We are reluctant to say goodbye to summer this year, and so before pumpkins and witches take over everything, we’re excited to share one last summer-sewing DIY: a swimsuit! Me-made DIY swimsuits have been the most exciting sewing trend of the summer, and with our Sport Lycra being so perfect for swimwear, we knew we just had to do a sew-along of our very own to show you just how easy this project really is (plus for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, summer’s just getting started!).
The Alison swimsuit from Burdastyle is a perfect starter-suit, for those of you who may have never made one before and are feeling a little nervous. Don’t be! Sewing expert Meg from the Burdastyle team is extremely experienced with suit-sewing, and so we couldn’t imagine a better teacher. Over the course of the next 3 weeks, she’ll be walking you through how to sew up this vintage inspired suit in a step-by-step, broken down process that won’t feel too overwhelming. We hope you’ll join us each Monday for the next step in the sew along, and if you have any feedback or questions along the way don’t hesitate to drop us a note in the comments section. Now we’ll turn things over to Meg of Burdastyle so you can get started!
Meg: I used Spoonflower’s new Sport Lycra to make myself a new swimsuit! Just because summer’s closing out doesn’t mean that swim season is over, I always love to go to my local indoor pool for a recreational swim or a good aquafit class. Now I can go in style and comfort with this swimsuit using BurdaStyle’s retro Alison Swimsuit digital sewing pattern and Spoonflower’s Sport Lycra in an adorable watermelon print. I always love working with stretch fabrics since the projects come together rather quickly and easily… if you have the right tools and use the correct techniques, that is! Read (and sew) along as I sew my retro swimsuit step-by-step in this 3 part sew along!
First thing to do is gather up all your materials, for this Alison suit I used 1 yd of the printed Sport Lycra, a little piece of stretch lining (make sure you use a lining with the same stretch qualities as the sport lycra, you could also use Performance Pique or Performance Knit), and about ½ yd swimwear elastic. I suggest using elastic that has a width of ⅜”, you could go as narrow as ¼” and as wide as ½” depending on what you have. You can use knit or rubber elastic, I actually prefer to use rubber elastic for swimwear but already had this nude knit ⅓” wide elastic so I made it work!
BurdaStyle.com sewing patterns are all digital and come in PDF form, so before you do any cutting or sewing of any kind, you must first print and tile the pattern. Learn more about using PDF sewing patterns here.
Determine your size and cut out along your size line. For sewing patterns meant to be sewn in a lycra, remember that they need to be smaller than your body measurements. If you are having difficulties determining your size you should measure your waist and hip circumference and multiply by 0.9. This calculation will be what your sewing pattern needs to measure. As a point of reference my waist is 30” and hips are 40” and I cut the largest size and the suit fits great!
Another thing to keep in mind is the seam allowance. This pattern includes ⅝” seam allowance and that is fine if you are sewing with a regular sewing machine, but if you plan on sewing the seams with a serger then you only need ¼” seam allowance. So you must take off ⅜” from the edge.
Once your pattern is ready for cutting you need to determine the direction of greatest stretch on the lycra. The direction of greatest stretch needs to be across your body so you need to lay out your pattern accordingly. I found for the Sport Lycra the direction of greatest stretch was perpendicular to the selvage edge, so I placed my pieces with the center fronts and backs parallel to the selvedge as pictured.
Most of the pieces in the pattern you need to cut on the fold, and for the long strap piece you need to cut 2 on the fold. The back strap piece is optional, and only cut if you plan on having them tie up at the back like the pattern. For my Alison suit I plan on criss crossing the top straps in the back and sewing down in place (but I cut the back strap pieces out anyway just in case), and I’ll show you multiple strap option in part 3 of the sew along! The unlabeled piece is the front tab, and you only need to cut one of those.
Here are all of my pieces cut out and ready for sewing!
For the crotch piece you must also cut it out of lining. You can choose to cut your entire front piece out of lining if you have a print/color that is mainly white or light colored. The bust section is already doubled up so no need to line that piece.
What I find easiest is to simply lay the fabric crotch piece wrong sides together with the lining and cut out from there. Make sure you also determine the direction of greatest stretch of the lining so it corresponds to the crotch piece.
When sewing with stretch fabrics you much also use a stretch/ball point sewing machine needle! Make sure you install one on your regular sewing machine before you do any sewing, even if you are sewing with a serger, there are still some steps that require a straight stitch machine. For this fabric I used a stretch 90/12 sized needle. For the thread I used an all-purpose 100% polyester thread in a matching color.
Now I’m going to go over some seam options that you can use to sew your swimsuit together. If you have a serger/overlock machine I suggest you use it! Serging seams is the best for stretch fabrics since the threads are all looped together and stretch a lot with the fabric. You are pretty much guaranteed no seam popping (when the tension is right) for a serged seam, and that is pretty important for a swimsuit. Have your serger set up for four threads and test the tension settings on scrap pieces of fabric.
If you don’t have a serger at home, don’t worry, you can still certainly sew a swimsuit in Sport Lycra! The thing is, you can’t just sew the seams with a regular straight stitch. This is a test of my machine’s stretch stitch setting which is like a combination of a zig zag and straight stitch. Also make sure to shorten your stitch length a bit when sewing with stretch fabrics.
Perhaps your sewing machine doesn’t have a stretch stitch (some basic ones don’t), but most machines have a zig zag stitch setting. When sewing the seams of your swimsuit set your zig zag to the narrowest setting, and for topstitching you will need to widen it. Basically to sew a swimsuit in lycra on your regular sewing machine you need to use a stitch that also stretches.
Now that we got all the sewing with lycra basics down we can start on the fun stuff, sewing the suit! The first seams to sew are the crotch seams. Lay the front suit down right side up and then the crotch piece right side down aligning the curves (the smaller curve is the front, and the larger curve is the back). In this seam we are sewing an inward and an outward curve together.
To make the crotch seams completely concealed and non-irritating from the inside of the suit, we must “sandwich” the front piece in between the crotch piece and the crotch lining. So pick up the two layers and pin the lining underneath the front and crotch piece. Pin all three layers together.
Sew/serge all three layers together and flip the crotch, and crotch lining down so they lay away from the front.
Now that we have the front crotch seam sewn, we need to sew the back. The back is a bit more tricky to sew, so first pin just the back crotch piece to the back piece. Then take the crotch lining and twist so the right side of the lining is together with the wrong side of the back piece. Pin all three layers together and sew.
Flip to the right side so everything is laying flat, and you should have your crotch piece looking like this. Both seams are concealed on the inside to make it less irritating to wear.
Take your crotch piece to your sewing machine and set it to a basic basting stitch (this stitch will hold the layers together and is not a seam). Sew on each side making sure to be inside the seam allowance.
This is what it should look like from the right side. The basting stitch just really helps when we apply the elastic to the leg openings.
If you want to try a basic suit first for fit and testing out your machine settings for this fabric, register for an account and download our swimsuit sloper for free here.
Meg Healy began to sew at the age of 12, which led her to study Fashion Design at both Fanshawe College in London and Parsons the New School for Design in NYC while also interning for Vera Wang. Meg gained the technical skills in pattern making and advanced sewing that led to a number of awards for her design and construction skills. She is now is the editor, lead educator, and face of BurdaStyle.com, inspiring members with sewing projects, online sewing courses, & how-to videos. She thrives working from her downtown studio loft everyday with her giant Flemish rabbit and is regularly commissioned to sew wedding garments, textile art installations, and everything in-between.