How Sewing a Modest Swimsuit Changed the Way I Look at Swimwear

JUL 9, 2019 updated Jul 22, 2021

When the sewist behind the blog The Little Pomegranate was tired of only finding modest swimsuits that lacked style and fit, she took matters into her own DIY hands. After extensive testing, it’s safe to say Rumana is making waves with her modern approach to modest swimwear. Keep reading to find out how the process of designing her own suit helped her find the confidence to proudly step onto the sand in style.

Rumana: Lately I’ve noticed a bit of DIY swimwear fever sweeping through Instagram – from gorgeous prints to fabulous sewing patterns it’s not hard to see why people have been jumping at the chance to sew their own swimsuits. Not only do you get to make your dream swimsuit that fits your body, you also get to avoid the dread of having to try on ill-fitting, ready-to-wear swimsuits in a dimly lit cramped changing room. It’s basically a no-brainer! But if I’m 100% honest, I’ve never really thought of making my own swimwear as an option because of my need to cover my arms and legs. But after seeing my feed filled with glorious me-made swimsuits I was inspired to give it a go. So what happens if your swimwear needs are a little different from your average person?

There are so many reasons why someone might want more coverage from their swimsuits – religious reasons (like me), personal comfort (some people just prefer to cover up more) or even sun protection for sensitive skin. There’s been a rise of ready-to-wear versions, from the standard (and in my opinion awfully named) ‘burkini’ made up of trousers and a long top, loose one-piece wet-suit style ones, to more fashionable three piece affairs with detachable wrap-around skirts. While there are some great companies out there, a lot of what’s available is decidedly frumpy and dull. I wanted something lush and tropical, something that screams ‘holiday!’ 

So off I went searching for the perfect fabric. Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed by the gorgeous jungle themed patterns on Spoonflower. I found these beauties really easily by searching for ‘jungle’, ‘monstera’ and ‘banana leaf’.

Banana Leaves | Tropical Leaves | Monstera Leaves

The samples I received didn’t disappoint but I instantly fell in love with the watercolour detailing of this monstera print by Taylor_Bates_Creative (far right), especially in this large scale.

Four versions of my surf-suit inspired long tunic. Can you figure out which style I chose?

When it came to my design I had so many ideas but managed to narrow it down to a surf-suit inspired long tunic. From past experience I wanted it to be a little longer to cover my thighs, but still give me space to move, which is where the idea for a wrap-front skirt came from. The raglan sleeves would give extra movement in the arms and the high neck would provide an extra bit of coverage, plus I liked the idea of a chunky zip to make it more sporty. I also wanted to create pleats across the tummy area – one thing I hated about my old suits was how they would cling to my body when I got out of the water. I thought a little bit of pleating would be an unusual design detail as well as hide my lower body a bit more when it got wet.

The final look featuring Watercolor Monstera Leaves and Linen Solid

I put my pattern-making skills to the test by heavily hacking a body-suit pattern and creating a higher neckline, collar and the skirt from scratch. But the planning stage (I did a few test versions in scrap jersey) was well worth the effort because when it came to cutting into this beautiful fabric, the construction was actually quite simple and came together quickly.

The Sport Lycra has a lovely weight to it and even though it’s super stretchy, it’s actually quite stable which means it doesn’t stretch out too much as you handle it. Below are my top tips for sewing with Sport Lycra and you can find even more tips in this post.

1. Use a rotary cutter to cut your pieces. This avoids stretching the pieces as you cut them out. Plus it’s super fast! Once you get used to a rotary cutter I promise you won’t go back to cutting out fabric with scissors.

2. I used my overlocker (serger) for the majority of this project which is perfect for stretch fabric, but when I needed to, I switched to my sewing machine. Make sure you use the right needle (stretch or ballpoint) to avoid skipped stitches and a stretchy stitch (e.g. zig zag) to sew seams. A walking foot is perfect to make sure the fabric doesn’t get stretched out as you sew. But also remember – if your pattern piece doesn’t need to stretch (like my curved hem and zip) a straight stitch can work too, and often is a little neater.

3. Steam! I used my iron on the lowest setting and used the steam function to press the seams – after testing the iron on my fabric swatch. It also worked wonders to reshape some pieces which would inevitably get a little stretched out as I sewed. With a quick press (and a pressing cloth) they would magically ping back to shape. I was really impressed with how the fabric recovered.

4. Lastly I used a water-soluble felt tip fabric pen to mark notches/pleats etc. This was really helpful as it was clear to see but also easy to mark. Chalk can be difficult to transfer on and might stretch the fabric. Again, be sure to test it out on a scrap piece of fabric and make sure the pen washes out – you don’t want to have blue pen all over your finished garment!

So here’s my final outfit which I paired with some store-bought swim leggings. I absolutely love it!

It’s already been put to the test in sunny Turkey – dipping in and out of the pool and the sea. The high neck is great for my coverage needs, and the little detail of the zip guard makes it super comfy against my skin. I added a bit of black binding to highlight the curves of the wrap skirt and the skirt itself worked really well. It gave my legs space to move/kick in the water while keeping the slimmer silhouette I wanted. I love the pleats which make it look so much more interesting without being bulky across my tummy.

I even managed to squeeze out a swim turban using this lovely contrast pattern from one fat quarter of Sport Lycra! It worked really well and didn’t slip off once! Plus the pleats gave some extra room for my hair.

I know everyone says this, but being able to sew my own swimwear has been a real game-changer. As a Muslim, hijab-wearing woman, I’ve often felt self-conscious and stared at on the beach – even more so in parts of Europe where there is backlash against ‘burkini’-style swimsuits (some cities are even banning them). I’ve tried to not let things like that stop me – I’ve gone swimming in oceans, snorkeling amongst coral reefs and even had kite-surfing lessons in my old swimsuits, but I’m always aware of myself and how I look. But this swimsuit really has changed that. With its unashamedly bright and bold print it has given me the confidence to step out onto the sand with my head held a little bit higher, because everyone deserves to feel fabulous in their swimwear, right?


About the Guest Author

Rumana Lasker Dawood is a junior doctor from North London. Alongside her day-job, she enjoys sewing and crafting as a way to unwind after a long day. She’s most well-known for being a quarter-finalist on series 4 of The Great British Sewing Bee and for creating #SewInColour, calling to improve diversity and representation in sewing communities.

Follow her on Instagram @thelittlepomegranate and her blog, The Little Pomegranate

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  • Mary ECKSTEIN

    so glad to find this article. I will be making some modest swimwear for a lady at my church, and the tips for sewing performance wear are very appreciated. You did a lovely job

  • I use an old black rashguard, slightly heavier, from my scuba diving days. It doesn’t have a zip, is hard to get in and out of when wet, and the sun really makes me toasty warm.

    The idea of a beautifully patterned zip-front top is so appealing, and so much better than putting sunblock on that poisons the reefs. Thanks for showing me such a beautiful alternative, and one that I can also show to friends who really can’t be out in the sun much.

  • LOVE THIS SWIM SUIT! I know your sewing abilities and the great selection of fabrics on Spoonflower has made your wardrobe more fun and creative to approach/imagine!

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    So beautiful! Wondering what pattern you used for the turban?

  • as a Redhead with pink skin, I would wear that in a heartbeat for coverage, but for beauty’s sake I would wear it anyway. I love the details .

    • Hi Yvonne,
      The Sport Lycra is a great option for a dress that calls for a knit fabric like the Kielo Wrap dress. We recommend reviewing the recommended fabric on your sewing pattern and starting with a sample swatch to make sure the fabric will work for your specific project. I hope that helps, but if you have any more questions don’t hesitate to ask!

  • Janice Beitz

    I love your ideas on swimwear. As a 72 year old, admittedly overweight woman, who can sunburn in a flash, the idea of more coverage in a stylish swimsuit is eye opening. Our children live in California with pools, hot tubs and the ocean are integral to our visits. I am going to make a more coverage suit for myself so I can join in trips to the beach and nightly relaxing in the hot tub.
    Thanks for a great article.
    Jan

  • I love this! It’s gorgeous! Thank you for giving me the push I needed to make a skirted swimsuit. Yours looks so amazing!

  • I appreciate reading this very much. I have purchased several ready made rashguards that I use for swimming and playing tennis and would love to make my own. I’ve find the best shirts are made of material that is thinner than typically used for a swimsuit. Being more light weight I don’t need it skin tight to keep from sagging when wet and on the court sweat evaporates quickly keeping me cool. Are there different weights of sport lycra?
    Thank you

    • Hi Mary,
      Great question! Spoonflower Sport Lycra is 8.5 oz per square yard and our only swimsuit fabric. If you want to test out the fabric before making your own shirt, you can always order a $5 sample swatch of your favorite design on Sport Lycra to make sure it’ll work for your project. You may also want to consider the Performance Pique although this fabric only has a two-way stretch.

  • Truly amazing. Thank you for showcasing other forms of swimwear. Rumana I hope you start a pattern for this.

  • Fantastic! Thank you for sharing. As a very pale person, I love the idea of covered-up-yet-functional-yet-stylish swimwear. I’ve been cobbling things together with rash guards and such, but Rumana is inspiring me to explore sewing my own.