I have finally achieved my dream from last summer. It may have taken me until nearly the end of this summer, but I did it nevertheless! That being said, I give myself an A+ for effort and concept, but only a C for execution.
So what did I make? Well, it’s really a “system” of clothes for summertime exploration. I made a bikini + rash guard that can be paired with my Supplex shorts for all manner of summer trips, whether they include water or not.
My daughter and I spent last summer exploring the area around where we live, and it was then I realized that the optimal clothes for this would include underwear that could get wet, shorts that could also get wet (or at least dry quickly), and a rash guard that could be worn as a t-shirt or be swapped for a t-shirt as needed. I made the Vero Beach Set shorts by Hey June Handmade in a quick-drying Supplex earlier this summer. Now I also have a basic sports bra and underwear style bikini from Butterick 4526 (View D) to be worn with a rash guard version of the Tilly and the Buttons Romy top.
The system works–it’s very comfortable and does what I want in terms of function. Where the rash guard and suit go a bit off the rails is in the fit/polish section of things. That being said, the fit is no worse than you would find in ready-to-wear (RTW) clothes, but those of us who sew know we can make better than RTW. (Sewing power!)
Let’s talk about each pattern.
Tilly and the Buttons Romy as rashguard
I bought a copy of the Romy top online from Chateau Sew & Sew, a new-to-me shop based in Louisiana, earlier this year with plans to make a unique t-shirt. I even have some great fabric set aside for it. As I was thinking about rash guards, though, I wondered if such a stylish shirt would also make a cute rash guard.
I didn’t want one that was too tight, but they are swimwear and typically tighter than a t-shirt, so I sized down one size to a 6 (Tilly has her own sizing system, so I’m using her size numbers here). I cut out my top from some poly/spandex swimwear fabric my husband got me last year from spandexbyyard.com. It feels substantial and didn’t seem see-through, so I didn’t line it. Also, I knew I would have a suit underneath if I was wrong about the opacity. Luckily, it was pretty darn opaque, as you can see from the photos of me wearing it further down. It stayed that way when wet, too.
I serged whenever possible, and used a dashed zigzag stitch on my regular machine when I couldn’t (I’m blanking on the name of that stitch right now…). It was a pretty easy, enjoyable sew. Tilly’s instructions and pictures are really top-notch (and fun with all the bright colors).
When I was done, I tried it on, and…something was just off. The shoulder fit was weird and the front draped in a way it wasn’t supposed to.
My husband helped me figure out a solution. I just folded the excess under in the front and zigzagged with that same dashed zigzag stitch. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better.
It’s very comfortable, but if I make this again, I really hope the larger size will fit my shoulders a bit better because I’m not sure how to fix it if it doesn’t! Also, I should note that the arms are comfortable, but if this were a regular t-shirt, I would want the sleeve hem circumference to be just a bit wider, so hopefully a larger size will fix that too.
It’s very comfortable to wear. It does float up a bit because it’s not super tight, but that doesn’t matter since I’m just wearing this for fun, not for any kind of sport competition. It stays wet for awhile after you swim in it, but it’s surprisingly comfortable despite that. I went swimming and then wore it afterward for a few hours while we did some exploring, and it worked great.
Butterick 4526, View D
Before making this, I went back and forth on whether to use this pattern or buy the Cottesloe Swimsuit from Megan Nielsen. Stylistically, they are very, very similar. Long ago, I made Butterick 4526, View C (one of the one-pieces), and had to count it as a fail due to poor pattern placement on my part, and excessive ease on the part of the pattern (not to mention, I forgot to sew in a shelf bra–haha, whoops!). Still, I already had this pattern, so I decided to give it one more try, but with the modification that I would make my finished size in this pattern match up with the finished measurements of the Cottesloe suit in my Megan Nielsen size.
I know there is always a lot of discussion in the sewing community about the ease in Big 4 patterns. I typically like the amount of ease included and nearly always make my size according to my measurements. The place I don’t trust the included ease is in situations like this–with a pattern that is a few years older (this is copyright 2005) and is for a garment that is supposed to have negative ease.
My decision to size down meant that even though my measurements put me in a 20/22 bust (C/D cup) and 22 waist and hip in the Butterick pattern, I needed to size down to a 14 bust (C/D cup) and 16 waist and hip. That’s pretty significant! To figure this out, I measured all the necessary pattern pieces minus seam allowance.
Except for showing you the photo of all the finished sizes above in case you are also sewing this, I won’t bore you with my notes, but trust me when I tell you there was a lot of measuring and math going on! The sizing down I did was possible because I had fabric with at least 50% stretch. Since my fabric was quite stretchy, I also didn’t add any extra length. This worked out well, thankfully.
Before sewing, I read through the instructions for this pattern. I think they would have been great at a time when we didn’t have the performance/swimwear fabrics we have now with their excellent stretch and recovery, when many people used sewing machines that may not have had a zigzag stitch, and almost no one had sergers. If you happen to be sewing with vintage fabric on a vintage machine, these instructions will probably work great for you. If you are using modern fabric and tools, there are better ways to sew a bathing suit.
Because I had modern fabric, a machine that could sew a zigzag, and a serger, I used the instructions in the Cottesloe sew-along. I also looked back at an older, but extremely helpful bit of information from a 2013 post on the Kaddiddlehopper blog all about swimwear. (If the link doesn’t work, you may be able to find it by Googling “Kadiddlehopper SwimAlong 2013 tips for a professional finish”.) This post gave me professional results on my first really successful bathing suit that I wore for years. Because of this post, I only used 1/4″ elastic at the neckline and used 3/8″ for the arm and leg holes. I really wish I had done that for the Mairin suit I made last year. (The leg holes on that suit do not feel secure. 1/4″ elastic there is just not enough!) I used 3/4″ elastic for the bottom of the bikini top and for the waist of the bottoms. I would have tried 1″, but didn’t have any. Luckily 3/4″ was great. I only used my serger for a few parts (basic construction). For inserting elastic, I used my regular machine with polyester thread in the needle and wooly/bulky nylon in my bobbin, another tip I picked up from the aforementioned blog post. I used a stretch needle, a walking foot, the lightest pressure on the presser foot (one on my machine) and a three-step zigzag (THAT’S what it’s called!) with a height of 6 and a length of 0.5, but you should test all that on scraps for yourself. I don’t think that particular height and width are typical. I like them because when I sew them on my test scraps and then stretch hard in both directions, the stitches don’t pop.
I used up some leftover shiny lining for the top and the more cottony-feeling lining I got from Spandex by Yard last year on the bottoms. (Spandex by Yard is where I got the pink swimwear fabric from too, also last year.) Both linings work great, and I never notice the difference when wearing this.
The suit looks a little tortured when you see it flat, but it fits pretty well when it’s on. It’s not a perfect fit, but it’s very secure and supportive, and really does the job.
I really like this sort of bathing suit system. It’s really comfortable and has the functional benefits of a bikini with the modesty of a tankini, and the comfort and versatility of regular activewear clothes. While sewing doesn’t always save money over RTW, I think swimwear (like bra making) is an exception. I know I saved money on the outfit as a whole.
I would make this style of bikini again to wear under a rash guard as a more versatile and comfortable tankini, although I don’t know if I would use the Romy as a rash guard pattern again. There are a lot of other great patterns out there that I would probably try instead.
If I do make this style of suit again, I would happily fork over the money for either the Megan Nielsen Cottesloe or the newly released Jalie Claudia Bikinis. The Cottesloe is basically the more modern, better-fitting version of Butterick 4526 with the one and two piece options, plus Megan Nielsen’s excellent instructions. Jalie’s Claudia is a little different and doesn’t have the one-piece option, but comes from a company that has vast amounts of experience drafting swimwear and other performance-wear with a truly amazing size range. Either way, you couldn’t go wrong. As for Butterick 4526, I’m glad I tried it, but I’m ready to move on.
Finally, I would definitely make more Vero Beach shorts. Those get an A+ for concept and an A+ for execution and fit. The system as a whole works and is really, really great for outdoor summertime adventures. I’m so happy I finally got around to making it, even with its imperfections.