Friday, May 24, 2013

SwimAlong 2013: Swimwear construction resources and choosing a good pattern

So, you're thinking about making your first swimsuit? Or maybe you've made a few, but want to hone your skills? My goal today is to provide some resources that will help make sewing a swimsuit, whether it is your first or your 40th, a simple and pleasant experience. Swimwear sewing really isn't hard! But a few simple tricks and tips can make it really a breeze.
I personally am a big book nerd. I love to read sewing books to pick up new tips and techniques. My two favorite books about sewing swim and activewear are Kwik Sew's Swim & Action Wear and Sewing Activewear, from the Singer Sewing Reference Library. Although naturally there is some overlap between the two, I feel like they both offer solid information in an easy to understand format. The Singer book, while a little lighter on written explanation, has great full color photographs, and a fitting section that is very logical and easy to follow. The Kwik Sew book is very complete and step-by-step. It includes the patterns for several different suits and also detailed instructions for a large number of variations.
There are also a large number of online tutorials and tips. I'm going to link a few that may be helpful, but a Google search will bring up help for whatever may have you bamboozled. Of course, here at the SwimAlong, we'll be adding several tutorials and tips to help make your experience great. Stick around for that!
Creative Chicks has pulled together a collection of great Swimwear tutorials
Brown Paper Patterns gives us a collection of Swimwear resources that she found helpful, and also published a great detailed post about construction of 3416, including some awesome tips for a professional elastic strap
Heatherty Featherty extensively detailed her construction of her tankini, including her fitting process. Tons of photos and helpful tips!
Prefer video? Jalie Patterns has a YouTube channel that includes quite a few great swimwear videos, including sewing elastic
BrianSews also has an elastic application video that is excellent.
So, now you have the skills, but how to choose a pattern? Obviously, aesthetics and style play the largest role here, and hopefully our inspiration posts have been helpful, but if this is your first experience sewing swimwear, you really want a quality pattern that is well drafted (with negative ease!) and gives you the information you need to construct your suit. There are a lot of great patterns out there, but unfortunately there are a lot of bad ones as well, and it's hard to tell which is which sometimes before you buy. Here are a few that I have some experience with, in order of my personal preference.
Stretch & Sew - I put this one on the top of the list because I personally think they are the best. The suits are drafted well and the instructions are clear and complete. Unfortunately, the patterns are no longer produced, but still available on Ebay and Etsy.
Jalie Patterns - These patterns are sort of the modern equivalent to Stretch & Sew. Fantastic drafting, clear instructions and the size ranges are amazing. You can also download the instructions from the website, so you know what you're getting before you purchase.
Smaller, independant pattern companies - I hate to lump these together, but there quite a few, so I will only say that in general I find the quality to be excellent and support from the designer or producer to be top notch. That said, there are going to be variations between companies, so if you are thinking of sewing up an indie design, be sure to do your homework first, and see how it has been reviewed by other sewists.
Kwik Sew - I put this here with some reservations. I find older Kwik Sew swim patterns to be excellent quality, but since being absorbed by the Big 4, Kwik Sew quality has been hit or miss.
Vintage Swimwear patterns - These can be really interesting with great styling, but depending on the era, you may be in for a lot of alterations to make these suits work with modern fabrics, techniques and machines.
One last word about the Big 4 (that's Vogue, Butterick, McCalls and Simplicity). While I sew often from Big 4 patterns, I would definitely NOT recommend a swimwear pattern produced by them, particularly for one's first attempt at sewing swimwear. Their drafting in general tends to be oversized, which is not something you want in a garment that should have negative ease, and the instructions are ridiculous for swimwear. Recently a few new patterns have been released and I bought one in the hopes that there had been some changes, but alas. It looks dreadful.

So what about you? Have you found some great resources? We'd love to hear about them? What's your favorite swimwear pattern? Please share!


Meigan said...

I made my first swimsuit earlier this year from Jalie 3023, tankini pattern. Wow was it great. It was my first experience sewing a Jalie pattern and I was blown away by how well it was drafted: every (and I mean every) notch and piece lined up perfectly.

I have since made a second version of Jalie 3023 and I am currently working on a one piece racerback Jalie 3134 for my daughter. I love that I can use the same pattern for myself or for my kids. (Ka-ching! saving money)

There is no reason to be nervous about sewing swimwear. You don't need a serger (it is nice-but it's not a must). I use a twin stretch needle for top-stitching, but you can use a 3 step zig zag stitch as well. The money you can save by sewing your own is incredible. One yard of swimwear fabric can make multiple suits!

Thanks so much for having this sewalong, and for inspiring people to "take the plunge" (hee hee) and sew swimwear.

Here's my post on Jalie 3023 if you're interested:

Shawn Stephenson Schumacher said...

Hi Katie,
Thanks for the encouragement. I am making my own version of the Nurda styleAlison. I read every review I could find, and put all the tips together. So far I have ruched the front piece I added to make it look more vintage. I added an extra six inches to the extended piece and then have an additional piece under it very so liar to the turquoise polka dot suit you showed a few weeks ago. Now I need to prepare the back piece. I am really winging it... So who knows if this will work. My question is: if I am going to line it so I do like I would a dress and make the pieces the same and the just see along the leg seams and top seams with wrong sides together?

Jill said...

I am so excited!! My Kwik-Sew book should be arriving early next week and now I've found your sewalong! All the best tips in one place. I couldn't ask for more! Thank you much!!

Brendaintheboro said...

I have a Kwik Sew racer back pattern that I must have had for over 10 years.Do you need special swimsuit fabric?Will regular lycra fabric be ok.Thanks Katie, I might well take the plunge.

Brendaintheboro said...

Thanksfor the info Katie.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes... my inner nerd is rubbing its hands together at all the construction info within the links. Thanks!

I've chosen a fabric and pattern but have waited to purchase in case I learnt something that might change my choices!

dixie said...

I've made a bunch of Kwik Sew swim patterns and all of them worked well for me. I've attempted one modern McCall's pattern and it's pretty convoluted and requires some odd supplies. Needless to say I haven't finished it yet...