Monday, July 21, 2014

Stripey Soma Swimsuit, done Tankini-Style!

I'm so excited to have made my first swimsuit! Well, really, why not? Afterall, swimsuit shopping is just the worst thing ever! My current swimsuit is 8 years old, and I still remember the days and days of scouring stores and online shops for an swimsuit I would consider wearing in public. Somehow I doubt the situation has gotten any better out there in RTW-land, and I really don't want to find out.

Is my list of demands really that different from any other woman? Adequate coverage, straps that won't slide off of my shoulders, adequate lining to prevent embarassing show through, and cute! But it somehow seems impossible to satisfy all of those basic needs without doing it yourself.

I had been thinking about taking the plunge into swimwear, but I was emboldened to give it a go by the success of fellow bloggers Lauren and Sallie. They both used the Soma Swimsuit pattern from Papercut patterns, and both of theirs look fantastic!

I'm usually sort of a cheapskate when it comes to patterns, but I decided that this one was probably worth the extra $$-- and quite honestly, it is just a really cool pattern. And of course I have to have it NOW so I did the PDF download. Ulgh, I hate those things- the only thing good about them is the immediate gratification of having your pattern right away! But every time I question whether it is worth it because somehow I never end up with all of the pieces of the grand PDF puzzle, and there I am scouring the stupid file trying to figure out which page got eaten by the printer, or spirited away by my daughter when I wasn't looking. Anyhow, the pain was short-lived because the pieces for a swimsuit are just so small!

I didn't want to use my irreplaceable swimsuit fabric for the first go in case it was a total fiasco, so I ordered some stripes and solids from Spandex World. Wow do they ship fast, they had it on my doorstep the next day (well I do live in the state of New York). The quality of the striped lycra spandex is pretty darn good, thick and opaque with great recovery, and the solid "milliskin" is fantastic, nice and thick, shiny on one side and matte on the other. How they hold up to salt and chlorine remains to be seen!

I ordered my other specialized supplies from Sew Sassy. The whole shebang didn't end up being very cheap, but I think ordered enough stuff to make swimsuits for myself and my daughter for the next couple of years... and who knows, I might even try my hand at lingerie next!

Okay, so I sort of ripped off Lauren's stripey idea... her navy striped soma is just fantastic and I just want one! I did play a bit with the orientation of my stripes, and after making a few sketches I decided to do the top of the cup vertical and the bottom horizontal.

And of course my big change is to make the bikini into a tankini! After giving birth 2 years ago, my body isn't really bikini-ready yet, so I'm more comfortable lounging around at the pool with a bit more coverage. It was a pretty easy adaptation-- I just made the bikini as instructed, but rather than finish the bottom with elastic, I added a tube of fabric to make my tankini. The top measurement of the tube is the finished measurement of the bottom of the bikini, and the bottom measurement of the tube is my hip measurement with about an inch of negative ease.

I cut a straight medium in the pattern, top and bottom. I'm probably about a size 12 in RTW and usually a 38C in bras. I measure a 39 bust and a 42 hip, so the medium is just about right. And I made absolutely no changes to the pattern in fitting, it all fit surprisingly well. Other than my tankini variation, I mostly followed the instructions. I can't remember the last time I followed instructions for a pattern... but the Soma instructions were really good, and I was clueless as to how to sew a swimsuit!

This was sort of an easy project, but also sort of a B-I-T-C-H. I'm not really sure why I was having so many problems. I have stretch needles and a walking foot and I sew knits and use elastic all of the time. But for some reason my machine was getting hung up on any little bump, and there are lots of them when you are always sewing down the ends to bits of elastic and strapping. I usually have to guide my fabric through rather forcefully, but it was worse than usual. And it was completely impossible to topstitch with a zigzag, which is what is called for all over the place in the directions. Because my machine was feeding so badly, the zigzag topstitch looked like it was done by a drunken seamstress no matter how carefully and slowly I tried to feed the fabric through my machine. I tried so many times I just ended up ditching the first cup and cutting out a new one, after I figured out the workaround- topstitching with a twin needle. Actually the twin needle topstitching looks pretty darn good, and more like a RTW swimsuit.

I don't know what is up with my machine... I started fantasizing about new machines, but probably the first step is to get it cleaned and tuned up, it is certainly overdue. But I'm likely to procrastinate on that because it's probably gonna be just fine for normal patterns that don't need gorgeous zigzagging.

I followed Sallieoh's lead and lined the cups with lingerie foam from Sew Sassy. She suggested cutting out the upper and lower cups minus the seam allowance, and then inserting them after you sewed the center cup seam, using the topstitching to hold them in place. This was a bit fussy and there was a bit of swearing and unpicking, but generally worked well.

From Lauren's review I borrowed the idea of hiding the center triangle seams. I did it sort of like you would do a lining for a dress when you are doing it all on the machine, and it was sort of a squeeze, but it worked! No exposed inside seams on the bikini! But if anyone has any ideas on what to do to make straps look a bit more finished on the inside, I'm all ears. I guess trimming them a bit more would help...

I'm totally amazed by the fit of the bottoms. I did the mid-rise version, and they are PERFECT. How is that even possible, I am sooooo picky about swim bottoms, and I made absolutely no changes to the pattern. But they are just a great balance between coverage and a touch of cheek. They fit so well that I am totally thinking about using this pattern to make undies!

I had some fun with the strapping. I had the real-deal bra strapping called for in the pattern so I wasn't worried about the strength of the straps, but rather with the slide factor. I think I have the world's slopey-est shoulders-- I have yet to find a bra or bathing suit with normal shoulder straps that won't work their way down to my elbows in a matter of minutes. Rather than doing a simple cross back, I did double strapping that crosses on top of my shoulders. I think it looks sort of cool with the stripes, and it is totally secure.

I just love my new swimsuit... I can't wait to go find some water! Good thing we are headed to the shore next week!


  1. I love it! Very flattering - it looks great.

    1. Thanks Jacqui! I wore it on our vacation last week and felt great in it!

  2. It looks great! I love the idea of turning it into a tankini :) What width are the stripes on your fabric?

  3. They are 1/2 inch stripes. I wanted 1/4 inch but Spandex World was all out. In the end though, I'm pretty happy with the 1/2 inch stripes, they are bold!

  4. I'm so glad you posted this! I got this pattern for Christmas, and was wondering about turning the version you used into a tankini because even though I want to make a bikini, I don't really wear bikinis (I know, crazy). Thanks for the tips!!!

  5. I was really inspired by what you did with this suit, and I used your ideas to make my own. Thanks for posting!!! Here's my post on my tankini:

  6. Pattern and Branch, I love your suit! What a great color combination! And I will have to try underwires in a future version, that would be the bomb.