20 July 2011

Easy Swimsuit Cover-Up Tutorial

I've seen some cute swimsuit cover-ups floating around Blogland, particularly from MADE (see here, here, and here).  I think these cover-ups are great, but I like to not only make my own stuff, but also design my own stuff whenever I can.  So, how could I put my own spin on this?

Sleeves, I decided.  (And I'm not quite ready to try elastic thread.)  Cover-ups never seem to have sleeves, but I prefer to be wearing sleeves when I'm not actually in the water.  And sleeves would help prevent sunburned shoulders, too.

So the checklist:  sleeves, dress-style (not a robe, etc), attractive (why make something that you don't feel pretty in?), and easy.  Here's what I came up with.


And my favorite part is the back.  I love how the stripes look gathered like that.  I don't know why, but it just seems ... almost elegant.  

Ready?  Here's what you need:
Two five-foot long beach towels
One yard coordinating fabric (I ended up not needing the whole yard)
Basic sewing supplies

(My materials came to about $12, and I think I have enough left over to make a cover-up for Boo, too!  Six dollar cover-ups, baby!)

Note:  While I was writing this tutorial, it just seemed to go on and on.  But the cover-up really is easy!  So here's my simplified tutorial first:

If you'd like more details, read on.

First, cut out the neck hole from the tops of the two towels.  I recommend using a shirt you already have to help you know how big to cut it.  Also, cut the back first, then cut the front to match at the sides.  I cut the front first and didn't use an already-existing shirt as a pattern, and ended up cutting the front way too wide.  I had to pleat the back in order for the two pieces to fit.  But at least you can learn from my mistakes and do it right in the first place.

Before stitching the front and back together, staystitch around the newly cut neck hole halves.  (Staystitching means to just stitch a line around cut edges that may otherwise stretch out of shape while making the project, such as neck holes.)

Remember that the towel won't stretch when you put it on, so be sure to cut the neck hole big enough that you can pull it over your head without any stretch.  That's why I gave mine a deep V-neck.  (And also to show off the swimming suit!)

Measuring and pinning to mark cut lines for back neck--I measured from a t-shirt.

 And pleating to make the front match...

Sew the two halves together across the top.  I left the finished edges of the towels on whenever possible, but if the fabric is too bulky for your tastes, you can cut the hems off and use an overlock stitch to finish the edges.

Try on the cover-up.  If the sleeves are too long, run a basting (long) stitch across the top (left and right sides separately) and gather the material until you like the fit.  I didn't need to do this because the pleats took care of it.  (At least something good came out of the mistake.)

If you leave the existing top hems (and maybe if you don't), sew the shoulder seams down opened flat.  It's a lot more comfortable, believe me.  

I finished the edge of the neck hole like I would bind a quilt.  You will want to cut the binding on the bias so that it has some stretch to it, to allow ti to make nice curves.  You could buy bias tape instead, if you wanted.

Click over to this post if you'd like a refresher on how to bind a quilt.  Of course, some of the post isn't relevant (how to do the corners, for example), but it's the same general method.  Feel free to ask me if you need any clarification.

The next step is to make your tie.  I had some binding left over from finishing the neck hole, so I used that.  (Your tie does not have to be cut on the bias.)  Cut out a rectangle of fabric 2 1/2 inches wide and about twice the width of one towel.  Fold in half, lengthwise, with wrong sides together.  Iron.  (The first time I tried this, I folded it right sides together, stitched down one side, and tried to turn it right-side out.  It was enough of a pain that I unpicked my seam and did it this way instead.)

Now fold the raw edges to the inside (about 1/4 inch) and iron in place.

Like so.

Next, sew around the edges (less than 1/4 inch from the edges).  I used a straight stitch because the pattern on my fabric is just straight lines; pick whatever stitch will look the nicest for your project, because this will be visible.

(For an easier cover-up, you could use ribbon or some such thing for the tie.)

Now, decide how large you want your arm holes to be.  I made mine open to the empire waist.  (This cover-up was originally going to have a drawstring at the empire waist, but I thought it looked like a maternity outfit...)  

Pin the long edges of the towels together with criss-crossing pins marking where the arm holes will start so you know where to stop sewing.  (Don't sew yet.)

You also need to decide where you want the tie to go.  (I put mine at my natural waist.)  Tack it down in the inside center back of the cover-up, wherever you want the tie to be.

Lay the tie out straight across the back of the cover-up.  Mark where it crosses the sides of the towels with criss-crossing pins--you want to leave an opening for the ties to come out.  Basically, you will be making really-super-easy buttonholes.

Sew your side seams, remembering to stop and start (and reinforce with backstitching) at all your places marked with criss-crossing pins.

Thread the tie through your super-easy buttonholes and try on the cover-up.

Mark where you want your hem.  If you are adding a border, remember to shorten the cover-up accordingly.  (My border added about four inches of length.)  Also remember to leave length for seam allowances.

For a flat border (like mine), cut out of your coordinating fabric two strips, each the width of one towel by whatever thickness you want (adding 3/4 inch to that thickness for seams and hemming).  Sew the strips together at both short sides.  

For a ruffled border, cut out your each of your two strips 1 1/2 or 2 times the width of the towel, and sew the strips together at both ends.  Gather to fit around the bottom of your cover-up.

Here's how I added my border.  The method is a little unusual, but it was easy and there were no exposed raw edges.

Fold the bottom of the cover-up up 1/4 inch (on the inside).  Tuck the border, wrong sides together, into the fold, matching the side seams.  Pin in place and sew.

Turn the border down so it is laying where a border ought to be.  Topstitch in place.

The last step is to hem the cover-up.  Fold the bottom up 1/4 inch, iron, and then fold that up 1/4 inch again.  Topstitch in the same way as you did the tie.

Now all that's left is to tie a pretty bow in the back and hit the lake!


  1. Jill, you are amazing. You come up with the cutest ideas. I love your ideas.

  2. To easy to be that cute, you are amazazazing!

  3. Hi! I’m following your blog and wanted to stop by, say hi and invite you to our blog hop if you haven’t already. Please come by when you get a chance. Hope you are having a Sweet Week.

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  4. I want to learn how to sew : )
    Stopping by from BSN and following!

  5. A wonderful project and great tute, Jill!


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