Friday, 26 September 2014

The Swimsuit Issue

I spent my early years (up to age 14) in Northern California. Despite what the rest of the world is led to believe, Northern California, particularly the San Francisco Bay Area, is not particularly warm. Beaches are often 'dramatic;, ie windswept and grey. Watch any film set in San Francisco, and you'll notice people are wearing a lot of coats and jackets, like in 'Vertigo':

Kim Novak in 'Vertigo', at the San Francisco seaside in coat and gloves - that's how cold it can get.

Understandably, I'm not a big beach lover. I'm also not too comfortable with swimwear. At the risk of sounding like a prude, isn't it a bit weird that it's ok to prance around in ensembles which cover less than our everyday underwear? I've come to view swimwear as a necessary evil, that I tolerate for holidays in the sun, and then usually reluctantly.

But then I found this on Ridley Road, my local street market:

Big Cat Kaftan!

I don't know who Hong Zhan is, but I love his/her/their work!

Mr Needles and I were due to visit Budapest and it was on the cards we would be visiting one of their famous spas, so swimwear was going to be required. I'd seen quite a few fellow bloggers make the 'Bombshell' with fab results, but this wasn't going to be suitable - all that sexy ruching would obscure the tiger print. Besides, I was getting a 70's/80's disco vibe from the fabric.

Enter Kwik Sew 3780:

I'm pretty novice with jerseys, and even more novice with swimwear, so I spent AGES agonizing over whether this pattern would work for me. Mainly, I was concerned about bust support. I'm a 32 E, depending on the brand of bra, and hate 'light support' - I like to feel strapped in at all times! I was considering buying a sports bra, and somehow inserting it into the finished costume. But in the end I went with the recommended shelf support, and it seemed to work fine.

I cut the front section from the Tiger kaftan, and the back from a super stretchy red swimwear lycra from Dalston Mill Fabrics. Here's the result!

Szechenyi Baths, Budapest

I'll explain the expertly photo shopped image above, courtesy of Mr Needles. I had every intention of taking a photo while we were in Budapest of the day we spent at Szechenyi baths, bobbing around in the beautiful heated pools, lounging in the steam rooms, and generally relaxing. I loved it! But Mr Needles lost his wristband in one of the pools, and all hell broke loose while we tried to explain to the staff what had happened. Then there was some suspenseful periods of waiting while they went to get the manager, and it was all finally resolved. So taking blog photos kinda got overlooked.

Support isn't too bad in this suit - I wouldn't do any vigorous swimming in it, but the bust shelf worked pretty well. The Kwik Sew instructions are excellent, explaining exactly how much elastic to use for each size, what stitch to use, and so on.

Here's the bust elastic on the inside:

I decided to line the suit with the same fabric as the outer. This gave the suit a stability and firmness that I liked.

Seam sewn with faux overlock stitch
I don't have an overlocker, but the fake overlock stitch on my Elna worked perfectly well. It took a while to get used to the rhythm, coupled with having to stretch the seams a little as you sew, but I think I got the hang of it.

Clear silicone elastic
The pattern says to use 'swimwear elastic' on all the hems and turnings, but I thought that would be a bit thick and chunky. I'd noticed that this clear silicone is often used on stretch hems, so I decided to give it a go. And so another handling technique to grapple with - this stuff is so slippery! I attached it to each leg opening, armhole, and neckline, following the measurements in the pattern instructions and using a 3 step zig zag:

Inside of hem
Once the elastic is applied, the turnings were folded in place and then sewn with a shallow zig-zag:

Hem viewed from right side
And here's the back view; there are a few wrinkles, but on the whole the fit isn't too bad:

I was pretty pleased with the outcome of this suit, so I thought 'Why stop there?' I'd been listening to a lot of punk, and watching a lot of documentaries like 'Punk Attitude'. How could I combine this current interest with sewing? Why, swimwear, of course! I present the Dead Kennedy's swimsuit:

Again, the appropriate background was provided by Mr Needles.

I started with a XXL t shirt from Camden Market - here's a before picture:

Then I carefully picked apart the neck trim and the hem, so I had as much fabric to work with as possible:

Next, I lined up the front piece so that the centre front ran exactly through the centre of the logo:

Then I just used the same construction as the other suit. This one was lined with proper swimsuit lining, again courtesy of Dalston Mill. I also used a bit of one of the sleeves for a gusset. Only the front piece was cut from the t-shirt; for the back I used a matt black lycra - I didn't think disco strength shininess was the right look for this suit. And using the t-shirt fabric at the back would have resulted in a saggy bottom when it gets wet:

The fit of this suit is slightly different due to the fact that the front piece doesn't have the same amount of stretch as the back, but it'll do for sunbathing. Or maybe I'll wear it for Halloween!

I would totally recommend this pattern to anyone not sure of themselves when dealing with lycras. What Kwik Sew lacks in presentation (see my previous discussion here) they make up for in instructions, which I thought were just brilliant. And now my (slight) fear of lycra and stretch is conquered!

Here's some Dead Kennedy's to get you in a holiday mood:

See you soon!


  1. Thank you! And apologies for any inconvenience caused by your exploded head.

  2. Oh my goodness Mrs Needles!!! These are incredible but my heart fully belongs to the DK version. Truly brilliant. Xx

  3. Thank you Mrs Szabo! I was thinking of doing a Black Flag or Motorhead, but Jello and the gang won out.

  4. Wowsers! These are both absolutely amazing, and what a great idea to use a t-shirt for the front. Lynne

  5. Best swimsuits ever!!! I love these on you - utterly unique and fabulous!

  6. Agi was my Grandmother and my best friend - she was a hoot and I miss her daily. She used to let me try on her dresses.. I was very lucky to know her.

  7. Sooo clever! !! You look ace


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