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It's time for the annual hunt for the perfect swimsuit that's just the right style and color. Instead of the dressing room frustration, make a custom suit-but first turn to "Fit for You: Swimsuit Flattery" on page 20 for helpful tips on selecting a style to look your best. For a "first" swimsuit, select a simple pattern, such as a basic tank style in the size closest to your measurements.
Before purchasing the swimsuit fabric, ask yourself some questions. Would you be comfortable wearing it in public? Is the color dark enough, bright enough or too bright? Smooth, shiny fabrics will show everything, textured fabrics may help hide flaws. How will the fabric look when it's wet? If it's a print, hold it up to your body in front of a mirror. Will it be attractive on your figure? Think about how to lay out the pattern on the fabric's design. Also be sure to examine the fabric carefully for defects.
The next concern should be the fabric "stretch." Following the guide on the pattern envelope, choose fabric with the required amount of stretch, especially if this is your first attempt at sewing a suit. Determine both the lengthwise and crosswise stretch (1). Usually the greatest amount of stretch runs along the fabric length, not crosswise as in most other knits.
Also evaluate how quickly the fabric relaxes and returns to its original shape. If the fabric puckers or leaves pockets or grooves instead of returning to its normal smoothness, it has "poor recovery," making the fabric less than ideal for a swimsuit.
Buy more fabric than required to make technique samples and adjustments on the suit. If possible, buy another fabric with the same stretch and make a test suit. Leftover fabric can go into a color-blocked suit.
Swimsuit linings are usually found next to swimsuit fabric in a fabric store. Select lining fabric with at least the same stretch as the suit fabric. Most ready-to-wear suits have only a full-front lining. This provides an opaque front, and the unlined back is free to stretch on the body and compensate for any restraint the front lining may cause. Lining is available in limited colors so choose one close to the swimsuit fabric. If the swimsuit fabric is dark or heavyweight, only a crotch lining may be necessary.
Buy elastic designed for swimsuits to avoid loss of stretch due to chlorine degradation. Cotton-wrapped elastic is the most common. Select a 3/8" width for the legs, neck and armholes, and a 1/4" width for the straps. Clear polyurethane elastic works well for thin straps. White rubber elastic is strong and stable and is commonly used in competitive swim-suits. Use the 3/8" width for leg openings ~-and the 1/2" width for armholes, neck and back bindings, and straps.
Swimsuit trims are usually made from self-fabric. Contrast binding is also popular and it's easy to make from fabric scraps.
Threads are critical to swimsuit durablity. For the stretch stitch, use a polyester thread in the needle and a polyester or texturized nylon thread in the bobbin. For serged seams, use a polyester thread in the needles, and texturized nylon in the upper and lower loopers. Thread can also be used as a decorative element. Achieve a subtle touch by simply topstitching contrasting thread on the finished edge. To mimic a ready-to-wear coverstitch, use a contrasting texturized nylon in the bobbin and topstitch with a double needle on the garment wrong side.
Select ballpoint or stretch needles for stretch fabrics. A good choice is a size 75/11 stretch needle.
Layout & Cutting
Start by reviewing the pattern guidesheet for layout, cutting and marking tips and shortcuts. Swimsuit pattern pieces look unfamiliar compared to other garments, so follow the layout scheme and pattern directional arrows. For the best fit around the torso, position the body pattern pieces with their length along the crosswise grain. For a print fabric, convert the front pattern piece to a full piece instead of the half piece with a foldline. Then place the front pattern so the print falls where you want it.
A rotary cutter can be used on straight edges, but use scissors for small curves and notches. Cut notches outside the cutting line - swimsuits usually have 1/4" seam allowances, so there isn't enough room to clip into the allowance.
Fitting the Suit
Fit is important, and for the best results follow the pattern suggestions for sizing and then try on the suit for the final fit.
Adjust the pattern torso width. Measure around your torso at the bust, waist and hips. Compare these measurements to the pattern envelope measurements to determine the adjustment amount. Divide the adjustment by four and increase or decrease that amount at each side seam allowance on the front and back patterns.
Final Fit. Baste the suit together leaving off the elastic and try it on, wrong side out. Alter with pins until it fits properly. With a water-soluble marker, mark any alterations. Make notes of the changes and transfer the markings to the pattern so the pattern is ready for the next swimsuit.
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