Why even bother? For a lot of children, the ones who look good in anything and who have heaps of confidence, I really wouldn’t bother. If your son or daughter throws on their swimsuit and hits the water without a backward glance, it doesn’t matter what they’re wearing.But for children lacking in confidence, an unflattering swimsuit can be the difference between learning to swim and hating the water. Especially for tweens and teenagers when body image goes a long way to determining self esteem, baring nearly all in front of their peers can be a big issue.
Making children’s swimwear is really easy. If you can thread a sewing machine and sew a straight line, you can make a swimming costume. It’s cheap (you’re not using much fabric!) it’s fast, and extremely satisfying.
The secret is in finding the right shape and perfect fit for your child and you do this by making a basic swimsuit “block” out of cardboard. This block is the foundation shape specific to your child from which your patterns are cut and it is worthwhile taking the time to get this right.
The easiest way to make a block is to buy a commercial pattern for a basic children’s swimsuit design, and adapt the measurements for your child. Take the pattern which matches the correct height, and then increase/decrease the hip, waist and chest measurements according to your child’s actual measurements. For swimwear you do not need to make allowances for “ease” (the gap between the clothing and the body) as you would with a non-stretch fabric.
Children come in a huge range of shapes and sizes. There may be an average, but there is no “normal”. Adapt the block as required for a long body, big belly, small shoulders, skinny legs, large bottom… your child is unique. With a block made specifically for your child, every pattern you cut from the block will be a perfect fit for them. Keep an accurate chart of you child’s measurements and adapt the block as your child grows. When your block is done, the fun starts. Design a suit with your child that ticks all the boxes. Perhaps they like their existing suit but would like the neck a bit higher, or really liked their shorts from last year that are now too small, or want something a bit longer in the leg, or with wider straps, or a suit that fits better over the bottom. Put tracing paper over your swimwear block and draw your swimwear pattern out, adding a seam allowance.
When choosing your fabric for children’s swimwear, buy the best quality fabric you can find with a polyester or nylon/lycra mix, a high elastane content and a great two way stretch. Check the fabric specification for chlorine resistance and colour fastness. Often kids who lack confidence in their swimwear will prefer dark colours and you should respect their choice, but you can add a bright colour or patterned trim to lift the look. Use nylon thread and knicker elastic that wont rot in chlorine.
Stretch swimwear fabrics are great to sew with as they are very forgiving and don’t fray. I suggest selecting a matt fabric if you are a beginner as they are less slippery than a shiny finish and easier to sew. You’ll need lining for girls’ fronts and crotch for both girls and boys; cut matching pattern pieces in a light mesh fabric.
Lay your pattern flat on the fabric and pin into place. Use the highest stretch of the fabric across the body. The first rule of sewing applies: measure twice and cut once.
An over-locker will give you the neatest seam, but a stretch stitch on a regular sewing machine will work just fine. Take your time and fit as you go. Overstitching your seams will give a strong, flat finish.
The first suit you make will take the longest time while you experiment to get the block and pattern to fit perfectly. But in no time at all you will be able to make perfectly fitted swimsuits, designed to suit your child, quickly and at a fraction of the cost of a bought suit.
And your reluctant child, confident in a new, flattering suit, will be back in the swim.