How to sew bathing suit fabric – 10 best tips & tricks

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Always wanted to make your own swimsuits, but are afraid to try? Here are 10 important tips and tricks that will help you learn how to sew bathing suit fabric for amazing customized DIY swimwear!

There are a few things that tend to terrify sewists. When they start out, sewing stretchy fabrics seems outright impossible. (If this is your case, make sure you read my post on how to sew knits and other stretch fabrics perfectly.) For the more ecologically-minded who want to start sewing cloth diapers or cloth menstrual pads, sewing the waterproof PUL fabric is a nightmare. (I’ve put together my best tips for sewing PUL without problems in this post.)

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For the apparel sewist, there are a few scary types of clothing. Coats. Jeans. (I got over my fear of sewing jeans a couple of years ago when I tested the Birkin Flares pattern.) Bathing suits.

Always wanted to make your own swimsuits, but are afraid to try? Here are 10 important tips and tricks that will help you learn how to sew bathing suit fabric for amazing customized DIY swimwear!

Most apparel sewers are used to sewing stretchy fabric, but bathing suit fabric is a beast of its own. It’s REALLY stretchy and, as bathing suits fit skin-tight, the seams need to be able to stretch a LOT. The second scary thing about bathing suits has to do with the general fear women have of showing off their bodies for what they are.

I finally got over this fear this summer and learned how to sew bathing suit fabric, sewing myself and my kids swim caps, bikinis and one-piece bathing suits. And guess what? After learning a few tips and tricks, it isn’t anywhere near as scary as I thought it would be! I wish I had started sewing swimsuits sooner!

Have you been considering sewing bathing suits for you and your family? Are you a little terrified of trying? Check out my ten tips for how to sew bathing suit fabric, and you’ll be making your own DIY swimwear!

10 Essential Tips to Perfect DIY Swimwear

Always wanted to make your own swimsuits, but are afraid to try? Here are 10 important tips and tricks that will help you learn how to sew bathing suit fabric for amazing customized DIY swimwear! - the difference between swimsuit outer and lining fabrics

1. Use the right fabric. Bathing suit fabric is basically a lycra (spandex) fabric that stretches a lot and dries quickly. It doesn’t get very wrinkled, so it’s easy to care for and sew. I couldn’t find any swimsuit fabric in local fabric shops, so I bought a selection of matching colors and prints on Amazon so that I could mix and match them. I purchased red, purple and black solid colors here* and a turtle and a hibiscus print here*. There are a lot of other online shops carrying bathing suit fabric. Look here for a wide selection on Etsy*.

Most bathing suits have a lining, which requires a different fabric which is lighter and more stretchy. I bought this black lining fabric* (seen above on the right) and have used it for all the swimswear I’ve sewn. If push comes to shove, you can just use the same bathing suit fabric as a lining layer, too, but I prefered having the right type of fabric.

2. Get your stretch type straight. Swimsuit fabric can have 2-way stretch or 4-way stretch. 2-way stretch fabric stretches horizontally, from one selvedge to the other. The stretch always goes around the body. 4-way stretch fabric stretches equally well both horizontally and vertically, meaning that the garment will stretch around the body, but also up and down the body. It’s really important to use the type of stretch fabric that the pattern calls for.

Always wanted to make your own swimsuits, but are afraid to try? Here are 10 important tips and tricks that will help you learn how to sew bathing suit fabric for amazing customized DIY swimwear! - Make sure you use stretch needles!

3. Use ballpoint pins and stretch needles. I have been using these ballpoint pins* for years and love them. I use Schmetz brand 90/14 stretch needles* for sewing bathing suit fabric.

Always wanted to make your own swimsuits, but are afraid to try? Here are 10 important tips and tricks that will help you learn how to sew bathing suit fabric for amazing customized DIY swimwear! - Make sure you use polyester thread!

4. Use polyester thread. Cotton thread snaps much more easily than polyester thread. This is why it’s always best to use a poly thread when sewing bathing suits, which are meant to be stretched a lot. My favorite is Gutermann Sew-All polyester thread*.

Always wanted to make your own swimsuits, but are afraid to try? Here are 10 important tips and tricks that will help you learn how to sew bathing suit fabric for amazing customized DIY swimwear! - Use a serger / overlock machine for incredibly stretchy seams!

5. Use an overlock machine. The overlock machine, also known as a serger, uses three or four threads for an entwined stitch that is VERY stretchy, and so perfect for swimwear. I use my serger (I use an Elna 664 pro*) for ALL bathing suit seams except for basting and topstitching. In some cases, such as when you sew elastic to the fabric, you will want to disengage the overlock machine’s knife.

Always wanted to make your own swimsuits, but are afraid to try? Here are 10 important tips and tricks that will help you learn how to sew bathing suit fabric for amazing customized DIY swimwear! - Make sure you use the right stretch stitches!

6. Use a stretch stitch or the zig zag stitch. If you don’t have an overlock machine, you will have to use your regular sewing machine for all steps. This isn’t a problem because there are a lot of different stretch stitches you can use, such as the triple straight stitch (#3 above) and the stretch stitch or lightning stitch (#4 above), which are good when you need a straight line of stitches. When that’s not so important, such as when basting or joining elastic to the fabric, I suggest using the classic zig zag stitch (#5 above) or the triple zig zag stitch (#6 above). You can find out more about how this stitch works in my zig zag stitch lesson. For my bathing suits, I preferred using a serger for all inside seams and a zig zag stitch for everything else.

7. Use a double needle for topstitching over few layers. The double needle is great for all stretchy fabric and creates the same look as a professional coverlock machine on the outside. I suggest the Schmetz 90/14 Stretch Needle*. You use it with a regular straight stitch, but the zig zagging bobbin thread on the wrong side of the fabric lets it stretch, making it great for topstitching. I love this look, but I honestly had a hard time using it when there were too many layers of fabric, so I actually ended up just using a zig zag stitch for almost all topstitching, even though it doesn’t look as professional.

Always wanted to make your own swimsuits, but are afraid to try? Here are 10 important tips and tricks that will help you learn how to sew bathing suit fabric for amazing customized DIY swimwear! - Use a walking foot for easier sewing!

8. Use a walking foot. This special foot is one of my absolute favorite sewing tools. It has its own feed dogs that work with the sewing machine’s feed dogs. Having feed dogs both above and below the fabric means that it moves bulky, slippery or otherwise difficult fabrics under the sewing needle evenly. You can read more about this wonderful machine foot in my walking foot sewing lesson. I kept it on my machine the entire time that I sewed anything with swimwear fabric, and it made life SO much easier!

9. Use the right stitch width and length for basting and stitching. The stitch length needs to stay relatively long to give more stretch. The width depends on what part of the garment you’re sewing. I preferred using a zig zag stitch with 2 width and 3 length for basting, and a zig zag stitch with 3 width and 3.5 length for topstitching. But try different combinations to find the best one for you. Which brings us to #10, perhaps the most important tip of all:

10. Practice makes perfect! Try different fabrics, stitches, needles, machines. Use scrap swimsuit fabric to test out different stitch length/width combinations. Fold the fabric to practice working over various layers, or even sew some seams and fold those over to see how different methods sew over those more bulky areas. This was how I decided that I didn’t want to bother with the double needle, because I couldn’t get even stitches when sewing over bulkier areas.

Sewing bathing suit fabric is different from sewing other fabrics and you need to test everything out over and over until you find what works for you. And at that point you’ll see that it’s actually pretty easy and you’ll be ready to start working on your bikinis, bathing suits and swim caps!

Sew your own swim gear with this FREE swim cap pattern and tutorial in four sizes, both kids and adults! A must-have for swimming in pools and open water!

Now that you know what you need to know, why not get some practice by sewing a simple swim cap? I even have a free pattern for kids and adults in 4 sizes! Check it out here!

Learn to Machine Sew with Cucicucicoo: a free sewing course for beginners

This lesson on how to sew bathing suit fabric is part of the syllabus of Cucicucicoo’s Learn to Machine Sew beginner’s sewing course! Don’t forget to share pictures of your work on Facebook or the Cucicucicoo Creations Flickr Group!

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Make sure you Pin this post so you’ll have it ready when you need it!

Always wanted to make your own swimsuits, but are afraid to try? Here are 10 important tips and tricks that will help you learn how to sew bathing suit fabric for amazing customized DIY swimwear!

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60 thoughts on “How to sew bathing suit fabric – 10 best tips & tricks”

  1. It’s been a long time since I’ve sewn with bathing suit fabric. I learned at a “Stretch ‘n Sew” fabric store which are now closed. I also learned how to make bikini pants and peignoirs with lightweight chiffon type fabrics, another fabric with a steep learning curve.
    My daughter just had a baby girl in late April and I made a “work-out” outfit, tank top and shorts for her when she was about 7-8 years-old. I read you 10 Tips and you are “spot-on” Perhaps when this little one grows up, I take on the challenge of swimsuit fabrics again.

    • Hi Rosemary! I’m curious about the bikini pants you sewed. I imagine that they weren’t stretchy if the fabric was similar to chiffon. Or were they like a cover-up? My mother told me that she sewed a bikini decades ago from a non-stretch fabric, so it had to be shaped perfectly. Lycra type fabrics are definitely more forgiving! 🙂

  2. Is a sewing machine absolutely required for sewing stretchy fabrics? I have a tankini with a roll-over waistband that won’t lay flat, and I’d like to sew it down. But I don’t have a sewing machine and don’t do enough sewing to justify getting one. The idea of being able to sew by hand is also appealing (for now 🙂 ). I can get the pins and thread, but Is there a special type of needle I could/should use for doing this by hand?

  3. Last night I tried for the first time sewing a Tankini for my little girl. (Because I get frustrated every time in the store that nothings fits well her special body needs.) Today I read your usefull tipps. 🙂
    It worked out quite ok. I´m using a Gritzner Sewing Machine with DFT – perfect for stretch materials, no walking foot needed, and a serger.
    But I had problems, with the Gritzner leaving out some stitches (normally never does) so I think its because of the different material. I used some microtex needles, which seemed to work fine.
    Any ideas or hints what I might change to make the stitching more pretty? I got the impression, that with more layers, the stitching got better…

    • Hi Chris, I’m so glad that you’re finding that sewing bathing suits at home works better for your daughter. It’s true, that it makes it so much easier to accommodate unique body shapes! However I highly recommend that you use a stretch or ballpoint needle, not microtex. Microtex I believe are made for woven fabric, and that could be the reason why the stitches are skipping. Either that or you should try changing the thread. I often have problems with skipped stitches when I’m using a lower quality thread. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

    • Ha! That always throws me off, too, Pam, when I see the great season blog posts of Australian blogs! In our winter, I look enviously at all the summery projects, and when I’m sweating and boiling hot in the summer, I look enviously at all the wintery projects! haha! Thanks for the feature!!

  4. Hi I’m trying to make swimsuits for the first time I do have a serger machine and sewing machine but I never used my serger should I try it for this swimwear project, or will it be easier to use the sewing machine since I’m familiar with it?

    • Congrats on starting to sew swimsuits, Regina! Definitely use your serger! However, sewing with a serger is quite different than sewing with a regular sewing machine, so I definitely suggest you test it out first and do a little practice beforehand. The serger’s stitches are SUPER stretchy and strong, so they’re perfect for swimwear!

  5. Does it matter what type of elastic I use? Hoe do I determine how much elastic I should use for the bathing suit band? I don’t want it too tight that it leaves marks, but I don’t want it too loose either. Thanks!

    • Good questions, Carol. There is elastic that is specifically for bathing suits, but I honestly have never used it. I just use regular elastic, the non-roll type. Just the classic Dritz or something comparable.
      As for the amount of elastic, make sure you check your sewing pattern instructions. There should be indications of how much to cut according to size. It depends on the model and how it cuts across the body and where. Off the top of my head, I can’t say what percentage it has to be of the circumference. It should be snug, but not too much. Sorry, I know that’s vague. See if your pattern says. Good luck!

  6. Hi there. I bought the cutest long sleeve bathing suit only the sleeves are way too long. Should I attempt at cutting and hemming them by hand? If so would you recommend the zig zag stitch? Would it look silly in the end? I’m in the Peace Corps and pretty handy with a thread and needle.

    • Hi, Christine, no, that wouldn’t look silly at all! It would be very simple to cut the sleeves, fold them in and zig zag them. I like to use the zig zag for my bathing suits because it’s very stretchy. Have fun!

  7. Hi, I am having a slight breakdown trying to figure out how to hem a bodysuit. I have an over locker machine which I have used to sew the front of the bodysuit to the back, but when I am trying to sew the leg hem and the neck I have realised it has no give and loses all of its stretch.

    I gave it a go with a zig zag stitch also and still the same happens. Would you recommend more of a stretch thread?

    The other bit of advice I have noticed from your post was to remove the over locker knife, can you do this on any over locker and would you use the machine without the knife to hem?

    Hope this makes sense, I have no experience with sewing lycra, so I am trying to figure out what I am doing wrong.


    • Ok, deep breath, Erika! You can do this! One important thing is the the fabric stretch and recovery. If you’re sewing lycra, it probably has good stretch and recovery. Recovery is how much the fabric springs back to its previous state after stretching it. The more it pulls back (more recovery), the better. It seems very odd to me that your overlocker is making the fabric stretch out, because overlockers are excellent for this type of sewing.

      The only reason why you’d remove the overlocker knife is if you want to sew without trimming the fabric. For me, this is usually when I’m attaching elastic to a stretch edge and I don’t want to risk cutting into the elastic and ruining it. The knife shouldn’t have any effect on the stretchiness.

      Do you have any different stretch fabric to test out in the overlocker? It could be that specific fabric which isn’t good quality. Otherwise it might be some setting in the overlocker, such as presser foot pressure.

      Good luck!

  8. Hey, I’m not sure if you can help me…

    I have started making/ sewing swimwear and I only have a basic sewing machine (brother LS14s)
    Basically it keeps jumping and messing up my work. I have re threaded multiple times. I’m using polyester thread and a stretch needle. I’m only a beginner so I might be doing something wrong? Please please please could you help me as I am going out my mind haha!

    I am now starting to think I need a better sewing machine? Please help! If you’d like me to send a photo of the problem then let me know as I could email.
    Many thanks,

    • Ok, you can do this, Lizzy! I know how frustrating that is, though. What stitch are you using? The easiest to use is the zig zag.
      If you keep skipping stitches, I first suggest you change thread. Not all threads are created equal and some will make you skip stitches. Try another brand or two, making sure to use the same type for the bobbin as well.
      If that doesn’t make a difference, put in a new stretch needle.
      Let me know how it goes and good luck!

      • I’ve had the same problem and come to find out it was the bobbin it was the wrong one for my Machine it was just a little bit to small and that’s all it takes I guess to mess up the stitches to make them skip
        Good luck

  9. Hello,
    I have a question about using leftover swim suit fabric. I am thinking of sewing a simple golf skirt. Could I use the swim suit fabric for such a project? Thank you.

    • Hi, Sandra, well, I don’t see why not! I don’t know what golf skirts are like. Are they stretchy? But, just like neoprene (scuba fabric) has crossed over into apparel sewing, I don’t see why you couldn’t use swimsuit fabric to sew a garment!

  10. Hi again, last time my mom send me an idea of water balloons for summer fun from here, and now its summer and my kids at my mom’s place. so i though i should send another idea for my mom. She loved it but not my kids, my mom made lady bathing suit for them and they are boys. She pranked on them and later i challenged them to wear suit and enjoy moments with their grand parents. Just they send me pictures with the bathing suit and it was hilarious but also so cute.

  11. Hi! Do you think you could perhaps do a tutorial or step guide to making a bikini with just a sowing machine? I am using an Elna automatic. 🙂

    • Oh, Kiara, you’re asking a lot of me! I don’t have a pattern for making a bikini and honestly don’t feel up to trying to figure out all the measurements and other things required for sewing one. I’m sure you’ll find something if you google it or look on YouTube, though. Good luck!!

  12. Can I make alterations to a swimsuit using a regular sewing machine Using sew all polyester thread or would I be better off sewing by hand? I need and the leg opening smaller. Not sure how to do it but worth a try

    • Hi, Jan, you can definitely use a regular sewing machine for swimsuit sewing and alterations and, after problems with lots of other brands of thread, I only use Sew All poly thread by Gutermann. You just need to make sure to use a stretch stitch. I don’t know how you could make the leg opening smaller, though, because that would require more fabric to close it up. I guess you could sew a strip of fabric around the openings, but I’m not sure how that would look.

  13. Hi….On Overlock machines. I have a Husylock 910 & 936 models. 910 is my main use, 936 for special jobs. Add too: Sewing machine: Baby Lock BLDC to use.
    Swim suits. I had to stretch-out the shoulder straps to lengthen a inch or 2 to swimsuits no longer made but the fabric is still in great shape.
    1} The straps on several swimsuits are ‘free-floating’ between the inner/outer dual seam closures & I need to expand the elastic. I’ve had many challenges trying to sew elastic to elastic since they’re not being attached to the fabric to ‘stabilize.’
    Can you help me here? I’ve been using the sewing machine for this issue.
    2} Adding fabric to the swimsuit .
    I’ve been using ‘Wooly-Nylon thread’ on the bobbin & Mettler thread as the main thread with
    Klasse 80/12 needles. -Is that a good recommendation?
    I was recommended by the sewing shop employee that a 70 Klasse Ball Point would work but
    all I get is ‘spider-webs’ on the bottom of the fabric which makes me crazy, even going 3-4mm
    length. I use ‘lightning-bolt & zig-zag’ stitches with this same issue.
    I don’t have the 80/12 Ball point needles as of yet.
    3} Using a serger for ‘closure’. Would 80/12 or 80/14 dual needle Klasse work ok?
    Thank you.

  14. Hi Lee! I’m afraid I’m not going to be much help for you, unfortunately.
    1. Sorry, but I don’t think that I quite understand what you mean about the elastic not being attached to the fabric, so I can’t help you there.
    2. I personally have never used Mettler brand, but I’m sure it’s just fine, as long as it’s polyester. I personally suggest a size 90 stretch needle (70 seems small to go through multiple layers). As for wooly nylon, I have also heard great things about it but haven’t experimented enough with it to get it to work for me. I’m not saying it’s not good, just that I haven’t figured it out yet, so I can’t help you. I also remember having tangles under my work with it, but never applied myself to figure it out. Have you tried using the same poly thread on top and bottom?
    3. Double needles are for standard sewing machines, not overlockers/sergers. Have you asked the shop which needles to use? Some sergers require certain types of needles which are not the same as those used in regular sewing machines. For example, I have to use specific overlock needles for my Elna overlock machine.
    Hope that this was some small amount of help at least!

  15. Polyester thread is necessary because Polyester is chlorine resistant. All the best swim suits are polyester, NOT nylon. Polyester is also resistant to salt water if you do ocean swimming. Diving under-wetsuit skins are made of 100% polyester.

  16. I certainly appreciate your tutorial! I have been looking for a new swim dress- a swimsuit with a flirty skirt that will be fingertip length. I am a little older and find that, while I am in pretty good shape, a fingertip length is perfect for me, covers my flaws and makes me more confident. My old, beloved ones are showing their age. Shopping for a new suit is frustrating: either the suits are too short or the necks are too high and the shoulders are thick and unflattering. I live in the hot, humid American south and a high neckline and covered back and shoulders would be misery in a lycra/spandex material. Sooo… I am planning to make a skirt out of swimsuit material to wear over a regular one piece suit. Your tutorial is just what I needed to get going. Thank you for being so encouraging!

  17. I have a newer suit with a good fit liner but I want to take the suit cover off and put a new suit onto the liner. Do you have instructions how to do this? Thank you.

    • I’m not sure if I understand exactly. Do you mean that you want to keep the bathing suit lining, but exchange the outer fabric for another? If so, no, I can’t really help you. It would also depend on the model of the bathing suit and whether or not it’s a bunch of pieces put together, but honestly it would probably be a huge hassle to take it all apart. The elastic is probably sewn into all the edges, as it is with most bathing suits. But if you like the fit, so you want to use that as a pattern, you could take it all apart and use the lining pieces to cut out pieces of the outer fabric. Then put them wrong sides facing, zig zag around all the edges, and then sew the whole bathing suit back together.

  18. I was trying so hard to read this article on my old phone and ended up going to my computer because I was frustrated with the two video ads along with the ad pn the bottom not allowing me to read anything. Think about mobile viewers too, this is ridiculous.

    • Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to hear that you had this problem. All you have to do to close the videos is click the X in the top right corner of the video pop-up. I just checked this page on my mobile to make sure, and it seems to read like the other pages of the site. I know that nobody likes ads, but I give away the vast majority of my content for free and the only reason that I can afford to do that is by including ads. If it’s a terrible problem, I’m sorry, but I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere for the content you’re seeking. Best wishes!

  19. Thank you so much for this post! I happened onto your site while searching for tips on “how to adjust a swimsuit that’s too small.” This is the most helpful information I found, because in order to do a successful adjustment, I’ll need to know the basics of sewing swimsuit material. This post gave me lots of information on the tools, stitches, etc. to use. Also lots of encouragement to give it a try. The comments from your readers and your responses were helpful as well. It’ll be a learning process for sure, but I can’t wait to get started. And to binge read the other articles on your site. 🙂

    • How wonderful, Mary, that this is helping you! It is a bit of a learning process, but I know that you can do it! It’s really not that difficult in the end. Let me know how it goes!


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