Tuesday, July 18, 2017

DIY High-Waist Bikini

Over the past few years, when I've purchased swimwear, I've focused almost exclusively on bikinis. I have one distinctly athletic tank suit that I wear when I want to be, well, athletic, and not worry about my suit falling off. But for your average day spent poolside or a casual dip in the ocean, I almost always gravitate to a two-piece.

This year, though, growing bored with my selection of bikinis (I have a substantial amount of swimwear for someone who maybe goes swimming twice a year), I was delighted to read that one-piece swimsuits are becoming increasingly common. I decided to take advantage of their new popularity by finding one of my own. My only requirement was that it not be boring.

Eventually I found what I was looking for in a green-and-black striped suit with some flattering princess seams I couldn't pass up. There were several of the same suit available secondhand on eBay, so I waited until I found one under ten dollars, and then made my move. It was perfect. But only when I tried it on a second time, long after I could have conceivably returned it, I was disappointed to notice that it was too short for my torso (now I see why there were so many of them for sale)!  

No matter how I tugged it, either the bust would slide down to an unseemly level, or the leg openings would ride up to a height last seen on Baywatch. I've observed that high-cut swimsuit legs are currently coming back into fashion, but I've never found the style flattering, and I certainly didn't want to rock it myself!

However, the overall styling of the swimsuit was very similar to the retro/pinup/50's styles that continue to be a fringe fashion staple today. I decided I'd cut up my swimsuit and turn it from a one-piece to a high-waisted two-piece.

I have to say in advance that I did it wrong—so very wrong. I had no idea working with elastic fabric would be such a tribulation! While the finished product looks passable from a distance, I'm absolutely flustered by the disastrous nature of the work that got it there. But here, I'll let you judge for yourself!
I measured the spot where I ultimately wanted the waistband of the bottoms to lie, added an inch, and cut it.
I thought I was being smart by following the horizontal stripes, but as I finally got around to the other side, I learned that they hadn't been sewn perfectly straight—I'd lost almost an inch in height from one side of the front to the other. Mistake #1! 

Also, since the suit was made of two layers with a lot of gathers, I had cut the inside a lot lower than the outside, thus losing even more effective height. Mistake #2!

With nowhere to go but forward, I hemmed the waistband of the bottoms. I kind of wanted to put some sort of elastic band there, but in examining most of my other swimsuits, they didn't actually seem to have one, so I decided to do without it. Instead, I simply rolled the material under twice, then topstitched. Sadly, this was Mistake #3, as  some parts of the inner layer were too short to actually make it into the hem. Fortunately swimsuit knits don't unravel easily, so I haven't bothered to fix this mistake yet.

I started out with a stretch straight stitch on my machine, but that was taking forever, and seemed to be causing the material to pucker, so midway through, I switched to a three-step zigzag. As you can see, even in the few places where the zigzag itself turned out decent, it still made my suit waistband "do the wave."
When I tried the suit on after finishing the waist, I found that it had stretched quite a bit and now didn't hug my body. My solution was to open up about an inch of each of the seams in the front and then re-sew them a little tighter. The picture at left shows an inside view of this correction.

With the bottoms done (at least as done as I could stand to make them without crying!), I started on the top. By "started," I mean I stuffed it into the bottom of my Projects Box so I could "think" about the best way to finish it. Three months later, I could not procrastinate any more. I consulted the internet about ways to sew elastic material.

While some tips were totally useless to me (buy a walking foot? Sounds nifty! Costs almost as much as my entire sewing machine? Next!), one, which advised sewing over a piece of paper, sounded like it might actually work. Since I'd had trouble keeping all the material together when I sewed the bottoms, I also decided to glue the hems down prior to sewing (usually I just use pins). I was proud of myself for taking this extra step in the name of quality, but alas! It was Mistake #4—the glue (Aleene's No-Sew temporary fabric glue) wouldn't hold the material, so all I did was make it goopy and unworkable until it dried.
As you can see from the picture, I also glued a narrow strip of paper to the top of the piece. The paper may or may not have been Mistake #5. It certainly didn't seem to stop the fabric from puckering, but it did make quite a mess in terms of removal. I had to soak it in water until it dissolved in order to get all of it off, and I can still see bits of it stuck to the seam—even after a soak, a wash, and a swim in the Chesapeake Bay!

I can no longer remember if I had the bright idea to reduce my thread tension while sewing the top, but if that's what I did, it was certainly Mistake #6! For whatever reason, the topstitching on my bikini top is loose, erratic, and unraveling. It looks less like a triple-step zigzag and more like a seismograph during an earthquake!

Even after all these mistakes, I nonetheless thought I had a Minimum Viable Product that I could at least wear once to the beach before throwing it away in despair (or before all the seams come out and I'm left accidentally skinny-dipping!).

So I wore it to go stand-up paddleboarding on Sunday evening!

I am proud to say that at no point did I end up accidentally skinny dipping, and the suit looks much the same now as it did before I started. However, I think after I get it out of the laundry, I might undo all my work and have another go at making seams that don't look like I sewed them while riding a roller coaster!

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