Swimsuit Fabrics or: the Spandex Superpost

Well, it’s 105 degrees Fahrenheit here today. Texas is in for a long, hot summer. A morning spent at the shady neighborhood wading pool today got me thinking about sewing my own swimsuit. I probably won’t this year, but it’s fun to think about. Are there any good fabrics available? The answer is oh, yes.

Girls’ and women’s swimsuit patterns typically call for two-way stretch fabrics. Check your pattern — it will specify the percentage of stretch you need. The most common fabric to use is spandex (Lycra is a trademarked brand of spandex). Denver Fabrics implies here that Lycra-content fabrics are not sold directly to the retail fabric market, but are bought from garment manufacturers. So if you’re searching online, it’s probably best to use the generic term “spandex.” I’m not certain, but it looks like nylon spandex is the way to go for swimwear, not cotton spandex. But correct me if I’m wrong.

While we’re there, let’s start with Denver Fabrics‘ selection. They have a nice variety of prints and solids, all $6.95/yard.

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The following two shops specialize in spandex and other stretch fabrics. Spandex House has an enormous selection of spandex prints. You might remember them from Project Runway Season 4′s professional wrestler costume challenge. They’re in New York City’s Fashion District. I almost skipped over their online shop because it looked wholesale-only, but carry on, they’re definitely retail. Prices range from $6-10.

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Spandex World is another brick-and-mortar in New York City’s fashion district. They also have an online shop where you have your pick of prints and solids. Their website is the easiest to navigate and prices range from $8-12/yard.

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Some further notes:

You should also know that Fabric on Demand is introducing Lycra as an option for custom digital printing. Oh, the possibilities!

Sew Sassy is a one-stop shop if you’re sewing a solid suit: in addition to the fabric and lining they also have the bra cups, swimwear elastic, and sewing patterns.

I glanced at pre-spandex-era vintage swimsuit sewing patterns to see what kind of fabric they call for, but didn’t get very far. Does anyone know?

I’m not forgetting the boys. Sorry, True Up cannot endorse spandex Speedo-type swimsuits for the boys (unless they’re in competition!), but I’ll find out about making swim trunks. Windbreaker nylon, I’m thinking.

Kwik Sew seems to offer the most variety of swimsuit patterns. Check patternreview‘s swimwear section for people’s reviews of Kwik-Sew and other patterns, including lots of real-life pictures.

Creative Chicks shares swimsuit sewing tips: Parts 1 and 2.

Sew Forth Now podcast’s fifth episode is about sewing swimsuits.

Sewing a swimsuit on eHow.

12 Comments

  1. [...] Trueup has a great post about swimsuit fabric. If you’ve ever thought about sewing your own swimsuit, or even if you haven’t, go check it out to see some of the possibilities. The spandex fabrics that are posted are SO GOOD [...]

  2. Rhea says:

    I’ll admit that while I don’t think I’ll be sewing my own swimsuit anytime soon, I was pleasantly surprised by how cute some of those spandex prints were!

  3. hwar says:

    You can sew swimwear from cotton-lycra but it will take longer to dry, and will fade from chlorine and sun. It works though, if you don’t mind those constraints.

  4. amy says:

    i can vouch for spandex world! i’ve ordered from them a few times, and their service is awesome! they have a fabulous selection as well, and have sales at various points throughout the year, just get on the mailing list.

    of course, half my spandex is still sitting in a box waiting to be sewn… i got as far as a swimsuit mockup, and that was two years ago! i have sewn with quite a lot of spandex, making burlesque costumes and footless tights though.

    i’ve been told that cotton lycra will also breakdown when exposed to salt water (in addition to sun and chlorine), so really it’s only good when swimming in lakes! the same problem will happen if you use a cotton wrapped elastic. apparently the clear dancewear elastic is better (and it works fabulously with spandex). and in my own experience with footless tights, cotton lycra tends to “bag” a bit more with wear – around the knees and butt, etc.

    i’m determined that ONE DAY i’m going to get my butt in gear and make myself a few swimsuits. i have a few awesome prints that i would love to wear! i just need to stop sewing for others and start making stuff for myself….

  5. Well, After another disappointing day of swimsuit shopping, I’m ready to make my own.
    I know what I want, but am now convinced that it doesn’t exist in a store.
    Maybe if I start working on a pattern now, I’ll at least have a suit for NEXT summer. :)

    I’m lovin that paisley print and bold blue/ green stripe.
    Kimberly

  6. Connie says:

    I’ve been taking water aerobics three days a week now for about 6 months. I’ve literally gone through two nylon/spandex swim suits from the chlorine. Others in the class recommend the polyester suits. I started out trying to find the fabric but don’t know how to narrow down the search from just ‘polyester’ fabric. Any ideas/more specifics on the polyester fabric? Thanks.
    Connie

  7. nataJane says:

    I’ve ordered from Spandex World several times and they do a great job! Their free samples are really handy too.

    On another note, has anyone used a serger to sew a rolled edge on a lycra/spandex fabric? I’ve been trying, but I can’t get a consistent edge… any tips would be appreciated!

  8. arsch says:

    Howdy, I am so grateful that I happened to visit this place. Very usable content. lot for sorting out this topic.

  9. Ashley says:

    Spandex World and Spandex House are amazing resources for fabric. I live on the East Coast, so I’ve actually been able to go to both stores in person (they’re across the street from each other). Spandex House also carries “spacer” fabric. You know those removable triangles in your bikini or tankini top? That’s spacer fabric! As someone who can’t find good swimwear bra inserts but who doesn’t want to show the world what I got under my suit, this material is essential! I highly recommend it.

    Both stores also carry lighter cotton knit, which is much nicer for making T-shirts than what the chain stores carry.

  10. [...] of all, there's a great rundown on swimsuit fabric and selection here at True [...]

  11. Hal says:

    Big difference in price between these prints and digital custom printed fabric. Thank goodness swimwear is small. I think this is cheaper than the base fabric to be printed. Karma Kraft said I would have to ship the base Lycra/Spandex fabric to China for printing, so that may be a deal breaker.

  12. Stumbled on your swimwear blog and was pleased to find it not only informational, but inspirational as well. Thanks for the sharing. Oh, by the way, if any of your readers are interested, here’s a great fabric source for all your fun summer and beach accessories (www.jofabrics.com). Happy swimming!