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I am a mother, a 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 book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was 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!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Sewing swimwear - the question of lining part one for today

Let's talk linings.

One of the differences between a high quality and a not high quality swimsuit is the lining.

Not all are lined completely. Some are lined at the crotch only, some at the front piece only, some have a partial lining in sort of a soft bra, and some are fully lined.

For kids swimsuits I usually line only the front and leave the back, which will still have the front crotch lined, unlined. This is because show through, if there is any, in lighter fabrics is not such an issue. And with kids you have to be careful of not making anything more constricting than possible - with those guys it's all about how it feels first and how it looks second. (Come to think about it if we are honest are the rest of us that different?)

For grown-ups I like to line the whole swimsuit.

The tricky part is getting the right lining.

Being a person who spends a lot of time in the water I am sensitive to this. Hands up if any of you have had a lining that sagged more than the outer fabric when wet. This happens a lot and really is not a great feeling.

Which leads me to these two ideas:

  • test your lining wet
  • make sure it maintains the same stretch as the outer fabric
For my current and recent projects I have used four different linings:

  • For my maternity First Crush suit I used a superb black lining from Halo Fabric Addicts - definitely the best quality lining I have ever used, smooth and soft with virtually the same characteristics as the outer fabric:
  •  For my everyday Diane Jalie suits I made for the kids and I this summer I used a swimwear mesh lining I got from Fabric Mart. I liked that it was a bit less restrictive for heavy swimming, important for the kids especially, and in all our fabrics preventing show through was not a problem because the outer fabrics were substantial. Note this is lining is heavier than ordinary fashion mesh and not as stiff as Powermesh. It has the same stretch as the outer fabric when wet too:
  • For my yellow parrot suit I decided I definitely needed a real lining to prevent show through in the yellow fabric so I used self-fabric, essentially a second layer of the yellow swimwear, throughout. This is actually my least favourite option as two layers of swimwear can feel a bit heavy, and makes for a slightly more restrictive feeling suit, but always a decent option if you want to make sure that your lining matches the characteristics of the outer fabric obviously:
  • Finally for the white and cherries suit for my daughter I am using a traditional beige swimwear lining. This is always the best choice for white fabrics if you are careful to make sure the stretch when wet factor is the same as the outer fabric. I got mine from Halo but fabrics like these are available in most fabric stores:

Now there are lots of folks out there who use Powermesh, which is and behaves exactly as it sounds, as a lining to smooth things over. 

I find Powermesh pretty powerful, too much for my comfort, and I personally have never done this. If I want to smooth anything out I use a swimwear fabric with some texture to it, ribbed ones or those with little bubble texture on the surface like cloque are wonderful for disguising purposes, and feel the same on as the shiny fabrics that catch the light and can be revealing. A style with some shirring accomplishes the same thing.

That said I do have some ambivalence about getting real wound up about worrying how you look in swimsuits.

The pattern choices are so much better than they used to be. Tankinis, skirted options, boys shorts - you no longer feel you have to be trapped in something that will require constant tugging.

Also your body tells your own story and that is just fine the way it is. 

If you have spent decades going to work and then getting dinner on the table, if you have had babies, C-sections, hysterectomies or stood at the counter and ate crackers out of the box with your coat still on when life had thrown you a stressor, and your belly has some jiggles well then world -deal with it. You have done enough of other kinds of dealing.

You are still here and game and that's what matters.

On Thursday my 90 year-old mother is coming down for a visit. 

That woman has game I can tell you. 

I actually got a call from her to ask about the pools we go to. She is bringing her bathing suit because she wants to go swimming with the great grandchildren and wanted to know if there was a pool that a lady who walks down to the grocery store every day with her walker could get into. Fortunately there is, a pool with a slope in and a hand rail, barrier free and wheelchair inclusive, that she says she might use although she doesn't want to go in an "old person's pool" but she wanted us to know that she isn't that good about climbing down into a swimming pool on a ladder anymore. As if we were expecting that.

So don't let anything keep you out of the pool. Particularly the fact you don't have anything snappy to wear.

More on that later.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Swimsuit sew-along reboot

Well my apologies for my off line - ness

For those of you who have been waiting for more words on swimwear I am back at it this week.

Life detoured me a bit this last little while. I hope those of you who have been patiently sitting beside their machines with their bathing suit fabric waiting for the next edition of the sew-along have access to a good pool - because the beaches won't be open too much longer. At least not here in the globally warmed near tropical now far north that probably still has life guards operating on the old calendar.

I should put a word in here about my attitude too.

I love summer. Flip flops are my favourite shoe. I have never complained about the heat in my life. I drive around most of the year with the car seat warmers on, which drives my husband crazy. What I am doing in a country that is the birthplace of hockey has always been a mystery to me.

So my ambivalence about the change to fall probably has affected my slow on ramp with this sew-along.

In my family everyone else loves fall. My daughter says weird things like she is getting sick of summer. I have sisters who like the orange leaves and those pumpkins on doorsteps. I want to tell them don't get to excited, don't you remember what comes next? Seasonal affective disorder and chipping the ice off the windshield.

Off topic.

So in addition to denying that summer is coming to a close I have had other things going on that have been interesting sewing wise.

My son from Austin Texas has been home for two weeks.  

I decided that he wasn't going back without a shirt I made for him. 

It was an idea I got in my head. 

I like it when he tells me he wears his shirts out and people ask him "where did you get that cool shirt?" and he says my mom made it.

To me that one line never has gotten old.

I mean what mother doesn't stay up a few night in front of the Rocketeer for an opening like that?

So here's that shirt:

I love working with these retro prints, they remind me of my dad and of the curtains we had up in the living room when I was a kid.

Useless fact: my mother reports that she once lost me in the house when I was two. She finally found me sitting behind the curtains quietly unpicking the hem. I wonder if I knew then how much of my life I would be spending taking out stitches.

This shirt also gave me a chance to do some pocket print matching. One of the things I love doing because I have a system for it. I have it in the book and somewhere on this blog too:

Since last we spoke I have also got involved in testing a new pattern for Love Notions.

Every once in a while I do some pattern testing, in situations when a real pattern is being refined by multiple version sews, tweaks, refinements, and perfecting the hard way. 

These are very different from the tester calls that are more requests for sample garments.

Anyway I am one of a small group of sewers test sewing multiple iterations of a pattern for Love Notions. To sum up this intense process let me just say that version 7 has just been emailed to me. I have to say that I am impressed by the rigour of the testing and the attention to detail, not to mention the whole heap of sewing being done by the volunteer testers.

I am not sure if I would be up for doing this regularly but man has this been an interesting week.

Now back to swimsuits.

Tomorrow I am going to post a few thoughts on the very important issue of lining and give a review of Rad Patterns First Crush swimsuit, about which I have many opinions.

See you then.