Editor’s note: So this isn’t *exactly* bra sewing, but Marisol used bra patterns for some of these swimsuits, so I thought it appropriate for Bra Month to show all the things you can do with bra patterns!
The sun is shining, temperatures rising, and you’re at the beach looking at the water that is calling out to you. You take off your tshirt to show your new store bought swimsuit – the one that you had to carefully arrange yourself into out of fear of accidentally exposing yourself – and begin taking those much anticipated steps towards the water. Each step in the sand causes your swimsuit to shift out of place, so you begin tugging on it to put it back where it belongs. When you are finally in the water, a wave comes crashing down on you. Instead of smiling and jumping into the very next wave, you look down at your bust to make sure that you haven’t accidentally become exposed. You’re safe, this time.
This was my experience every single time I went to the beach until I decided to change the story and make my own swimwear, while documenting it on YouTube in my Sew the Perfect Swimsuit Series.
Let me take you on my swimwear journey.
Reversible Sharon Swimsuit by Sirena Patterns
As you can probably imagine, I had a couple of swimsuit requirements. They included:
- One piece with a low back neckline
- Bust support
- No accidental exposure
But, having never made swimwear before, I wanted a bit more hand holding. That’s why I decided that my first attempt at a swimsuit was going to be with the only swimsuit expert I knew, Sirena Patterns. After taking a look at her swimsuit patterns, I decided to try something that felt a little on the sexier side for me: an 80’s inspired one piece with a low neckline, low back line, and a high (for me) leg rise – the Sharon Swimsuit. I also wanted my swimsuit to be reversible – more on that in a bit. I chose nylon/spandex and poly/spandex fabrics from my stash to get going.
The instructions for this pattern were so incredibly clear and comprehensive. After reading about the different types of stitches and how to sew this one piece up, I jumped right in to my pattern adjustment: grading the hips out an additional inch. Although the Sharon is a fully lined swimsuit with a shelf bra hidden between the layers, it isn’t fully reversible. To make my version reversible, I used the burrito method to sew it up.
There were points when doing the burrito rolls when I thought, “There is no possible way that this is going to work out!” and then just like magic it did! If the thought of making a reversible swimsuit hurts your head, here’s a simple tutorial for you.
Now that my swimsuit was completed, it was time to take it for a test dive in the pool. That’s when I discovered a couple of things, with the most important lesson being that 4-way stretch percentages really matter when making a swimsuit. Although my swimsuit had the 50% required stretch horizontally, it didn’t have that much vertically. The lack of stretch resulted in a swimsuit that crept up my rear with every single step that I took. On the plus side, the shelf bra (underlined with a power mesh) did a decent job of supporting my bust and I never felt like I was at risk of exposing my bust. (My backside was a different story.)
The Pleasant Surprise: Secure Straps and Shelf Bra that made me feel supported and secure
The Lesson: 4-way stretch really does matter
Minute Maillot by Patterns for Pirates
Now that I was feeling empowered to sew swimwear, I decided that my second attempt would be using the Minute Maillot by Patterns for Pirates. I decided to move away from the Sharon because I wanted a pattern that had a full coverage bottom, and this one provided different coverage options for both the neckline and the bottom. I chose to do the full coverage bottom with the low front and back neckline.
A couple of things jumped out at me while I was making my first Minute Maillot. The first thing was that the they called for you to only pull the elastic around the butt portion of the leg hole while maintaining a 1:1 ratio along the front. This really helped to keep the bottom from going anywhere it shouldn’t. Second, the shelf bra was not sandwiched between the layers like the Sharon Swimsuit. It was hanging out on the inside against my skin.
A quick dive in the pool gave me some additional information. I noticed that my straps felt like they were going to slip off my shoulders as I swam and the shelf bra floated up beyond the neckline. Version Number 2 of the Minute Maillot was definitely going to have that shelf bra between the layers.
In fact, for my next version I decided to make another reversible swimsuit and used shorter elastic, pulling it starting much higher around the back curve so that it could help keep the straps in place. Shortening the elastic did the trick.
The Pleasant Surprise: Pulling the elastic tighter around the bottom and the back neckline made it much more secure
The Lesson: The floating shelf bra needed to be secured into the side seams (like the Sharon swimsuit) between the main fabric and the lining and the elastic needed to be pulled tighter at the bottom of the shelf bra for any chance of support.
Hacked Minute Maillots
Now that I’ve finally gotten my one piece to fit how I like it, it was time to play with some pattern hacks. I decided to use the same cut lines for both swimsuits, but you can see that it resulted in two very different looks. I walk you through the hacks here, but essentially I cut a triangle shape out of the waist and added seam allowance to all of the cut lines.
For the black and white mesh version, I cut the full swimsuit out of my mesh and I top stitched my main fabric right onto it, omitting the triangle on the front and the top and triangle piece in the back. Because the black mesh was not very supportive, I lined it with a skin toned power mesh in the back that was significantly sturdier. It worked wonders and my swimsuit does not pull forward.
For the swimsuit with the gathered center piece, I made the top and bottom pieces as if they were separates, making sure to apply elastic to the bottom of the top below the bust and to the waistline of the bottoms. For the center piece, I slashed and spread the pattern so that I could then gather it on both ends. I also attached elastic to both the top and bottom to help keep the wrong side from showing. When the center piece was completed, I attached it to the underside of my top and bottom pieces on the widest side. I’ll admit, this hacked swimsuit is tricky to get in and out of, but it is worth every bit of the extra effort! Plus, these hacks are starting to get really fun to do.
The Pleasant Surprise: Hacking swimsuits is surprisingly easy and the options are limitless. Just remember to add in seam allowance.
The Lesson: If you are going for a mesh back, you have to have some kind of support so that it doesn’t stretch to oblivion and risk exposing more than you’d like.
Bikini from my Favorite Bra Pattern
My final swimsuit is a bikini! I hadn’t really planned on hacking a bikini for myself, but tat is indeed what happened. Originally I had purchased the Sophie Swimsuit by Closet Core, but after I made a toile using a sister size (because my bust size was off their charts) I decided that it just wasn’t going be worth the trouble of going through a ton of adjustments.
Instead, I turned to my favorite bra pattern that I knew fit well, the Marlborough bra by Orange Lingerie. Because I still wanted something that had shaping similar to the Sophie, I decided to make several changes to my bra pattern.
- Added significant height onto the upper cup pattern so that it could be reshaped
- Removed the contouring on the bridge
- Lengthened the bottom of the band by ½”
- Shortened the back of the band since my fabric had a lot of stretch
- Narrowed the back band to fit into my clasp
Overall, I’d much rather make design changes to a bra that I know fits well instead of trying to figure out how to add the fullness to cups that are way too small for me.
After I had all of the pieces shaped the way that I wanted, I sewed the bra cups and bands together making sure that all seams were encased and no raw edges were left out. I then added the straps and rubber elastics according to the Sophie Swimsuit instructions. Friendly tip: DO NOT TRY THE TOP ON WHILE IT HAS PINS IN IT. Trust me on this and baste it first. Your breasts will thank you.
After the top was fully constructed, I noticed that one of the cups was pulling away from my body. I remedied this by removing the elastic along that edge and pulling it tighter. That little change solved the problem.
For the bottoms, I hacked my Minute Maillot pattern to include a front color blocked panel and added elastic to the waist.
The Pleasant Surprise: Using a well-fitting bra pattern for a bikini top was surprisingly easy and fun.
The Lesson Learned: Two actually – pull your elastic across the top of the cups to help keep that rounded edge against your body and more importantly, DO NOT TURN YOUR BOOBS INTO PIN CUSHIONS! Remove all pins before trying it on for fit.
Reflecting On My Journey
I never would have imagined that I would have made so many swimsuits, but now that I have, I cannot believe that it took me this long. I’ve never had swimsuits that fit me as well as all of these do and the style options are limitless. So go and make yourself a swimsuit of your own and revel in how well they fit. In fact, make several and rock that body of yours.
Mari is a curvy sewist and vlogger who enjoys engaging with the vibrant sewing community by sharing her latest garments, DIY projects, hauls and sew alongs. She loves making people laugh while encouraging others to sew for their own beautiful and unique bodies. You can see all of Mari’s makes on Insta at @marisewsforcurves and on the Youtube channel Mari Sews.