How to Shop for Swimwear Fabric?

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Whether you are looking for a fabric for your swimwear line or next purchase it’s good to know what the options are.

This post will cover the common materials, and their uses & characteristics. We also dig into weights, compositions, textures and the sustainability of swimwear fabrics.

Do note that no fabric is better than another, but that the fabrics have different attributes making them more suitable for different uses.

On top of this, of course, the quality of your supplier makes a difference.

Is Swimwear Fabric Important?

Selecting the best swimsuit material for training or competition can be tricky.

With all the quality brands on the market today the choices can be somewhat overwhelming: Kiefer, Speedo, TYR, Arena, and Dolfin.

The choices vary between what style, color or pattern, and fabric.

The selection of swimsuit fabric is very important and should reflect your goals as a swimmer: are you looking for the best fit, durability, stretch – or all of the above?

Your choice of swimwear is vital to meeting your expectations.

Recycled Swimwear FAQs

What fabric should you use for swimwear?

For Seamwork swimwear patterns, we recommend fabric mostly made from nylon, with at least 10-20% Lycra or spandex.

You can also look for polyester blends with the same percentage of spandex.

How much fabric do I need for a swimsuit?

You'll need to buy stylish swimwear fashion fabric as well as lining fabric – about 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 yd (0.46 to 0.69 m) of each – plus thread, bust pads, and swimwear elastic.

Is nylon or polyester better for swimsuits?

Nylon absorbs more water than polyester, so it dries a little more slowly. However, it's slightly stretchier—making it an excellent option for water sports.

When it comes to the look, polyester is more matte, while nylon has a shiny finish. Both polyester and nylon are soft, durable, and easy to clean.

How do you prepare the fabric before sewing?

  • Wash/Dry Clean Before You Cut Your Fabric. Washing your fabric before you cut ensures that shrinkage will happen before you cut out your garment or sewing project. 
  • Press Your Fabric After Washing. You should never cut wrinkled fabric.
  • Make Sure Your Fabric Is On Grain.

What swimsuit material lasts longest?

Polyester Swimsuit Fabric Blends. Polyester swimwear fabrics, blended with Lycra (or spandex), have the greatest level of durability.

Stretch polyester, however, is a very general category.

What Makes Good Swimwear Fabric

Before you open your browser tab to spandexworld.com, take a moment to consider your pattern.

Or, if you already found the fabric of your dreams, consider what you want in a swimsuit pattern.

Here are some things to keep in mind when planning your project.

Control

We’re vulnerable in swimwear! We’re not quite naked, but we are baring more to the world than usual, so it helps to feel secure in your swimsuit.

Depending on your design, you might want a fabric that offers more—or less—control.

If you are sewing a sleek one-piece for doing laps, it helps to have a fabric that conforms to your body as closely as possible.

It will keep you aerodynamic and free from the risk of bagginess or unwanted exposure while you swim.

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Look for a fabric with strong recovery—meaning that it snaps back to its original shape and offers some resistance—to give you the best control. If you are shopping online, check the fabric description for words like “recovery,” “firm stretch,” and “compression.”

And if you need to add more control to your swimsuit, consider lining it with power mesh—we’ll talk more about that soon.

If you are sewing a ruched one-piece secured with a halter top, you might be planning to spend more time lounging and splashing rather than swimming races. In this case, you do not need as much control from your fabric.

You can prioritise aesthetics, or even add some metallics, glitter, and sequins, too—all of which can affect how much control the fabric offers.

These details in your fabric can change its fiber content and texture, giving it more stretch for comfort, and less recovery overall.

Fiber Content

It’s important to embrace synthetic fabric for your swimwear project.

While we love the idea of a cotton bathing suit, it will retain so much water that you’ll end up with a saggy bottom—two words that make most swimwear designers cringe.

However, you can take a peek inside a vintage swimsuit made from woven poplin here if you want to see what it looks like.

Stretch

Swimsuits have a lot of negative ease since they are designed to stretch to fit and move with your body.

Take a close look at the finished garment measurement chart for your pattern.

Then measure your body carefully and take a second look at the finished garment measurement chart for your pattern.

Then, and only then, choose your size.

It doesn’t hurt to measure leg openings, ties, and length on the actual pattern pieces.

You want to make sure your garment fits closely but isn’t too tight or too loose. If you have a ready-to-wear swimsuit that you love, measure it for additional data.

Swimwear fabrics come in two-way stretch or four-way stretch. These terms are often used interchangeably, so heads up.

Two-way stretch fabrics will stretch from selvage to selvage. Four-way stretch fabrics stretch from selvage to selvage, in addition to stretch along the length of grain.

For one-piece swimsuits, you need that four-way stretch. However, if you are sewing a two-piece, you will likely be safe with two-way stretch.

If you aren’t sure, check your pattern’s instructions to see if two-way or four-way stretch is specified. When in doubt, opt for four-way stretch.

These same rules apply to your lining, so make sure you match the direction of stretch for your lining and main fabrics.

Wait, I Need Swimwear Lining, Too?

You want to honor your fancy swimwear fabric with a good lining. After all, the lining sits next to your skin as you swim or sweat in the sun. Below are a few different linings to consider, but first, go for quality.

If you choose a cheap lining fabric, it could wear out, run, or rip, which would feel very disappointing after all the work you put into sewing your own bathing suit.

Once again, look for the same qualities in your lining fabric that you have in your main fabric, especially when it comes to stretch.

Power Mesh

Power mesh is a great option for adding more support to your swimwear, as it’s often a nylon and spandex blend with four-way stretch and powerful recovery.

You’ll find power mesh in many activewear garments that require extra support and flexibility.

This is a great choice to add control to one-piece swimsuits, or for two-piece swimsuits that rely on shaping. Note that power mesh might have less stretch than your swimwear fabric, so consider this when selecting a size.

Lightweight Swimwear Fabric

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You can use your main fabric as the lining, especially if it is not too thick. Or you can keep an eye out for lightweight swimwear fabric, which can double as lining and is often available in solid colors. Many fabric shops will indicate if the fabric is suitable for lining.

That Stuff That’s In Rtw: 100% Nylon

You will notice on the tags of your RTW swimwear that the linings are often 100% nylon.

This fabric will usually have mechanical stretch in both directions, so it does work for lining your bathing suit if you are using a fabric with 4-way stretch. It will also dry quickly, which is a bonus.

Types Of Swimwear Fabric

There are two major fabric options:

Nylon Blends

Nylon blends are what you will come across most in the female swimwear fashion world.

Why?

It is soft and comfortable. It gives a good stretch, and it hugs your body really well.

A typical blend is around 80% nylon and 20% of the stretchy bit. That bit is spandex (SP) or elastane (EA), depending on where in the world you are and if it’s branded or not. Same thing.

The purpose of this 20% is to provide great elasticity for your bikinis and swimsuits.

Nylon can also go under other names, such as Polyamide (PA) which is essentially the same. Nylon is the group name of some particular Polyamides.

Nylons are not to be printed on, the result is blurry and the print will bleed.

Characteristics

  • Feel: Very soft
  • Stretch: Very Good
  • Durability: Good
  • Dry: Quick
  • Printable: No
  • UV resistance: Sometimes
  • Chlorine resistance: Rare
  • Repels water: Yes
  • Care: Hand-Wash, Hang to Dry

Polyester Blends

You’ll find polyester blends mostly amongst competitive swimwear. 

Polyester fabric has dominated the competitive swimwear industry for several years. Whether blended with Lycra® or by itself, polyester is the leading fabric for competitive swimwear.

New technologies in polyester have improved the hand and feel of the material, allowing it to surpass other fabrics. Polyester holds its color and is resistant to chlorine. 

Why?

It is soft yet very strong, and it is chlorine and UV resistant.

Polyester blends also have the benefit of being able to absorb dye. This means that you can dye and print it with rich and crisp results.

Characteristics

  • Feel: Soft
  • Stretch: Good
  • Durability: Very Good
  • Dry: Quicker
  • Printable: Yes
  • UV resistance: Yes
  • Chlorine resistance: Yes
  • Repels water: Yes
  • Care: Hand-Wash, Hang to Dry

Pbt Or Polybutylene Terephthalate

Combined with polyester yarns PBT has a natural stretch factor similar to Lycra. An example of this type of swimsuit is the Kiefer Team Accent PBT Flyback.

Characteristics

  • Chlorine resistant
  • Lightweight
  • Matte finish
  • Fast Drying
  • Repels water
  • Snag Resistant

What Else Look For In Swimwear Materials

Weight

Most fashion swimwear fabrics range in about 180-200 g/m².

A fabric as light as 150 g/m², such as Gemma from Carvico will feel and look more like a lingerie or underwear.

Heavier fabrics at 200-220g/m²+ are often more suited for competition or fall into the category of textured & other fabrics – we’ll get into those fabrics later.

Composition

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When it comes to composition, it will help that you know the properties of the ‘ingredients’.

For example, the Spandex/Elastane/LYCRA® gives most of the stretch.

So therefore – 80% Nylon and 20% Spandex will be more stretchy than 85% Nylon and 15% Spandex – but note that this largely applies to fabric that comes from the same source/manufacturer; so if you’re going to switch between sources, don’t go by numbers alone.

Therefore it’s always a good idea to get swatches or feel the fabric yourself if possible. You can also ask the supplier for more details, as the content description might not give you the full story.

Sustainability

Traditionally swimwear has used fabrics that are heavy on the environment. However as consumer awareness and demand has evolved – fabric options have with them.

One of the best is ECONYL® – it is regenerated nylon from pre and post-consumer products.

ECONYL® publicizes their process in 4 steps:

  • Rescue – Finding waste like fishing nets, fabric scraps, carpet flooring and industrial plastic from landfills and oceans around the world.
  • Regenerate – Regeneration and purification process. Recycled back to original purity, exactly like virgin, or new, nylon.
  • Remake – The nylon is processed into the swimwear yarn
  • Reimagine – The regenerated yarn is used in new swimwear products, until they are no longer useful and can go back into step one: Rescue.

There are other examples of recycled swimwear fabrics, such as REPREVE®, who make theirs from recycled plastic bottles.

Further shifts in consumer demands will put further pressure not only the fabrics suppliers but also manufacturers in their methods.

As a manufacturer, this is something that we take seriously.

Other Variations Of Swimwear Fabrics

Textured

As the swimwear industry further matures and evolves – trends come with it.

This results in waves of new types of fabrics being tried and tested on swimwear.

A few years back there was a trend of brands working with neoprene. This followed off the back of the success of brands.

But if you have a peek today (2018) at Triangl for example, they have shifted to using a lot of velvet.

However neoprene bonding is still used; at least to us this speaks to their identity whilst giving them the room to work with other textured or newer fabrics.

At the time of this blog post, we see a large demand for textured fabrics – especially ribbed and velvet.

Neoprene

Neoprene is a synthetic rubber that exhibits good stability, remains flexible over varied temperatures and is great for insulation.

The benefit of insulation is why it’s commonly used for scuba diving suits.

The fabric is thicker and methods of stitching are different from a ‘regular’ swimwear fabric. If you seek to use this fabric for your brand or products you might benefit from finding a manufacturer who are already producing scuba/wetsuits.

Ribbed

Ribbed textures can be made out of a variety of knitted fabrics. You make a ribbed texture by alternating knit and purl stitches – this creates the ridges. The fabric will lie flat but also stretches more in one direction.

The ribbed used for swimwear is frequently nylon, and can be made very compact and tight with less stretch.

Different compositions give different looks. For example JL Bristol fabric has a 92%/8% blend and has a more sporty look being so tight. A blend closer to 80/20 will have a more standard fashion look.

Velvet

Velvet fabrics are super soft. Hence the use in loungewear and robes.

The fabric has cut, evenly distributed threads, and this is what gives it a pile and a distinctive velvet/fur-like feel.

A good blend of this can work very well for swimwear, giving it a very luxurious look.

Others

Other examples of fabric suitable for swimwear are mesh, corduroy and some even use cotton blends.

However when it comes to cotton blends you need to be wary of its durability. Harsh swim environments (sun, salt, sea, chlorine) can have tough effects on it.

Conclusion

That’s a wrap! We have covered the essential things that you need to think about when it comes to choosing swimwear materials.

Fabric options, their properties, their characteristics and a good few reasons on why one may be better than the other – for you and your purpose.

We hope that it’s been helpful, and assists you in making good choices for your ideal bikinis and swimsuits.

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