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Aug 28, 2012

How to Sew a Wild Bikini

Readers of a certain age, do you like beach party movies?  I ask you specifically because I'm not sure anyone under forty knows what they are.

I've always been a big Annette Funicello fan.  She wasn't the most gifted performer ever, but she was fun, and I love many of the songs she recorded even if she had to double-track her vocals to create the famous "Annette Sound."  The movie poster above notwithstanding,  full-figured, modest Annette usually wore a one-piece.

I've decided that one bathing suit is not enough for Cathy's (potential) upcoming trip to Cape Cod, and since I had purchased Simplicity 1612, a vintage Forties two-piece pattern, I thought I might give it go.

I find the high price of vintage womens swimsuit patterns outrageous, so I wanted to show you how easy it is to make one.  We'll start with the top, which I muslined today.  It's quite simple and not hard to adjust for fit. 

The pic below is the bra cup piece, which is cut on the bias.  It will be gathered on the sides and center to give it its shape.  (The final top will be underlined; I didn't underline the muslin.)  The straight edge on the right is the center.

I cut this a little bigger since the pattern is a 32" bust.

The two fronts are joined at the center and the outer edges gathered, starting roughly 1" from either end.

The shoulder straps are made by stitching a long strip right sides together, and turning.  The bottom of the strap, which equals the height of the gathered bra, is left unstitched, and the gathered bra edge placed between the unstitched layers of the strap and the strap edge topstitched on (as one would attach double-fold bias tape).

The front and back pieces of the center tie are sewn together (right side to right side) and turned.

One tie piece is attached at the bottom center front, and the other to the bottom center back (with the top diagonal edges facing in opposite directions).

The bottom strap is created like the shoulder straps: just instead of leaving the ends open, the middle section (equal to the width of the bra) is left unstitched.  The bottom edge of the bra will go in between the open layers, which are topstitched on.  The center ties are now knotted.

The brave among you can view the bikini top on me here.  Eat your heart out, Ann Sheridan!

The pattern instructions have the shoulder straps crossing in back and being buttoned to the bottom strap, which then ties in back.  You could easily tie the top straps behind your neck instead.

Wasn't that easy, readers?  I hope to make the bottoms tomorrow.  Fun!

In closing, have you ever made a bathing suit out of non-stretch woven fabric?  I suspect it's easier to make than stretch fabrics, though less comfortable -- and perhaps less secure -- in the wearing.

Don't you think these old swimsuits are cute -- and how about Annette Funicello?

Have a great day, everybody!

(More about "The Annette Sound" here.)


  1. OMGOODNESS!! Love this Entry!!

    Love all those old Beach movies!! They need to start replaying them for this girls are missing out!! Yes I am over 40 so Whoo hooo I remember these well...(re runs

  2. Her head looks huge! Probably the hair that never moves :)

  3. Thanks so much for that!

    I'm always astounded at the price of vintage swimsuit patterns - and I've often wondered what on earth makes them so special???

    I love vintage swimsuits, but unfortunatley I'm a little too large to fit into the ones available (I don't have a 24 inch waist for example) so I've thought about making my own. Your post has really demistified the process!

    Looking forward to seeing the bottoms!

  4. Ah....Annette! I used to love watching all the Beach Party movies way back when....thanks for the memory.

    Regarding this suit, it's gonna be darling! I did notice your comment, "I cut this a little bigger since the pattern is a 32" bust."...I'm assuming your cousin's post preggers figure will be quite voluptuous!

  5. LUV Annette!!!

    She occupied that rare territory between sex kitten and the overtly wholesome Lawrence Welk performer, known to most of us as a "real person".

    I think she had celebrity longevity because Annette was always herself.

    As for Cathy Lane...the wait has been gnawing at me for months! MONTHS!!!

    Cathy is a game changer, and the gents of Provincetown may well experience a mass revocation of their card carrying bragging rights, what with Ms. Lane plying the beaches in next to nothing.

    I'm just sayin'...

  6. I'm 48 and remember them... I agree, Annette managed to be wholesome and sexy all at once.

  7. I think a stretch fabric bathing suit is easier to sew, and especially easier to fit. (It would take me forever to figure out what shape that top needed to be for appropriate coverage without gaping.)

    But once you add underwires to that spandex bathing suit, all bets are off!

  8. I'm 28 and have no idea about beach movies so I think your hypothesis is true! But I do love the look of vintage swimsuits (I have some modern day store bought ones in the style). Your instructions make it look easy to make but being on the busty side I'm scared to go there without stretch and maybe some additional support. Could be worth making for fun though so thanks! PS I bought a vintage 201 at the markets the other day. Dirt cheap and in good condition except that it doesn't work. Following your blog makes me think I can restore it. We will see...

  9. There has been a run on these old movies on Sundays recently in Australia and they have been my sewing accompaniment for the past 4 or 5 weeks. I love them! They are very dated and the storylines would be laughable to any teenager now, but there is an innocent charm about them that just never loses its appeal for me. I grew up watching these as a kid, too, so I think this is where my love of early 60's fashion comes from. If there is a string of old movies on television on the weekend, you can bet your life I change my plans so I can stay at home and watch them while I sew!

  10. I have made swimsuits, but not vintage, and out of nothing but lycra/spandex! (I made six this year for the kids. And yeah, I've only got 4 to sew for, but Grace and Nicole got 2 each--one for here and one to take home.) I have a feeling, though, that the criss-cross straps would provide greater *ahem* support than the run-of-the-mill straps we see today....

  11. When I was in high school in the 70s, the first project I ever sewed for myself was a two-piece swimsuit in a woven, non-stretch fabric (Simplicity 5036; just found it on ebay!). I used an oatmeal-colored cotton or cotton blend sprinkled with strawberries...and it was a very covered-up halter top. It was desperation sewing: I wanted a two-piece swim suit and my babysitting money wouldn't buy a ready-made one...and neither would my parents. I made several other one- and two-piece swim suits after that, from other patterns, but never again from a non-knit.

  12. I love Annette! Your posts have inspired me to consider making a beach cover up for myself. But I'm going to the Jersey shore week after next and won't have time! , maybe for next year?

  13. I am in my mid 30s and grew up watching most of Annette Funicello's work. Love the beach movies, but being a kid at the time I was even more into the Shaggy Dog/Merlin Jones/Monkey's Uncle type movies.

  14. I love Annette...Vanessa Hudgens reminds me of her as well. Am I the only one thinking that a hugely-with-child Cathy might be about to fall asleep on a beach and fade into an Annette-inspired dream sequence? I mean, weirder things have happened....

  15. I love Frankie and Annette! Mostly I love eric Von Zipper!

  16. I am a good New England girl of a mere 45 years. The beach movies of the 60's never really attracted me. I prefer stylish Italian movies like Anyone can Play, Marriage Italian Style, Yesterday Today Tomorrow. And while it is not Italian it does have Audrey Hepburn, How to Steal a Million.

  17. I've been sewing for almost 50 years, and my first ever project was a bikini. I sewed it from flocked, sheer curtain fabric lined with white cotton. I even wore it!

    As for Annette, my favorite beach movie is Beach Blanket Bingo. There was a cute song with the same name that went along with the movie. I can hear it in my head right now.

  18. Have you seen Back to the Beach? It's an 80s parody of beach movies, with Frankie and Annette and a cast of old beach movie favorites (Connie Stevens, et al.). It's a hoot.

    Can't wait to see the full ensemble!

  19. My dad was a huge beach boys fan when I was little. We grew up on the beach in Florida so I have very clear memories of those awesome movies, though it was the very early 80s and they were all reruns. I loved Gidget though bc she was small and blond and actually surfed. Have you ever seen Endless Summer. I must have watched that every day after school for like 4 years straight. Mostly surfing but a good movie of vintage surf culture.

  20. I grew up with the beach movies (among others) because my parents liked them. Oddly enough I've seen more of the older movies than I have the movies that came out in the 80s when I was a child.

  21. I have a few vintage suits made from non-stretch fabrics. They are absolutely hideously uncomfortable when wet. Really only good for sun bathing in my opinion. I just made a high-waisted bikini from a modified vintage pattern ( and had to do a lot of mods to the bikini top since the pattern called for a non-stretch material. Your bikini top would need a lot of interfacing and some adjustments to be made in a stretch fabric. I think you're less occupied with the realities of swimming in it(although the image of you romping in ocean waves in that suit is amusing) so I don't think it matters much what fabric you use. And obviously a non-stretch is more in keeping with the period. (And I just clicked on that Picasa link - I love you Peter. Your sewing antics make my heart happy.)

  22. Didn't Walt Disney ask Annette to never appear in a movie in a bikini? Or is that a myth?

    1. According to the beach party box set her Disney contract said no to a bikini. A 2 piece (no belly button showing) was ok. And yes, back then there was a difference between the two!

  23. i'm 23 and i LOVE the beach party movies, much to the chagrin of all my friends who have been forced to watch.

  24. I *ADORE* beach party movies!!!!! The music is fantastic, the clothes are super-cute and they don't, um, challenge my brain too much on days when my brain can't handle a challenge. I love stumbling upon a beach marathon on a day when I'm home sewing all day. My favorite character is the girl who always wears the fringe bikini & knocks the guys out when she shakes her... assets.

  25. I grew up with the Beach movies-- love Annette and Frankie.

    Ah, Cathy! Can't wait to see her out and about again, albeit with a stroller.

    The memories these movies bring back.."You are my idol, but I am my ideal."

  26. Those of you that remember Annette Funicello from the Mickey Mouse Club might remember that she had very curly hair. She made famous the poodle cut. She talked about having to wear a wig for the beach movies because the ocean air would frizz up her hair. She and Frankie Avalon would joke about the hair that would not move.

  27. Annette was one of my favourites as a child! The poodle-cut hair, not so much, though. My mother was determined my hair would look like Annette's. Talk about disaster! My hair kinks and waves and fights a perm like you would not believe! *LOL*

    Not a fan of the swimsuits of the era. I had two woven two-piece suits (not quite bikinis, more hip-hugger style) as a teen and a one-piece in elementary school. Nice for sunbathing, miserable for swimming! They get waterlogged. *rolleyes*


  28. I love the beach party movies! My mom introduced them to me as a kid. In fact I even bought a box set of them at Costco once. Great for in the background while sewing! I'm in my early 30's & plan on showing them at an upcoming cheesey movie night. The way I see it they haven't aged any worse than the High School Musical movies will & feature performances by "Little" Stevie Wonder. I think I know what I'm watching tonight...


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