1950s · McCall's Patterns · Swimwear

Sewing Full Circle: My 1950s Bathing Suit Part I

Dear friends and readers, this swim suit has been a long time in the making. Four years to be exact. Here is the original post from 2 January 2010 stating my intentions to make it. This was back when my blog was La Petite Costumiere, WWNDW? did not even exist yet!

 
Courtesy of The Vintage Pattern Wiki

It all started when I ordered McCall 9705 (1954) on Etsy for a whopping $4 on 15 May 2009. Thrilled to find this gem at such a great price, I failed to notice that it did not have the instructions. That problem was solved through my wonderful job at the time at the Commercial Pattern Archive. The director allowed me to photocopy the instructions from their copy.

I began sewing it sometime in spring of 2010 for my final project in Costume Construction class, due the 8th of April. My wonderful professor and mentor, David, recognized it as being inspired by Claire McCardell’s “bubble” swim suits of the 1950s. It was something of a nightmare to start with since it was a size 12, bust 30″ and at the time I measured 38″ at the bust. I did a lot of rather uneducated widening of the pattern which would come back to haunt me later. Even after that the bodice wasn’t big enough around so I added some panels at center back. If you look in the photos, you will notice they’re not the same size and slightly crooked. This was a shame because everywhere else I worked very hard to make the gingham match up. Not being so good at time management, I pulled an all-nighter struggling with the zipper right through to the morning it was due. I finally got it in around 5 am and put it on…and the stitches holding the zipper in ripped clean out! It didn’t fit at all.

I had a good cry and then got ready for class, prepared to accept a low grade with no zipper, bad fit, no boning attached and the top edge unfinished. I got lucky that our project really ended up being more of a lesson to ourselves of our weak spots (procrastination, anyone?) rather than a strict grade on completeness and construction skill. I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t finish.

I really did intend to finish it, but then graduation rolled around and due to working several jobs to pay off debt, I just never got back to it. It sat in a bag for four years in a closet wherever I was living, waiting. I swear, over that 4 years I have gotten better about not procrastinating…enough to finally finish the darn thing. I pulled it out about two weeks before we left for our vacation in Maine, deciding that I needed to finish it because that would be the perfect backdrop for the photoshoot.

I weighed quite a bit more in college than I do now, almost 20 lbs in fact. I assumed the fit would be okay, since before it had been too small. At some point I must have worked on it again because there was now a zipper in it. Not very well sewn in, as you’ll see when I write the construction post. However, those two panels in the back now made it too big. When I put it on, it was the saddest sack ever and I almost gave up again! Then I thought, I’m being an idiot! I do alterations like this all the time at work! So instead I spent a grueling afternoon hand sewing in some very tricky hidden darts in the side seams. To my surprise, it finally fit. And it looked pretty cute, actually, Wonder Woman waistband and all. Another afternoon was devoted to hand sewing in the rick rack and closing up the top of the bodice with the top of the lining. Finally, during the drive to Maine I sewed in the boning.
It is finally finished. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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16 thoughts on “Sewing Full Circle: My 1950s Bathing Suit Part I

  1. First, let me congratulate you for getting into the water at all in Maine, and I don't care what month! Brrrrr.
    Really cute suit, but it reminds me of one I had myself when I was about 10 (and yes, it was in the '50's). It looks much better on a curvier body than the stick I was, lol.

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  2. This is absolutely fantastic! I'd never ever look at a pattern for a strapless, bubble-skirted swimsuit and think “yes! I should make this! it will look good!” But it really really does look absolutely wonderful on you.

    You should go back to that professor for a grade now — I'd say you rate an A+! 😉

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  3. loving the fun of these photos and the gorgeousness of that suit! i've wanted to make one for ages – glad to see one out there in the wild 🙂

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  4. Lisette, this swimsuit looks great on you. I adored patterns like this but thought that the bubble short part would look a bit too much nowadays but it isn't too much at all! Maybe I should find one, buy and sew it! 🙂

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  5. OMGGGGGGGGG.

    It's so so adorable! I love the fabrics, and the fit is fabulous! I'm so glad you revisited it and finished it, because it turned out beautifully! Fabulous photos also 🙂 Hope you had a great trip to Maine!

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  6. Thanks for stopping by my blog and sharing about your cotton swimsuit. I figured they must have been cotton based back then but how to squeeze into them. I had to see! Now I know! I had never seen that style before. How neat to have gotten that pattern. Shame about all the fitting issues but looks like you worked it out! It is very cute!
    Laurie

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