Now I can't always remember which technical names I'm looking for when I'm searching swimwear fabric on the internet, but I've got to be sure I'm looking at the right thing. Its not like I can touch it and immediately know that I've got the right stuff. I know words like nylon, spandex, lycra, and polyester, and even cotton are thrown around. I know enough to stay away from anything that says cotton-lycra on the label. When I was growing up swimwear fabric was simply called LYCRA. But these days so much clothing is made from stretch fabrics and the word LYCRA is in everything stretchy. Knits have LYCRA in them, but they're not for swimming, they're for stretchy t-shirts, leggings, etc. I found these helpful little notes on ehow, while I was searching for a little insight, and they helped shed a little light on the subject...and then I dug further, just wait... I'll get through it.
The most common fabrics used in swimsuits today are nylon, cotton, spandex (LYCRA), and polyester.
Nylon dries fast, is made of strong fibers and fits the body well. Cotton swimsuits are trendy in design but aren't fitted to the body. Spandex is in almost every swimsuit because of its desirable elasticity. Polyester is also fashionable but doesn't have the functioning qualities of the other fabrics.
Okay..so I just took the time to look it up on Joann's Website, and it is indeed Nylon Spandex that you want to look for. That's what swimwear fabric is called these days. As I said before, it was always simply called LYCRA when I was growing up. These days they make so much clothing with stretch fabrics and sometimes these are said to pass for swimwear fabrics. I'm thinking the cotton spandex is used for the clothing. There are so many lovely prints, and you think "wow, that's gorgeous, I want a suit out of it!" There are a few steps you need to take when looking at an online item. I'll list those in a moment.
Some sites say their fabrics are good for swimwear, but...they may not be. It can be a pain ordering online since you can't feel what you're getting until it arrives at your door. And even then, do you really know what good quality is? Lets talk about what good quality Lycra looks like. First we'll list the technical name you're looking for, the description, then the weight, stretch, backing color, and even the print (didn't see that coming did you?) At the bottom I will include a few photo examples of fabrics I've bought, where I bought them, and what my thoughts were on those prints.
What to look for
To start with you're looking for Nylon Spandex. You might type in a search bar "swimwear fabric"swimwear spandex"swim spandex"...etc
Read the details carefully. Sometimes they make it so clear and say "not good for swimwear." Or, it will say "Good for dance wear, horse wear...etc" But it won't say that its recommended for swimwear. That's a sign to stay away from it. If you're still curious, ask the seller. ***I've done this and still ended up with something I was less than happy with, so its really a gamble. Or maybe not everyone is as picky as I am haha!
Weight. Now you've got to consider weight of the fabric, whether its light and slinky (4oz) (this fabric snags and fades easiest. Is also damaged by chlorine very easily), medium (6oz), or heavy weight (8oz). You're looking for about a 6oz weight. Its not too light and slinky (meaning it could be see-through if its light weight), and its not heavy and stiff either. Now I've made heavy weight work, but I prefer a nice thick medium weight. Some heavy weights are great for little girls who are rough on their suits. Being around rocks and concrete, having a fun in the sun, these little girls can snag up their suits pretty easily. But the heavy weight stuff doesn't snag....like at all! You can even try to snag it. I have to tell you, its really durable stuff! I've found the value of it in a girl's suit. Its awesome! Another characteristic of the fabric is that its got a tighter stretch to it. Think of it like a spring... the heavier weight fabric has a tighter spring. It will still stretch, possibly just as much. But its a stronger elasticity in the fabric. It may not want to stretch as easily as a medium or a light weight. Hope that helps you understand the fabric better.
*P.S. I can't tell from a photo whether its a heavy weight or not. You have to ask the seller.
Stretch direction. Even if you don't have a piece of fabric that stretches 4 ways, you can still have a successful suit. If it stretches only one way, say up and down..then you've got a problem. If it stretches from side to side, it is something you can work with. THIS IS MOST NOTICEABLE IF YOU'VE GOT A PRINT THAT CLEARLY HAS A PATTERN LIKE ISLANDS WHICH GO ONLY ONE WAY. *see example here.
I bought this from Big4Fabrics and the stretch went what I call "the wrong way" See how the palm trees go vertical and also upside down? That's they way you'd want it to be on your body. Okay...so this fabric stretched vertical, but not so much horizontal, which is the opposite of what you'd want it to do. The whole thing about the stretch in swimwear fabric is, the stretch goes AROUND the body. You do not want the stretchiest part of the fabric to be vertical on your body. ESPECIALLY if your making modest swimwear, because it has so much more fabric than a BIKINI or a ONE PIECE. There's much more fabric, and its generally got a skirt on it. So if you were making a one piece vs a modest swimsuit it would be a much bigger issue. Because there is a BIG DIFFERENCE. It may not be such a problem when you're dry, but once you're wet, the fabric will sag. The longer the suit, the more it will be weighted down with water. This is accentuated when the fabric stretches "the wrong way". So that is definitely something to pay attention to. This fabric was also on the light end of weight. I don't think we ever used it. Its probably still in storage in my mom's fabric bin.
Backing color. I bet no one has ever heard of judging swimwear by what the back looks like. *and if you have, send me an email. It would be great to compare notes!* So my mom always said if the back of the fabric was all white, or mostly white, you could tell it wasn't the greatest quality. You want the print to show through all the way. The stronger the print comes through the back, the better it is. You then look at the front, giving it a good stretch, look to see what happens to it. Does it fade considerably? Or have white streaks show through from the backside? Or even become see-through?!! There are exceptions to the rule sometimes, I have found some that are okay, and will work. Here are two photos I took just for this post.
this project and I needed something to practice on. It worked out okay, but still, it wasn't anywhere near as good as others I've bought. It did not live up to my ideal swimwear fabric. My ideal fabric doesn't have white on the back, (or at least not much white on the back). You can see the print all the way through the fabric. It is thick enough that you don't need a lining. It is not slinky. It is strong.
The fabric in the bottom left corner is a vintage print from the '80s. See how closely the back resembles the front? Neat isn't it? Same for the one above it!
Two more examples of what the back of the fabric should look like in relation to the front. Both of these are awesome quality!
Print. I'm sure someone out there is laughing at me right now. How can you tell from your little chair there at the computer, if a print you've found online is good or not? By simply going on how the print looks? You've got to be crazy!
I admit, it sounds kinda silly. But hang with me for just a second...
What I mean by old fashioned, is it almost looks like its vintage. There is a certain style that swimwear prints used to look like. Its based off the shapes and drawings looking stark and defined. And possibly not having a ton of colors in it? (but that's not right either,
I've found amazing fabric with over 12 colors in it) I'm trying to describe this, but I'm not
sure I'm getting it right. And its not necessarily
that only floral prints are good. I believed these were good just by looking at them, yes. But there are other florals I can look at and know that they're not going to be good quality. It may be something I've developed over the last 20 years of shopping for this fabric, and maybe its not something I can teach someone else...
I'm giving it a try anyway. If it looks simple and uncomplicated, and sort of old fashioned, to me, this is much more likely to be a good quality fabric. And I'm usually right about what I see,
even if its just a picture.
This one isn't a floral and I just had a feeling about it, that it would be a good quality.
I was right :-)
Where as, this picture below on the left, looks rather complicated with its various shades and fancy print... I could almost guarantee that I wouldn't be happy with the quality. The fabric was found on ebay, at the same store I bought the blue floral print below on the right. As I said earlier, the blue floral fabric was not what my idea of really good quality was. It worked okay, yes, but it had more the feeling of what you'd make a stretchy dress out of, instead of a swimsuit. And it may all be in preference, but as far as my mom and I are concerned, these are not good for swimwear. Or not what we'd call good enough. They stretch, yes, they have white on the back too..and if stretched too far, you see the white of the back show through in lines! Swimwear is supposed to stretch and still look good.
Now to add a few photos of prints I've bought in the past and what I thought of them... These next 6 fabrics were all purchased from Big4Fabrics. The top two were really great quality and I would definitely buy them again. The last four...not so much. Light weight, slinky, stretched the wrong way, etc.
Very good fabric.
Very good fabric.
Light weight and slinky.
Stretched the wrong way. Was also slinky and light weight.
So, so..I had a suit from it but it was rather light weight.
Light weight and slinky. Usually the light weight fabrics snag easier, it was so with this one.
I sent away to The Fabric Fairy for some samples of prints I might be interested in. The Swatches are pictured below.
Front side of the prints.
Back side of the prints.
The black and white dot has a white background, and isn't the best quality. The blue wavy lines is something I've not seen before. The texture is totally different. At first glance I thought "no" but it could work okay. Might need a lining.
The red was really bad. Stretch it just a bit one way and you saw it turn mostly white. Stretch it the other way, and it was see-through! The only way this could work is if you lined the whole thing with RED.
This one is a bit thicker like the ones I like to use, but the back is all white and when stretched you see the lines through it.
This pink dots on black is the only one I thought would be okay for swimwear. My mom thought not because the back is a bit white. It stretches both ways. One way, you do see white, but the other way, you don't. I liked it, it was thick enough, smooth, and I believe it would work just fine. I have found though..its rare a polka dot fabric will be very high in quality.
The red with black dots was really thin. I wouldn't use it. If someone wanted to use it, this one also would need to be fully lined in RED. Some people may say "Well, duh! Of course you have to line the suit!!" Hold on now...you don't always have to line the suit. My family and I have up to this point, never lined our suits. We wear either a bikini or regular undergarments under the suit. I am starting to line the front bodices of girls suits and am putting a shelf lining in the women's suits. So many people had asked for it, that I figured I would just start doing it :-)
All three of these bought from
ebay, probably in a lot. None of them a full yard.
All were great quality.
I found this at Spandex World and was very happy with the quality.
Stretch House. I was very happy with the quality but was very displeased with how they handled the shipping charge. I ordered by phone, gave all my information...and they couldn't tell me what my shipping charge would be. I would just get a bill later. I ordered two yards, and the shipping was more than the two yards cost! I wasn't very happy, as you can imagine.
Well, that is all I can think to put in here at the moment. I was inspired to write this after receiving the samples from The Fabric Fairy yesterday. My brain is tired! All those links, photos, and tips! This has been my 'how to' on buying swim fabric. Hope its helpful!