Sewing Swimwear for the Vertically Challenged

Posted by Mary Kaye Cole

Welcome again to Phee Fabrics Swim Week! I hope you are enjoying our blog posts here on the website and our posts in the Phee Fabrics and Phee Fabrics Sewalong FB Groups!I recently tested the Mairin Ladies Swimsuit by Sew A Little Seam. I used the Navy and White Matte Stripe Nylon Spandex and the Coral Nylon Spandex Tricot and came up with a very cute, somewhat nautical bikini with a ruffle neckline and bottoms that don’t accentuate my flat butt!

Easy Peasy! Right?





What in the world was a vertically challenged beginner swimwear sewing seamstress who loves ruffles but hates to sew them thinking when she signed up to test a bikini with a ruffle neckline? Apparently she was not thinking. But in the end it was a great learning process for which I am so grateful. Had it not been for the fact that I was testing, I might have gotten frustrated and walked away, giving up on fitting something that required altering multiple pieces. If I had given up and walked away, I wouldn’t be able to show you this photo of me walking away in my cute little somewhat nautical swimsuit! I crack myself up! Ignore me.

So this non-thinking, intermediate seamstress but beginner at swimwear sewing, pattern testing seamstress is going to share her bikini top fitting journey with you. Let’s start with all the things that make me vertically unique. I’m all of 5’ 2.5” on a tall day. I have a short shoulder to bust apex measurement, a high waist, a sway back and a short torso overall. We won’t talk about my horizontal challenges because that’s a whole different blog post!

Since this was my first time testing for Sew A Little Seam, I decided I should make the pattern exactly as drafted and written. Any time I test for a designer I’m not familiar with, I do this. Different designers use different blocks and that can definitely affect fit. Fit issues come up in testing…that’s part of why we test. But when I find myself having fit issues others aren’t having, that is when I start looking at my unique body and how the pattern fits in the areas affected.

When I made the pattern exactly as drafted, the first thing I noticed was that the binding for the ruffle neckline was way to long. So I shortened it. And I shortened it some more. Still I had this.

This was prior to adding the elastic to the neckline. The binding to elastic ratio was 1:1. To accommodate for my binding that was still too long, I shortened my elastic to slightly shorter than the binding. But that wasn’t enough. The straps felt loose and it pulled the armscye too high under my arm.

Isn’t that Raspberry Circular Knit gorgeous with that Black Circular Knit? Glad I have enough of the raspberry to make another like this! Off topic, I know. But Phee’s Raspberry Circular Knit is my favorite fabric EVAH!

Back to our saga…I talked with the designer about my concerns and she asked a few questions and came up with a solution that made me go “GAH!!!! Rookie mistake.” When determining what adjustments to make, I had completely neglected my vertical trunk measurement. My VT is 56 ⅝” but the pattern is written for a VT of 58 ½” – 60” depending on which of my horizontal measurements you are looking at. We decided I should take 1 ½” height out of the bikini top based on my VT measurement.

So that’s where I started. But when I folded my pattern piece to remove the height, I realized that wasn’t going to leave near enough room at the thinnest section of the back to accommodate the bra band elastic and a ⅜” seam allowance for the binding. So I used 1 ¼” instead. This is the area where I removed the height.

I thought all was good and I started construction. When I added the ½” elastic for the bra band, I realized once I folded this under I was going to be sewing my binding (and thus ruffle) on the bottom band of my bikini top. Not good. So I ripped out the ½” elastic (not the only ripping I did that day unfortunately) and used ¼” elastic instead. That turned out to be a good compromise. The thinnest portion of the back band is still thinner than the ruffle, but I think given the circumstances this was the best solution.

So I have my bottom band on and I get my bra cups sewn in. Time to baste on the neck binding and check that. With the neck binding basted in place, I realized I still needed to remove a small portion from the binding (and therefore elastic), but I kind of expected this considering (1) I have to make an adjustment in height from shoulder to bust apex in most patterns and (2) I had to remove a significant amount of length from the neck binding for my muslin.

Now for the easy part! I have all my adjustments made and all I need to do is sew on my elastic and ruffle/binding. Easy part my left foot! My sewing machine decided to show out! I adjusted tension, I rethreaded, I adjusted tension again, I even cleaned the bobbin area despite the fact that birdnesting is a sign of an issue with your top thread but I gave it a go, I rethreaded again and I adjusted tension again. This is the best she would give me.

That bitch!!! I finally gave up and said, “You win. I just cannot rip out any more bird nested triple stretch stitch today.” Luckily I have already finished the bottoms and actually didn’t have to make any vertical adjustments for the bottoms (or sew in any bird nested elastic stitching). I could have made a slight adjustment to the bottoms to accommodate my sway back and in the future I may. But I found that the cut of the crotch to provide enough coverage that I can adjust them slightly differently than I’m accustomed to when putting them on and they stay put without showing anything that ought not to be seen.

So anyway… I gave my sewing machine a stern look, tucked in all my loose threads, threw on my cute new somewhat nautical bikini with the bird nested top stitching and said “Hot Hubby let’s go take some pics!” And so we did!

Yay! You read the whole blog post! I appreciate that and hope you found my saga helpful. You deserve a one day sale on Black and white Stripes and yellow tricot.

Head on over to Phee Fabrics and buy your swim fabric, grab theMairin pattern at Sew a Little Seam and make those short girl adjustments!!! Or tall girl adjustments! Or whatever adjustments you need to make! Then post your beautiful suits in our Phee Fabrics FB Group! I bet they’d love to see them over in the Sew A Little Seam FB Group as well.

Happy Sewing!

Mary Kaye

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this blog are affiliate links. This means if you click this link and buy something I may receive a small portion of that sale.

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