The first swimsuit I ever made was three years ago, and I didn’t use a pattern. Blame it on complete ignorance or unfounded optimism or both, but I, like many veterans of the sewing community, have a tendency to jump headfirst into difficult projects without realizing how unlikely I am at being successful with them. This is one of the best benefits of being a newbie at something: often your lack of experience keeps you from telling yourself “no”, and before you know it, you have learned a whole lot of lessons to help you on your next try.
My first attempt was far from perfect, seeing as how I had no pattern or instructions to follow. I took apart a beloved vintage-style two-piece that I got from a store called Unique Vintage and had worn til it was nearly threadbare. I drew pictures and made notes on the order in which things were put together, tracing the carefully deconstructed pattern pieces onto new swimsuit lycra and re-constructing the pieces bit by bit. My biggest obstacle was not quite understanding how to apply elastic properly- I had never made a bra or underwear before, and my tension when inserting it onto the edges of the lycra was always either too tight or too loose- I had to pick the zig zag stitches out and start over several times. But the end result was still pretty successful: I made a complete two piece bathing suit that was wearable and, dare I say, flattering! The only thing I didn’t like about it was the crotch- my pattern piece for the gusset was off for some reason, and it looked loose and had a weird shape to it. But that didn’t keep me from proudly wearing it all two times that I went swimming that season (I am not a water baby but I love me a cute bathing suit)!
Next I tried the same technique on a vintage swimsuit I found at a thrift store that was too baggy from previous wear but had really cool design lines and a super flattering fit. This attempt was much less successful, probably because the template I was using from the deconstructed suit was already misshapen, but I got a much better understanding of how to use my elastic successfully.
A couple years after that, I tried my hand at finally using a pattern by turning an Ohhh Lulu bra and panty set into a bathing suit, exchanging the recommended fabric for swimsuit lycra and mesh lining and making a couple of adjustments with the elastics. It came out even better than my first suit, and this time the bottoms were a perfect fit, but the top wasn’t quite right. Again, still wearable and flattering, but without that perfect professional fit that I was looking for. The good thing about all these swimsuit attempts was that I had learned a lot on my own through trial and error and experimentation, and by the time I started making bras and underwear from indie patterns, I was already familiar with a lot of the techniques so construction was ultimately a breeze.
When Closet Case Files announced her new Sophie Swimsuit pattern on instagram a couple of months ago, I made a tiny yet audible scream in the back of my throat- I was so thrilled because I knew I was ready to tackle a well drafted swimsuit pattern and fill in all the holes of my lacking knowledge! As usual, the pattern did not disappoint at all. Heather Lou clearly spends a substantial amount of time drafting all of her patterns to fit well for a variety of body types, and the difference in fit compared to other patterns is always obvious. CCF patterns are designed with curves in mind, and all the details are beautifully attended to, but the pattern instructions are also well written, precise, and easy to follow. This is the biggest difference to me in her patterns versus the Ohhh Lulu line- the designs of the latter are always beautifully executed and styled, but the wearability of them (for my body at least), seems to be lacking more often than not. If you don’t have a perfectly proportioned body that looks perfect in the OL patterns as-is, then it’s essential to have good knowledge of how to alter and adjust to make them work for your body. Sometimes I am totally fine with that kind of pattern, willing to put in the extra work and figure stuff out on my own, but other times I want a pattern that I know has already made considerations for the intricacies of our bodies; it’s the difference between making a pattern that comes in a XS-XL size format compared to one that ranges from 0-20 with a comprehensive size-chart for multiple cup sizes.
Construction of this swimsuit was an absolute breeze, and I was most excited that it gives the option of using molded cups. While I am not a push-up bra kind of person, I do appreciate what a little underwire and textile support can do to a bust that is small like mine- it makes me look more hour-glassy without making me feel like I have a construction site at work around my boobs. I had never worked with sheet foam before, so it was really exciting to form the cups and see all the pieces come together, but I will suggest that, if using the sheet foam and underwire option, LABEL THE FABRIC AND FOAM PIECES FOR YOUR CUPS! Separately the pieces all look different, but once sewn together, I had a really tough time deciphering which side was the inner cup vs. the outer cup, and the addition of the foam cups made it even worse- I had to rip my seams out twice because I kept matching the wrong foam piece to the wrong fabric! Despite my issues with keeping track of all my pattern pieces, the three-piece cup is cleverly designed and gives you the maker a lot of options for how to play around with fabric placement. I ended up following the styling of the original pattern photos pretty closely because I just love the effect of the solid fabric hugging a bright print on either side, but if I make this suit again, I am sure I will be bolder with my fabric choices. I was pretty smitten by this Ankara-inspired peacock print because I rarely see this style on spandex fabric, and on my last trip to NYC, Renee and Marcy made sure that Spandex House was on our list of fabric stores to visit so that we could pick some up (Renee got some, too!) I love the pink and yellow colors together, and I knew it would suit my skin tone really well, plus, two of my previously made bathing suits are made with this dusty-rose lycra, and I love the idea of being able to mix and match all my swimsuit pieces.
I graded between two pattern sizes for the bottoms, which is always tricky because my waist is smaller than my hips and if you aren’t careful, you can make either a pair of bottoms that don’t quite fit over your hips because the waist is so small, or a pair of bottoms that are baggy in the waist to accommodate pulling them over the hips- thankfully I think I achieved the right ratio with these. When cutting out my fabric, I totally forgot to shorten the length of the swimsuit bottoms- because I am short (5’3″), I thought that they might be too long on me as drafted, and I was right. Once they were completed and I tried them on for fit, they reached halfway up my ribcage. But it was an easy fix- I just lopped off the top two inches and re-attached my elastic and they are appropriately high-waisted now without bunching up on my back.
This suit is comfortable, I feel gorgeous in it, and I LOOOVE the molded cups for the top! This is unlike any bathing suit I have ever worn before, whether store bought or handmade, and I really love the design and ease of wearing. I actually wore these bottoms in a short that I recently filmed that included a beach scene (I was still sourcing my sheet foam so the swim top had not been finished yet) and I am excited to see what it looks like on camera!