Thursday, June 9, 2016

Best sources for Swimwear and Sun Protective UV UPF fabrics for kids and adults: A guide to swim and sun fabrics

Every year when summer sewing comes around, I spend a ton of time looking for great fabrics. So I thought I'd share my knowledge with you, in case you are doing some summer sewing too! Rather than give you an exhaustive list, I am presenting a curated list of places that I have personal experience with, or have researched as possible sources.

Swimwear Fabrics

You could probably sew swimwear with any lycra-spandex fabric that has lots of stretch. Polyester is probably better for chlorine resistance and lack of water retentiveness. I generally tend to stick to fabrics that are labeled for swimwear though, so there are no surprises!

Peekaboo Fabric Shop

This year the winner in my book for kids swimwear fabrics was clearly Peekaboo Fabric Shop. They have a curated collection of exclusive fabrics that are both specifically designed for swimwear AND labeled with a UV protectiveness rating. I also loooove that they have coordinating prints, stripes, dots, and solids, which makes putting together a cute outfit so easy. So far I've made sunshade hoodies from the prints I purchased from Peekaboo, although I also have a kids swimsuit planned also.

Spandex World

My all-round favorite for swimwear fabrics is Spandex House. They have a huge selection which can be hard to sort through, but then again... lots of choice can be a good thing too! I've ordered mostly solids, dots and stripes from them and all of the fabrics I've ordered from them and sewn up so far have held up really well to exposure to chlorine, salt water and sun. Their Milliskin Matte is a great all round fabric, very high quality and great for basic adult swimsuits. My striped Soma tankini and my polka dot bombshell are both made with fabrics from Spandex House.

The Fabric Fairy

I have not ordered swimwear fabrics from the Fabric Fairy... but I've been tempted. Some wonderful prints that would be appropriate for both kids and adults, including fireworks, gingham, and ikats!

Zenith and Quasar

They have a small selection of swimwear fabrics in exclusive prints. I haven't ordered swimwear from them, but I've gotten swatches of their athletic fabrics and they were really nice quality fabrics.

Girl Charlee

There are so many great reviews of Girl Charlee out there, and a few mediocre or even bad reviews. They are never going to live down sending a defective print to Jenny Rushmore, who blogs at Cashmerette, but so many other people report fine experiences. The fact is, if you are looking for on-trend, adult oriented prints, they have a selection that you might want to consider. They don't have a swimwear section, but they have Lycra Spandex fabrics that suggest that they would be appropriate for swimwear in their product descriptions.

There are other sources out there, and if you know some more great sources, please post them in the comments with your experiences! Some of my best swimwear fabrics have been designer remnants from Emmaonesock (for example this Peter Max-esque print that I used for my Soma tankini) but she doesn't seem to have any right now, and when she does have them they sell out in a flash!

Board Short Fabric

Board short fabric is typically a polyester microfiber. It usually has a brushed matte finish and often has a water repellent surface. The key factor is that it doesn't absorb water! You could probably use other nylon-supplex type fabrics, but I tend to stick to things labeled as board short fabrics.

Peekaboo Pattern Shop Fabric Shop

Peekaboo has board short fabrics that coordinate with their swimwear fabrics. I ordered two different shades and they have sewn up beautifully. Last I checked they just had solids, but this was fine since I had maxed out on cute prints with their swimwear line, and the solids they carried matched the prints beautifully.

The Fabric Fairy

They have the best selection of prints I've seen in Boardshort fabrics, including plaids and classic hibiscus prints! Also lots of solids.

Zenith and Quasar

Their selection changes, but this year they have awesome galaxy print boardshort fabric, as well as some classic hibiscus and a great dragon tattoo print.


They have lots of solids and a few prints, including cute camo prints. I ordered one print last year and the quality was excellent.

Sun Protective UV protective fabrics (UPF-rated fabrics)

It is highly likely that many fabrics that are not labeled UV protective are, in fact, UV protective. Basically, if you are putting something between yourself and the sun, then you are probably blocking some UV rays. Darker fabrics and closer weaves are more likely to block more UV.

However, without a rating, it is really hard to tell exactly how long you (or your kids) can be out in the sun without turning into a lobster! Also, I often want to wear light colored fabrics in the sun, and these are the least likely to be protective. UV protective fabrics are treated with UV inhibiting factors during manufacturing, so you can have light colored fabrics that are just as protective as dark fabrics.

If you are shopping for UV protection in fabrics, look for a UPF rating, which is like an SPF for clothing. Here is an explanation of what a UPF rating means from Wikipedia:

For example, a fabric rated UPF 30 means that, if 30 units of UV fall on the fabric, only 1 unit will pass through to the skin. A UPF 30 fabric that blocks 29 out of 30 units of UV is therefore blocking 96.7%.

Okay, so where do you buy these fabrics? Here are my favorite sources:

Peekaboo Pattern Shop Fabric Shop

UV 50 rated board short and swimwear fabrics in super cute kid-oriented prints! I've said a bunch about these fabrics already, and you can check out the sunshade hoodies I made for the kids here.


They have a great selection of UPF rated fabrics, both knits and wovens. Mostly solids, but this year it looks like they have added some very cute prints too! Their pictures and descriptions weren't super helpful in terms of distinguishing between the fabrics, so ordering swatches is probably necessary here. Last year I ordered a bunch of swatches then chose a few fabrics to buy yardage of. In terms of knits, I especially liked the heather jersey, it is super soft and stretchy, and for wovens, I chose this supplex nylon. I actually didn't get around to making anything with these fabrics... but one of these might get sewn up this weekend, so I will keep you posted!

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