Monday, March 28, 2011

It pays to shop around

I'm peeved. Mostly at myself. I recently ordered a few rayon jersey ITY prints from and lo and behold, I just now saw that they're carrying the exact same prints at for $3 a yard less (the sale ends TODAY, so don't delay). Not to mention the free shipping once you hit $35, which I always seem to hit.

In case you're in the market for some cute jersey prints, check these out.

I ordered this green number, kind of whacky but I think (hope) I'm going to love it.

I also got this beautiful coral ikat jersey. LOVE. It's soft, and the colors in person are so summer.

Yes, I bought the purple peacock print. Love it, love it, love it. I am planning on making it up in a nice dress I can wear to work. Are peacocks appropriate for work? I think so.

This black abstract stripe is stunning. I didn't buy it because I have enough "darks" in my stash, but I think it's beautiful.

Anyway, hurry to if you're in the market for some fun ITY jersey prints. And remind me to shop around next time I fall in love online.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Making a Swimsuit - Constructing the Bottoms

Oh sweet jellybeans, the bottoms are done! And if you've survived making the top, which isn't so bad right?, then the bottoms will seem like a breeze.

When last I left you, I'd finished the tank portion of the tankini, and all that was left was to whip up the -ini. Well, we had an interesting weekend full of stomach flu and lovely weather, so when we weren't inside tending to illness, we were outside cleaning out garden beds and getting the yard ready for spring. Trust me when I say, the bottoms take 30 minutes or less to construct.

As a reminder, I used Kwik-Sew 3608 for the bottoms, the same pattern I used in my first tankini. This time, I cut the Large because the Medium really liked to cut into my flesh, not an attractive look.

First, I serged the lining to the fashion fabric around the sides.

Serged the crotch seam together (pictured), then the side seams (not pictured).

Measured the clear elastic according to the Kwik-Sew instructions, and managed to finish with exactly the right amount of elastic! Whoo-hoo!

I followed the instructions to zig-zag the clear elastic to the leg openings, not stretching it along the front leg openings until you got down near the crotch, and then stretching all the way around the back. Essentially, you want stretch where you really want the bottoms to cup in and not flap loose, which is your crotch and bum.

Zig-zagged clear elastic around the waistband. Sadly, I didn't get a picture of these steps, but they are the same as the technique used in making the bust cups.

Turned the waistband and used double-needle to top-stitch waistband and leg openings.

Voila! Try it on, see what you think.

You know what I think? The Large definitely fits better than the Medium I made for this suit, but there are a few minor adjustments I could make next time.

I think the crotch is a touch wide. There's a bit of adundance in fabric down there and frankly, that isn't an area that's flattering with extra fabric. So next time I'll shave off 1/8" on each side, that should take care of it.

Other than that, I am pretty happy with how they turned out! I forgot to add a second pantyliner (I was concerned about modesty with the giant white dots) but so far I think it's going to be ok. I can go back and stitch one in later if I think it needs it.

So there you have it, a swimsuit with the process documented.

I've thought of a few edits to my prior posts, so if I go back and add them I'll be sure to add them in a different color so you can see what I realized after the fact.

Thanks for following along with me! Now, I must take a break from swimsuits. If I see another piece of lycra, I might want to hurt somebody. STEPPING AWAY FROM THE MACHINE.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Making a Swimsuit - Constructing the Top

Welcome back to the blogodyssey that has become the Making a Swimsuit series. When last I left you, I had reviewed a few options for bust support after making a trial version of my tankini top and realizing it needed more support and I hated the back.

Today, I will outline in detail how I constructed the top to my orange and white polka dot tankini.

As a reminder, I used two Kwik-Sew patterns for a jumping off point - Kwik-Sew 3779 and 3608. I loved the styling of 3779 but I hate one-piece swimsuits so I borrowed the bottoms from 3608, which is a tankini pattern.

If you're going to make a Kwik-Sew pattern exactly as it is pictured, just follow their directions as I found them to be super. The construction order I'm using is slightly altered to accomodate my suit being two pieces with a different back design. Alrighty, here we go.

First, I basted the two sides of the midsection fashion fabric, gathering the sides to match the length of my lining fabric. I have found gathering swimsuit material and then stitching it onto another piece of fabric to be the absolute trickiest part of sewing a swimsuit! Those gathers want to flatten out as you sew. So, I pinned them well and then basted the lining and fashion fabric together with zig-zag stitches, pushing the gathers under the needle in an orderly fashion with a needle.

I wanted lots of shaping in the bust cups, so I then installed my swimsuit cups. I situated the cups for placement, then pinned and zig-zagged the cups around the lining fabric.

I attached the lining/cups to the bust pieces by serging all edges together, forming one piece.

I cut a piece of clear elastic two inches shorter than the neckline edge and a piece two inches shorter than the armhole edge, and zigzagged that elastic to the serged edge, stretching as I sewed to ensure it fit from end to end.

I turned the clear elastic to the inside, and used a stretch double-needle with polyester thread in the needles and wooly nylon in my bobbin to top-stitch down the neckline edges on both sides. As you can see, on one side my stitching got a little wonky, but I'm ok with it.

I gathered under the bust cups and pinned the bust sections to the top of the midsection piece, ensuring the lining was caught into the seam as well. Zig-zagged the seam to lock in the gathering stitches and test for placement, then serged over that zig-zagging to clean up all exposed edges.

I measured a piece of clear elastic 1.5" shorter than the width of the midsection/bust seama and zig-zagged it onto the seam allowance of that seam, stretching to fit end to end.

I was now at the point where I had to decide what to do about the back - do I make halter straps that tie behind my neck, or bra-like straps that attach to the back of the tank? I think I've decided on halter straps; they have a slightly more retro feel that goes along well with the giant polka dots. I went with halter straps.

In order to finish the back and armholes before installing halter straps, I cut a piece of clear elastic 15" long and zigzagged it to the upper edge of the back fabric. In hindsight, I think I would cut it a little longer, maybe 15 1/2".

I then turned the entire edge (back and armhole run together), and used my double needle to topstitch the edge all the way around.

I made halter straps by cutting two 2" wide strips of fabric, about 12" long (I wasn't sure how long I'd need them to tie). I serged them right sides together, and then inserted a safety pin as a bodkin at the top of each bust strap, feeding that into the strap, stitching closed, and then turning the strap right sides together.

Now for the LAST STEP!!! Double-needle topstitch your hem at the bottom of the suit. That's it, your top is done!

Wow, those are some powerful bust cups, huh? Next time, I think I'll go with a more low-profile insert. Live and learn.

Stay tuned tomorrow, we'll make the bottoms and then wear this baby out in the sun!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Making a Swimsuit - More about the girls

I've gotten a lot of questions by email and comment, regarding support for the girls when making a swimsuit. As you can see from the first suit I made, I am dealing with two issues:

1. I really don't need a whole lot of support, sadly. Sniff, sniff. And,
2. I have a lot to learn about supporting what I do have.

So I've been researching both for myself and for anyone reading along with me, and I have a little bit of helpful information to report.

First, I did some retail reconnaissance over the past few days. Which means I spent a few hours browsing through Nordstrom and Everything But Water (a swimsuit store) to study the details of how expensive swimsuits are put together. Why expensive ones? I don't know, I was hoping to find some magic that made those suits worth $125 versus the ones I find at Target for $25.

I'm happy to report there are a few differences that are immediately evident.

First, bust support is critical.

You remember my first strapless tank? Well, lo and behold, not only did I probably need to stitch in bust cups and/or an underwire to defy gravity, but I also needed to add boning to the sides of the bust area for support. Boning! I forgot all about that when putting it together, and sadly Kwik-Sew didn't mention it at all. I will be going back and adding two strips of boning to the sides of my first tank to give the girls a little more oomph and keep the bust section from drooping.

Second, most of the expensive suits (Miraclesuit, Tommy Bahama, LaBlanca, etc.) had sewn-in bust support in the form of molded cups attached to the shelf-liner. So I am doing that with the current suit I'm making and I'll be sharing that technique in the first construction post, coming up.

I know a few people really need an underwire. In fact, most people can benefit from it so I think it's helpful to share this info. I found that many suits, even if they only had a shelf-liner for the bust, also had sewn-in underwires.

You can order the wires for an underwire at Sewsassy, as well as the channeling for the wires, which you'll need unless you like painful poking. A cheaper, greener way of avoiding all of that is to take an underwire bra you no longer wear and cut the banding and wire section off of it to sew onto a swimsuit liner.

I found my bra cup inserts at Hancock's, and since they're a Dritz notion I'm pretty sure you can find or order them almost anywhere. They ran kind of pricey at $11, though, so I recommend you stock up when you find a 40 or 50% off coupon.

Sewsassy also has a great selection of inexpensive swimsuit bra cups, so I am ordering a few of their different options so I can report back on how they look and feel.

I've also read quite a few people have used a Microtex needle (super sharp) when sewing nylon/lycra for swimsuits. I haven't tried that needle on this fabric although I do swear by them on finer cottons, so if you have experience using them then I say go for it.

Alrighty, I think that about covers the research I've done and hopefully my next post will be full of the putting together bits, yay!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Making a Swimsuit - a sidetrack of sorts

I'm going to be re-cutting a new top to my swimsuit, so my first post on construction is delayed by a day or two. Why? Cause I don't like the way this looks in back. Instead of the u-shaped straps, I'm going to go with a sraight-across tank style which means changing the front straps to halter-style.

It's too short in the back. Once I hem it, it will be higher than I'd like. I adjusted the front for length, but forgot all about the back.

Once I get bra cups installed and the elastics hemmed and finished, I do think I'm going to like it.

Oh, and maybe there was a little bit of this going on. Oops! It's not that I don't want to show my failures, Lord knows there are plenty of them. It's just that I'd rather have a clean shot of construction without all my oops included.

So stay tuned! More progress on making a swimsuit tomorrow....

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Making a Swimsuit - Preparations

This is the first post in at least a two-part series on how to make a swimsuit. Make no mistake - I am no expert! But I recently finished making my first tankini and was remarkably surprised at how easy it was and how few resources there are out there in blogoland on how to make one. So here you go.

First, let me say that making a swimsuit is cheap-ER than buying ready-to-wear, but isn't exactly dirt cheap. There are a few specialized supplies you'll need, and I'll break down my costs as well.

You do NOT need a serger to make a swimsuit! I only used my serger on the side seams of the first suit I completed, and I could have easily skipped that and used my machine instead.

I'll be making Kwik-Sew 3779, View B (slightly modified) which looks remarkably similar to this Miraclesuit, doesn't it? In fact, View A looks remarkably similar to this Miraclesuit! Hmmm....

You'll need a few specialized things to make a swimsuit.

First, nylon lycra fabric. Swimsuits need to stretch a LOT, so 3% lycra isn't enough. The fabric I am using is 10% lycra/90% nylon. It needs that much lycra for recovery. Thankfully, you can usually find swimsuit fabric at the major fabric chains, although the selection is horrible. I found the orange and white polka dot online at Spandex World. Another great resource is Spandex House, although you will need to call in a credit card to order with them. I paid $10 per yard for my fabric, and needed approximately one yard.

You'll also need swimsuit lining. This is a critical item because without it you'll have a bit of trouble maintaining any sort of decency. There are different levels of quality, stretch, and cost to swimsuit lining. The first piece I tried stretched quite a bit (good) but was fairly meshy and didn't recover very well (bad). Lining that doesn't recover ends up bagging in the butt when your suit is wet. I found a nice, smooth, stretchy nude lining at Joann's for $10 per yard. I only needed 1/2 yard of lining.

Another option for swimsuit lining is the more expensive Powerknit, also called Powermesh or girdle fabric (pictured below). You can find it online at Sewsassy and Spandex House, as well as eBay and a few other sources. It usually has 15% or 20% lycra, and can be used to line a swimsuit when you'd like to replicate a Miraclesuit with the control panel. It's powerful! I am not using it in this project, but in a future suit I'll be showing how to line the front with Powermesh and what a difference it makes.

Bulky Nylon thread. I used this in each of my serger loopers (dusty serger back pictured), as well as in the bobbin of my sewing machine. It stretches very nicely and can hold up to water, chlorine, perspiration and sunscreen. The downside? It's expensive. Each spool at Joann's cost $5.99, so I stock up on them when thread goes on sale. Last time I paid $3 per spool, but it should last through quite a few swimsuits. To wind my bobbin, I set the machine speed at the lowest so it wouldn't stretch the thread too tightly as it wound.

Stretch or ball-point needles. I'm using a Schmetz 75-11.

Clear elastic or swimsuit elastic for the leg and neck openings. For an under-bust shelf liner you can use regular elastic, although the type with one brushed side is more comfortable.

Another option to basting on the machine (you will be basting the lining pieces to the fabric) is to use double-sided Magic Tape, which washes away in water.

OK, I think you're ready to get started!

So, first thing? Have a little patience. Lay out your fabric and lining, and let it breathe overnight. It sounds crazy, but lycra needs to rest and retreat to its natural weave before you cut into it. If you pull it straight out of the bag and starting cutting, you can end up with pieces stretched out of shape or off grain, and when the lycra goes back to straight grain (it will go back to straight grain, I promise you) then your entire piece could be off-kilter.

Once it's laid out for a minimum of twelve hours, you can cut out your pattern. I traced my Kwik-Sew pattern onto gridded pattern paper first, making my adjustments (tankini vs. one-piece, wider straps in back, etc).

Be sure to pin within the seam allowance on nylon-lycra, as pins can leave permanent holes in the fabric.

I take my cut pieces and lay them on top of my lining fabric, cutting that with a rotary cutter. You can cut the entire thing with a rotary cutter if you have space, but sharp scissors work just as well. One tip I have is to cut your lining fabric an 1/8" of an inch smaller on the sides than your lycra. This will cause it to stretch and not bag in the center. I only did this on the bottoms.

And now you're ready to get started sewing!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The one where I make a swimsuit and realize I need to go on a diet

GULP. This is like posing in your underwear.

I made a tankini this weekend. I don't know why, because it's 45 degrees and cloudy outside today, but I have been craving warmth and sunshine so badly I decided to try my hand at swimwear.

And I'll be damned, I made a swimsuit. I'm kind of stunned, because swimwear and bras are the two things I've never considered making for myself. Ever. Well, I take that back. I considered swimwear last year but chickened out.

I started out with Kwik-Sew 3779. I like strapless swimsuits, despite my clear lack of natural uplift. I don't like tan lines. Instead of a one-piece concoction, which I cannot wear due to some weird misengineering of my body, I wanted a tankini. So I stole the bottoms pattern from Kwik-Sew 3608. I made a Medium in both pieces, which is clearly too small on the bottom half and possibly too small on top. Check out how it cuts into my sides? Yeah, that's cause it's too tight.

I wrote up a pattern review here, but I wanted to add some of the more gory details.

For one, I threaded my serger with wooly nylon. It's actually called bulky nylon if you go looking for it in stores, and I've only found it locally at Joann's. That was some feat because my serger is a jet-air threader and those wooly threads don't love being forced through the machine at jet speed.

I also threaded my sewing machine with wooly nylon in the bobbin thread and 100% polyester thread in the needle. I wound the bobbin on the slowest speed so it wouldn't stretch too tight.

I made the top with this method, and so far it looks like it was a good idea. When I made the bottoms, I switched to wooly nylon in the needle of the sewing machine and had nothing but problems, so I guess I don't recommend that. But my Bernina, she can be feisty. And right now she's in the midst of breaking down so it may have been a combination of all of the above that caused my problems.

When I had the wooly nylon in the bobbin and the needle, the needle thread kept fluffing up on me. So much so that I actually had to take my small scissors and trim the fluff afterwards.

I used clear elastic for the leg openings and the waistband on the bottoms, and then for the top it calls for 3/4" elastic. So that's what I used, just regular old elastic. No complaints here about any of that.

I lined the top with a stretchy swimsuit lining I think I ordered last year from Honestly, it's crap. It's kind of a very stretchy mesh and you can just tell when it gets wet it's going to stretch out and droop. So I lined the bottoms (much more critical lining technique unless you want baggy pants) with a very stretchy smooth nude swimwear lining I bought recently at Joann's. If you want more control over your tummy, you can use girdle fabric as lining, too. I have some Powernet I ordered from but didn't feel like this busy pattern needed it.

Let's see, what else? Oh, yeah, the boobs. This design is strapless with a shelf liner. I doubled the liner and on the layer most close to the body, I left the sideseams open so I can insert those little boob cup insert thingies you get in RTW swimsuits. I have a million of them floating around in my drawers. To keep the cups from migrating together, I stitched the center of the two linings together. I have yet to try this out, I'm hoping it's a successful experiment.

Honestly, sewing swimwear wasn't hard, per se. I just find working with pure spandex like this to be kinda tricky. It wants to move around a little bit too much for my taste. I considered using Wonder Tape to keep it all together at critical points (like the center fronts with two gathered edges and a bias flounce) but ended up just going slow with a few pins and a lot of patience. That alone is a miracle, since me and patience are like oil and vinegar.

This pattern didn't let me down. They tell you exactly how long to cut your elastics, which is a godsend. They tell you exactly how to assemble it, where to sew the elastic, etc. You can't go wrong with a Kwik-Sew swimsuit pattern.

So, onward and upward my friends! I have another tankini laid out and breathing*, ready to be cut tonight. And in true Heather fashion, I have plans for another dozen swimsuits. So I'll probably make two more? Sounds good.

* Forgot to mention, you always want to lay stretch fabrics out flat for a day (or as long as you can stand to) before cutting them out. Especially with spandex, you want it in its original shape before you cut into it, so don't let it sit in a wad and then try to cut it out right away.

** Post Post edit: I'm thinking of documenting my construction of the next swimsuit and posting it in stages? Not a sew-along, really, but as I was thinking about starting this project I really couldn't find any blog posts about swimwear that were detailed. What do you think, would it be helpful?

**Ok, I've started the series on making a swimsuit. If you're interested, click Here for the post on getting ready and links to the following posts as they appear.