With all of the amazing looking swimsuit fabrics out there, it can be a bit intimidating to actually choose a fabric. “What are the kind of things to look for when I buy swimsuit fabric?” you might be asking. Well, have no fear – I’m here to tell you! At least I’m here to show you the sorts of things that I look for when I buy swimsuit fabric. If there’s something you look for that I haven’t included, please chime in in the comments!
Fiber Content: The first thing that I look for is fiber content. Note that there can be a fair bit of variety in the names used to label the synthetic fibers and many of them mean the same thing. Swimsuit fabric is almost always 80-90% polyamid, polyester, nylon, or another similar synthetic fiber. The other 10-20% is spandex, lycra, or elastane (all of which are different words for the same thing). It’s very important that your swimsuit fabric have at least 10% spandex as it is the spandex content that gives the fabric the stretch that it needs.
Stretch: Swimsuit fabric should have quite a bit of 4 way stretch. This means that the fabric should stretch well when you stretch it parallel to the selvage as well as perpendicular to the selvage. Different spandex percentages and differences in how the fabric is made or embellished can affect how much stretch it has, so you should be aware that if you are sewing a muslin or making a pattern for the second time, variability in swimsuit fabrics can cause it to fit differently.
Swimsuit fabrics that are embellished (like the embossed fabric on the left) or have other fibers in them (like the metallic fabric on the right) may have their stretch characteristics affected. Both of these fabrics stretch noticeably better in one direction than the other. Whether the direction of most stretch is parallel or perpendicular to the selvage can vary, so you may have to alter the suggested cutting layout when using such a fabric. The direction of greatest stretch should be around your body. Note that you may need to add a bit of additional length or go up a size in your swimsuit if you are using a fabric like this.
Print: I adore a good novelty print. However, you do need to keep in mind that the awesome printed fabric will be stretched significantly when it’s in a swimsuit and on your body, so make sure that the print looks good when stretched and doesn’t show the base fabric underneath.
Selvage: Speaking of prints, when choosing how much fabric you need to buy, make sure you consider the selvage of your fabric. Most solids, whether they are died in the yarn or as a knit fabric, will have the color extend all the way to the selvage so you can use the full width of the fabric. Some of the more modern printing techniques do not print all the way to the end of the fabric so you are left with up to several inches of unusable fabric on either selvage.
Shine: Swimsuit fabrics come in matte or shiny. Either will make a beautiful swimsuit although some people find that the shinier fabric isn’t quite as flattering around lumps and bumps on the body. Additionally, you should keep in mind that shinier swimsuit fabrics are harder to sew as they slip around under your sewing machine foot more than a matte fabric. So, if you are new to sewing swimsuits, you might want to stick to a matte fabric to start.
Lining Fabrics: When choosing a swimsuit lining fabric, make sure you select a fabric with the same characteristics as your main fabric – namely, it’s just as important that there is 4 way stretch in your lining as in your main fabric. I have purchased “swimsuit lining” only to find that it only stretches one direction – so frustrating! You can also line your swimsuit with your main fabric (or another swimsuit fabric not labeled as a lining), bearing in mind that you don’t want it to be too thick (so steer toward a cheaper, thinner fabric) and you want it to feel good against your skin (so steer away from embossed, metallic, or shiny).
*Thanks to FunkiFabrics for providing the printed fabric, solid green, and embossed blue fabrics used in this post.*