Swimalong Guest: Process Guide for Creating a One of a Kind Suit

Today we have an excellent guest blogger. Most of you know Brooke already but if you don’t you really ought to follow her blog and find her on Twitter. Brooke and I met during the 1912 Project last year and since then have stayed in touch. She’s got a huge amount of sewing experience. She can honestly make just about anything and she’s one of the nicest people I’ve met online. So, now, go ahead and read along and check out what Brooke has to say about the creative process of building a swimsuit.

Hi, there, SwimAlong peeps!  

I’m Brooke (aka CustomStyle and @SewBrooke), and I’ve been sewing professionally for 12 years. I’ve worked as a costumer in theatre, film, and television while doing some custom sewing on the side.

Leila and Katie over at Kadiddlehopper are doing a wonderful job hosting this SwimAlong SewAlong and I’m honored to be included in their list of guest posts!

While I’m no expert on swimsuits, I do have a lot of weird sewing experience. (Need someone to sew anything from a wedding dress to a Mechanical Bull cover? Then I’m your girl!)

I’ve made a swimsuit once before, have experience working at a mascot place (spandex bodysuits etc.), and I worked as a cheerleading uniform sample-maker for a brief time, so stretch fabrics are not completely foreign to me.

Leila asked me if I could write a Process Guide for creating a custom sewn bathing suit, so without further ado, here’s a general list of questions I ask a designer/client/myself before I start any project:

  • When’s the deadline or how much time is there for the build?
  • Do you have a strict budget?
  • Do you have a design idea or inspiration? (aka What do you want & do you have reference pictures/sketches?)
  • Is there a ready-made sewing pattern available that would be a good starting point for your design with minimal alterations required? Or does a custom pattern need to be drafted?
  • How much fabric yardage and trim will you need?
  • Have you chosen fabrics/colors?
  • What other supplies have you looked for already?
  • Is there time to price-comparison shop or get fabric swatches, and is there enough time to order anything by mail?
  • Do you have coupons for any supplies you don’t have yet? Do you need to wait for a sale?
  • How is the custom item going to be cleaned after it is made? Will it even need to be cleaned? (You don’t want to use those fancy metal buttons on something that will require you to remove them before dry cleaning!)

Okay, so assuming you have time, money, a design/pattern, and can find the supplies, you are now ready to think about actually building your dream!

Now it’s time to ask some more questions:

  • Do I have the knowledge and the skills needed to make this myself?
  • If not, can I learn from the Interwebz or do I need to hire or bribe someone to help me?
  • Do I need to make a mockup (aka muslin) to test the pattern? (And the answer is: YES! Always do a mockup unless you are 99.9% sure your pattern fits or have used it a million times before! You don’t want to cut into your expensive final fabric before you know if the neckline is too low!)
  • Do I need to make some stitch/construction finishing samples with scraps of the actual fabric? (Make sure you buy a little more yardage than your pattern calls for so you can play with it a little before sewing on your finally garment!)
  • Do I need to go shopping to study the inside and seam finishes on similar off-the-rack garments in order to copy some of the construction details?
  • Will I need someone to help me fit something on myself? (If you are sewing for someone else, this is obviously a moot point.)
  • Do I need to preshrink or prewash any of the fabric?

In general, you need to think like an engineer – you are building something custom and most likely will not be following exact pattern instructions. If you can understand the way the pieces fit together in your mind, you won’t even need the typically useless pattern instructions. Make a mockup, do some stitch samples, trust your sewing instincts, and just have fun!

And when in doubt, ask for help online – blog comments, emails, and tweets are always welcome. I enjoy answering questions and helping others improve their sewing skills – and I know Leila feels the same way! If I don’t know something, I know other professionals I can ask and I like researching. We can all learn from each other. =)

Even though I won’t be joining in the swimsuit making myself (I rarely go swimming), I can’t wait to see what everyone creates! I hope some of my process questions help get you thinking in the right direction!

And thanks again, Leila, for having me over to Three Dresses!

Thanks, Brooke! You’ve given me a lot to think about. To illustrate what Brooke is talking about, I’ve taken her questions and put together my ideas for a swimsuits.

I have a deadline but it’s flexible. I could wear my ill-fitting swimsuit but I’m really done wearing it. Mostly, I’m focused on the top part as most bottoms work, so that told me I really like separates. 

I do have a budget and I’ve bought swim fabric to meet my budgets. I still need to get more elastic and other colors of wooly nylon thread.

I hope all the inspiration posts Katie and I have put up have your creative juices flowing. When the SwimAlong started, I had no idea what I wanted to make but then I was reading through the inspiration posts again I really got hooked on the 30s styles but I think I really just like the bold patterns on the suits.

This is my inspiration

I have a couple of Butterick patterns that I could hack and I’ve traced one of my better fitting bras and will trace my swim bottom separates to copy. I’ve mostly used Pinterest to collect swim ideas which is how I came up with the idea to make a suit that looks like a shelf bra but has a hidden underwire. I like doing sketches so I did some of that, too. If I don’t see it sketched out I have a hard time conceptualizing it.

Swim process 2013 swimalong

You can see the my sketches above as well as the other parts I’m using the create my ideal suit. You can also see the swim fabric I’ve bought- anchors, navy blue, hot pink, red… yup! solids. I know that’s why you came here. To see me in solids. 🙂 I have been studying the insides of RTW swimwear and I have plenty of swim lining for some mock ups and practice stitching.

Thanks Brooke! I think your questions got me to really set myself up for the fitting stage. Is anyone else sketching out your swimsuit ideas? Or creating a suit based on something you’ve seen? Tell us!

18 thoughts on “Swimalong Guest: Process Guide for Creating a One of a Kind Suit

  1. Betsy says:

    Hi,
    This really interests me now, because I have lost weight and although I have a way to go,I want to be swimming more. I’m still thick through the middle, so don’t want anything cinched in there.
    I have several ugly fatter suits I don’t really like, and a couple I do like, but which don’t fit very well any more. I don’t like the newest one, but it fits better. None of the bra tops were ever any good.
    I’d be much happier making my own from a pattern I take from the old suits I like and fiddle with.
    The undergarment problem I might be inclined to solve with a separate swim bra. Or a decent underwire strapless.
    I have almost no stretch knit experience. I have very basic stretch stitches on my old machine.
    My questions are mostly how-tos about simple stitching elastic around neck and leg and arm openings. I guess I just have to sit down with some stretch knits fabric and see what happens.

    • Leila says:

      I like your plan of taking parts of the swimsuits you like and using them to create a pattern. I had never thought to use a strapless bra under a suit. That would’ve saved me years of frustration.

      The SwimAlong will have the construction posts coming up very soon so you won’t be on your own. There will also be a guest post from a lingerie maker on adding bra components to your swimsuit. I hope these help.

  2. Clipped Curves says:

    Woo I’m getting excited about making this now. I received my swim-proof bra cups, swim clear elastic and sheer stretch lining in the post yesterday.

    These extra questions were helpful – muslin – I had overlooked this but I desperatly need to replace my thinning 12 year old swim suit so perhap I should source some cheapo lycra to have a practise make with. And I completely forgot about thread!

    • Leila says:

      Yay! We’re getting there. Sounds like you’re getting so so close. Yeah, I like to always test fabric and elastic and stuff together before I go for it on my garment.

      Oops on the thread. I could use more wooly nylon, too.

  3. Gjeometry says:

    Great post Brooke, thanks for sharing your wisdom! And, I enjoy thinking like an engineer, so am excited to frankensuit my swimsuit. (p.s., How did you know I needed a mechanical bull cover?????? 😛 )

    I actually just learned about Wooly Nylon thread in #fabricchat, I had never heard of it before! Although I will likely be using 100% cotton with elastic binding since I just don’t like the feel of the nylon/spandex on my skin. It’s icky. Lol. (I’m overly tactile like a small child).

    • Brooke says:

      Aww thanks! And lol! – you never fall to make me laugh with the way you word things! =)

      I bet you could find woolly nylon thread in your rtw lingerie and it’s sometimes in t-shirts (usually the bottom hem on the back of a coverstitch). It’s great stuff but it can be a real pain to thread though a needle! I just learned a new trick for that at work the other day – put a bit of fabric glue on the end you want to thread through the needle eye and let it dry some to stiffen the fuzzy thread so you can push it through.

      • Gjeometry says:

        Ahhh, smart tip! I have yet to look at my local fabric store to purchase some, but was told by somebody who shops there that they do, indeed, carry some. I guess I just have never really looked at it before and assumed it was regular thread.

  4. Thimble & Cork says:

    Great post – for all sewing projects! Planning is one of my favorite parts of sewing. Brooke has answered many of my questions over twitter and blog comments; she’s so friendly and helpful. Such a great example of how wonderful this little community is. This looks like such a well-organized and collaborative sew along! I look forward to seeing everyone’s finished swimsuits!

    • Leila says:

      I totally agree that this works for all sewing projects. Definitely! And yeah, Brooke is completely awesome. She’s so giving.

      Thanks for the props on the sewalong. It’s been fun getting to know people better.

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