Introduction: How to Sew a Vintage Style High-Waist Bikini

About: Army Vet. I love learning & being creative. I am back!

I think vintage high-waist bikinis are classy, comfy and cute! But, they cost quite a lot of money if you buy them in the store (and they're hard to find also) - and there's no guarantee they'll fit you properly. It's very simple and inexpensive to sew them yourself at home! Once you get the sizing right - you can make lots of different styles. I'll guide you through the process here! The bikini bottoms I made were from real vintage swimsuit material that I got from my grandma - obviously any swimsuit stretchy material will work!

I tried to get a variety of photos so you could really see how the fit was - I didn't do the best job in photographing myself - but I tried!

If you have any questions, please ask.

Step 1: Materials Needed to Sew Vintage Swimsuit

Materials Needed:

  • One yard of swimsuit fabric (you may use much less - but it's better to have more just in case)
  • One yard of swimsuit lining fabric (optional - if you want to fully line your bikini bottom - if not, only 1/4 yard)
    • You can get material for a pretty good deal at any JoAnn Fabric store - online or in the store - with using a 40% off coupon.
  • 1/4 Inch Braided Elastic (generally comes in a bundle of 8 yards like this one)
  • 1/8 Inch Soft Stretch Elastic (in a bundle - need a couple of yards)
  • Swim Suit Bra Hook - if you plan on making the bikini top
  • Sewing machine, pins & fabric cutting tools (Any sewing machine should be fine. The one in my Instructable is this: Brother CS6000i Sewing Machine) and I love it - no problems in the 5 years I've had it. :)

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Step 2: Information & Pattern for Vintage Bikini

Before you begin, I just wanted to share some important information. I created this pattern for the high-waist vintage bikini bottom myself. I initially took apart a pair of underwear which fit me really well (boy-cut style). I used that as a rough guide and through trial and error and adjustments, came up with the final pattern (there are a few variations of it too). If you like, you can do something similar - try to make your pattern based on a pair of underwear which you know fits you just how you like it. Otherwise, feel free to use my pattern and adjust it to fit your body and measurements. I saw a few tutorials online but didn't like the style of the suits - all had high cut leg openings - not what I think of as vintage - or not the style I'm going for!

Since the material is so stretchy, you have some leeway here with the size. Personally, I used an old shirt my son never wore (a stretchy sports shirt- similar to that of swimsuit material) to do my first test pair of bikini bottoms. You may want to do something similar, if possible.

You'll need to take your measurements before you begin. My waist is approximately 25-26 inches. My hips are approximately 34-35 inches. I usually wear a size small.

Download the pattern piece for the swimsuit. The pattern for the bottoms is in PDF form - so you'll need to open it with Adobe Reader. If you don't have that, you can download it for free online. Once you open it up and you're ready to print it - this is what you need to do. Go to File, Print, then a screen will popup. On that page you'll see "Page Sizing & Handling." Under that you'll see tabs - click the one that says "Poster" and then print it. It will print out in four sheets. You'll then need to tape the sheets together to have your full pattern. This is a revised pattern (not the first pattern I posted on here) and much more accurate to sizing and the fit is better. It's also easier to make. If you would like to create your suit with only one piece (meaning, if you don't want to cut the crotch area out and sew it separately) you can do that. * Please see image of how to print it if you are struggling to find the "poster" printing options *

For your first time sewing this bikini bottom, I recommend that you do not use a full lining. Sewing it in can be tricky and if not done properly, it can really mess up the fit of the swimsuit bottom. If you know what you're doing, you'll be fine and you will know how to do it. But, for this Instructable I will give instructions on how to make it without the full lining, just lining in the crotch area.

Finding Your Fit:
  • The size Small pattern will fit a waist of 24-25 inches and hips between 34-35 inches (please note - there is leeway here and if you are an inch or so bigger - it will probably fit just fine).
  • The finished swimsuit for the small size will be a 22 inch waist and 32 inch hips. The reason it's smaller than your actual size is because of the stretch of the material. If you were to sew it right at your exact measurements, it will be very loose and unflattering.
  • Be sure that the material you are using has a stretch of at least 3 inches. You can find out if it does by laying the material out near a ruler or cutting mat and grabbing ahold of the edge of it (at the 0 inch mark) and with the right hand grab it at the 4 inch mark. Pull from the four inch mark as far as it will go, while holding tight to the edge of the material near the zero mark. See how many inches it stretches. You should test the stretch of the material on both sides of it - and lay it out and cut it so you have the stretchiest material possible.
  • When you add inches to the pattern, please do so at the sides of the pattern (not the side with the fold). Just use a ruler to add an inch (or inches) and keep moving the ruler and making marks an inch from the edge - then draw a new line where the pattern piece will end. Cut it out or attach a piece of paper with tape to extend the pattern size.
Increasing the Size:
  • For a size Medium, with a waist of 26-28 inches and Hips of 36-38 Inches - this is my recommendation to alter the Small pattern to fit you properly:
    • Add 5/8ths of an inch to the sides of the front of the pattern piece at the top (for the waist) and also to the sides of the back of the pattern piece (for a total increase in size of 2.5 inches).
    • Add 1 1/8th of an inch to the hips measurements (bottom sides of the front and back) for a total increase in inches of 4.5.
    • Then carefully use a ruler or freehand draw a line from the new waist line to the new hips line. Try to keep the direction and shape the same as the first pattern.
    • This will produce a finished size of 24.5 in waist and 36.5 in hips - which will stretch and fit a person who actually has a waist of 26-28 inches and hips of 36-38 inches.
  • For a size Large, with a waist of 29-32 inches and Hips of 39-42 inches - this is my recommendation to alter the Small pattern to fit you properly:
    • Add 1 1/2 inches to the top sides of the front pattern piece as well as the top sides of the back pattern - this will increase the waist measurement by 6 inches.
    • Add 1 1/2 inches to the bottom sides of the front and back piece.
    • Draw a line from your new waist to your new hips and cut out your pattern.
    • The final produced size will be a 28 in waist and 38 inch hips.
    • You must have material that stretches at least four inches - to be safe.

Step 3: Cut Out Pieces of Material

Now layout your fabric. Be sure to check your fabric to see where and how it stretches. It may be much stretchier going one direction vs. the other. Cut it out so that the stretchiest part is what you're using and the stretch is going in a horizontal direction. That provides you with a lot of extra leeway with the size - offering you a lot of stretch if needed.

Before you cut it out, decide which style of a bikini bottom you want to make. If you planto make the simple one piece (without cutting the front piece into three as you can see in the image), then you may use the pattern and cut out the pieces. Do not slice out three pieces from the Front Pattern piece. The front pattern piece will consist of one piece only. The suit I made with the ruffles was made with one pattern piece for the front.  Do not cut the main pattern piece into three pieces unless that is the style you're going for. 

If you plan on creating a suit with the front having two seams going down (the three pattern piece front) - then you will need to add at least an inch of material to the pattern - if you have a 1/4 on an inch seam allowance. This is necessary because the seams going down the front will take away some of the material.

If you want to create bottom shown in one of my images with the pleated sides - you'll definitely need to add a good two inches to the pattern. In addition, if you plan on making the pleated side bikini bottom, you'll need to cut an additional two pattern pieces. Those pieces will be the same as the side pieces for the front, with an additional four inches up and four inches of material below. So, you'd need to prepare to cut out another two side pieces for the front, then extend the top four inches and the bottom four inches - and cut it out.

After cutting out the main pieces, then cut out the piece for the crotch. You'll need to cutout a lining piece for the crotch as well. If you decide to use the pattern as one full piece - you can avoid cutting out the crotch separately.

Please note, if you plan to make the pleated side bottom or the ruffled suit, I will explain that last. For now, I will explain the basic methods of constructing the suit. I will also explain how to make the vintage style bikini top - in one of the last steps.

Step 4: Sewing the Swimsuit - Elastic Techniques

Finally, it's time to sew! If you haven't sewn in elastic before into a seam, this may be tricky at first. It's worth it though! So, this is the way I did it. I took out my 1/8 inch elastic and cut a piece out, a couple inches longer than the side seam on the front pattern piece. I then placed the front piece of material (with the right side up) on the sewing machine to prepare to sew the elastic onto the edge of the side. The side will be sewn together to the side of the back piece - but not yet.

First, lay the front piece of material right side up on the sewing machine, then place the elastic on top so it lines up with the edge. Just do your best - doesn't need to be perfect. Do not pull it tight as you sew - try to keep it about the same as the material, holding it gently and you can create a slight tension if you like. However you do it, be consistent and do it the same on the other side. Do a zig zag stitch over the elastic piece all the way down the side.

Once that's done, trim off any excess. Then, keep it right side up and take your back piece and place that right side down on top of the piece you just sewed the elastic to. Line the pieces up and sew another zig zag stitch onto it. I also did a straight stitch to secure it fully. The side is done - then repeat that on the other side.

Step 5: Sewing in the Crotch and Lining

Now for the crotch - wish there was a more pleasant word for it! :) There are several ways to go about doing this. Here is one. Take the crotch piece and the lining and sew them together along the side edges with a zig zag stitch. Then, pin it to the front and back of the other main pieces. After pinning, sew the pieces together so the crotch is attached. You can use a straight stitch and zig zag for extra stability. Trim any excess material. Now take your swimsuit bottom - and sew a zig zag stitch around the leg holes so everything has that stitch.

Now you'll need to sew in more elastic. This is optional but recommended for the first suit anyway. I made one without any elastic down there and it turned out great - and felt more comfortable to me than with the elastic. But, if you plan to swim a lot - or want things more secure and fitted - then elastic is important. You'll need to sew the elastic onto the zig zag stitches you just made. After sewing it on, you'll then flip the material inward to hide the elastic within and sew another zig zag stitch. This part may be complicated.

I've tried so many methods to this - and found one which works the best! This was a tip from BrianSews here - thank you Brian!  I've messed up a lot of suits by using the other methods - all of which are very popular but don't work well in my opinion. In fact, I'll make an instructable on this in the near future for more clarity.

So, take out your elastic - stretch it out several times first. Prepare to sew it on the wrong side of your fabric edge along the leg hole openings and crotch. For the elastic, you don't even need to cut a piece off the bunch - just hold onto one end. Make two marks on your suit about 2 inches from the crotch seam in both directions. Start sewing your elastic outside this area stretching it just slightly as you sew. When you approach your mark, give it a good stretch and resume light tension when the other mark is reached. When I meet up with the other end of elastic I cut off so that the raw ends match up with NO overlap. I then zigzag the ends together which creates a flat transition and no lump on the outside. Then, fold that elastic in and go over it on the right side of the fabric with a topstitch. if you have a sewing machine that can use a twin needle - you should definitely do a coverstitch. I made an Instructable on doing a coverstitch with your sewing machine here.

If you practice you'll notice that even though you don't measure the same length of elastic for each leg both legs will match. Turn your elastic under and top stitch while stretching as necessary. I like to stitch from the back so I can sew exactly on the edge of the elastic.

Step 6: Finishing Touches

Lastly, try it on and see how it fits and how you like the placement of the top of the suit. If it's too long, trim it and stitch it up, fold the top down and stitch it again. There are fancier ways of finishing off the top - including inserting an elastic band  - but I'll leave that up to you! The bright floral print suit bottom I made did not use any elastic on the top. I only zig zag stitched it and left it. I like that because I can actually very easily fold it way down so it's a super cute smaller bikini bottom. See image!

Step 7: Suit With Side Pleats & Other Suit With Ruffles

Ruffled Suit:
  • To do the suit with the cute ruffles on the bottom of the leg openings, you'll need to cut out two strips of material about 30 inches long by 2 inches wide.
  • I made a small zig zag edge along one entire side of each strip
  • One inch from the zig zag edge, I set my machine to a stitch length of 5 and tension of 9 - did not backstitch - just began stitching all the way down the whole strip (this caused it to gather nicely)
  • Repeat for other strip
  • Use pins to secure these ruffles where you plan to pin them onto the suit (the shorter the ruffle, the better - because otherwise it may stick out in a strange way)
  • Sew ruffles on, cleanup any excess material - you're done!
Pleated-Side Bikini:
  • Cut out three pieces for the main front piece
  • In addition, cut out two extra side pieces (which will be for the ruffles - these will be the same exact pieces as the side pattern pieces - but extended up four inches and down four inches)
  • Once cut out, you'll need to create "gathers" along the sides by sewing along both edges of the extra pattern pieces (with stitch length of 5 and tension of 9)
  • You'll need to hand-gather it the way you like it - and then I recommend carefully (if possible) using an iron to try to flatten out your pleated gatherings
  • Once you like how it looks - then you'll need to pin it to the main front side pattern piece and sew it in place. This is tough to do - so be careful and take your time.
  • Repeat with the other side
  • The rest of the suit is constructed the same as the first one

Step 8: Vintage Bikini Top

Last thing to do is make a top! I can't explain this step in as much depth as the other steps -but if you have questions, please ask. I did this more on a whim than anything so the pattern hasn't been tested lots of times. Here's what I did and how you can use it. I took an old bra which fits me fine and I planned to use it as a base for the bikini top. I wanted a lot of stability. I then cut out the bra pattern pieces - you need to do the same. The two cup pieces need to be sewn together along the side that has the arrows. Once sewn together, flip it over (right side up) and sew a seam along the top of it (see image). Once this is done, this will be formed over the bra, pinned on and sewn on. Please note - this isn't the most professional of ways to create a bikini top - although I like how it turned out. I was impatient and could have done something nicer, lined and from scratch. But anyway, that's basically what I did. I then sewed on the main piece which goes below the bra cups. After that, I cut out two strips for the back piece - about four inches wide.

The back strips were sewn along their long seam, inside out, then flipped right side out and ironed flat. They were attached to the main body piece of the top - then I tried it on and sewed on a bra clip to the back. I know this is summarized, but I know the pattern pieces should help you out!

Please ask if you have questions!

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