Hello my lovers!* I hope all is well, and you aren’t averse to seeing super pale thighs all out there for the world to see, because I made a swimsuit. I also made a bra. In the same week. Ain’t no mountain high enough to stop me! Strap yourself in, this post gets a little wordy.
This is of course the Closet Case Bombshell swimsuit, in which Heather Lou proves that she’s a drafting genius who can make even the most intimidating garments a piece of cake. I picked the pattern up as part of the Perfect Pattern Parcel last year, but it’s taken me this long to actually make anything from the parcel. Mostly because grading is a chore, and I don’t like chores. But honestly, grading up this pattern is no biggie! Arm yourself with this tutorial from Cashmerette, and you’ll be fine. I didn’t quite understand how to transfer the changes made to the outer pieces to the lining (as the outer pieces are much longer than the lining, to accommodate the ruching), so I just graded each of the lining pieces individually as well. Simples.
So, it has to be something pretty special to get me posting swimwear pictures on the internet, but there you have it. I a) love this pattern, and b) now love sewing swimwear. I’m already planning my next, which will probably be a 2 piece combination of Bombshell view C (the bikini bottoms) and a variation of my DIY bra pattern. Yes, this baby has a bra built in, and I made it myself. I’m so jealous of everyone making cute little underthings, but none of those patterns fit me (I think, I haven’t looked too closely), and there’s no way I’m tackling grading bras. I used Susan’s tutorial on Measure Once, Cut Twice to create my own bra pattern, using a bra I unpicked. It’s not perfect yet, especially if making it for swimwear, but this is still easily the most supportive swimwear I’ve worn in years.
As you can probably tell, this version isn’t exactly as drafted. I had dreams of a navy and white colour blocked swimsuit, but the Bombshell is a single piece front, so it didn’t really lend itself to colour blocking. So, I turned it into a 2-piece front. This was easy – I made a pseudo-muslin with the lining pieces, to check that the length was okay, then drew on where I wanted the lines to go, while wearing the muslin. I then transferred this to the main bodice pattern front, using Heather Lou’s 1:1.6 ratio to work out how far down the pattern to make the lines, lengthwise (i.e. if the line started 10cm down from the top edge on the the lining piece, I drew the line in at 16cm down from the top on the bodice front piece). I then separated the two pieces, added a 1/4in seam allowance, and sewed them back together once I’d cut the fabric, and treated the front as one piece after that (I stitched them using a medium zig-zag, then topstitched the seam down, again using a medium zig-zag stitch).
This mostly worked as I planned, however the outer lycra stretched in quite a different way to the lining piece, so it’s not placed exactly where I had in mind. I had planned for the white portion to more or less sit over my bra, gently sloping under the bra cup to a straight portion across the bottom of the bridge, before sloping back under the cup on the other side. As you can probably see, the “straight” portion is quite a bit higher than where the bridge of the bra sits, and also a lot wider, leaving me with something that looks more like a pinafore bib, but I totally love it. Happy accident. It’s like the mega-cute version of Mario’s overalls. Maybe I need a green Luigi version, too?
No pictures of the bra yet, because it’s not very pretty. I substituted various materials to try and make it more swimwear friendly, which mostly worked, but not always. For example, I swapped the power mesh back for a double layer of Lycra (to make it stretchy, but not too stretchy). This worked, but I should have just stuck with a single layer of Lycra. I also used swimwear/rubber elastic, which I didn’t want sitting directly on my skin, so I covered it with the lining fabric I used for the main swimsuit. This is not very pretty (it’s a beige colour inside a mostly white bra), and some of the swimwear elastic is a little wider than the elastic from the original bra, so it’s a little firmer. I could do with a tiny bit more stretch/length all round on the bra, but on the other hand, it’s supportive and I don’t worry about falling out of my bathers (a real concern in my last pair of RTW bathers. I had to tuck everything in before standing up, even in calm pools – let’s not talk about what would happen in the surf! I tried these out on the weekend, and I never once fell out). Plus, real talk – some of my stitching on the bra is Not Pretty, especially where I stitched the underwire casing in. Woah.
I attached the bra to the suit at the point where the straps attach to the bra, when I came to topstitching down the top edge of the suit, with the strap edge of the bra sandwiched between the outside of the suit and the folded over elastic/suit edge (does that make sense? If not, let me know and I’ll take some pictures). I straightened the back piece (rather than the deep curve of the original pattern) to make sure the back of the suit would cover the band of the bra. Finally, I made normal over-the-shoulder straps, rather than the halter of the original pattern (because HELLO screaming headache if I were to hang my boobs from my neck). The straps are just a length of wide swimwear elastic covered in self-fabric which was cut about 4 times as wide as the elastic, sewn into a tube and gathered at the open ends to match the width of the elastic. These were attached to the bra/swimsuit using two rows of bar tacks, around 1.5cm apart. On the front, they’re attached to the bra/swimsuit combo where the straps of the bra would be attached. On the back, they’re attached just to the suit, with the band of the bra floating free underneath (trust me on this method if you try it. I attempted to attach the bra at the back as well, but I couldn’t get into it, with the popped stitches to prove it). I then added the (stinkin’ cute) bows to cover the bar tacks, stitched on by hand.
There’s several things I’ll change next time on the bra- I’ll use swim foam for the cups, rather than interfaced Lycra; I’ll only use a single layer of Lycra for the back band; I’ll use narrower elastic (especially around the bottom of the bra), and I’ll cut the straps a little longer. They were cut to match the bra straps of my original bra, but I guess the rubber elastic doesn’t stretch quite as much.
For the swimsuit, there’s not a whole lot I’ll change! I will lengthen it slightly (even though I made up the lining to check the length, it’s a little short, especially the lining- I’m 168cm tall, but with a long torso [read: short legs!], for reference). I also have some weird droopiness at the butt. Anyone have any ideas what’s going on there? The outer piece droops below the lining/elasticated leg opening. I can’t work out what to do about it, other than focusing most of the gathers a little further away from the leg openings next time. My next version probably won’t be colour blocked (but never say never!). I’ll also use different fabric- this is made of dance Lycra from Spotlight, and is a little heavier than typical swimsuit Lycra, although it does the same job. I used a beige stretch lining from Spotlight, too, which I think is a little heavy. The whole suit weighs a ton, especially when wet, compared to my previous RTW suits, although it’s not heavy when I’m wearing it. Finally, if you look close enough, you can see the bra seams/lining dart on the outside of the suit. The bra seams will be improved by using swim foam, but I might think about what I can do about the dart.
Make a swimsuit! If you can use a zig-zag stitch, you can make this. I did the whole thing on my sewing machine, as I don’t have an overlocker (booooo). It might help if you’ve applied elastic before, but Heather Lou’s instructions and sewalong will help you out there, so it’s totally not a problem if you haven’t. If you don’t fit into the size chart, grade it up (or down) – the benefit of super stretchy, negative ease patterns/fabrics is that there’s really no fit issues, other than length. I did have to spend quite a while unpicking the gathering stitches once the suit was assembled, as they were pulled so tight that there was no vertical stretch left, but that was seriously the most painful part of sewing the whole project. Swimsuits for everyone!
* When I lived in Bristol, the locals would greet just about anyone with “Alright, my lover?”, with a Somerset accent that sounded like a pirate. It was the best.