yd lining fabric (more if you want to line the back as well as the front)
  • About 5 yd of 3/8″ swim elastic plus about a yard extra for added under bust support (this is optional and not included in this pattern but helpful if you have a larger bust), and 3/8 yd of 3/8″ clear elastic for the center gathers
  • (Optional but highly recommended) Some kind of swim cups. I recommend the slightly curved cups from Sew Sassy. They don’t need to be cut to fit and, really, they don’t even need to be stitched into the lining (but I’ll still show you how to do it)
  • A regular sewing machine (a serger is optional), ball point needles, pins, pattern weights, scissors, rotary cutter and mat, thread… and attitude!!!

Oh, and don’t feel like you have to use this pattern. You can use whatever pattern you want! The techniques we will cover can be applied to almost any design so grab whatever swim pattern you have on hand and start stitching!

The next post will be on Friday the 14th and we’ll talk about fabric prep and cut out our pieces.

Pt 2: Supplies
Pt 3: Cutting