Swimmers swimsuit V1

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen that I’m on a mission of sorts. I’m determined to perfect a couple of swimsuit designs, both for myself and my daughters.

Swimming is slowly becoming a big part of our lives, so it makes perfect sense that my sewing table would reflect this. We’re at the pool most days. I’m like a yoyo, driving the kids to the pool in the afternoon, and then back again on my own as often as I can. After nearly a year of talking about it, I’ve finally joined the Masters and I LOVE it. Swimming in a squad is nothing like swimming on your own (I’ve been kidding myself for months). During each session my hypoxic lungs and burning arms body remind me just how out of swim-condition I am, but also, just how good it is for me.

I’m currently working on three styles of swimsuits. One is a kid-style. I don’t like seeing kids in swimsuits that are too skimpy through the bottom and sides (like my suit design in this post!), but I also don’t like the racerback to be too wide. Whilst I would still recommend Jalie 3134 for kid swimsuits (and at this point, I can’t actually think of a better sewing pattern out there for the specific purpose of squad swimming), it just wasn’t the perfect swimsuit pattern for this very picky swim-mum. I’ll still sew Jalie 3134 again, but I’ll probably reserve it for when I have smaller fabric scraps to use up. There’s some great panelling on that pattern.

In terms of the issues, I found the crotch of Jalie 3134 pattern a little too wide and the fit around the bum and lower back less than ideal. If you look at the woman’s back view picture on the pattern cover, you can see the gathering/wrinkles I’m talking about. It’s really no big deal, but I know a better fit is possible. I also don’t like the side seams on this pattern. I feel like you can get a better fit through the lower back/sides with a slanted side/hip seam that is positioned more towards the back of the suit, as opposed to a straight side seam connecting the front and back. A straight side seam also adds bulk to the underarm zone, which can cause pretty horrific chaffing if you don’t nail it during construction. But even then, you really don’t want an underarm seam in bathers if you are doing serious swimming. Again, I’m nitpicking here, but I’ve had a lot of hands-on, personal experience with swimsuits over the years.

The other two designs are just for myself. I’ve photographed the skimpier style for this post. I’m quite pleased with how it turned out but it’s still a little short in the body. I just need to add a little extra length/width to the upper bust area and then I think I can file this pattern away as done. I have another suit design on the cutting table that will provide a bit more coverage through the sides and back, with a back that looks more like the kid version.

Like the Jalie design I discussed earlier, my first two swimsuits (here and here) also had a straight side seam. Why? Because it’s easy to draft. Removing that straight side seam hurt my brain a lot, but it worked. Compare the seams in the photos below. The top (green cherry) suit is Jalie 3134. It has all the fun seaming. The bottom (buzzy bee) suit is my design. My accidental pattern-matching makes the seam a little hard to see in the buzzy bee suit, but you can see it better here.

I tried it out first on Miss nearly-Nine’s suit. Then I used the same principles to create similar designs for me.

I’m getting closer with the kid-suit. I messed up the neckline in this first draft, so I had to cut off the top binding and add pleats just to make it wearable (there’s no way I was going to waste a swimsuit with Summer on the way!). The fit through the back is pretty spot on though.

My next version also worked out really well. It was actually intended for my biggest girl, but we realised that Miss Seven needed it more. And since she’s chomping at the bit to join her big sister in the swim team, we all thought the buzzy bees should belong to her. Miss Seven is almost as tall as her big sister, but just a smidgin narrower through the waist and hips. I wasn’t able to catch her to photograph the swimsuit dry, but it was rigorously tested in the water yesterday. In fact, I was lucky to catch this one for a photo, full stop.

 

 

 

Itsy bitsy Heiress Bikini and rashie

 

Sharon, from Swimstyle Patterns, contacted me a few weeks ago to see if I’d like to try one of her patterns. I was under no obligation to blog about it, but I’m very impressed, so I want to share my experience.

I’d already discovered this Australian indie pattern maker a few months earlier via Instagram so I knew what patterns she had to offer. There were two main reasons why I hadn’t already purchased any patterns off her myself. It was mid-Winter here! Also, I don’t wear bikini’s very often. I’m not opposed to a good bikini. They just don’t suit my lifestyle (which involves real swimming, rather than sunbathing). And on the odd occasion that I might be lazing around a pool, I’m always in hiding from the sun, covered up from head to waist with a long sleeve rash vest, thus rendering a bikini pointless anyway.

There are lots of swimsuit patterns out there, including vintage, indie, and modern. I’ve sewn more than a few of each. However, it’s still hard to find style lines and sophisticated construction techniques that replicate RTW. I work in a high end clothing boutique once a week (and do the odd modelling job for them as you may have guessed from my IG feed!). On Saturdays, I spend my time studying, styling, and fitting designer clothes, mainly on customers (but sometimes on myself too ;-)). One such item I was admiring recently was a very cute bikini by Milly. I especially loved the seamless design and the simple, yet flattering shape of the separates. The Heiress bikini has a very similar seamless design, so I was quite keen to try it out.

I cut a size 10 for the bikini, which corresponds very closely to my measurements. The top portion is drafted for a B-cup. I’m an A-cup on a good day, but I wanted to trial the pattern first before I attempted any modifications.

The fabric I used is not your traditional swimsuit fabric. It’s actually a double layer of swimsuit fabric, bonded together. This makes it extra thick (a little scuba-like), extra flattering, but with a little less stretch. I think it makes the bikini top extra supportive, but perhaps the reduced stretch also makes the bottoms a little skimpier.

The bottoms are actually a perfect fit (albeit in a very cheeky style!). The seamless design makes for such a pretty finish. The top would be perfectly suited to a B-cup. I think (given the stretch of swimsuit fabric and style of cut) it would probably look great on a C-cup too. It’s a little “empty” on me and since I don’t need or want padding in my swimsuits, I’ll probably give it away.

I’m keeping the bottoms though. I have another top underway that I’ll pair with the rashie below (also by Swimstyle Patterns). Ideally, I would have made this up in the long sleeve version (sun safety all the way here!) but I just didn’t have quite enough fabric. I sized down in this pattern, and then adjusted the side seams further as I made it. Swimsuit fabric is stretchy and I like my rash vests to fit like a second skin. That way, you almost forget you are wearing one. I could probably still bring the seams in a smidgen around the waist and arms. I’m amazed at how many loose-fitting, oversized skinsuits and rash vests I see people wearing in real life, especially poor kids. They must feel so unpleasant and heavy when wet!

The other great thing about this bikini pattern, is that there is a free pattern hack for anyone wanting a bit of extra butt coverage. There are also more strap options for the top. I chose the halter version, but there is also an adjustable strap version, and a really neat cross back hack available.

 

A Summer dress

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Apparently you guys like pretty dresses, well those of you who follow me on IG do. My top posts of 2016 are pretty much all the dresses. I hadn’t even blogged about this one and it still made the cut.

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I made this one using a large remnant of vintage linen, thrifted from an estate sale. The textured windowpane fabric was from a small length purchased on whim from Tessuti Fabrics some time ago. I think the blue pairs perfectly with it.

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The pattern is modification on a self-drafted princess bodice that fits me perfectly. You’ve seen me use different versions of this bodice all Summer (here, here, here, and here). The skirt is just gathered (with pockets of course!). I was after a cool, easy-to-wear, Summer dress.

I was worried about the straps being too stiff, but I’m glad for their sturdiness now. And they don’t feel too stiff when I wear the dress. They actually feel comfortable and secure. I hate flimsy straps that feel like they may stretch out or tear. Instead of creating tubes and pressing flat (as I’d normally do for a strap of this width), I used wider lengths of linen, folded the raw edges in and then in on themselves again, and then topstitched both edges. It means that there are four layers of linen in each strap, perfectly suited to holding up the weight of a midi-length, gathered skirt.

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I’m a big fan of the midi length dress. It’s an easy length for tall ladies to wear. I know I’m going to get a lot of wear out of this, maybe even sooner rather than later!

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Simplicity 1366 in black lace

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I made a few mistakes when I was a beginner at sewing. I was sucked in by every pretty quilting cotton, which of course I was never going to use. I also snatched up Liberty of London remnants when I saw them. Why? Liberty looks cute on other bloggers, but have you ever seen me wear Liberty of London?

Another thing I used to do was buy completely inappropriate amounts of fabric for a project. I lived pretty close to my favourite bricks and mortar stores in Sydney, and yet I still harboured a morbid fear of winding up short on a make. Remember this dress? Now, please note the very small amount of lace I used for the back insets. Past-Debbie purchased a good 2.5m of that lace, just to make sure she had enough… The remnants had been in my stash since 2012.

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It was nice to finally put this great fabric to good use. I used Simplicity 1366 with a few modifications.

  • I extended the inside shoulder seams to create a closely fitted neckline. I worked out the gradient of the extended shoulder seam very scientifically. I put on an existing Simplicity 1366 top and eyeballed the shape and length of the new shoulder seam. I think I got it pretty spot on.
  • I also added a high collar. This was super easy, since the lace had perfectly shaped rick rack panels.
  • Because of the high collar, I added three buttons and a keyhole/slit back for back fastenings.
  • I lengthened the sleeves and added jersey cuffs.
  • I lengthened the body a smidgen and added a jersey cuff.

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I love my new top. It’s a great addition to my Fall wardrobe and I love that it works equally well with jeans and trousers.

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A refashion fest

It is still quite warm here in Kansas City. In fact, today the heat was back in full force. But mostly, this time of year is gorgeous, with less humidity, cooler nights, and pleasant days. I’m still not inspired to get on with my coat-making, but I have been thinking about my Fall wardrobe plans.

I’ve been pulling out the sweaters and going through my wardrobe to look for gaps. One thing I also do between seasons is to assess the clothes I own and identify what I don’t like anymore (and what I can possibly refashion). It’s amazing how much you can do with existing clothes to update an entire wardrobe without purchasing/making a thing.

You’ve already seen the culottes that I narrowed to refresh into a boxier shape that is more current for this year. I also shortened this floor-length velvet dress. I LOVED the glamour of the maxi version and I wore it for the holidays last year, but my life doesn’t call for floor length gowns very often. I tried it as shorter dress but I still didn’t feel the love.

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A little more cutting (and hand-stitching that hem for the third time!) and now it’s become a top that I’m really in love with! I’ll get tons of wear out of it in this version and the portions I cut off the dress can be reworked as a garment for one of my girls.

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Slip dresses have had their moment this Summer, but they’ll also be great for going into Fall. Remember this dress? It was my go-to out-to-dinner dress over Summer, but I’m getting bored of the cold shoulder look (at every turn in my wardrobe anyway!). I cut off the sleeves and rebound the armscye, adding small spaghetti straps to drop the neckline a little. Now I have a slip dress that I can wear alone or layered with a turtleneck and boots.

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I’ve also been playing around with layering. I dug out this old playsuit that I made using a vintage pattern years ago. Layering it makes for such a comfy and seasonally appropriate combo.

Even though I already liked this thrifted vintage dress a lot, it was a tricky one to wear in real life. The weight of the fabric meant it was way too hot for Summer, and yet the style doesn’t really suit colder weather. Converting it to a top has made it much more wearable for me, and the fabric is the perfect weight for Fall.

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I’m also a little in love with dramatic sleeves right now (same as always, right!). But instead of sewing myself a brand new top, I cut the cuffs off an existing shirt and drafted my own big, fancy cuffs to re-attach. This totally elevates the basic white shirt and is going to make my Fall layering just a little bit more… me. There’s a post about this refashion here.

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And while I was at it, I trimmed back and re-bound the armscye of this pretty little top. The fabric is divine but I found the original shape a bit boxy/masculine with the wider shoulder seams. I think it will now work better with more separates. I’ll try to get some photos posted soon.

And finally, I’m also a little tired of the torn denim, bare knee jean, so I took an old vintage skirt and used it to patch up my white denim. These jeans are now so fun and I can’t wait to pair them with a snuggly sweater in the coming months. More photos coming soon on this one too.

It’s actually been a lot of fun finding and reviving hidden treasures in my wardrobe. Does anyone else attack their wardrobe with scissors between seasons?

Black trimmed lace dress

I made this dress some time ago and entered it into the Tessuti cut out lace competition. However, I always had bigger plans for it. Here are some updated photos.

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Pretty much all the details are the same as before. I simply unpicked all the extra overlay that I’d handstitched in place over the shoulder straps, and turned the black trim back to the outside. There was a little seam-ripping and re-sewing involved but it was worth it (and easier because I’d made allowances for the changes to begin with).

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Now it’s just a shame that Summer is edging away from us. I’ve probably only got a few weeks of lace left but I will enjoy it while I can.

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Pleated silk skirt

So this was a bit of a random make and totally unplanned, but the fabric just grabbed me and demanded to be made into something wearable… and immediately. It arrived in the mail and bypassed my stash completely.

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I actually went shopping for wool coating, but as always, I ended up with fabric in my cart that I never set out to purchase, namely, this glorious silk CDC. The colours just scream Fall, even if the fabric isn’t really the most Fall-appropriate.

What I wanted to sew with it was a floor length, ruffly, slinky skirt. But we all know how much wear that would get in real life. I thought sensible thoughts and turned it into a  gently pleated midi instead. I can wear this skirt with sandals and tanks, or with long boots, tights, and sweaters. It will get heaps of wear.

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I didn’t use a pattern because I’m good with measuring my waist and a skirt like this is simply just two big rectangles. I winged the pleats, but made sure to match them up. When I had the volume I liked, I jiggled the side seams to match up with my waistband.

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The waistband is the only point of interest in this skirt. Because the design was pretty foolproof, I thought I’d try something a little new. I’d read somewhere (no idea where) that you could use elastic to face a pair of pants (for comfort). I didn’t have the right width elastic on hand, but I did have a yard of a performance ribbing fabric, which feels and stretches like woven elastic. The only thing I had to do was measure the length and overlock the edges. Normal elastic used as facing would look a lot neater than my version (as would matching thread!), but as this was an experiment (and on the inside of my skirt), I wasn’t too worried about appearance.

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Contstruction of the waistband with elastic is almost identical to if you were using facing. I still interfaced the waistband fabric. I just avoided creating seams with the elastic. To do this, I overlapped the waistband fabric with the elastic so only the waistband fabric was folded back against itself.

Using elastic as a facing just creates a bit more comfort with the waistband. It stays tight, but has more give when sitting and breathing. I’m definitely going to use this method in future waistbands, and refine it so it looks pretty too.

 

 

Let’s talk about swimsuits

Not all bathers are meant for swimming. And by swimming, I mean actual laps, freestyle at a pace, butterfly, and flip turns. I have no tolerance for togs that bag out, grab air bubbles, or shift over my bust as I swim. I’ve always stuck to Speedos for my training, racing, and now lap-swimming togs, fiercely loyal in fact. But there could be an extra challenger soon. Me.

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I loved my Splash swimsuits, but they weren’t designed for lap swimming. Even so, they worked really well when worn with a rashie over the top half (halter necks just won’t do for real swimming!). This Summer, I’ve been wearing my tiger one-piece mostly. I’ve been playing with the kids, hanging at the pool, and swimming lots of casual laps in it. The fabric has held up beautifully. The design worked well enough, but doing so much swimming also gave me lots of time to analyse the features that needed to be changed.

It was a smidgen too short through the body. The cross back was positioned too high which meant I could feel it across my shoulder blades as I rotated my arms. Also, whilst I loved the novelty of low cut, full bottom bathers last season, I just wasn’t feeling this trend any more. A higher cut leg was calling, not just for the look, but also for functionality and range of movement. Either that, or a to-the-knee bike short style, but I wasn’t going there.

In fact, all this pondering about swimsuits got me thinking about the evolution of competitive swimsuits and the use of technical fabrics (and non-textiles). I ushered swimming out of my life around 1996. Around that time, we raced in ultra small, skin-tight suits, and occasionally what we called ‘paper suits’. The ‘paper’ lycra was developed in 1988 for the Seoul Olympics and the Australian swim team swam in them at Barcelona. This swimsuit fabric was different to normal lycra. It was extremely thin and felt very crisp and dry to the hand. Even the dark colours were semi-transparent in the light. The fabric was strong, extremely lightweight and we wore them skin-tight and a few sizes too small. They only really lasted for one competition. I was fortunate enough to swim under the guidance of a national coach, who bought back souvenirs that he swapped at international meets. That’s how I got my hands on a paper suit, and the ribbed swimwear I’ll talk about later. By the time I swam at an international meet, in about 1995, the swimsuits were back to being regular lycra and ultra small (for a brief window anyway).

More technical, ribbed fabrics started coming in just as I was signing off, but these were still a woven textile. I had an Aquablade catsuit that was really just a high-necked swimsuit. The fabric was designed in a striped print, created by the addition of water-repellent resin.  It was supposed to increase the speed of water flow over the suit. The picture below is the best I could find (from the Powerhouse Museum of Sydney, Swimsuit collection). I might still have my suit hiding somewhere in a box in Australia.

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The history that follows this is even more fascinating. In 2000, Speedo introduced the Fastskin suit that was said to mimic sharkskin, with ridges and bumps to channel water around the body. They covered most of the body, wrist to neck to ankle. These suits were approved for the 2000 Olympics and 83% of the medals were won wearing them.

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In 2008, Speed then launched the LZR racer swimsuit, which they developed in conjunction with NASA, the Australian Institute of Sport, and an Italian company, Mectex. The patented technology for these suits apparently increases blood flow to the muscles, compresses certain parts of the body, and holds the body in a more hydrodynamic position in the water. Suits were also designed specifically to match the stroke being swum and the different pattern of movement/muscle use in that stroke. The “fabric” consisted of woven elastane-nylon and 50% polyurethane. The seams are ultrasonically welded together, rather than stitched! Other companies followed suit with similar technology, making their suits out of up to 100% polyurethane.

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LZR racer by Speedo 2008

Prior to the Beijing Olympics, FINA endorsed these suits. At Beijing, 23 of 25 world records were smashed, and 94% of races were won wearing them. It was suggested that these suits resulted in times being swum 2-4% faster, which is hugely significant in a fixed environment like a swimming pool. By 2009, 130 world records had been broken by swimmers wearing these non-textile suits. FINA backflipped and the suits are now banned. Yet, those records still stand.

Current policy states that swimsuit fabric must be a textile, which is defined as any open-mesh material like cotton, nylon, lycra, etc. So, no more polyurethane with welded seams! There are also regulations on how much of the body a swimsuit can cover. A good example is what you may have seen all the swimmers wearing recently in Rio (ignore the two-piece!).

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Meanwhile, back in the normal world, I’m just focusing on a very basic design, in a definitive textile of course. No chance of me being banned from any local pools any time soon! Even after all the modifications, my suit is still not perfect, but it is pretty close to meeting all my needs! The length is great. The cross back feels as though it is in a much better position but I’ll have to do some swimming to test that out properly. I love the bottom half of the bathers. The bottom coverage is perfect and I feel like I got the leg cut just right. I like the way the sides come forward a little more than a generic suit, and the back comes up a little higher. Next time, I’ll widen the bust area a smidgen. I might also have a go at lowering the back to a more traditional swimsuit height.

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Cut out lace dress 2

I never intended to make two dresses with this fabric. I had less than a full panel remaining after finishing my main entry. I toyed with turning the leftover bits of lace into a top for one of my girls, but my sewjo just couldn’t get behind that idea. It seems that I needed another white lace dress in my closet.

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I spent way too much time mulling over the positioning of the lace, perhaps even more so with this one because my options were limited. To achieve symmetry with the scraps I had on hand, the bodice had to be seamed down the CF in addition to the princess seams. I didn’t have much choice with the lace placement for the skirt. I like the way I was able to place the lace in the front and whilst I also like the back, it’s perhaps not as cohesive through the sides as I would like. The dot-lace hem is seamed on.

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Design-wise, this dress is very similar to my previous entry. The princess-seamed bodice is almost the same, but with a slightly more scooped out neckline and skinny, self-fabric straps. The skirt portion was modified from one of my TNT pencil skirt patterns. I slashed and spread the pattern slightly into a subtle A-line shape for a more casual fit. I absorbed the back darts through the flare and back waist seam.

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The bodice is unlined, but the skirt is lined. I faced the neckline raw edges with bias binding. The skirt is lined with a beige coloured acetate. I kept the skirt lining as short as possible so as not to be seen through the bottom panel of the hem. I won’t be bending over in this dress!

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Like my other dress, this dress is also designed to be worn with a very specific bra (the one I wore in the last lace dress post). You can see that the bodice fits a lot better when I wear that bra here (and I will be wearing it in real life). It is mostly unseen behind the straps, but for a cleaner look in some of these photos (since I didn’t have a wardrobe assistant on hand to check for strap visibility), I decided to wear a strapless bra. The fit is just not as good across the bust when I have to resort to a strapless bra. It’s a very good reminder of how undergarments affect the outer fit.

Also, try to ignore the big smear of white paint across my calf… maybe we should start a game called, “Spot the Paint on Her”, in all my blog photos for the next six months….

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Cut out lace competition dress

I know I should sit on my competition entries like everyone else, but it’s like sitting on a hot potato, especially since I couldn’t wait to get started on this one. It’s finished, photographed, and I’ll be squeezing in as many wears as possible before Fall, so I figured I might as well share it! The inspiration came from THIS dress that I posted on my IG account a few weeks ago.

As soon as I saw the ivory lace, I knew exactly what I wanted to make with it. The only problem was that the rules stated that no trims could be used and that the outer fabric of the garment had to be made entirely of the competition fabric, and in a single colourway only. That was a big problem. The contrasting black trim against the ivory lace was the element that I most liked about my inspiration dress.

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It took me a bit of thinking to come up with a solution, and a LOT of hand-stitching post construction. However, I found a way to keep all my black trim to the underside of the lace fabric and in a manner that I could reverse in the future. With the trim kept to the inside, the contrast is muted through the lace, but still visible as a subtle feature.

This is a post about my competition dress. I will share more pictures one day after I have unpicked all my handiwork to reveal the black trim again.

I designed this dress using a combination of flat pattern-making and draping. I tried very hard to design a bodice that would be low cut (and slightly shaped) in the back, yet with straps that would conceal my favourite bra. I think I did a pretty good job.

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I also tried to position the lace in such a way as to avoid lining the bodice. I wanted the dress to show glimpses of skin through the lace rather than lining. But I also didn’t want the dress to be too revealing. The bodice isn’t lined at all but the ruffle provides a little extra coverage. The skirt has a short lining. I couldn’t quite manage to place the lace of the skirt in such a way that would cover my bottom completely.

The lining I used for the skirt is an ivory/beige coloured acetate. I gathered the lining in my dress rather than pleating it because I wanted to add a bit more bulk through the skirt. And that is the beauty of sewing your own clothes. My hips are narrower than my shoulders and this difference gets a little more pronounced the fitter I get so a gathered lining in the skirt helps me achieve an illusion of filling it out better and having a more hourglass figure. (I blame Pokemon, the Olympics, and active kids for getting me out running and swimming laps everyday this Summer!).

I made the straps using wide, black, foldover elastic (FOE). The gathered sleeves are sandwiched between the fold and then the entire length of the elastic is stitched down to create an enclosed strap. I used a very strong/stable FOE. Too much stretch would have made for weak straps, but a little bit of firm stretch and a lightning stitch creates very comfortable and strong shoulder straps.

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The sharp contrast of black against ivory in the shoulder straps was what my heart desired, but I compromised by using it as a strap lining instead. I created lace tubes to cover those black elastic straps and hand-stitched them in place. I’ll remove those lace tubes at a later date.

I also encased the edges of the lace ruffle in black, self-made, silk binding. I then turned that trim to the underside and hand-stitched it in place. I like that I can still see a glimpse of the black through the lace. To cover the very edges of the black binding (near the neckline and CB zipper), I cut tiny squares of the competition fabric and appliqued them over the visible binding. The result is a dress with outer fabric made completely of the competition lace.

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I’m so pleased with how this dress turned out. I will definitely enjoy wearing it during the last few weeks of Summer. Meanwhile, there’s still plenty of time to enter the competition and if you don’t like ivory lace, there is also red and black to choose from. I have less than a full panel remaining of my ivory lace, but I think I’ve just worked out a way to scrapbust it into another little frock!

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