Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Shibori Underwire Swimsuit: a pattern review of the Closet Case Files Sophie Swimsuit

This is the hottest summer I can remember! When I'm home with the kids, we swim every day... and all of our vacation plans this summer involve beaches. When Heather at Closet Case Files announced her new Sophie Swimsuit Pattern earlier this summer, I knew I had to sew it up in a hurry!

A swimsuit with built in support... sign me up for that. I don't have a huge bust, but my post-baby chest definitely needs extra support and shaping. The Closet Case Files Bombshell swimsuit is the suit that I reach for most often in my swimming wardrobe, in part because I hacked it and created support by sewing an old bra into the front of the suit. This works pretty well, but it's not nearly as elegant as having a built in foam cup and underwire bra. That's top notch support! Of course, this means you basically are learning to make a bra... which is something I was intending to do in the near future anyway. 

I also love the lines of the Sophie... totally ideal for fun combinations of color and patterns, and perfect for creating figure enhancing illusions.

After measuring and re-measuring, I decided to make a size 10 bust, with a number 4 cup. I graded out to a 12 at the hips, but kept the length of the 10. I didn't make a muslin, although I did follow the suggestion to sew the foam cups first and try them on before cutting the rest of the pattern out. 

I looked all over the place for the perfect fabric, and finally settled on a black and white shibori-look print from Spandex World. The black fabric is their black milliskin. The lining is basic white swimsuit lining from my stash, I can't remember where I originally got it from. White lining makes the colors of the spandex more intense when the suit is wet. 

Once I had collected all of the notions and fabrics (more on that later!), the swimsuit came together quickly. I've sewn many swimsuits before, so I didn't need much hand-holding, and the instructions that came with the pattern were excellent. I didn't purchase the video tutorial, although I'm sure it is great. I'd really like to see it, just for fun, but I did fine without it. If you are new to swimsuit making, the sew-along for the Bombshell is also a great resource for basic techniques. 

I found making the foam bra to be surprisingly easy and satisfying. At first I wasn't careful about which piece needed to go where, and I ended up sewing the wrong pieces together and having to seam rip it and start over. But once I got things in the right order, they came together nicely. I used strips of bra lining folded in thirds to hide and reinforce the seams on the foam cups, as shown in Cloth Habits tutorial on making foam bra cups

I didn't have trouble sewing in the underwire casing until it came to the second line of top stitching, which is supposed to be a scant 1/4 inch from your first line of stitching so that you catch the edge of the casing, which you can't see since you need to top stitch from the outside. On one cup, I ended up having to redo a small section, and on the other, I hand stitched a small section that didn't get properly caught. 

I sewed most seams on my serger with wooly nylon in the loopers. I did quite a bit of switching back and forth between white and black thread, since I didn't want white to show through the seams of the black panels, and my lining was white. 

When sewing the elastic to the leg holes and back of the swimsuit, I serged the elastic into place with the serger knife retracted, then after folding the elastic to the inside, I used the twin needle for a nice finish. I also like the way the twin needle stitching echoes the double line of stitching for the underwire casing.

The strap loop on the back of the swimsuit, made with white plush bra strapping elastic.

The fussiest part of the whole swimsuit was the straps! My biggest problem was with the little fabric loops that you are supposed to sew in for the strap hooks. The first time I made the fabric loops with the specified 3/8 inch seam allowance, they were too narrow (1/4 inch rather than 3/8) and too fat, and they were really hard to get onto the hooks and slid around annoyingly when I did get them on. 

You can see the loop that I made for the hook with black plush bra strapping elastic.

So I tried again, sewing with a 1/4 inch seam allowance, and the loops were the right width but still really hard to get onto my hooks, which have a really narrow opening. I had visions of myself at the beach, struggling with the stupid hooks... not how I want to spend my beach time! I nearly just did away with them altogether since they are sort of unnecessary, but then I had the brilliant idea to use a little piece of 3/8" bra strapping. Problem solved! They hooks are made to be used for bra strapping, anyway. 

Adjustable swimsuit straps... the front is a lycra and swimsuit elastic strap, the adjustable part is plush bra strap elastic. They are joined with a ring, and the adjustable part has a slider.

I also was worried that the straps would stretch out during wear, so I added an adjustable section using bra strapping and a slider in the back, attached to the main strap with a ring. 

I love the method of making elasticized straps shown in the pattern-- I'm totally using this technique on other swimsuits and camis. But the straps turned out too bulky to fit through the hook hardware easily. Having no other option (other than abandoning the hooks) I just worked at it until I was able to force the fat strap through the narrow hole. 

These problems are probably due to the hooks I ended up finding and using. They are Sew Sassy's nylon-coated metal 3/8 inch hooks, and they were the only ones I found in stock anywhere. Another possible cause is the thickness of my lycra (the black milliskin is the thickest swimsuit lycra I've found) or my elastic (Sew Sassy's natural swimsuit elastic). I wonder if using rubber elastic might help with the thickness problem?

If I make another Sophie, I'm probably not going to go through all this rigamarole with the straps. The fact is, I NEVER remove my straps... I don't care in the least if I get tan lines or anything like that. You might think, why how nice it is to be able to cross or uncross the straps, but I will ALWAYS wear they crossed-- I have the world's most sloped shoulders, and straps never stay up for me unless they are crossed. Even so, I still think it is super cool to have adjustable, removable straps... go figure. 

The fit is... pretty darn spot on. I might add a bit of length on the outer thigh... I think it would be a touch more flattering just a bit lower there. I also see what Heather says about the full body suit as being less supportive than the bikini top-- the underwires ride a little away from my chest wall without the support of a full bra band.

Overall though, I couldn't be more pleased. The suit feels supportive, comfortable, and looks great!

So, a bit about the materials and cost. Since you are basically engaging in bra-making, the Sophie (with the underwired cup option) requires quite a few specialty notions. Closet Case Files thoughtfully provides kits (which are sold out!), but I was hoping to make mine a little more cheaply and was interested in adding to my bra-making stash, so I decided to forego the easy option. 

I really wanted to use the right underwires, so I went to Bra-Makers Supply, as instructed, which sends their US customers to Sweet Cups Bra Supply. I plugged in my order there, then freaked out at the shipping cost and went in search of other options. I actually just revisited their site and read their shipping policy... and they say that shipping calculations are often high and they will refund shipping if it can be sent more cheaply. They also will send orders under $30 via First Class if possible, if you put that in a comment. This info is even on a banner on their site right now... maybe I'm not the only one that missed that info. Well, that would have been nice to know, I'll keep them in mind for next time!

But, the shipping cost freak out happened, so I did a little more research and landed at the Tailor Made online shop. I did a quick check-- and yes, shipping costs were quite reasonable. In addition, they sell underwires that look just like the ones at Bra-Makers Supply, so I ended up purchasing my wires here. I also bought bra lining fabric to use to line the bridge and to finish the cup seams. But they didn't have any 3/8 inch hooks of the sort required for the removable straps, so I ended up having to place a second order to Sew Sassy. Since I was interested in gearing up for more bra making, I used the opportunity to stock up on some different underwires, elastics, and notions.

If you're interested, here's what I calculate my approximate costs were:

2 yards swimwear-appropriate spandex (Spandex World): $20 
Underwires (Tailor Made): $2
Bra lining (Tailor Made): $6
Foam (Sew Sassy): $9
Hooks (Sew Sassy): $1.40 (for 12!)
Underwire channeling (Sew Sassy): $1.25
Swimwear Elastic (Sew Sassy): $2.25 (5 yards)

(the following were not called for in the pattern, but I added them:)
Bra strapping (Sew Sassy): $.75
Rings (Sew Sassy): $1.40 (12)
Slides (Sew Sassy: $1.40 (12)

Swimsuit Lining (stash)

Total: $45.45

Shipping: Tailor Made, $6; Sew Sassy $10, Spandex World, $10

Overall, not cheap, but probably cheaper than buying a quality swimsuit, which would be anywhere from $70-$200. Also, probably a bit cheaper than buying a kit, but the kits come out to a pretty good deal, especially if you aren't interested in shopping in multiple online stores to get what you need! But I am also happy to have lots left over of just about everything... which will equal more swimsuits and bras sewn just from stashed items. 

In fact, while I was waiting for things to arrive, I made a muslin for a bra-- my first ever. It just so happens to be a foam cup balconette bra, just like the Sophie (the Makebra DL03) If the Sophie gets me past the bra-making hump, then that is a truly incredible outcome. 

I have a bit of Sophie-fever-- now I really want to make the bikini version! I'm not sure about midriff-baring post-baby, but perhaps I might be able to get away with high-cut briefs...


  1. Your swimsuit is fabulous...inside and out!! I was freaked out by Bra Maker's shipping costs...but I've been refunded on every order I've placed, so I'm okay with it now.

    1. Aw, thanks! I looooove yours... all of them! And thanks for posting the tutorial on how you added a band to the one piece suit, I think I will probably try that if I end up making another one-piece, I can totally see why it would help!

  2. A fabulous version of the Sophie! One of the best I have seen. Good work. :)

  3. Beautiful Swimsuit! I love the color blocking with the shibori fabric. I'm going to have to finish my interior cups like that too. Looks great!

  4. just gorgeous! Love the fabric combo and it's so impressive that you sewed this very professional looking swim suit. you can be proud of yourself.

  5. Thank you! I have to say, after giving a real workout on the beach and in the pool, it is definitely the most functional swimsuit I've made yet!

  6. This is so, so cute! I am working on the two piece version right now and loving how it is coming together. I will have to make a one piece eventually