Summer Project: Sew Your Own Gender-Affirming Swimwear!

Self-drafted pattern with hidden underwired foam cups and mesh panels and overlay / via the author

When shopping for swimwear, it can be tough to find just the right look for your body and gender presentation. Making your own can suit can be intimidating, but it’s actually an ideal sewing project for a number of reasons!

1. Suits can be made using a standard machine with a zigzag stitch (no special equipment required).
2. It’s easier than ever to find a wide variety of swimwear patterns, and you can even convert most sportswear/underwear patterns to swimwear with the right materials.
3. By making your own suit, you can choose the ideal amount of coverage and level of support/compression that you need.

Here’s what you need to know to get started:

Fabrics and Modifications


1. Strawberry Dots Nylon Lycra 2. Divers Nylon Spandex 3. Mini Feather Scales 4. Grey Illusion Nylon Lycra from The Fabric Fairy 5. Glam Oho Nylon Spandex from The Fabric Fairy 6. Snakeskin Nylon Lycra from Imagine Gnats 7. Neon Colorful Stripes 8. Neon Pink Powermesh 9. Nylon Ripstop Purple

Look for lycra or spandex with four-way stretch, often labeled as swimwear or athletic wear fabric, and swimwear or rubber elastic (don’t use lingerie or foldover elastic, as it doesn’t hold up as well in water). If you need extra support, consider adding a shelf bra to the inside of a top, purchasing pre-made foam cups to add support and coverage, or using a seamed underwire cup pattern for bra-like support. For compression, use a panel of firm powermesh (the slightly stretchy material used to make bra bands and compression undergarments; also called powernet) on top to work as a binder, or on bottom as a gaff or packing pocket. Because you’ll be moving around and wearing these garments in water, you’ll want a little stretch; their compression might not be as strong as your everyday binders or gaffs, but will be moreso than most off-the-rack suits.

Modern Androgynous Pieces


1. Tank Top 2. Rash Guard

Skip bows and ruching and reach for patterns that offer more geometric, minimalist, or sporty lines for an androgynous look. Tank-style tops like Bootstrap Fashion’s Tank Top (pattern made to your measurements), KwikSew 4163 (sizes XS-XL), or Savvy Pattern’s Grace Tankini (sizes 0-18) all offer wide straps, high necks, and minimal style lines. Racerback tops like Kwiksew 4181 (sizes XS-XL) make a good base for a swim binder, and stomach-baring sports bra styles like Simplicity 8339 (sizes 30A-44G) are easily adaptable to swimwear fabrics. For living out all your Blue Crush fantasies, as well as more sun protection and coverage, try a rash guard like McCall’s 7417 (sizes 8-22 plus kid’s sizes), Swim Style’s Rashie (sizes XL-3X), or Jalie’s Valerie (sizes 4-22 plus kid’s sizes).


1. Dakota Brief 2. Boxer Briefs

There are dozens of good brief-style bottoms out there; try Bootstrap’s Swimwear Bikini (pattern sized to your measurements), Seamwork’s Dakota (sizes XS-3XL), or Jalie’s One and Two-piece Swimsuits (sizes 6-34 plus kids). Mid-thigh or longer bottoms are hard to find in ready-to-wear, but easily adaptable from patterns for gym shorts, boxer briefs, or cycling shorts! Try Stitch Upon a Time’s Boxer Briefs (sizes XXS-XXXL), Kwiksew 4163 (sizes S-XL), Jalie’s One and Two-piece Swimsuits (sizes 6-34 plus kids), or Burda Style’s Cycling Shorts (sizes 6-16).


1. Skirt 2. Leggings

Skirted swim bottoms offer additional coverage and can be modified to be either femme or sporty, depending on the cut. Try Savvy Pattern’s Grace Tankini (sizes 0-18), Simplicity 8392 (sizes XXS-XXL) or Kwik Sew’s 4113 (sizes XS-XL). Leggings patterns abound and can be cut off at your choice of length and given color-blocked panels; try Simplicity 8327 (sizes 1X-5X) or Patterns for Pirates’s Peg Legs (XXS-XXL and Plus 1X-3X).


Seamstress Erin Laminaria Suit

Minimalist one-pieces offer a sleek monochrome look or a good base for a bold print. Try Seamstress Erin’s Laminaria (sizes 0-24, with cup size options for either A-C or D-F), Opian’s Säntis (chest sizes 32-43″), or Bootstrap’s basic one-piece (pattern sized to your measurements).

Vintage-Style Suits for Bois and Girls


1. Bikini 2. Singlet

Bombshell one-pieces and retro bikinis abound across the sewing world! Some good options include Butterick’s 6360 (sizes 8-24), Closet Case’s Sophie One- or Two-Piece and Bombshell Maillot (both sizes 0-20), Bootstraps One-Piece Underwire Swimsuit, One-Piece with Twisted Bodice, or Custom Two-Piece (all patterns sized to your measurements). As for me, I’m currently thinking about unitard-style one-pieces inspired by both men’s and women’s looks from the 1930s. Using a base like Jalie’s Men’s Singlet (sizes XS-XL) or some creative pattern-hacking could make this dream come true!

So, which suit will you create this summer?

For more of Shannon’s sewing tips, check out 4 Dapper Plus-Size Sewing Projects for Beginners and Pros.


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Shannon is an art historian living in the midwest with her bulldog, Imogen. She likes cider, superhero movies, and daydreaming about living as a spinster out in the woods. A self-identified femme dandy, she spends a lot of time thinking about the gendered histories of clothes and making her own garments. She writes about sewing over at With a Rare Device, posts daily outfit chronicles on tumblr, and Instagrams equal numbers of selfies and dog pictures.

Shannon has written 4 articles for us.

22 Comments

    • I wish there were more patterns like the singlet out there (especially for plus sizes!) It would make such a cool swimsuit, and so unlike most of what’s out there in the ready-to-wear world. I’m really enjoying writing about sewing here – let me know if there are other things you’d like to see in this vein!

  1. I love this post. Sewing is a great way to commune with your body and style.
    Another great set of options for inspiration is using lingerie patterns which can often be found for free. As long as the pattern can be made with stretch fabric, it can be made up in swimsuit fabric. So if there’s a “bralette” style you like, you can usually use its pattern to make a top out of any stretchy fabric. Or if you happen to own underwear that has just the right amount of bum coverage or whathaveyou, you can trace it to make your own set of briefs.
    (some resources to start: http://madalynne.com/free-sewing-patterns/, http://www.molliemakes.com/beauty/handmade-lingerie-bra-patterns/)

  2. These are fantastic! I’ve made something like the singlet (without the awesome fabric) for two of my kids, one with short sleeves and one as a tank. The problem we’ve had is public pool lifeguards occasionally arguing with me that the sleeveless one is a leotard instead of a swimsuit and can’t be worn in the pool.

    Thanks for all the resources, maybe I can make one for myself as well.

    • Honestly, an “I don’t know if I can do this but I’m going to try anyway” attitude is great for sewing, if you ask me! The number of things I’ve started with lots of trepidation about if I’d be able to pull it off is astronomical, and for the most part they’ve worked out. I hope you do try!

  3. This is wonderful– thanks, Shannon!
    Any suggestions for buying specialty fabrics and notions like underwires/boning inexpensively?? Whenever I make my own clothes, I almost always use quilting cottons because they’re cheap and come in many colors/patterns . . . but obviously that won’t work for swimwear . . .

    • I do have suggestions! You might have noticed I linked a lot to The Fabric Fairy up there – I loooove their selection of swimwear fabric, and the ones I’ve gotten from them have been really good quality for a decent price. The good thing about swimwear is that you also don’t need vast amounts of fabric – usually just a couple of yards are necessary. I’ve bought all of my specialty notions like underwires, hooks/rings, and bra cup foam from Sew Sassy (http://sewsassy.com) and Bra-Makers Supply (braandcorsetsupplies.com). The latter is based in Canada so shipping to the US is a bit slow, but they both have a good selection of hard-to-find notions. Also, Tailor Made just posted a good round-up of stores on their blog – I know they also sell some of the necessary components themselves, too: http://tailormadeblog.com/where-to-buy-swimwear-fabrics-supplies-online/

      Good luck!

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