Sew Me Another: Retro Swimsuit Inspiration

For a girl who doesn’t like getting her head wet, I’ve sewn and bought a lot of swimsuits over the past three years. Sixteen, to be exact. I Mari Kondo-ed them in January, so I know. That doesn’t even include my collection of vintage swimsuits. I have no idea what my problem is with swimwear. I think it’s the optimist in me. Because I spend 3/4 of the year freezing cold. Swimwear makes me think of sunshine and it makes me happy when skies are grey (which is a lot). I’m pretty lucky to live in a great spot for beach time— I have three beautiful options just minutes from my house, including Lake Superior. I speak for most Northlanders when I say being on Lake Superior in the summertime is the reason we put up with living on Lake Superior in the wintertime.

See, I digress already, dreaming about summer!

In my new suit.

The point is, I hate swimming, love swimwear, and am absolutely freaking obsessed with my newest swimsuit.

Boho Fabrics (shop here, FB group here), sent this adorable retro polka-dotted heart swim fabric my way, all bundled with the elastic and lining too. I always jump at an opportunity to sew swim, but when I saw these hearts, I had to have them.

Queue my anxiety over choosing the perfect retro pattern to do the hearts justice.

I knew right off the bat that the Hello Sailor swim bottoms, from Patterns for Pirates, would be a perfect match. They’re high-waisted, and I’ve sewn them plenty of times, so I know they’re a good fit. I’ve done the basic, color-blocked, and skirted versions, but had never done the rouched option.

Hello sailor.jpg

Better do the rouched option this time. ;)

The top is what gave me grief. I couldn’t find a pattern I liked. One that was retro enough and that I liked enough to spend money on. The Bombshell Swimsuit pattern from Closet Case Patterns was recommended to me A LOT, so I’ll pass that rec on to you, but it wasn’t what I wanted for this one.

Finally, I came across Simplicity 1426.


If you’ve followed my sewing, you know that paper patterns from the Big 4 are not really my thing. If you know about vintage swimsuits, you know that this pattern was actually drafted for cotton wovens. But, it was the only thing I could find that I liked, so I went for it! It’s a pattern that’s been out for a long time, so I’ve seen it a lot, especially view C (because how cute is that one?!). I decided to do view A, which is what she’s wearing in the picture.

Simplicity 1426 is a reproduction of an original 1950s pattern. Today, your swimsuit is made from nylon spandex. In the 1950s, spandex was not quite yet invented (it was invented in 1959). Nylon was invented in the early 1950s, and used in swimwear, but probably not common for the home sewist (and without spandex, it’s limiting anyway). Instead, swimwear was made with cottons, like how this pattern was drafted (which is a step up from the wool and sweater-like fabric used earlier in the century). Often suits would have shirring (rows of elastic sewn into the fabric) in the back or sides, to offer some level of stretchiness . Zippers and button closures were common too. I have suits from the 60s and 70s that were still made that way, with zippers and rouching. But trends moved fast in the 1960s and you can already see a wider variety throughout that decade, including suits that look much more like what we’d wear today too, in terms of construction. Thus ends swimsuit briefing.

The point is, that this may look like a swimsuit pattern, but it wasn’t designed to use swimsuit fabric. So, I had to make a couple changes:

—Sized down two sizes
—Added cups
—Elastic sewn into the seams along the inside of the bust pieces
—Drafted a new back piece, and sewed elastic into that seam too
—New bottom band, with wide elastic encased inside for support


The top, I constructed the same way as per the pattern, with the exception of ending the straps at the side, instead of extending them to the go across the top of the back piece.

I’m head over heels how everything turned out.

retro swimsuit

Eeeek, I just love hearts instead of normal polka-dots! Especially with the heart-shaped sunglasses I got last year on Amazon, haha.

Retro Swimsuit

Look how cute that side rouching is on the bottoms! I wish I would have sewn up that option before. It’s absolutely my favorite.

Retro Swimsuit

I’m super glad I had those swim cups on hand, and honestly, this really wouldn’t have worked out with out them.

Retro Swimsuit

I used Savage Seamless Paper for my backdrop, for those of you asking . . . I picked one up this fall for indoor sewing photos this winter. I really like them. This is the 53 inches (just wide enough for one person, don’t go any smaller). I really want a pink one next!

So there we have it! What are your swim plans for the summer?! It’s time to start sewing! <3

Thanks for stopping, and here’s my week in review over here:

Watching: Umbrella Academy! Loving it so far!
Reading: This cookbook, Delish: Eat Every Day Like it’s the Weekend. My whole family is swooning over this cookbook. The boys are literally flipping through it right now saying, “yummy, yummy, ucky, ucky, yummy . . .” as they turn pages.
Making/Sewing: Now that this suit is over, and my Jane Set muslin is done, it’s time for my next Jane Set, and one of Gertie’s new patterns for Simplicity too!
Listening: To too much 1A, haha. It’s probably my favorite weekday show on NPR. 1:00 rolls around, and I’m all, “shhh, my show is on!!”. It’s a lot of current events stuff, but some fun stuff too. They had one recently on raising boys, and on skin care, which convinced me to buying into the whole K-Beauty thing over at Soko Glam (link will give you 20% off, FYI). So I now have a 10 step skin care routine. Thanks, 1A, haha.

Retro swimsuit sewing