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Sue Robishaw







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Women's Skivvies /
Bathing Suit Bottom

women's skivvies


How-to  ~  Ideas  ~  Inspiration
 From more than forty years having a good time living a sustainable life
in the northwoods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Underwear can be comfortable! Bathing suit bottoms can fit. They can be interchangeable, they can be fun to make. Once you have your pattern, go crazy and make as many pairs (singles?) as your drawer can hold and your imagination requires.


Bathing Suit / Skivvies

black/red skivviesWhat better time to think about summer swimming than the middle of winter! At least it’s a good time to sew for that coming season. I bought fabric last spring to make a new bathing suit but the warm months definitely aren’t the time for me for anything other than quick emergency sewing or mending projects. The plans (and piles) for winter sewing/mending/altering are larger than days available so I simply pick out what most interests me, or is highest in my focus at the time. And thinking of kayaking made me think of the bathing suit that I don’t yet have. Actually, I seldom go swimming but kayaking is high on our list of “do more of” this summer and it is most certainly a water sport (as in ‘wet’). Though I hope to get my paddling technique down this summer so less of the river water ends up in my lap, appropriate clothing makes kayaking more fun. That includes being ready to slip out into the water for a swim.

Bathing suit bottom or underwear -- there’s little difference and both are quite easy and fast to make (relatively speaking). I’ve been making my skivvies for some time, after realizing it would be faster to make them than alter factory made ones to fit and feel the way I like them. The most time consuming part is coming up with and fine-tuning your pattern. You can buy a pattern or find one online, then go from there to get your just-for-you fit. Or simply cut apart an old bathing suit bottom or underwear that already fits and trace out your pattern from that. That’s what I did. I like to use brown kraft paper for patterns. It’s sturdy and holds up well to repeated use, and adjusting. ready to sew skivies

Draw your pattern, make notes of seam allowances and anything else you find helpful right on the pattern. When it comes time to adjust your initial pattern tape extra paper wherever needed. Make your new pair, adjust some more, etc. When I'm to the "fairly confident this is the one (hah!!)" then I cut out a new pattern. If you do a lot of pattern making, a roll of brown paper is handy. Gather your materials and sew away.

Fabric is whatever suits you; but it’s easier to get a nice fit with stretchy fabric--cotton or cotton blend knits, or lycra or similar material of whatever weight you like. For a bathing suit you’ll likely go for a non-cotton lycra or blend, lined or not depending on the weight of the fabric. My favorite, and most often used, source for fabric is thrift stores. I’m of a size that I can easily get a skivvy for me out of a large sized knit shirt (and an extra large shirt of an appropriate pattern might get Steve a new pair of undershorts!). I end up with more variety of prints than I’d likely choose at a fabric store. It makes it more fun. And at a few dollars you can fill your drawer and make however many you need to while you are fine-tuning your pattern to get that perfect fit. It can get a bit addictive, however, it’s such anstriped skivvies easy and fun sewing project!

The popularity of sewing underwear can be attested to by a quick search online--no lack of encouragement there. And there as many ways to make them as people who do so, though the techniques are generally similar. I came up with my own instructions by doing; making additional notes or changes every time I make a pair. Here is how I make mine, and some tips I've learned. I like my skivvies/bathing suit bottoms to be reversible when possible so I take that into consideration when choosing fabric and elastic and when sewing.

Cotton or cotton-blend knits fit differently than lycra, and there is quite a difference in stretchiness of different fabrics. After awhile you’ll get a feel for it simply by stretching the fabric and feeling how much elasticity there is. Make skivvies out of several different types of fabric then make notes. Mostly I add a half or full inch to the side seams for cotton/cotton blend knits (my main pattern cutout is for thin stretchy fabrics since it’s easy to add to the pattern when cutting the pieces; harder to subtract). Or visa versa (subtract some at the side seams for thinner, stretchier fabrics if your pattern is geared toward heavier). If no stretch at all you might want to try adding to the center instead of just at the seams. weights and rotary cutter

A rotary cutter and weights makes cutting stretchy fabric a lot easier and for me, more accurate. Though the photo shows the rotary cutter "open" I NEVER set it down this way (except for this picture apparently!). The cutter is always closed and locked first. Do it consciously enough times and it becomes a habit you won't have to think about, but your skin will thank you. 

skivvey bottom seam stitchedCrotch -- It's nice if you can cut your pattern out of one piece of fabric. But if because of the size/shape of your fabric simple seam it at the crotch. This often happens when using a knit shirt and you have to get half from the back and half from the front. For comfort I overlap and stitch this seam (as I do the side seams), instead of the usual basic 'fronts together' seams. You can put this seam wherever you need to to fit your fabric.

Overlap 1/2" and either pin or use a glue stick (my preference - see Side Seams) and top stitch.

skivvie crotch liningCrotch Lining -- This can be whatever fabric you like. I use self fabric when my fabric is same in or out so the 'inside' of the skivvy can be 'outside', and vice versa. On a bathing suit you may make a full lining. On heavier fabric no lining is needed, unless you need to cover a seam for comfort.skivvy crotch lining sewn

* Cut lining piece width of main pattern minus width of elastic. This helps keep bulk down in this area.
* Pin or glue stick ends and sides.
* Top stitch ends. Sides will be held in place when stitching leg elastic.

glueing skivvy side seamsSide Seams -- Oh, how irritating they can be, and uncomfortable. But they certainly don’t have to be! My easy solution is to overlap and top-stitch--sides, crotch (if there is a seam), lining. So much more comfortable. And the humble but so appreciated glue stick makes the easy even easier. It helps me do a better, cleaner job of sewing. I use a 1/2” overlap. Let the glue dry before sewing; a quick press with the iron helps. ZZ stitch down one side of the overlap, turn over and do the other side. For this and for attaching the elastic I use a length and width of 2, loosen needle tension one number, and loosen the pressure foot tension. A ballpoint/jersey needle for knits and a stretch needle for lycra makes it all go smoother.

ready for elastic

Elastic -- As with fabric so with elastic, as far as differences in stretch. I have a strong preference for comfort and found some soft-on-one-side elastic that I like. It was the uncomfortable skritchy seams and elastics that got me into making my own to begin with. Our local stores haven’t much of a selection so I bought a lot of different types from Sew skivvie elasticSassy Fabrics ( online. Plenty of choices there, so it’s easy to experiment and find what you like best. The last few pairs I made I tried out a wider, softer, elastic for the tops. While I do like the feel and fit of the elastic I neglected to take into account that it had less stretch than what I had been using. So back to the sewing room (actually, the kitchen table) - cut out the side seams, piece in an extension. This works but it would have been much easier to simply add an inch to the elastic to begin with. This elastic also turned out to not be very durable unfortunately.

Finding and fitting just the right lengths of elastic can be a bit of trial and error (make notes!). Using an already-fits item helps in the initial guess. Use plenty of pins. Here are my notes for sewing on the elastic.

sewing elastic* Reduce pressure foot to 1 // Loosen needle tension to 3 // Stretch and stitch slowly
* Butt and handstitch ends together if sturdy. Overlap half inch and stitch if not.
* TOP: Mark four spots evenly spaced on both fabric and elastic. Match, pin and stitch.
* LEGS: No stretch when pinning front, some stretch crotch, more on back, most of widest area.
* Pin back side of elastic down onto right side of fabric, even with outer edge, picots down.
* Stitch along bottom edge (or near picots)
* TOP: Trim back any fabric showing over elastic.
* Fold in and stitch along/over bottom of elastic. [Or fold in twice for fabric covered]
* Elastic relaxes back to shape after washing. Wait till after a few wearings/washings to make decision on pattern adjustments.

decorative top stitchAny of the stitching can add a little flair by using a more decorative stitch. Experiment with your fabric and different combinations. My favorite is a simple 3-step-zigzag.

Make your skivvy, wash it, wear it, adjust your pattern, find some more material, make another pair, wash it, wear it... There’s no end to this instruction! Do wash before making altering decisions as the fabric and elastic will relax back to shape in the washing and be more a more accurate fit.

So that takes care of the bathing suit bottom test piece (the first photo) and now I have to come up with the top. I still have that fabric I bought last spring and hopefully I’ll get to sewing up that final bathing suit before the snow goes. BTW, much of the above pertains to men’s knit undershorts (bathing suit/biking short/running shorts...), too. They are a bit more complicated to sew up but not overly so. So next time you’re in the local thrift store, check out the larger sized knit shirts for your next sewing project, for him or her.

Copyright by Susan Robishaw

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