Friday, August 16, 2013

Sewing Skivvies: Tips and Tricks to Sew a Swimsuit

So, let's talk swimsuits. It's a little late in the season to make one, unless you're in another hemisphere or very motivated but because I've been getting this question a lot, I want to share what I've learned from making mine.

I am by no means an expert, so I'm not sure I'll be able to help you with any real issues, nor will this list be all inclusive, but here are a few little things I discovered.

First, swimsuit fabric is slippery. And it rolls. It can be very frustrating to work with. If you've worked with jersey before, you probably know what I'm talking about.

Elizabeth recommended sandwiching the fabric between tissue paper and ripping it away after you're finished - I think that's a brilliant idea and I wish I had thought of that.

Another issue I had that complicated things was lining up 4 layers (the 2 outsides and the 2 linings) and stitching together. Because it's so slippery, everything moved constantly. Basting the lining with the main parts would have been a great step to take.

I don't have a serger, and I really didn't think it would be a big deal to use a regular sewing machine - after all, isn't that what the zig-zag stitch is for? Alas, no. If you want a truly professional finish and don't have a serger, take the time to go over to someone's house and use their serger. Look at the photo below. I redid the middle seam with a zig-zag at home, and while the seam is sturdy, it's not nearly as flawless as the rest of the stitching.

Can you spot the non-serged seam?

I kind of thought people with surgers were being snobby when they said not to use a regular machine, but they were just being truthful.

(I would just like to note that yes, I did zig zag the elastic on and I would recommend that - my complaints here aren't with the zig zag stitch itself, but how you can see the thread when you use that type of stitch to seam together the pieces. I would also like to note that from a distance, you can't really tell so if you're not a huge perfectionist, you'll be fine.)

Okay, if you're not as lucky as me and you can't get your hands on a serger, all hope is not lost. Machines typically have an overlock or overedge stitch, but I really didn't like it with this fabric. I probably just needed to play with the tension, and that's not something I'm prepared to do.

However, the straight stretch stitch (see photo below) gives a really great stitch and I would use that instead UNLESS you're matching a pattern or  you tend to have to unpick a lot.

Photo found here
You see, the straight stretch stitch locks 3 times - forwards, backwards, and forwards again. That means if you need to rip out some seams, you better settle in for DAYS. (May I recommend basting or zig zagging first, then using this stitch over it?)

Here I quickly straight stretch stitched over the zig zag and I think it's much better, not as many "teeth."
To be honest, those are all of the things I would warn someone about when making swimsuits. If you've worked with knits and if you've worked with elastic AND you have access to a serger or the straight stretch stitch, you are ready. Go and make beautiful swimsuits.

(Though of course be sure that everything you're getting is waterproof and swimming pool-proof. I would recommend a nylon/spandex mix for the suit. Lining just needs to be a knit lining, and you can totally use the same fabric you used for the outside. The elastic needs to be rubber elastic or swimwear elastic.)

If you're not used to working with knits or elastic, just do a few practice rounds before starting.

For other resources, check out the many amazing links from the SwimAlong Project. They have pattern ideas and inspirations, places to shop online, and construction detail tutorials, like adding cups.

Still have questions or looking for something specific? Let me know and I'll try to help as much as I can, even if it means directing you to someone else. But give it a whirl - swimsuits do not have to be scary!

And if you have a tip that should be included or link to something great, let me know!


  1. thanks for the tips, sergers are must when sewing with knits,I also find the straight stretch stitch the best way to hem knits ,tip if your hem is wavy iron it, then it should lay perfectly flat.

  2. Totally agree with the zig zag stitch, I will look for the straight stitch on my machine. However, I did find that setting my zig zag stitch to the shortest stitch length to help smooth the shoddy finish I got with it at regular length. Again, I love your suit and think you did great with the stripe placement.

    1. I was wondering if shortening the stitch would help or even doing a satin stitch, but I wasn't sure!

  3. I didn't experience any rolling with my fabric- did you use nylon spandex? I know some people use ITY jersey for swimsuits, but the nylon spandex that I used didn't roll at all and was quite nice to work with.

    1. Interesting! To be honest, I'm not 100% sure and I definitely don't know the percentages. My fabric store is amazing, but doesn't exactly label things. My fabric was in the swimwear/lycra section so it's a toss-up as to what I actually purchased.

  4. Yes, for my swimsuit, I was following the directions that said to use a zig zag stitch, then realized, 'hey, I can serge this', and when I did the difference was REALLY noticeable. Especially for something that stretches as much as a swimsuit, you can really notice the zig zag. For something like a flowy knit dress, probably not as essential to use the serger.

    1. I use a zig zag stitch on my jersey clothing all the time and I've never had any problems with it, but yes, the swimsuit really needs a serger imo!

  5. I came across this post today and wish I found it earlier! I have been using a normal sewing machine for my swimsuits but I just bought a serger. With my Singer sewing mahcine, I was using rubber swimsuit elastic and it was skipping so many stitches. With my serger, the elastic wno't feed through at all! I think the elastic is getting stuck on the presser foot. Any suggestions?

    1. I'm not the best with elastic so you might find a better answer, but I always sewed the elastic with a zig-zag on the regular machine. Everything else in the swimsuit I seamed together with the serger, but not the elastic. The elastic I would stitch down, the fold over and stitch again so it wasn't showing.

      Someone once told me elastic causes problems in a serger and you have to use a special foot, but I can't remember why now!