The Sewing Bee Zebra Swimsuit
Posted on Sunday the 21st July 2019 by Anna-Jo Sews
This is my third swimwear make and I’ve well and truly caught the swimwear sewing bug! Read on to find out how much fun I had sewing this funky swimsuit.
I’m betting there’s a fair few of you out there who like me were frenziedly jotting down pattern inspiration during this year’s Great British Sewing Bee. One of my pattern crushes was the tie front swimsuit they sewed for the pattern challenge in episode four. I’m not 100% positive Butterick B6358 is the same pattern they used, but it certainly looks like it!
This pattern by Lisette comes with bikini and swimsuit options, both of which feature the cute tie front, crossover straps at the back, and some nifty little lining pockets for inserting Swimwear Bra Cups, should you want to use them.
I’ve just noticed that this pattern has recently gone out of print which is a real shame as it’s a cracking one with some unusual details. However, it’s still available with various online retailers if you want to hunt it down.
The star of this swimming costume is undoubtedly the Zebra Print Fabric, which is a four-way stretch polyester/lycra activewear fabric. It’s a sturdy mediumweight fabric and is probably the nicest quality printed stretch fabric I’ve ever sewn with. I teamed it up with black Polyamide/Lycra Swimwear Fabric for the side panels and straps. This feels a little thinner than the zebra print and has a slightly more matt and a shiny side. Again, it’s a lovely quality and I’d recommend it to anyone new to sewing swimwear as it handles beautifully.
For my lining I went with Stretch Powernet Fabric in white, although there is a range of 11 colours available. In some ways black would have looked better on the inside as I sewed everything up with black thread, but I wanted to make sure the white part of the zebra print looked as bright as possible, so decided on a white lining instead. The powernet is super slinky and definitely the most challenging of my three fabrics to handle, but the pattern has you sew the lining after the outer so I got some practice in with the easier two first.
I’m used to going two sizes down from what my measurements suggest with Butterick patterns as they always include so much ease, but after a little internet research it looked like that wouldn’t be the case with this pattern, so I cut a straight size 16 based on my measurements and I think that was the right decision as I got a good fit… width-wise at any rate. There’ll be more about the length later...
Activewear fabric really varies in how easy it is to cut out. I found that the zebra fabric didn’t want to be cut with my rotary trimmers (even with fresh blades!) and I had to chalk it out and cut with scissors instead. The black fabric and the powernet were fine with the rotary cutters, though. One thing I couldn’t do with the powernet was notch the seam allowances, so I marked them with dots using a sharpie instead. I also made sure to label the cup lining pieces with masking tape as they looked really similar and it helped me see which side was which.
I really enjoyed sewing this up, but although the pattern has a rating of “average” difficulty from Butterick, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to swimwear beginners. It’s a pretty involved pattern what with the tie front, side panels, lining pockets for the bra cups, and the straps at the back. None of the steps were that difficult by themselves and a determined first time swimwear sewist could definitely tackle it, but I’d recommend you had at least some previous experience working with elastic and activewear fabric. There’s also an excellent sewalong on the designer’s blog which is really helpful as a supplement to the pattern instructions. Lisette gives you some different tips like using bar tacks to attach the straps which worked a treat.
One thing’s for certain: if you want to make this swimming costume, you’d better enjoy inserting elastic! There are eight different pieces that need cutting, and I used most of my two packets of Swimwear Elastic. The pattern instructions specify a 2cm wide piece of elastic for the underbust edge of the cup stays, but since I couldn’t find that width I just used the stuff I had and it worked out fine.
I really liked the way this pattern gives you templates for cutting the elastic, along with several points to mark and match so you are stretching the elastic the right amount at different places. For those not in the know, you need to stretch the elastic more under the butt cheeks to get it to hug your body properly. The pattern markings included take all the stressful guesswork out of handling the elastic.
So, the final verdict? Yep, I absolutely love this make! It’s every bit as cute as I thought it would be. I must admit, though, I was expecting a more retro, lower cut at the leg. I’m not sure why as the pattern pictures clearly show it has a modern higher cut leg. I think I was just fooled by the more vintage vibe that tie-front bust gives it.
I’m not upset about the higher cut leg, though. It will give me a different silhouette in my swimwear wardrobe and help me avoid obvious tan lines by alternating with my more vintage cut bikinis.
I just adore the back view of this swimming costume. The cross over straps along with the lower back cut out give lots of interest, and I’m also a big fan of the Metal Bikini Clasp I used. So many swimsuits use plastic hardware, and this being metal definitely makes it look top quality.
As to what I wish I’d done differently? I really should have added a couple of inches in length along the lengthen/shorten lines. I did think about doing it as I know I have a long torso, but since I don’t generally have any issues with swimwear fit I decided it would be all right without. Uh, big mistake… This barely covered my nipples when I first tried it on!
To fix this oversight I had to really shorten the straps to hoik the front up enough to be decent. Then this had the effect of drawing it in at the back and the bikini clasp kept undoing itself. Still, it didn’t take long to unpick the back strap and take it in. Fortunately the swimsuit still feels comfortable to wear and I’m no longer in danger of a major wardrobe malfunction when bending over!
I also think I should get myself some of those swimwear bra cups for a bit more support as it has a sports bra-like flattening effect on my bust, as you can see in the side view.
This isn’t really a problem, per se, as I’m planning on wearing this on the beach with the kids so looking va va voom isn’t really my priority. However, I think using the bra cups and some kind of full bust adjustment to add a bit more volume would definitely be helpful next time I make this pattern.
And yes, I definitely plan to make this one again. I love the look those side panels give. I’m not generally someone who goes in for colour blocking, but I’m making an exception here. I’d love to make the bikini version at some point too, and I probably have just enough of the zebra print to make a matching set. Ooh, I wonder how much longer this hot weather will last?!
Happy sewing, everyone!
The fabric and supplies for this make were kindly supplied by Minerva in return for an honest blog post. Thank you, Minerva!