Monday, 10 August 2015

The Holy Grail: a well-fitting bikini

Hello! How is your summer going, sewing friends? Or your winter, should you be in the southern hemisphere?  My three weeks of hot, sunny, Spanish lounging are sadly over - and after two weeks back at work, they already feel like a very long time ago. But they were good, and the office is slack over the summer, so I'm not really complaining.  And, now that it's been sewn, well-used and photographed, I can finally show you my bikini! SHOCK SPOILER: it's totally wearable!!!

A bikini that fits has been one of those sewing goals elusive enough to end up becoming totally obsessive. The idea started about three years ago over a conversation in the hammam, where I was bemoaning the fact that finding a bikini to fit my small back & large bust had proved frustratingly, utterly impossible so far throughout my adult life, regardless of how much time, money, fitting room anguish and indifference to stylishness I was prepared to throw at it (I'll be honest - not that much of any of those things). There was general sympathetic agreement from my fellow full-busted friends, if I remember correctly. And then Lucy said: come on Jo, surely you could sew yourself one?  It's just two triangles and a couple of straps!  Of course, it took no reflection whatsoever to know she was right. And so, the quest began. I ordered McCall's M5400 the same weekend, dived into my first attempts as soon as it arrived - and then gave up.  It was too difficult.

Here, how about a gratuitous beach picture to move things along a bit? (Also, because once I got there, taking modelled swimsuit photos suddenly seemed totally unimportant, so I have none. Just imagine me here, when we get to it).

Anyway, in hindsight, view B - two triangles and a couple of straps - was the wrong version to start with. It was never going to provide enough support, and I had no idea how to make it fit in the first place. For some reason though, I never looked past it.  Instead, I looked at every other swimsuit or bra pattern available, keenly scrutinising every new indie release, endlessly wondering - could this work? Might this be the one I can make into supportive, attractive beachwear? When I made my Bombshell last year, I knew it wasn't The One - but still harboured the unspoken hope that maybe, perhaps, it would surprise me. Could it be the DIY swimsuit to conquer all??

No, my list of demands was too long for that.  It had to be a two piece. Non-underwired, but holding everything in place nonetheless. Full coverage, but not frumpy.  (Actually that's not a long list, is it? Just virtually IMPOSSIBLE). I tried the Watson bra, but alas 'tis made for smaller bosoms than mine. I tried the Pneuma tank, but harboured doubts about the monoboob effect: when you're sunbathing in 38 degree heat you really don't want a swimsuit that pushes your assets into one hot, sweaty pool of cleavage. Add "lift and separate" to that list of must-haves. (I'm not done with the Pnema pattern though, it's great and I have other plans...).  In the end, with one week to go before my holiday deadline, I picked up the McCalls pattern again. And wondered, with a certain weary sigh at my own short-sightedness, why I'd never before considered view D.

Like, duh.

View D is basically made for those of us who want non-underwired, lift-and-separate, support, style and coverage. I'm not the only one, right??

Now, this is not to say that I didn't have to do any fitting. Hahahahahaha. Haha. That doesn't happen.  And anyway, this pattern is not drafted for full busts. Plus, there's the small back thing. So, I just did what I do with any other pattern: picked my size based on my high bust and carried out an FBA. It works pretty easily with this design, because you can slash and spread as if you were adding a dart and then rotate the extra fullness into the underbust gathers. Woot!  The first muslin revealed I had got the extra volume right, but the straps needed significant tightening at both the back and neck in order to pull in enough support to hold everything in place. I believe the pattern runs large actually, which would probably account for the huge amount I took out of the straps. 

Anyway, after that, it was just fine tuning. I scooped out the armhole (not enough, as it turned out) and - this is my FAVOURITE thing EVER - changed the curve of the cups at the centre front from concave (curving down/inwards) to convex (curving slightly up & out).  Have you noticed that almost all bras have a slight concave curve there?  This, this!! This is the reason why boobs that are any less than utterly perky just won't stay put in a plunge bra (I know it's not just me).  BUT: change that curve, and the shape goes from exposure-risk to full-cup fabulous. Ooh yes!


Right, this picture is here because it made me laugh. The original pattern piece and my modified one, side by side:

On the left we have the bikini as drafted for pert young things. On the right we have the bikini as drafted for people in their late thirties with a couple of kids under their belt whose boobs have long since given up the war on gravity.

The one additional change I made to the pattern was to add a well-stretched piece of elastic all the way along the underbust seam - which in combination with the close-fitting straps provided exactly the amount of support I needed. (If you're reading and thinking pffff that'll never work for me - for reference I wear a 32GG bra).

The sewing itself was pretty straightforward. By this point I had made multiple muslins of multiple bikini/bra patterns, so I can now say that I am very familiar with swimwear sewing techniques!  I did have to do it at high speed though, so it's not as tidy as it could be. I serged the elastic to the suit, then folded it over and topstitched with a zigzag stitch, which I aligned to fall just over the inside edge of the elastic. (Is that clear to anyone?? I hope so...)  I was having trouble on previous attempts with the elastic flipping to the outside of the suit, and this technique put a stop to that.

Yeah, not that neat. But effective!

And here it is!  Just a little more on the details - as you can see here, my underarm curve/strap is still too tight so I need to scoop that out a bit. And I will also reduce the depth of the bodice/strap at the front, as it permanently flips up. One of those things where the design looks great until you start moving.

Tadah!! Here I am in all my bikini-wearing glory! The bottoms are the lower part of the Nettie bodysuit (with a flat bum adjustment, but you can't see that from here :-)).

OK, ok, I'm trying not to be too self conscious but let's move on quickly shall we? Time to cover things up a bit.

Because at some point one must drag oneself from the beach to the bar for a beer and a bocadillo. Gratuitous photo...

Knowing just how hot and humid it can get on the Iberian peninsula, I made a beach cover up this year with as much scope for air circulation as possible:

It's the racerback tank dress from Drape Drape. I love me a racerback, and while this doesn't exactly qualify as actual clothing in my book (unlayererd at least) it DOES provide the most fantastic breeziness over a swimsuit. I used some stripy viscose knit from Tissu Fabrics, and the fabric is lusciously cool too.


I got funky with hot pink thread in the coverstitch machine to tart things up a bit. Lots of fun playing around with that! Sometimes I think I didn't really need to get the coverstitch and have tremendous guilt about my expensive hobby - it doesn't get used all the time, after all. But then every time I do use it, I remember that it's the Best. Toy. Ever! No regrets :-)

Anyway, this is getting pretty long! Kind of like talking high speed with all your school friends the first day back in September. So much excitable blah blah!  Well, forgive me, I AM pretty darn excited. A wearable bikini - I thought it'd never happen! It got put through it's paces too: lakes, pools and two full weeks of long days swimming in the Med - it held up to all of it and looks like it'll be going strong for a while yet.

Well, to sign off I'll leave you with my top water-related tip in Barcelona. Should you find yourself there in July or August and in need of cooling off, I highly recommend making your way to the Municipal swimming pool of Montjuïc. It's easy to find, doesn't cost much (it's the municipal pool!) and comes with absolutely unbeatable views over the city. Plus you're conveniently placed to visit the sights at the same time (my favourite is the Miró museum, but there's plenty else too!)

On that note, I think I'd like to know what your favourite off-the-beaten-track recommendations are! If I were to come and visit, what would be your favourite thing to show me?  What travel gems have you discovered that the rest of us probably don't know about? Spill!