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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Enormously long post about swimsuits and life

Hi folks.

A friend of mine from my sewing world has put me in touch with a book called Designing your life. To boil it down to its essence the idea is that rather than working towards the one right thing for you, and being dismayed when something doesn't work out, you should work with the idea of prototypes, build a trial model and if it works move forward, and if it doesn't learn what you can and then toss that one aside, no hard feelings.

To translate this - think of your life as a series of muslins. Test garments that may help you refine the fit or might alert you to a dud pattern before you ruin the good fabric.

Think about this.

Who beats themselves up because the muslin wasn't wearable? Don't most of us accept that it is part of the process?

Imagine if you thought of your life in terms of muslins. That degree you never used when you should have studied something else. That dumb relationship that used up years of your life. The dead end job you stayed in too long.

What if you just shrugged and figured, well that's was just a muslin. I could never have figured it out if I hadn't made that one first? That's how I got it right.

Fairly liberating and helps remove the fear of trying new things, because you accept that not everything will work out, and you don't get a good fit without a few trials.

The idea of sew-alongs has been like that for me.

I had this idea that because I was doing a lot of one thing that it would be logical to organize my thoughts around a garment type. Other people call these sew-alongs so I did too.

The thing is that this sort of thing doesn't suit my random style or my hard to schedule life.

I write flypaper thoughts I realize because I have a flypaper mind with highly random sewing ideas fitting themselves into the rest of living.

So with that said I have decided to write a big honest post with all my thoughts on swimwear and if any of you have any questions please leave them in the comments. I will see what I can do to fill in any blanks.

Does this make sense?

The thing is that swimwear and water have been in my mind all week.

Do you have time for a dream I had that has been haunting me?

Sort of connects a lot of things.

Well this is was my dream three nights ago.

I was standing on the bank of a river watching a herd ? of golden retrievers swim down it with the current. (I know golden retrievers, I never said my dreams were heavy).

Any way they were all doing well and everyone was happy until I noticed one dog under the water. My heart stopped and I looked closer.

What had happened was this one dog had put its four feet down and touched bottom. If you have ever swum in unfamiliar waters you would know the feeling of how good it feels to touch bottom and I guess this dog felt like that.

The problem was that by touching bottom this dog had its head about a foot below the surface of the water, which of course survival-wise would be a problem.

There I was on the bank shouting at this dog saying - it's OK just let go and kick up and you will be able to breathe and move ahead and be safe. But of course I knew that the surface of the water was only a little way up and the dog couldn't know that.

What the dog knew was that the bottom was familiar and felt safe.

Well you don't need a Phd in psychology to figure this out but when I woke up, in a panic, I started to wonder about how many of us keep reaching to feel bottom.

I told my husband about this dream right away and he said "Why are all your dreams about dogs? Mine are about cars."

That is an actual quote. This is what I deal with.

So on the subject of moving water let's talk about swimsuits.

The last we left it we were talking about lining.

To my mind there is only one way to attach a lining and that is to zig zag most pieces, back lining excepted, to the main body fabric with a medium zig zag. To make everything look very pretty try to let the swing of the needle go just off the edge of the fabric. This will make a sort of vague scallop edge finish. Here is how I pinned the lining to the inside of the Fabric Crush maternity suit before I stitched it in place:

Here is what that stitching looks like:

I always do this basting with a zig zag instead of a long straight stitch. The reason for this is that the zig zag is stretchy and you will be leaving these stitches in. If you use straight stitches they are inevitably and harmlessly going to pop when you move and that will cause you to panic. Always a good policy to avoid that if you can.

For the same reason I now use a stretch thread like Euroflex in the bobbin (wind the bobbin slowly so it doesn't stretch out in the winding) and a poly thread in the upper threading. Euroflex is great in bobbins but can be a bit too stiff for the upper threading in some machines. Of course you don't have to do this, any poly thread is fine for basting.

At this point you can do a baste fitting if you want of all your pieces but for that I would use a long straight stitch and take it out.

Now a word on why I think the underlining option above is the best way to go.

1. It makes construction so much easier. The First Crush swimsuit by Rad Patterns has highly complex instructions for sort of bagging the lining so all the seams are enclosed, that I spent an entire lunch hour trying to understand before throwing in the towel and saying a small prayer for any new sewers trying to make their first swimsuit with these directions. I just wouldn't do it that way. First it would make your head hurt and take 500% longer to sew that swimsuit up, and secondly although the seams would be covered the lining wouldn't be attached to the internal seams and therefore would be likely to spin around when wearing.

2. All my old Lands End suits are made this way and they wore well and felt right.

Now I suggest that you leave this attaching the lining stage off from the back piece.


The reason is that the crotch seam is one you would like to have enclosed so for that one seam sandwich the front with lining attached between the back fabric piece and the lining piece, stitch that crotch seam then flip the lining up and then baste the lining to the back piece.

Here are pictures of that done with some clear how-to shots grabbed from a Jalie tutorial:

 Once all the lining pieces have been attached you can proceed to the construction treating all pieces as one:

A word here about cups.

For the blue and white pattern (fabric and lining from Halo Fabric Addicts) maternity swimsuit above my DIL wanted a soft cup, which makes sense when shapes are changing. Fortunately the cross over front of this pattern had a piece on the inside that make this easy:

 I simply put a slightly stretched piece of fold over elastic along the bottom of this piece which of course was eventually attached to the side seams. Here is a shot of the inside of the soft bra piece form the lining side:

And here is a shot of the interior of the suit with the lining hidden under a swimsuit fabric layer for this piece, useful so there is no show through of lining along the neckline from the right side:

For my own yellow parrot suit I laid some salvaged from an old bra cups on the lining, stitched around the cups and then cut away the excess lining from underneath them:

More professionally for my daughter's beautiful retro suit made from this pattern  I followed the instructions and had two layers of lining in the cups, one with the top nicked off and left free to insert the proper swimsuit cups. I have white mesh lining next to the outer fabric and the second lining with the opening is made of the beige fabric I used elsewhere, simply because I had run out of beige lining to use it everywhere. Note my cups where from Halo and area available in a wide variety of cup sizes:

Here is what the swimsuit looks like with the cups in:

For interest here is a shot of the back of this suit, showing the closure and also what the exposed seams of the bodice look like when the lining and outer fabric are constructed as one. Note that wooly nylon in the serger loopers helps with serge finishing seams like this if you like:

Now a note on construction seams, thread, and elastic.

I have pretty much tried everything, wooly nylon and stretch thread in the needles of my serger even.

Here is what I have settled on.

Good polyester thread in the needles. If your serger thread is older pull on it to make sure it won't break. When they dry out over time they do. Replace it if this happens or use a good spool of sewing thread in your two serger needles.

Wooly nylon in both loopers. For stretch and comfort.

A triple stitch at my machine for seams that have to be industrial, like the suits I made for the little girls, placed next to the serger seam.

For the top stitching down the elastic I use sometimes a triple zig zag if there are many layers (I had to do this for the neckline of the cherries suit although I cover hemmed all other edges) with wooly nylon hand wound in the bobbin:

But most of the time I use my cover hem with wooly nylon in the looper which gives a nice finish and also great stretch. I think you can also see here how nice the first line of zig zag which initially attaches the elastic looks if you let the needle swing off the fabric:

Finally two really important things to think about when attaching the elastic:

1. Stretch the elastic but not the fabric when you sew. If you pull on both you will get waves. Sure there is a good chance that once stretched on the body these will disappear, but this is something to consider.

2. Think about how tight the elastic should be, particularly around the legs and armholes. Really the job of the elastic here is the firm the edges of the suit up and give them recovery not gather them in. When you stitch the elastic into a circle before you apply it try it on your body first for feel. Nothing is worse that a ring of elastic cutting off your circulation under your armpit or around the top of the leg! If you have to stretch the leg elastic at all it should only be at the back half of the opening, to cup the bum a bit maybe, but never along the front. IMO a pattern that gathers in the leg or armhole opening significantly is not a very good pattern.

The exception to this rule of course is the neckline where there needs to be some gathering in of the fabric so the neck doesn't gape. Here again I would use a bit of judgement - nothing should look gathered in on. The Jalie pattern above pulls in the neckline slightly and was not hard to put in. The neckline in the First Crush swimsuit didn't allow enough elastic length and I had to sort of have my feet up against the wall to stretch it enough to get it in. I am not totally happy with the results and am worried I am going to strangle my dear DIL with that suit. I will await the wearer's report.

So that's it folks for me on swimwear sewing, my muslin of a sew-along and a dog vision thrown in.

I will look forward to your comments and questions.

Then it's back to regularly unscheduled programming!


TinaD said...

(Why does Google insist that I want “living on the edge” when I quite clearly typed “sewing”? I feel manipulated.) I think a lot of sew-alongs tip over into tutorial territory, with actual process steps and the assumption of relatively synchronous audience participation; your sew-alongside seem a bit more meta, kind of like a gamer’s let’s-play where the activity is X but the conversation can go anywhere, which I kind of like. I am suspicious of people preaching methods to me, especially in edited videos, but love tips like “leg holes shouldn’t gather in the front, whatever the pattern says.” Saves a lot of time, that, especially now that everybody drafts patterns and things have gotten a little caveat emptor. (Sorry, mixed feelings about the indie explosion.)

Anonymous said...

I love what you wrote about muslins in sewing and in life! Instead of seeing the muslin step as a chore, I've come to see it as an aid in creating a well made garment. Before I was tempted to skip the muslin because I believed it was a waste of time, energy and fabric but now I see it as a vital step to my craft. Not only can I check for fit and design of a pattern, but more importantly I can see if the pattern is drafted well or not. I have become very discerning about quality of pattern drafting and will not make up a garment in good fashion fabric if the pattern is subpar.

Barbara, I enjoy your "flypaper thoughts" immensely. The "stream of consciousness" writing style employed is both entertaining and informative and most importantly it reflects your style. I encourage you to write in the way that feels like "you" as it brings out your best writing. Many a times I have been moved by your reflections on life and sewing and I look forward to more in the future.

Your New Fan in Cali

Anonymous said...

I haven’t tried sewing a suit, but I made some rash guards with mixed success, once. I’m wondering how purchased materials live up to store-bought. I am a swimmer and wear out a suit in 6 months when I swim regularly. I use competition suits. No cups, front lining only. I have a bikini for beach vacations but it seems so sturdy. I just can’t imagine replicating it at home. The girls’ suits look great. Functional and comfortable. Inspiring!
Another question: what measurements do we need to compare to a suit pattern to ensure a good fit? Any reason I can’t use underwear or an old suit to make a pattern?

Anonymous said...

Dog dreams are a staple for me; frequently a vulnerable dog I am failing to rescue. So your golden retriever dream sounds SO familiar! Clearly you have been swim suit productive this summer - very impressive! Now that fall is coming will we see a move to warmer clothes or perhaps you will be starting again on your travels - all fascinating!


Kansas Sky said...

I sure do like your analogy of life to a series of muslins. Now that I'm freshly retired, these are things that are on my mind -- coulda, woulda, shoulda. A good talking to myself made me realize how lucky I have been in my working life. I don't care what you write about -- a swimsuit? Meh, as I don't like to get wet. But LIFE -- everything you say is wise and thoughtful. Thank you, Barbara.

Jean said...

I do appreciate your muslin theory of life. I do make muslins often, and do not begrudge the time. I find it an interesting part of the process of 3D engineering a garment for myself. I recently bought a Jalie underwear pattern, largely because of your recommendations of that brand. And, I have made six pair of underwear so far! They are so comfortable. I made some from performance fabrics to rinse out in sinks during a European vacation-worked like a dream. Love your writing, and look forward to your posts.