Chilling in our mid-century cabin. So. Much. Paneling. These curtains featured a rainbow trout pattern that vaguely matched my suit.

I’m proud to report that I met my swimsuit deadline! I had a new suit to wear for our weeklong vacation in the North Woods of Wisconsin.

I originally wrote about this suit being a muslin. While a second crack at Reno/Dakota would yield a better result, this first crack definitely is wearable and definitely was worn with a smile.

I likely will make this suit again, but I have no plans at this time. I have a vision of a version in matte navy, maybe white/navy polka dots? We’re coming out of swim season in my part of the world, so there’s no urgent need.

Let’s talk about how the Reno top and Dakota bottoms went down.

What went well

Cutting: Single-layer cutting + rotary cutter = accurate pattern pieces. Yay!

Glue stick basting: Swim fabric is slippery and curls at the edges — characteristics that call for clever sewing hacks. I’m not going to claim responsibility for this hack (even though I didn’t see it in any swimsuit-sewing tutorials), but using a washable glue stick to baste swim fabric is a stroke of genius.

I dabbed glue at the edge, added a few pins for good measure, and went to town. The glue added stiffness — like starch — along with holding fabric together. SO MUCH EASIER TO HANDLE. If you take away nothing else but this one tip, I’m fine with that. Using glue stick is like having extra fingers to hold stuff in place.

The wonder of glue stick.

Post script on the glue stick: The glue washed out just fine. Actually, I wore the suit before washing out the glue, and I didn’t notice it at all. #gluestickallthethings

Basting: After I glue basted and pinned the edges, I basted with thread almost every seam with my machine’s long, straight basting stitch. Yes, you could call me paranoid, but the better I controlled this slippery fabric, the happier I was with the results.

The outcome of all this is that I could do a final line of real-deal stitching without having pins to remove and with a high level of confidence that all notches and edges were on target.

Elastic sewing technique: In my swimwear sewing resources post, I highlighted elastic-sewing techniques from SeamstressErin and Indiesew. I combined their techniques into something that worked for me. SeamstressErin taught me to ease up on tugging elastic, and Indiesew taught me to leave a two-inch tail at the beginning to “anchor” those first few stretch stitches.

What was tough

Those damn cups, part I: No lie, I must have ripped out the cups three times. I could not get the ease to work between the cups and the underbust. And then I realized that I wasn’t sewing them together correctly in the first place, which was why the notches weren’t lining up. Behold:

The strap should be sewn into the underbust (E to D in the line drawing), and I misaligned the whole business. *Headslap* When I got thinking about the elastic on the lower part of the strap near the armpit (you can make out the stitching lines on E), I realized it wasn’t an easing problem — it was an alignment problem.

Those damn cups, part II: I added foam cups to the Reno top for modesty and structure. I followed directions from Helen’s Closet, which overall were very good. My only beef is that Helen sewed the swim fabric and lining to the edge of the foam cup. So, when it came to sewing the cup to the underbust, the layers went like this: underbust lining, underbust fabric, cup fabric, foam cup, cup lining. All those layers with a three-eighths-inch seam allowance. Um, yeah, that was a recipe for sewing machine revolt.

I examined a RTW bikini top with foam cups and discovered that the foam cup ended well before the cup-underbust seam. Removing that extra bulk made a lot of sense, even though it meant ripping apart my cups to trim down the foam. I’m glad I made the effort, because sewing the cups to the underbust was much easier.

My advice to you, if you want to add foam cups to Reno: Trim the foam cups so they’re not part of the cup-underbust seam.

Stitching thick areas: There’s a fair amount of wonky topstitching on my swimsuit. My machine struggled in some thick areas. Next time, I will slow down instead of powering through and use the hand wheel to pierce thick areas. I’ll also employ a blunt stick or screwdriver to guide layers of fabric over the feed dogs. In sewing, pushing fabric is better than pulling it, although your first instinct is to pull it.

Inside-out bottoms: I sewed the bottoms lining-side out, a failure to correctly read the illustrated instructions. I made note of this for when I make this pattern again. (Considering how tough the Reno top was for me, this mishap feels very minor.)

Installing elastic: Yeah, I know I said installing went well, but there was a learning curve for it. You can’t sew elastic slowly, because you need to pull on the elastic. Think about what happens in tug o’ war when one side lets go. Sewing fast balances the tension you create by pulling the elastic.

Anyhoo, when you sew fast, it’s harder to course correct vs. sewing slowly. In this suit, there’s a lot of elastic that’s not sewn an even distance from the edge. The saving grace in this, though, is that you turn over the elastic to finish the edge — and you can sew that line as slowly as you please.

Sewing rubber elastic: As I mentioned in this post, I ordered rubber swimwear elastic. I was excited to use it in the Reno/Dakota, because that’s what Seamwork recommended (and Heather of Closet Case Files, too). But when I did some test runs with it, my bobbin thread became enraged and sewed knots and loops on the elastic. I suspect it has something to do with tension? Any insight? I’ll give it another go sometime, but it was not happening for this swimwear project. Instead I used swimwear elastic from Jo-Ann.

Hits and misses with the Reno/Dakota

I’d rate the suit overall as a hit. I like my fabric choices even more with the suit sewn. The white/mint print IS opaque when wet, thanks to the lining. The big bottoms are super comfy and flattering. I also think the exposure on the back is sexy, and it balances the modest bottoms.

I’d say my biggest miss is that the elastic for the top of the cups rolls out a touch, but I think that’s an Erin problem and not a pattern problem. Seamwork could improve the pattern by adding detailed directions for how to add foam cups.

This isn’t a miss, but a word of warning. The long ties for the the Reno top are sassy, but they get heavy when wet. As I popped out of the lake, the ties felt like they were gently dragging me backward. I tied them into bows and it was much better. My conclusion: When the long ties get heavy, they could shift the Reno top as you swim.

Swimwear sewing prognostications

I made some predictions before I started stitching Reno/Dakota, and now it’s time to follow up:

  • Cutting elastic long offers more control at the end of a line of stitching. Prediction outcome: Yes! Giving myself extra elastic at the end — and beginning — gives greater control. You can stop stitching without dropping the elastic.
  • A walking foot keeps fabric moving smoothly. Prediction outcome: Meh. I started sewing with a walking foot, and when it came to stitching elastic, I couldn’t sew fast enough with it to balance the gentle pull on the elastic. (My sewing manual even warns against sewing too fast with the walking foot. The walking foot is made for quilting, and you DO NOT want to blow through quilting.) I suppose I could have swapped out the walking foot when I needed to sew elastic. But the thing is a pain to install/remove, so it stayed in the box for this project.
  • Tissue paper helps stabilize slinky swimwear fabric. Prediction outcome: Meh. I tried this, and IMO, it sucked compared to using glue stick. Picking teeny-tiny pieces of paper out of a zigzag stitch is unpleasant.

Thanks for sticking with me over this epic post! I hope you find my experience useful in your swimwear-sewing adventures! Which of my tips do you find most insightful? What else do you have to say about sewing swimwear? Please sound off in comments! I’m especially looking for someone to be my elastic-sewing sensei. Any takers? P.S. If you liked this post, here are links to other swimwear posts:

The latest: Ready, set, swimsuit!
Slicing a Swimsuit: Underway on Reno and Dakota
Swimwear sewing tips: 8 can’t-miss resources in one place

P.P.S. Here’s another article about Seamwork stuff: Why I canceled my Seamwork magazine subscription.