It all started with a spray tan and a dream: Or How I Learned to Sew Swim Knit and Not Hate Myself; a photo diary.

Posted by Alyssa Moser

As of a week ago, I had never sewn swim wear. I mean not even repaired it. For the last five years my tankini has had a shoelace as a neck strap because I lost the real one…. That is how much I avoided swim knits.

Let me start by introducing my background. I’ve been sewing, practically forever. I’m 38 and learned to sew by hand in Brownies – probably around 7 or 8 years old. I would sew the buttons back on my school uniform blouses, and when I wasn’t stapling them back together, re-hemmed my uniform skirts. I was around 9 or 10 when my mother gave me a rudimentary lesson on her sewing machine. I was hooked. I have a very vivid memory of going to my grandmother’s house when I was about 10 and making my mom an apron for Christmas. It was green and white striped with lace. She still has it!

Fast forward to undergraduate – I went to UCSB as a theatre major! I was a playwright! (See this so isn’t my first foray into long windedness). As a theatre major one must be well rounded – meaning everyone had to take costume shop. I took mine the quarter of the musical – The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas! We were to spend 2 weeks (TWO WEEKS!!!) on a sampler…. I finished mine in about 25 minutes. But that 10 week quarter is when I began to learn about pattern drafting, sewing with various fabrics, and making fun things!!

After graduation I began to work in film. My dreams of working as a camera department PA were dashed after the last pre-production meeting where-in it was discovered I was the only female PA and wardrobe needed help…. Apparently men cannot touch clothes….. Well that job led me to several other wardrobe jobs, including the one that is the point of this rambling.

I got my first gig as a costume designer on a low-low- budget horror film set in the desert!! We are a week in, and the props department is having one hell of a time finding a tent that is burnable. See, in pyro, the stuff they burn has to qualify under a wide range of standards. Plus the director has to like it. Well the decision came down that it needed to be created, but the prop girls didn’t sew. So, I drafted a pattern and sewed up a tent out of a pyro approved canvas in a crappy motel room overnight! The next day, they burned it! Yay! Then the director realized…. They didn’t get the establishing shots they wanted…… and a wind storm was rolling in, so production was going to be halted for an hour or so anyway.

That day I spent an hour, outside, re-sewing a tent, in gusts up to 80 miles per hour.

This swimsuit intimidated me more than that tent! (I TOLD you there was a reason for the ramble…..)

But I decided it was time to just do it. So, I scoured the interwebs!! I saw some really cute option, but knew that bikinis were out – no one needs to see me in one. A skirt I wouldn’t wear, and I’m too flat chested for the cute ruffly ones – someone might mistake me for a toddler!

Then I found one!! It was perfect! It was rated Intermediate, but I’ve sewn formal wear, so I can do intermediate (she says as she crosses her fingers behind her back). Behold – The CKC Patterns Freya!!

Now, I am pretty familiar with several PDF pattern designers. Meaning I hoard them like a magpie hoards shiny baubles. I HAVE sewn a few, I promise, but I own WAAAAY more than I have sewn. This was my first foray into CKC Patterns. I was not disappointed.

As per CKCpatterns.com, The Fraya is a one piece retro style suit, with an optional ruched front body and optional hi low skirt. The neck options include cross straps or a halter. I chose to do the ruched body, no skirt, and a halter.

One of the great things that CKC does is give you a cut list for rectangular pieces! No pattern pieces to print, just measurements! How brill! Brought me back to my costume shop days. I got to play with my tailors chalk!

Ooh that reminds me – as this is a photo diary, I am going to show some hints and tips as well things I have picked up from the goddesses of the needle that I have encountered over the years. These are the brilliant women (and men, but mostly women) that have guided me through the craft over the many years I have been sewing.

For this project I used about 1 3/4 yards of black nylon spandex, and 1 yard of black swim lining from Phee Fabrics.

Let me talk about the fabric for a hot second. Prior to this project I have never sewn with swim knit nor swim lining, but I spent 13 or so years as a competitive swimmer and swim instructor, so I’m familiar with swim suit material. This sh*t is goooood! It isn’t see through, isn’t flimsy. It also isn’t too thick. The lining fabric is lovely quality as well! I have texture issues, and this didn’t rile them at all. So Phee Fabrics gets an A+ from this pool gal.

Here is where I broke a rule. I didn’t pre-wash. Pick your jaws up off the floor – I know!! It’s horrible 😉 I could pull out all the excuses, but I didn’t have time. I won’t be putting a swim suit in a tumble dryer EVER!!! If you do this – STOP. It is horrible for you swim suit and shortens the life span of it. If your suit is SPF rated, it reduces the SPF rating!!!

ON TO THE PROJECT!

First step – pattern prep! I always gather my supplies:

Snacks, iced tea, and my current binge of choice! My tip– if you are a PDF pattern virgin, figure out what you prefer – tape or a glue stick. I am messy as all hell, so I use tape 😀

I am currently binging HBO’s The Wire: Idris Alba, Michael B. Jordan (at like 16), and so many “wait, wasn’t that guy in…” actors. It’s amazing. Between this and my favorite podcasts (“Crime in Sports” and “Small Town Murder”) I keep my ears and brain going when I create!!

GET THAT PATTERN TOGETHER:

So – I have all my bits and bobs together, Omar and Jimmy are working with the DA’s office to bring one of Stringer’s mopes down, and all is right with the world. I start by checking my print.

Every PDF pattern has a little box to check the scale of your print to make certain it printed in the proper size and scale. Usually it is a 1 inch by 1 inch box. If it is an international pattern, it can be a 4 cm by 4 cm box. My tip – DO NOT measure with a tape measure. They stretch. Use a ruler, it will be most accurate!

Though my fat finger (with a cute mani left over from my little bro’s wedding) is covering the 1, my box measured properly.

Don’t short yourself and skip this step, because you might actually short yourself, and a pattern off just 1/8th of inch can compound and be off up to a size, depending on how many pattern pieces there are!!

AND POOF! THE PATTERN IS ASSEMBLED:

And Spiro is meeting with “The Greek” down by the wharf. This season was so stressful!!

Here is the first goddesses of the eeedle tip, from the genius stitchers I have learned from over the years: have paper scissors and fabric scissors. Paper will dull the hell out of your fabric scissors. Those orange and grey suckers I bought on Amazon for 2 for $4.75 or something. Yeh, I’m cheap. Or frugal….. more points in scrabble.

Now by this point you should know what size you need. I’m a red hot mess when it comes to sizing and I will fully admit it. I’m flat chested, but I’m chubby (technical term). I recently lost around 30 lbs, which just made the divide between my chest and hips/midsection more awkward. The upside of this pattern is that THAT’s OK!!! You pick a cup size and a body size! How rad is that?!?!?! When I first measured myself, I was between an XL and a 2XL, with a B cup. But because I am in mid-weight loss adventure, I decided to re-measure myself, because I was on the border. Good thing I did.

LET’S GET CUTTING:

I cut out the XL pattern pieces. This pattern had the 5 curved pieces. And the straps were extra measured pieces.

I selected the halter option, so I cut 2 4 inch by 24.5 inch pieces of the swim knit.

                                

GIRTH – NOT THAT KIND….

Another AMAZING element of this pattern is the long torso adjustment. See, I lost the genetic lottery in the leg length department too. I’m 5 foot 5 with about a 26 inch inseam. The off the rack inseam for 5 foot 5 trousers for women is usually 32 inches……. But boy does my torso make up for it!!!! Yay!!

Now the term girth has different connotations, depending on where it comes from….. I’m keeping this PG rated……

For this pattern, girth measurement is around your torso, the long way. You start on your shoulder blade, go under your crotch, over your front, over your shoulder, and meet at your shoulder blade again…… It’s a window closer measurement if you’re doing it on your own. I’m sure I looked awesome doing it. Thank goodness my bunny can’t verbalize her judgy remarks.

My girth measurement was 5 inches longer than the girth chart for the XL (chart not shown). What that means, according to the pattern, is that I needed to add 2.5 inches of length at the “torso length adjustment” line on the front and back pieces.

This was the easiest pattern adjustment I had ever made….

I just took scrap paper from cutting out the pattern….

  

What…. You thought I wasn’t gonna show every step??!?

Check out those oh so straight cut lines….. yeh, I’m not a paper-cut-ologist….. kindergarten was a long time ago.

So, pattern is cut out in the right size, we have our long ass torso adjusted for, Spiro is being extra shady and dealing the Nick now instead of his uncle, but Jimmy and the gang are getting more wire taps, so we’re good to go!

FIRST YOU CUT THE PATTERN, THEN YOU CUT THE FABRIC:

Now, my pattern cut out methods may make some people cringe. I’m slightly old school. I don’t use pattern weights. I use clips and pins. Clips are even really new-fangled for me. My big tip – before you even start cutting – get all your bits and bobs together. It sounds silly, but it’s efficient. Make sure you have the right tools. I checked my items and realized that the black thread I thought I had, was a dark navy. If I had waited until after I cut, the shops would have been closed. I sound like a home ec teacher, but I speak from the experience of a sewer burned!!

The goddesses of the needle tip here – ballpoint needles!! Certain fabrics deserve special attention. Not all, but some. Like some dates deserve your fancy perfume and some get the Bath and Body works spray – This fabric gets your Electric Youth perfume! Don’t use the Sweet Pea on the swim knit….. Am I dating myself yet?

I tend to print out the instructions for patterns I will use again or for patterns that are more complicated. I knew this was going to be more complicated, so I printed them out to have at hand.

This pattern called for swim cups. Mine were a different shape than those shown in the diagrams, but swim cups all function the same.

Swim elastic – this was available at my local Joann Fabric. This is different than typical elastic in the way it looks. It looks different because of the underlying differences. Swim elastic is meant to stand up to chlorine, sun, salt, and sunscreen. Yep, sunscreen. It’s a b*tch on elastic. It protects your skin, but it can degrade elastic. Many lotions can.

This pattern required the body pieces cut on the fold. I could have saved fabric and rearranged, but I didn’t think about that til too late, and the East Side Boys were beating up up Ziggy and setting his car on fire….I was distracted…..

Another goddesses of the needle tip – use your iron!!! When a pattern tells you to press something – DO IT!!!!!!! It makes for a cleaner final product and it frequently makes future steps much easier! Also – make sure you put it on the correct heat setting. As this swim knit is a nylon spandex, I set my iron (filled with distilled water – goddesses of the needle tip) on synthetics. You don’t want to melt it!!

SEW THIS B*TCH UP:

Holy crap it’s finally time to sew……2100 words in. See – I told you I could be long winded! Now I frequently stitch without pinning. It is a horrible habit, but it’s a tough one to break. BUT I did it right with this one. Because I really didn’t want to eff it up!

And as I never do anything half way, much like Jimmy McNulty driving up to Jersey to get that poor Russian girl ID’d, I pinned the hell out of this!! And I sewed slow, watching my stitches carefully.

When sewing with knits, you don’t want to stretch when you stitch. If you do, it gets wonky. Occasionally, it is difficult not to, but you try to avoid it. The upside of swim knit – it’s a lot sturdier than cotton knit!! Meaning – it’s easier to sew without stretching. Even around curves! The tight curve of the tie was a bit tougher, but the bust curves were gravy!

Now the bodice of this suit has a notch for the tie to go through. The pattern calls for it to be hemmed. Hemming a tiny notch of swim knit is like trying to get Omar to turn over his shotgun and stop holding up the boys in the towers….ain’t gonna happen…..or is it?

The goddesses of the needle have a trick to hemming icky fabrics or excessive amounts of fabrics. I tried it on the swim knit and it worked like a charm. Stitch a line approximately ¼ inch from the edge of the fabric, fold over at that line twice, press at that line, pin the hell out of it, and stitch!

  

It creates a nice arched notch. It appears to stand out, but remember, there will be lining, a lower portion added, and several other elements added to this section.

TIME FOR THE CUPS: aka THE MY ROUGH PATCH:

My most used sewing tool is my seam ripper. Without a doubt. It is also my most lost sewing tool. Correlation? I have not a clue.

Why do I speak of such things here? Well….. see Nick was going freelance with Spiro and “The Greek”. Sh*t got wild….. Ok not really. I just got a little crooked.

But Nick did go freelance with Spiro. He should have just stuck with Frank. Seriously.

Back to the suit. The cups were pinned to the wrong side of the lining. Then stitched around the edges. Not too difficult. I laugh in the face of not too difficult.

The goddesses of the needle always taught me to check, double check, then check again before construction of complicated pieces. Now, I pinned the cups “in place”, or so I thought. Then I checked placement, then I stitched, then I checked placement.

I apparently moved them when I was stitching. It happens. THAT is why the seam ripper is such a handy tool….. I removed the guilty cup, re-pinned, re-stitched.

SYMMETRY ACHIEVED!! I attached the bodices to the body pieces at the bottom of both the lining and the outer fabric.

FITTING IS KEY, FITTING IN IS OPTIONAL:

The next step is VITAL!!!!! This is not only a goddesses of the needle tip, it a gospel! FITTINGS!!! If you don’t have your subject, and it is your first time making a fitted pattern, have their specific measurements. And I mean ALL of their measurements. And make a muslin of it. A muslin is a fully created item, in a cheaper version of the fabric, usually in a similar or identical fabric content. I fitted the top on me….It was a bit too narrow…..

See why fitting is so important? The nylon spandex of the outer material stretches about 75%. The lining stretches less than 15%. These cups are sewn into the lining, and are about 1 ½ inches too narrow. So what do I do? Scrap the whole thing like Col. Rawls wanted Lt. Daniels to do to the whole team trying to crack the docks case? Hell no! I’m just as crafty as those Baltimore PD detectives (I am trying to swear less at least!) I added a small triangular panel in the center bust.

I started with cutting a 2 ½ ish inch vertical slit in the center front.

I fit it up against my chest, to make sure this opened up enough for my lumberjack chest (just kidding, I’m built more like a linebacker than a lumberjack!).

It fit!

I stitched in a nice little triangle of lining fabric. It isn’t perfect. It’s almost perfect….. IT’S THE LINING!!!! Let us never speak of this again…..

But remember to FIT YOUR ITEMS!!! Or make a muslin, and then fit it. That way, you don’t ruin your pretties.

IT FITS!! The tiny adjustment made a huge difference. And it didn’t take very long. Ziggy only had time to screw up his life with a duck!!

Seriously. A duck. It had a rhinestone collar. He brought it to the bar. THAT was pretty wild.

Back to the swim suit!!

So we have a lining and an outer suit that fit appropriately across the chest. Now on to the decorative ruching!

WHEN I RUCHE, YOU RUCHE, WE RUCHE:

This suit has an optional ruched front body panel. The instructions were not exceptionally clear, so I added ruching to the back as well…. I wasn’t supposed to, but I didn’t realize that. What is ruching? Ruching is an old French technique of gathering fabric. Simple as that. It sounds scarier than it is. It is usually gathered on both sides, so the gathers appear down the middle, creating a three dimensional look, and emphasizing contours of the form. It also hides a bunch of sins!

The first step of any ruching is a gathering stitch! I opening up the length of the straight stitch on my machine and ran it about ½ an inch away from the edge of the fabric.

I then pinned the halter straps to the lining bodice, sandwiched them between the lining and outer layers, and stitched the upper edges together.

The next step is the gather the gathers on the gathering stitch. Got that? My best advice is to lay the piece on a flat surface. It took a bit to make the ruching even. You want it to be even across the piece. Now this suit has a lining. The lining is also ruched. If I make this again, I will omit the ruching on the back piece and omit the ruching of the lining. It added a bit too much bulk. It isn’t seen and I feel it is superfluous and a waste of lining fabric.

When your ruching is even, it must be stitched into place. I used clips to hold the gathers, and then ran a zig-zag stitch over the edges, approximately ¼ inch from the edge. Make certain the final, post gathered length of the side seams of the front and back pieces match up.

There are a LOT of clips, but nothing moved! After everything is gathered and stitched, I stitched the side seams. Just a zig-zag down the side will do.

FIT ME BABY, ONE MORE TIME:

Now that the majority of the structure is complete, it is a good time for another fitting!! The crotch is still open, but if the suit is too short, now is a GREAT time to figure that out (adding length to a crotch is EASY when it’s still open!!).

Well hot damn, that looks like a swim suit!! This is where I realized that the ruched lining is unnecessary. I could have taken it all apart, and shortened the lining, but it was about 2:45 am (as the hair and lack of make-up will show), and I was okay with a ruched lining at that time.

I was NOT playing a dead body in the morgue on The Wire, but I was almost done with Season 2, and I was almost done with the suit!!

SEW THE LEG, JOHNNIE!:

What? You thought I was done with lame, outdated, pop culture references? I’ve been referencing a show that went off the air in 2008. I could be worse; I could have been watching Buffy or Veronica Mars…..

I stitched up the crotch pieces, easy peasy… and now the most terrifying (or annoying) parts of sewing knits are bands. Necks, legs, arms…..they’re frustrating. These were surprisingly different.

And not in the “I swear I’m different now” way that an old boyfriend swears he is. These here leg bands went smoothly. They are a double fold over, but also double stitched. This is important, because swim suits that I have had in the past, the first place loose threads occur – the leg bands.

Now, what the hell do I mean by double fold, double stitched? Well it’s like this…. The elastic is stitched to the lining and outer fabric (a zig-zag), then folded over, and stitched again! Now, I clipped the elastic, gently stretching it as I went, and stitched slowly  tips from the goddesses of the needle that I follow every time I sew with elastic!!!!

Now, when you follow the rules of the goddesses of the needle, you end up with nice (not perfect, because my zig-zags are never perfect, which is why I never got promoted to goddess….) leg bands that look like they belong on an actual swim suit!!

TIE IT UP:

The last step is putting the tie on the bodice. Now, this is easy. Tie it up all pretty through the notch! Easy as pie, cute as a button!

And most important bit – ONE FINAL FITTING!! I know what you’re thinking, “enough with the fittings already” but what if the legs don’t fit?! What if one leg is tighter than the other? See? These are real life drama problems! I know Omar isn’t coming through the front door to rob drug dealers sitting on my couch (there are NO drug dealers sitting on my couch!!!), but if those leg holes are too big, that could be ugly!!

And it fit! All is well and good!

Overall, this was a lot of fun!! I started out thinking it was going to be like sewing a tent in a windstorm, but it was WAY easier!! And I didn’t end up with sand in my hair either!

                                            

                                                Some final overall pictures:

  

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