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Like many women of my generation, I love pinup bathing suits. I admire the Coke bottle shape our grandmothers sported on the beach, and as an avid swimmer, Esther Williams—in all her sparkly-spangled swimsuit goodness—has long been one of my style icons. However, I’m also a fan of comfort and I doubt those old suits, made of sturdy cottons (or wools!) and boning, can compete on that front with my quick-drying Speedo.

This month, I decided to try sewing burda style magazine’s Bustier Top (05/2011 #127) and Panties (01/2012 #127) patterns for a modest, pinup style bikini that’s also sporty.

The panties were a breeze to sew and fit, however I had to alter the bustier pattern for spandex (the pattern calls for batiste). The original bustier pattern gains shape from short strips of boning at the side seams. Making this pattern with spandex, I had to improvise to give the suite more shape, so I added cups—similar to my built-in bra tutorial from last month—and a layer of stiff interfacing on the front piece. This is the first swimsuit I’ve sewn, and I can’t say I’ve perfected the technique yet (the bustier is a lot prettier from the outside than the inside!). But the suit gamely stood up to some rigorous body surfing, so I think she’s a keeper.

If you plan to sew this suit, I’d recommend making a muslin out of spandex first. The pattern takes very little fabric, and if you baste your muslin, you can remove the cups and reuse them for your real suit. You can see some of my inspirations for this suit on my Swimsuit Style board on Pinterest.

What You Will Need:
-Fashion fabric
-Polyester swimsuit lining (optional, and not pictured)
-Swimsuit/bra cups (the cups should be thin enough so they will dry quickly)
-Plastic boning (about ½ yard)
-Bustier top and Panties sewing patterns

Note: I lined the front of my bustier in polyester swimsuit lining. However, I don’t like the way the lining stretches more than my fashion fabric. If I do this pattern again, I will simply line the front of the bustier with the same fashion fabric (even though it would make a slightly warmer suit).

Prepare and cut the pattern

Because the bustier pattern is designed to be made with batiste, and this version is made with spandex, I cut all of my pattern pieces two sizes smaller than my measurements called for (but still added a ½-inch seam allowance).

The original pattern calls for a hook closure in the back. Instead, I extended the back piece to make ties. I made the ties long enough so that I could tie them in the front or back of the suit. I cut four of the back pieces from the fashion fabric, so they could be sewn together into ties.

For the front of the bustier, I added a layer of sturdy interfacing. I tried making a muslin of the bustier just made of spandex, and the front (not surprisingly) wasn’t stiff enough. I used medium to heavy-weight, wide-weave cotton interfacing that I’d purchased to make some ties for my husband. Before sewing the interfacing into the suit, I got it wet and timed how long it took to dry in the sun. It dried in about 20 minutes, so I figured it was good enough for the suit.

Prepare the front piece

For the front of the bustier, I basted the interfacing and spandex fashion fabric together so the pieces wouldn’t slip when I sewed in the cups. If I were to sew this suit again, I think I would sandwich the interfacing between the fashion fabric and the lining at this stage, and finish the bottom edge of the bustier with a fabric band or self bias tape.

Prepare cups

After sewing the cup pieces together and pressing the seams, I used my tailor’s ham to help shape the cup pieces over the swimsuit cups. I have a tutorial on lining and covering swimsuit cups on my blog. After pinning the fabric neatly over the swimsuit cups, I basted the fabric to the cups and cut away any excess fabric hanging over the edges of the cup.

Sew cups and back pieces to front piece

I sewed the cups into the the front piece, just as the pattern calls for. I then took my four back pieces, sewn together to make ties, and sewed them to the sides of the bustier piece. I inserted the side boning, just as the original pattern calls for.

Finishing the suit

To finish the suit, I added a lining to the front of the bustier (I didn’t need to line the back, since the ties were already finished with the fashion fabric). I added strips of the fashion fabric to the top edge of the cups, sewing them on as I would bias tape.

I also altered the shoulder straps from the original pattern to tie around the neck. I attached the straps at the top of the cups for the most support.

If any of you have questions about how I constructed this suit, please leave comments here. I’d also love to see any handmade swimsuits you’re sporting this summer!

Christine Cyr Clisset is a writer who get’s very antsy after hours in front of her computer. She likes how sewing uses a different part of her brain, and gets her moving around. She loves discovering what a new piece of clothing will be through the process of making it. Visit her blog, Daughter Fish for more info.


  • Missing

    Oct 31, 2012, 07.04 AMby Rose Xiu

    You make it look beautiful and cute Attractive Lingerie With regard to One Sexy Woman Mis www.charmfemale.com
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    Aug 31, 2012, 08.22 AMby shilisha

    That’s awesome!Making a bikini is a good idea!I wanna try sometime!

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    Aug 1, 2012, 04.39 AMby lastoro

    make a bikini…Maybe sometime

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    Jul 26, 2012, 03.34 PMby Moimisie

    Thanks for the great tutorial. I have been thinking about doing a bathing suit/ bikini for a while now. I have problem though: what kind of thread do you use? I find that sewing heavy Lycra or stretch with normal polyester thread makes it a little less stretchy… I know that I should use a special stretch stitch on the sewing machine or do a small zigzag stitch, but still….

    did you use a special kind of thread?

    2 Replies
    • Profile_pic_3_large

      Jul 27, 2012, 01.52 AMby daughterfish

      Thanks Moimisie! As for the thread, I generally use polyester, because it’s strong and I have big spools of serger thread that I use on both my serger and regular machine. I sewed this bathing suit completely on my regular machine, and did (indeed!) use a stretch stitch. Really, a stretch stitch is the only way to go when sewing stretchy fabric on a regular machine (I like it better than sewing with a zigzag). I baste everything first, to make sure I have the right fit, then use the stretch stitch (because the that stitch is a real pin to pick out later). Here’s a link to what a stretch stitch icon looks like on most machines: http://sewing.about.com/library/weekly/aa112500a.htm

      Hope that helps and good luck!

    • Vogue_large

      Jul 29, 2012, 05.43 PMby croustinath

      That was a very good question and a very useful answer. Thank you!

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    Jul 25, 2012, 10.48 AMby Lucypie

    love the fabric! nice job!

    1 Reply
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    Jul 25, 2012, 01.18 AMby MissMaddiePi

    What FABULOUS fabric!!! Thank you so much for trying this out and putting together such a great tutorial. I love the retro pin-up style swim suits, and I am also a staunch believer that the term “swim suit” should only apply to garments I can actually swim in, and that’s a belief that seems to be at odds with the fashion industry’s. I can’t wait to give this a try . . . don’t know if I will be able to top that gorgeous peacock print, though!

    1 Reply
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      Jul 27, 2012, 01.55 AMby daughterfish

      Thank you! I know, I totally fell for this fabric and there was not turning back:) I agree that swimsuits not meant for swimming should be called something else. Maybe loung suits or piña-colada-sipping suits!

  • E57181cf55341bcc01bda2edd47f98e5444cec52_large

    Jul 24, 2012, 02.08 AMby candisrrt

    I amgoing to try this. You make it look beautiful and interesting

    1 Reply
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    Jul 23, 2012, 10.56 PMby jennyrecorder

    Love it!( It’s winter here in Australia, so I’m not making bathers atm) :)

    1 Reply
    • Profile_pic_3_large

      Jul 27, 2012, 01.56 AMby daughterfish

      Thank you! Well, you’ve got plenty of time now to find the perfect fabric for summer!:)

    • This is a question
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