Sewing swimwear with custom fabric

leaf print underwire bikini

From observational drawing to a collection of swimwear, it turns out that designing and custom printing fabric is an addictive process.

Fabric Designleafstudy 2.jpeg

The design for the fabric started life as some observational sketches made at my parents house in Wales whilst encouraging my daughters to do the same. All the leaves were collected from the wonderful array of hedgerow flora: bracken, silverweed, buttercup, vetch, goose grass, cranesbill and cow parsley. The studies were made using pencil and watercolour.

I love all the green tropical prints that are around at the moment and thought that it might be nice to use these studies to make a not-so-tropical twist on the theme, so scanned all the sketches into my computer and played around with the offset function to create a repeat pattern.custom leaf print fabric designIncreasing the contrast on the sketches made for a bolder print, and as I couldn’t decide whether a preferred a light or dark background I decided to use both.

Custom Printing

There are lots of companies around (including some UK based ones) offering custom printed fabric. As I had decided the design would be well suited to swimwear I decided to use Spoonflower as they offer one of the biggest range of base fabrics including a polyester/lycra Sport Lycra that is colourfast in chlorinated and salt water.

Spoonflower are an American company but they ship all over the world and since they opened a European outlet in Berlin last year, it is quicker to order from them, and doesn’t involve the complications of custom charges. It was a pretty satisfying experience receiving fabric with a custom design and whilst I’m still a committed natural fibres fan I was pleasantly surprised with the quality and feel of the Sport Lycra, which turned out to be less temperamental to sew on my machine that the nylon lycra I usual use for swimwear.

Using Spoonflower means my design is also available to purchase on any custom printed fabric/wrapping paper/wallpaper here.

The BikiniDSC_3270

I ordered 1 metre of Sports Lycra in both the light and dark backgrounds and set about seeing how much I could make out of them, which turned out to be quite a lot. For the first bikini top I made, I used the cups from Ralph Pink’s corselette pattern that I have used (and therefore checked the fit) in the past and fitted them into a self-drafted cradle and wings. DSC_3269The cups are lined with cut and sew foam and the cradle with stable tricot.DSC_3272I decided not to to stitch the seams on the cups as although I was using a walking foot the extra stitching seemed to be stretching the seams out of shape.DSC_3273For the bottoms I used the Soma bikini pattern by Papercut patterns. The elastics look a little warped laying flat but look fine when worn (and probably after it’s been washed a few times).noelle bikini top in leaf print fabricI made a second bikini top with more coverage using the free Noelle bra pattern from Madalynne. I made the size large but had to decrease the size slightly. The only other adaptations I made was to decrease the width of the band to accommodate the swimwear elastic I had, and to fully line the bra with another swimwear fabric I had.noelle bikini in leaf print fabricnoelle bikini top in leaf print fabricnoelle bikini top in leaf print fabricTo make sure I used every scrap of the fabric I used the last piece to make a swimming costume for my youngest daughter. The pattern -which I think is the most adorable design – is available for free from the designers of See you at Six fabrics here.

leaf print swimsuitI had to add a seam down the centre back in order to get the pieces out of the scraps and made the age 3 but added length.

The OnepieceSoma swimsuit in custom printed leaf print fabric

Much as I like the bikini pieces I made I am always going to feel more comfortable and get more wear out of a one piece. I loved the design of the Splash swimming costume I made last summer but was keen to try out the Soma swimsuit pattern.

Whilst I didn’t make a muslin, I did measure all the pattern pieces against last year’s swimsuit to check that they were likely to fit and used the bikini bottoms first too.

I knew I wanted to add some support to the design and luckily there is a tutorial for how to do this on the Papercut patterns blog. I followed the steps they suggested except instead of adding a third piece of elastic horizontally across the back (I have no idea how I would get into the swimsuit if I’d done it that way!) I changed the position of the backstraps so they ended where the bra insert began. I also added foam cups inside my bra insert. After trying it on I ended up cutting the bra insert in the middle and overlapping slightly for better fit/support. As I used a bra insert I decided not to line the bodice, only the bottom section.DSC_3449.jpgElsewhere the swimsuit was made as directed, except for omitting the cut out sections at the front. soma swimsuitNow it’s time for some summer swimming…

Fabric was kindly gifted by Spoonflower.

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5 thoughts on “Sewing swimwear with custom fabric

  1. Wow, that really IS custom made, designing and having your own fabric printed! More economical than initially imagined, probably, seeing as you stretched the fabric so far. Very impressive!

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