{Swimsuit Tips & Tricks} Better Style, Better Hacking

This time last year, I crafted a list of my beginner's swimsuit sewing experiences...

But I'm a year older, and a year wiser, and I've made many, MANY swimsuits since this first attempt! (Here's one, you'll see more as you read on...)

I'm thrilled to be partnering with Imagine Gnats (and her store's new awesome stash of swim knit!) on a fun project to bring you up-to-date on my swim knowledge:

Ohhh man, this is gonna ROCK!

A photo posted by Becca DuVal (@beccaduvalphoto) on

I've been busy over the last week muslin'ing my new suit, which I'll debut for you next week, and as I went, I started to compile all my swim knowledge. Which of last year's lessons still ring true for me? How can I build on that foundation, and best set you up for success on your own swim sewing journey? Here's what I came up with:

"Being Creative" is just as important as Being SMART.

Modesty and style choice may force you to sew your own suit - but that won't mean it's a flattering choice for your figure. When you cough up the price of a RTW suit... you're benefiting from a series of design and consultation services that extend beyond just the cost of labor and materials to produce the suit. Somebody else has already asked "will this flatter women's bodies?" "will this fit most women's style?" "is this on-trend?" - and many polls have been conducted to ensure that the consumers agree.

On top of which? You can then try it on before committing to the investment! In case the designers, stylists, fashion forecasters, marketers, and drafters got it all wrong, you just slip that bad boy back on the hanger and politely return it to the rack it came from.

The same cannot be said for your custom creation. When it's just you - and your only limits are your own imagination - you may end up stuck with a suit that cuts you at your "under cheek" and suffocates your booty:

So do your research! Don't just find a pinterest inspiration, go to the store and try some on. Plunging V neck's not your style? Don't sew one! Do those trendy high waist bottoms just make you look.. frumpy? Phew - aren't you glad you saved your time and resources?? The only thing more soul-crushing than a failed women's sew project, is a women's SWIMSUIT project that doesn't turn out... and spoils your good fabric and hours of patience along with it. Set yourself up for success by sewing smart!

While you're at the store trying on clothes, notice a few things. If you were to try on some mix/match styles, would you need different sizes tops or bottoms? You'll likely have to sew different sizes, too. Do those one pieces wrinkle in the middle? You may have a short torso, and need to take length out of the waistline of your pattern pieces.

Absent a store, or motivation to sit in a fitting room? Look back at your past swimsuits. What did you like about them? What DIDN'T you like about them? (This is a familiar line of questioning..) And be SUPER DUPER SURE you have taken the time to thoroughly, correctly, measure yourself and have compared those measurements to standard RTW formulas. You can anticipate a lot of fit issues simply by understanding what size(s) you are eeeeeverywhere, and carrying that knowledge with you into your muslin process.

BUT... What about patterns?? There have been a handful of really cute women's swimsuit patterns released over the past year, but still the options are limited. I'm also a hacker and a minimalist at heart, so I maintain my stance from last year: get creative! Re-imagine your current patterns. I bet with some imagination, you can turn that sleeve'd shirt into a halter, put that shelf-bra tutorial to use, or transform your favorite raglan pattern into a cute strappy version (to create a suit like this!) or even a super cute rashguard:

"That's great, Becca! I would love to use a fitted knit pattern I already have! Do I just size-down for swim knit?"

NO. Sizing down changes a LOT of things. Sizing down sacrifices length you might need, and the comfortable fit of an armscye (if you're opting for a rashguard style suit).  Depending on the designer, it may even change a cup size the pattern is drafted for. And yet - in some places - sizing down might not taper your swim knit version IN ENOUGH. Swim knit has 4-way stretch (up/down, side-to-side), and most garment patterns drafted for knit only account for 2-way stretch (side-to-side only). "Sizing down" may yield passable results... but simply suggesting that solution over-simplifies how patterns are drafted, and how they're to be manipulated.

"But.. you said last year that my swimsuit should fit like a second skin - my existing knit pattern stash doesn't fit THAT tight. How do I adjust a non-swimwear pattern to make my suit?"

You account for EASE. (Yup, there's that word again!) In fitted knit patterns, designers often account for NO ease. Finished measurements will often match the wearer's measurements, because the flexibility/stretch of knit includes all the wearing ease the designer needed. (As opposed to woven garments, which require an extra 3/4 - 3 inches of wearing ease). And in instances where super-stretchy fabric is called for (like swim knit!) a designer may require NEGATIVE ease. (If you've ever sewn a yoga waistband, you're familiar with the idea that a waistband that measures considerably smaller than your waist measurement will in fact stretch to rest comfortably at your waist and hold up your garment). 

So pull up the pattern(s) you want to modify, and check the fabric requirements. What percent stretch does the pattern call for? A pattern that calls for 20% stretch will need to come in considerably from a pattern that calls for 50% stretch or more!

If you can - I'd cheat, and take a measuring tape into the fitting room with me. When I find a swimsuit that fits my hiney perfectly, I'd lay the suit down on the fitting room floor and measure the back hip (side-seam-to-side-seam) and write that measurement down. Same with my bust, belly, and front hip. Any non-swim pattern I adapt, I know I'll need to shrink down those same finished measurements.

Add seam allowance to these measurements (preferably a 1/2" SA at least, to keep that pesky slippery fabric from getting sucked into the sewing machine!) and compare them to the pattern pieces in your size. How much width do you need to remove from the bust, waist, and hips to match those measurements? As with adding/removing length from a garment, you will want to remove width from throughout the pattern piece. If you take all the width out of the center fold, your neckline will be super narrow. If you take it all out of the side seam, your neckline will be super wide. Try and take even amounts out of the center fold of the pattern, the side seams, and a mid-point between them to preserve strap and bodice details/proportions.

"Say whaaaaaaaat??"

Don't let fancy words fool you! The MOST true lesson I learned last summer, that still applies today, is that sewing swim-wear is doable! I hope you'll follow along with me on instagram (@beccaduvalphoto) and check back in with me here as I sew my new suit! I'm one of those high-participation bloggers - I thrive on your interest and interaction! Please stop me and ask me questions as I go. I want to make this project as educational as possible, and catered to YOU!

So... where did I lose you? Who is still with me? Who is going to brave a swim hack with me? WE CAN DO THIS! And pretty fabric can help ;)