McCall’s 4501: Caution, Hazard, Bathing Suit. 


The pattern:
McCall’s 4501, copyright 1975 by The McCall Pattern Company. 
This pattern includes a one piece halter suit, a halter bikini, a halter top (which could recombine nicely as the top half of a tankini), and some elastic waist bell-bottoms which I guess would be great for…the roller rink immediately post beach? I mean, I’d rather go home and change first, but these ladies look pretty secure with their outfit decisions. 

The Fabric:
I used a two-way stretch satin Lycra, in yellow and black hazard stripe. The pattern calls for knit, which would’ve also been a two-way stretch, (as in stretches side to side) but most knits have at least a tiny bit of give in the up/down direction, where as this satin Lycra has none-zo, so I made a center front seam and put it on the bias and added one inch seam allowance wherever possible and did A Lot of fitting to make sure the length was ok before trimming away the seam allowance and finishing it off. 
The pattern is made to be reversible, which I find kind of bizarre, because 1) that means you have to insert all the elastic into casings instead of turning to the inside and 2) why would I reverse my suit. I would immediately choose a favorite side and never reverse it, forever, the end. 
So instead of making it reversible, it’s flat-lined with a white four-way-stretch Lycra, all seams visible on the inside, all elastics stay-stitched, overlocked, turned to the inside, and coverstitched. 
One big surprise and challenge with this pattern: the bust piece is Gone. Lost. Not Here.
Nooooooooo.
But fine whatever, I borrowed from McCall’s M5400, published in 2007. 


Top C is very similar to the shape I needed, just the center front point changed a little. 
I like the cover art on M5400 a lot. I think of this as The McCall’s Face: the jawline, eyes,  and mouth are always the same, despite a really great variety in skin tone and facial expression and attitude. 
Baby Bohemian in the orange bikini is my favorite of this crew. 
And here’s my suit:


Note on crazy color scheme: when I found this bathing suit pattern (in a box of rando I bought off eBay) I immediately pictured it in this exact yellow and black fabric with a chevron. But then I started reading yet another book of the French Women Are Better At Everything variety, and looked at my obnoxious fabric, and thought, “Oh no, a French woman would never,” and abandoned the project. 
I love reading this type of book, in a perverse way. I fall under a sad sort of spell each time I finish one, and spend at least a week thinking, “It’s time to teach my child to make pastry. Do I even *own* a white shirt? Am I having enough arguments? Never eat again! Except beautiful homemade dinners. That are also educational moments for my child. And involve passionate arguments with friends about politics. Oh god, what is my signature perfume???” 
And then the week passes and the spell is lifted and I go back to loud bathing suits. 

Time and Construction: 
This suit took 12 hours, which is fun to think about because if I paid myself $30 an hour this would be a $360 bathing suit. Without including the fabric (which was a remnant so actually free). That is the price of custom. Even at minimum wage, it would be like $120. I think the most expensive store-bought suit I’ve ever owned was $90, from JCrew. It was a black maillot. I loved that thing. I lost it. I miss it.  
I changed a couple little construction things from the original 1975 pattern: a swimsuit hook instead of ties at the back neck, flatlined instead of clean-finish lining. The biggest change was stitching elastic along the underbust seam to keep it snug against the body. I was surprised that the instructions didn’t call for it in the first place. Even the modern, 2007 bikini top didn’t call for that, although come to think of it the modern one had a strap across the back to create the tension to hold that seam in place. So, ok. 
I’m sad that the gathers under the bust don’t read as well as they do in the illustration. Those gathers are fun, I would add more next time so they are more glamorous and vavoom. 

Sew It or Throw It:
Sew it. I love the low leg line. So retro-silly. I’m not sure if halter is my best look, so the fact that that piece is missing is fine, makes me make more likely to do something different next time. The high back creates some fun oportunities: could make it scoop but add a cross strap as per the bikini back with a closure, might look neat and provide a more secure fit.  

Next up I’m going to try the bikini bottoms on both these patterns as underwear, so I can official Sew or Throw M5400 too. Things getting sewn and thrown! Progress! 

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22 thoughts on “McCall’s 4501: Caution, Hazard, Bathing Suit. 

    1. The leg line is super. I think it’s funny how in the 70’s, the leg line stayed more or less the same as the 50’s and 60’s, while the waist dropped lower and lower, and it wasn’t until the 80’s that they were like, “Oh, hey guys, what about a high-cut leg?”

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  1. Oh my…, this takes me back to making my own bathing suit over 40 years ago. Similar pattern, two piece, same top, but bottoms were not bikini (unfortunately). Had no suit and no money and my BF was taking me to the beach. Bought cheap stretchy yellow knit, double lined it and hoped to hell it wasn’t transparent when it got wet. (wasn’t- phew).
    Loved that suit! (sigh…)
    Looking forward to more posts.

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    1. That is always the thing isn’t it, hoping to hell it doesn’t go transparent when wet.
      I love that you just whipped up for a beach day with your BF, I can totally see the movie-montage version of that.

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  2. I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. (Sorry, this kind of love is best expressed in all caps.) Magnificent. I love the silhouette and the directions of the stripes. It looks fab on you!!

    I have to take umbrage at the suggestion that swimwear shouldn’t be loud (as per your self-flagellating reading material, lol). Swimwear is one area where I might pick some “unflattering” or outlandish fabric and wear the sh*t out of it. But perhaps that’s just my psyche’s way of protecting itself from the reality of my so-not-French, classless taste in swimsuits, hehe! :-)

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    1. Reminds me of how they used to be called Bathing Costumes. It’s a costume!
      And of that feeling of choosing a bathing suit from a rack of personalities, like, “Oooh, who do I want to be this summer… athletic? Coachella? retro sweetheart? minimal?” and knowing you get to play that role for as short a time as you want and put it away at the end of summer.
      I agree, it’s fun to swim in something a little crazier than real life, and it’s not like you have to make a bathing suit work with the rest of your wardrobe, just with your heels and collection of giant floppy hats, right?

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  3. Great swimsuit. I’m so happy you let the fumes of that bible of Frenchness dissipate and then made this.

    PS: I don’t own a white shirt. I keep thinking I should own one but then a not-so-little voice in my head says “Sweat exists” and I remember why I don’t own one.

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    1. I love that whole genre of book, while feeling dumb for being an easy target. But still loving. Lé sigh.
      The books of the French Ladies Are Better At Style variety align well with the idea of sustainable fashion: buy few items, high quality, in nuetral colors and classic cuts, and everything will always go with everything else for the rest of your life, assuming you remain the same-ish size for the rest of your life, which segways into the diet variety of French Lady books, which loops around to cooking, childrearing, education, aging with style, and eventually back to style itself. It can be an endless loop. I stop reading if they make me feel more bad than good, otherwise it’s a fun world to dip in and out of. While continuing to make not nuetral things.

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      1. I agree with you about the more serious take-away from these books. However, it all gets a bit fishy to me when French women are held up as some kind of hive mind — even if a lot of the ideas are useful.

        As for sewing — and I think you made the point better than I can — we’d go crazy if we didn’t try a bit of madness now and then ;-)

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  4. Forget everything else and stick to loud bathing suits! Homemade dinners, political discussions with friends and signature perfumes pale in comparison to this awesome swim suit! (and don’t worry, kids tend to find their own level – like water – in spite of all our best intentions…..)

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  5. Oh I love this! The shape is awesome and the styling is on point. As far as the fabric, I don’t find it loud or obnoxious. If it was a floor-length evening gown maybe… And also pretty sure that chevrons are tres chic and tres french. Mais oui?

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  6. Aaaaah so good! I really hope you’re going to make the elastic waisted bell bottoms at some point too…. I remember reading French Women Don’t Get Fat years ago and the take home message I still adhere to is grind your own coffee beans fresh each day.

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    1. Those pull-on bells are pretty low on my list of bell bottoms, I gotta say.
      There really is a To Do list of bell bottoms, though. I’m pretty excited about my bell bottomed future.
      Thats funny, I don’t remember the coffee beans thing! I mostly remember the thing about the buttered baguette with a bar of chocolate inside that kids sometimes get for an afternoon snack to tide them over until 8 pm dinner. Oh wait, no, different book, that was in Bringing Up Bébé.

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