Knitted Swimsuit from a Vintage Pattern

As a teenager, I was an avid reader of 90s teen magazines (Bliss and Sugar) and was fascinated when one issue (bizarrely, as it certainly wasn’t a regular feature) included a pattern for a, presumably crochet, string bikini. I didn’t knit or crochet at the time, but the idea of that bikini stayed with me (I did show the pattern to my nan and suggest she make it for me but she, more familiar with knitted swimwear, was less impressed).

I learned to knit ten years ago and, inspired by the vintage knitted swimsuits in museum exhibitions and photos, had been considering attempting a knitted swimsuit for a while, until I finally decided to do something about it last year.

I browsed a number of swimsuit patterns, both vintage and modern, before settling on the ‘Going Swimming’ pattern from the June 1949 issue of Stitchcraft Magazine. The pattern was designed in two colours of Patons Beehive Fingering 3-ply yarn, a 100% wool yarn which Patons advertised as having a ‘patonised’ shrink resistant finish. I liked the idea of knitting this vintage pattern in vintage yarn and did attempt to track down the original Patons yarn, but it quickly became obvious that getting hold of the right quantity of yarn, in the right colours, would require a long wait. Impatient to get started, I chose instead to use Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift. I chose Jamieson’s yarn as I was keen to use a 100% wool yarn, as per the original design, and Jamieson’s yarn offered me the bold colours I wanted for the swimsuit’s stripes. As an aside, I have since acquired a batch of the original Patons yarn in a vibrant blue, courtesy of ebay, and am planning to pair it with another Stitchcraft pattern.

The Going Swimming pattern only included one pattern size and two measurements (approximate bust size and body length), so I decided to start knitting it exactly as written and assess fit as I went. The swimsuit is knitted in two halves (front and back); to allow me to regularly check fit, I alternated between knitting the front and back of the swimsuit, tacking them together as I went to allow for regular fit checks. The horizontal fit of the shorts was pretty spot on without changes, I just needed to reduce the vertical length. The top, partly due to that open back, has more ease and I removed horizontal and vertical ease to get a fit I was happy with. I don’t really need two knitted swimsuits, but if I were to make it again, I’d probably remove even more ease and use a tighter gauge to try and get closer to the negative ease of modern swimsuits.

Of course, I had to take the suit for a test swim and found that it felt secure and comfortable while swimming, although it is a little strange to feel your swimsuit moving around you in the water when you’re used to skin-tight lycra. Out of the water, the suit did sag considerably, although it still kept me suitably covered. Due to water collecting at the bottom of the swimsuit, the crotch dropped a few inches, and the waistband dropped to just above my hips. I thought the swimsuit would hold on to water and take ages to dry, but it drip-dried really quickly, and the bodice section was mostly dry by the time I had made it to a changing room.

This project was first and foremost a knitting challenge, but I’m also planning to wear my swimsuit to sit on the beach or in a deck chair on future holidays. Thanks to my test swim, I am confident that I can also safely wear it for the odd impromptu dip in the sea!

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