Over the last couple of years, I have fallen head first into my love of handmade garments. I’ve sewn shorts and shirts, knits & wovens. I’ve used pdf patterns and paper patterns and vintage patterns and made my own. I’ve knitted and crocheted jumpers and headbands. I even attempted (and fell in love with) lingerie sewing. Box after box of a sewists bucket list ticked off until only one remained.
I’m not entirely sure why it felt so insurmountable? Maybe because it needs to fit impeccably? It has less give than regular clothing so needs to be more flattering? Whatever the reason, I thought about it and pushed it off and thought some more and ignored some more. Summer was coming up rapidly, and I couldn’t push it off much longer. I haven’t bought swimmers since before Beetle was born, possibly even before Butterfly? A darn long time, whenever it was. An extra child or two, and a decade of time, and, well, that cute halter-neck bikini I loved in my twenties, was no longer suitable for a mum-bod on the downhill run to 40. These days I tend to wear it as an under-layer for a pair of boardies and a rashie. My most common activities requiring swimmers though, are laying by the pool with a book and a cocktail, or laying on the beach with a book and a coffee. I was ready to go back to actual swimmers that were cool and comfy and not three hundred layers clinging to me in the heat.
I managed to pick up some super cute swimwear fabric in a flash sale, which inspired me to ramp up my swimmer sewing plans. My Pinterest addition returned with a vengeance as I scrolled and tried to find something I loved. As well as wanting something cute and flattering, I also was looking for something that was sunsafe, with plenty of coverage for all the areas a 40yo mum-of-four needs coverage for. I considered a long sleeve one piece, but didn’t relish the idea of stripping off completely if I needed a bathroom run. Possibly a long sleeve rashie with some bikini bottoms? Except that came back to the same problem – I didn’t want to lounge in long sleeves.
In the end, I decided to Frankenstein a three piece tankini set. For the tank, I used the Burda crossover that I made for Camp Covid. For the bottoms, my favourite boyleg undies pattern. To round out the set, I added a long sleeve shrug based on the Plantain tee.
To make the various patterns swimwear suitable, I had to make a few changes, obviously. I started with design choices and alterations, so I could get it to a look I wanted, before starting on the structural changes. My figure is…tricky to flatter in form fitting garments. Straight up and down, with almost zero curves except for the places you don’t want curves!! Once I decided on the basics of my tankini, I pulled up my custom croquis in procreate, along with a couple of articles on how to flatter & hide various lumps and bumps, and got to work.
I chose the tank I did, because it was nice and flared through the tummy – one of my major problem areas, after four children! I kept the body of the tank dark to help hide it further, and then added a feature panel across the bust. To create the panel, I traced the top part of the tank, and cropped it to the required length. I then adjusted the pattern to add pleats – just to the feature panel, not the main tank – to add volume and give the illusion of curves. To finish the panel, I added a band of the same light fabric. With the main design features sorted, I got stuck into the structural adjustments. I sized down by one size, to make it a bit more form fitting. The straps needed widening, and instead of binding or hemming the raw edges, I duplicated the pattern to create facings for all the raw edges. I extended this facing to the same length as the feature panel to create a lining. The purpose of the lining was partly to give a nice comfortable finish on the inside, and it also allowed me to add simple foam cups (unpadded). I wanted these mostly for modesty, but also they gave the top a little bit of extra structure to help the pleats of the feature panel sit nicely. The finishing touch to get the fit and drape just right, was to add elastic to the undercuts band, which acts a bit like a shelf bra and make it all sit nicely and stay there.
The bottoms were the easiest to convert. I chose this patten because it is long in the leg, so offers plenty of coverage for a modest look. I added lining, because no-one wants a little see through accident when the fabric stretches! In the same way I added the illusion of curves to the tank, I wanted to add something to the bottom to counteract my lack of hips. The easiest way to do this was a circular ruffle of the lighter fabric, and while I went back and forth on wondering if it was a bit juvenile, in the end it complemented the tank nicely, so I went with it. Aside from the ruffle, the main change was creating the waist band out of the main fabric, to make it look like swimmers and not knickers!
The final piece of the puzzle was to create a long sleeve shrug to act as a rashie when I left the safety of the day bed shade sail! I could take it off when I was sitting down, or put it on when I was in the sun. The main consideration for the design of this piece was the shoulders. I feel like my shoulders are quite broad compared to the rest of me, so the shrug needed to not draw attention to that. I went with the darker fabric for the body of the shrug, and the light fabric for the binding to draw the eye inward. To create the shrug pattern, I used this tutorial and my Plantain Tee pattern. I did have to add a little pleat to each sleeve as I added the binding, but that was helpful to add movement to the arms, while helping the binding sit firmly.
It all came together beautifully. We got over to the coast for the first time in 12 months last weekend, and I finally got a chance to wear it. It was super comfortable, and I was really happy with how it looked on. The bits I wanted to hide remained hidden. The illusions I wanted to create were created. And that shrug was a stroke of genius, and worked like a charm on my strolls back and forth to the pool side bar during happy hour. For all the planning and sketching and worrying and overthinking, I couldn’t be happier with the end result.