I think everyone probably has a clothing item or two in their mind that they’d really love to have, but can’t for some reason. It doesn’t come in their size, or their color, or the fit is all wrong, or it’s too expensive – the reasons are endless. Standard sizes in RTW clothing can’t really take into account the infinite variations of bodies, especially when a single body varies across several size ranges. I can think of a few things I’ve struggled to find over the years, but today I give you one I’ve never, ever, in the history of my 24 years, had the pleasure of owning. Until now.
Friends, I’ve made a one piece swimsuit, and it fits.
I have never had a one piece swimsuit before. My torso is a few inches longer than most, and I’m not very big around the middle. I either end up with a snug fit in the waist and hips and the wedgie to end all wedgies (not to mention red shoulder marks from the straps), or I get the length but I’m left with several inches of extra fabric in the side seams. To boot, I wanted a suit that would lift/support the girls a bit, rather than just squish them down into armpit-land. As soon as I started making successful bras, I started thinking the forbidden one-piece wouldn’t be so impossible after all – which, of course, meant I got even pickier about what I wanted this, the mother of all swimsuits, to have.
The fabric, which I bought as part of my first ever Spoonflower order, is the Floral Pop Stripes design by Judy Quintero of Cabinet of Pretty Things. I liked that this one had a clearer repeat in the design, so I had some fun with pattern placement when I was cutting out the pieces! The rest of my supplies (underwires, duoplex, bra tulle, foam, elastics, and FOE) were intentionally leftover from my first swimsuit order – from Lynda at Elle Joan’s. Her shop, by the way, has a whole lot of new bra tulle that I am so excited about! I need to take the leap and make a soft cup, foamless bra with some of it! But I digress.
The Requirements, as they were- were as follows: One piece, scoop neck, high-ish leg openings, bust support but no visible bust seams from the outside (darts acceptable, but no seamed cups or wirelines), open back, tie closure in back with reinforced clasp method hidden underneath.
It was important to me that the suit included, but showed no evidence of, bust support. Kind of like wearing a bra under your shirt? My other suit, the longline, had defined cups like a bra, and I wanted to go for a different look here. I did use bust darts in the body of the suit to make sure I wasn’t counteracting the uplift with compression.
Before I even picked fabric, I knew I was going to have to watch out for back gaping. I wanted the back to be almost entirely cut out, so if I didn’t get my measurements just right, the fabric at the sides of my waist was going to be flapping in the breeze. Let’s just say I really don’t feel like this thing needs to double as a flying squirrel outfit.
So, style plans figured out – I met my next hurdle. I’ve made bras and a swim top, and I’ve made undies and swim bottoms, but I’ve never combined the two. How do I do that? My pattern drafting book was written prior to the invention of stretch fabrics, so I had no instructions to follow. There’s a bit of information online, but without buying a book about drafting with stretch fabrics, there wasn’t a lot to go on. After a few days of thinking and sketching, I came up with a plan.
I had the pattern for the top I was going to use, and I had the pattern for the bottoms – I put mocked up versions of both pieces on, and using a series of reference points, measured the distance, while on my body, from the tops to the bottoms. I did this for the Center front (measured from CF Top of bridge to the top edge of the undies) and for the side (from the top of the side seam of the bra, down to the top of the side seam of the undies). Then, I just transferred my markings to the pattern pieces for the top and bottom, and connected them with a piece of paper at the distance between the points! The back cutout I drew freehand, ending just above the preexisting CB of the undies, to 2″ wide at the sides, and all the way up to the top of the side seam in order to connect the straps. Here’s a hastily drawn diagram if you’re more of a visual learner:
The rest was a breeze! I stitched up the outer shell and the lining with a narrow zig zag, and nested them inside each other. The back straps are just a back band pattern from one of my bras – swim fabric on the outside, lined with powernet, connected with a g-hook in the middle. The bow is made from strips of swim fabric, stitched into the side seams of the outer shell. I chose the fabric orientation for the bow so that the tail stripes would be horizontal, although I think the bow would tie nicer had I chosen to have the DOGS go the other direction.
The bust support – and I call it that because it’s not technically a bra – is made from my go-to self drafted bra pattern, except I omitted the back pieces and straps. It’s basically just a cradle with the cups sewn in. This, in turn, is stitched into the side seams of the suit, and the back straps become the rest of the ‘bra’.
I made the assumption that I couldn’t use the same types of elastic for swimwear as for bras, so the cradle is finished at the bottom with swimwear elastic, folded over twice to hide it from my skin (I’m mildly allergic to latex, and although it’s coated in silicone, I wanted to be sure). The cradle and cups are duoplex, the lower cups are foam-lined, and the upper cups are lined with bra tulle. The side seams are stitched into the side seams of the suit, and the underarm side of the upper cup is caught in the FOE of the neckline, but other than that the bust support roams free inside the suit. I chose to put the swimsuit lining between the support piece and the lycra so there’d be an extra layer to hide the seams.
All the edges are finished with fold over elastic – if I make another one of these, I think one of the things I’d change would be to use a thicker width of FOE – visually I like it, but it’s not a very strong elastic. I think the leg holes and back opening would feel more secure with an elastic that was a bit firmer.
I did have to make one on-the-fly adjustment to the suit. There was a bit of gaping – not at the sides, but right at my lower back, where the bottom of the curve is. I took two darts from the suit back to account for those (thankfully before I began sewing the elastic) and now it fits perfectly! There is a little bit of a wrinkle right under my bust from excess fabric as well – only when I stand in certain positions, but I think I could probably stand to lose an extra inch in length there without risking wedgie-land
If I had to come up with a complaint, it would be that I can’t get into this suit without help. Can’t do the g-hook backwards, it would seem. The bow I can manage, but the hook is where the support lives. That’s hardly a complaint, as far as I’m concerned. In Hawaii, I wore it a lot with a skirt or shorts over the bottoms. It’s close enough to ‘actual clothes’ that you can wear it off-beach as well. Also, for instances of sitting and leaning backwards, the bow can be tied at the front and everything still looks totally normal! I love it. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’ll only ever reach for the one piece ever again – separates definitely have their place – but it’s great to have variety, and even greater that I’ve managed to make something that I never would have gotten the chance to wear otherwise!
The fabric, as with my other Spoonflower fabric, has been through the wringer – sun, sunscreen, saltwater, and the washing machine – and is still holding its color and shape beautifully! I don’t think I’m the sort of person who needs more than two swimsuits at a time (and counting my leftover RTW ones I have four, although those suits have got nothin’ on my me-mades.) but next time, I’m definitely getting my fabric from Spoonflower again, although this might be the end of my stretch lycra adventures for the time being.
There we are! Another one of the Hawaii Vacation Projects! Two down, two to go – not to mention it’s now been three weeks since I’ve been back and I’ve been sewing like the world’s going to end. The backlog of projects is astounding! I leave you with this photo of Hawaii, in case you needed another reason to go: