The kid is whale-crazy, and his mother indulges him.

His old swimshirt* was all worn out from multiple years of use so I thought to myself, is a swimshirt something one can make? Then I thought, why ever not, you dum-dum? Plus I’m all about experimenting lately. His other swimshirts have always been raglan style (sleeves go all the way up to the neck) so I used the Tee for Two Pattern by Figgy’s that gets so much use around here and $10 worth of swim material from Fields. You could definitely use another t-shirt pattern and get a similar effect though. I made him a whale swimshirt, because he’s into whales lately:

*Other (normal) people call this a “rashguard,” but the thought of my four-year-old doing anything (surfing? At least I presume that is the origin of that nomenclature?) that would require rash protection has always seemed a bit bizarre to me. So we call it a swimshirt around these parts.

This shirt just as nice if not nicer than one you could buy in a store. Why didn’t I do this before? It’s ridiculously easy. I even had so much extra material that I made another pair of trunks which are still a bit large but are shown below. And I *still* have extra material, so maybe Clementine will get a matching swimsuit. Although matchy-matchy brother sister swimwear is maybe a little much, even for me.

I contemplated making it short-sleeved but really when it’s wet he stays plenty cool. Evaporation causes cooling as anyone who’s ever taken a science class knows. With this he also gets some additional sun protection. I have no idea what the SPF for this material is…I wish I did but it’s a thicker material so I’m willing to bet it’s pretty high. Plus as you can see I don’t usually let much skin see the light of day anyway.
He loves the whale. Though there was a request when it was first unveiled to (I am not even kidding this is exactly what he said) “cut out some pieces of fabric for barnacles and sew them on.” I just ignored that. I mean seriously, barnacles? Why on earth would I want it to look like a *real* whale? Hee.
At the risk of turning this into a tutorial post which I really don’t feel like doing right now, I will quickly show you how I got that whale onto the front. This is exactly how you would do any other applique with fusible interfacing, so it’s not difficult at all. First I sketched the whale onto double-sided fusible interfacing (the “paper” side is easy to draw on, but remember you will get a mirror image of what you draw as your final shape). Then I ironed it to the wrong side of some extra blue swim material and cut it out:

Then I peeled the paper off:

And ironed it, sticky side down, to the shirt. Don’t dither on this step. If it’s not exactly centered no one will notice.

Finally I used a small zigzag stitch to sew around the outside of the whale, just inside the edge.

And then sewed the side seams of the shirt. You can see here what it looks like from the inside. Not as pretty, but this is for educational purposes:

Then I sewed the side seams and hemmed the shirt.

One issue with sewing swimwear or knits is that the stitches must be able to stretch. One must be very careful to sew in such a way that the stitches can be stretched (either by zigzagging or using a knit-friendly stitch of some sort, most machines have an overlock stitch), otherwise they have a tendency to break which is obviously a problem. Not cool to have all your stitching undo itself.

To help with this, I tried something called “wooly nylon thread” in the bobbin for the first time. Wooly nylon thread makes one side of the seam more stretchy, which is nice, but then you wonder about the other side. Plus it costed just as much for the two spools of wooly nylon thread ($5 each, YIKES) as the material itself, which just about killed me. Unwilling to let it go to waste I next tried putting it in my serger, which produced a piece of fabric so hairy it could have been confused for a small furry creature and left me completely convinced I had finally busted my serger for good. After complaining on twitter that my serger was completely bazonk, it somehow magically fixed itself and cooperated (note to self: is serger following me on twitter?? Must investigate further. Also: complain more often, seems to fix problems?). So I’m not sure I have much worthwhile to report on the wooly nylon thread front.

I find the picture above particularly satisfying. It’s the inside of the trunks, seams all serged up. Which gives me a chance to mention that while having a serger is nice for trimming/finishing edges quickly and making it look all pretty, it’s really not necessary for sewing knits or swimwear. I’d like to dispel that myth once and for all. I use my serger because I have one, but I definitely think having a decent sewing machine is way more important than having a serger when it comes to sewing stretchy things. In this case I serged the edges after sewing them on the machine. I don’t actually use the serger to sew the seams themselves, just for finishing them, if that makes sense. Is that true for the rest of you who use sergers?

OK I’m sick of writing. Who else is craving pretzels with chocolate fondue? Oh by the way we are moving again this week (this time finally to our permanent location). So if I don’t post again for awhile, that’s why!

40 thoughts on “The kid is whale-crazy, and his mother indulges him.

  1. They're swim shirts in our house, too. No rash guards here! I really like how yours turned out. The whale is awesome! And the request for barnacles? That's something my daughter would have done too! Ha!

  2. : ) We call them "sun shirts". I got fabric from here
    that is SPF protective (Spectrum Matte). I wish it came in other colors but it is the only SPF, knit fabric I can find online. If someone knows where else to look, I would love to know!
    Since it is easier than sunscreen, we wear them for everything imaginable and the neon colors are helpful for finding him on a playground!

  3. I love that E requested barnacles…that is something I would have ignored. 🙂
    Good luck moving. We will be on the road again, too in a month. Deja vu is sinking in.

  4. Super Cute!!! I would love to see brother-sister matchymatchy at the beach!
    On a completely un-fun subject, I (do actually have some credentials as an RN) recently took a class on sun protection. Believe it or not clothing is NOT adequate protection from the sun unless it it labeled as such. So please use a mineral based sunscreen under the sunshirt/rash-guard. Also, remember to apply it at least 30 minutes BEFORE sun exposure, and to reapply it every 2 to 3 hours.
    OK, done with the boring mini lesson on skin care, LOVE LOVE LOVE the sun shirt though!

  5. GREAT swim wear! What did you use as a swim trunk pattern? (maybe you mentioned it and I wasn't paying attention… sorry).

    I'm like you, I use my serger to finish seams AFTER I've sewn them with my machine. I also agree, with heavier importance being placed on a good sewing machine, than on a serger. Here, here!

  6. I guess I'm a dork, b/c we do have matching swim shirts around here, bright orange, no less. Just so I can keep track of the two of them at the beach or pool. I don't know what I'll do next year, when my daughter insists on pink. Will a 3 yo boy care about pink??? Love the shorts, too. Good luck with the move! Will miss your posts!

  7. What a cute shirt! I'd never attempt it as I'm still a beginner and am awful with stretchy fabric. I think that Angry Chicken had a post about that nylon thread a while back.

  8. I'm a bit lazy with my sewing and generally just use the serger for my seams when I can. I figure with a 4-thread stitch, you've really got two rows of stitching holding the seam together. If I decide to machine sew, I serge first then sew with my sewing machine. I'm pretty sure it's the wrong way to do things – I'm sure it makes my seam allowances inaccurate, but I'm still a little scared of my serger and worry that I'll runover my sewing machine stitches.

    We call our swimshirts rashies here. Never really thought about where the name came from!

  9. We call them "rashies" which looks funny now I've written it down ;). I made one for my son too, only a couple of weeks ago. I also wondered about special thread, but the lady at the fabric store guaranteed me that it wasn't necessary :s. My son is so small, he will grow out of his rashie sooner or later, and I will need to make another one :D. Yours looks like a store bought one, but nicer!

  10. Love the rashguard! The colors and the whale are so cute!

    Rashguards are exactly that…they prevent your tummy from getting irritated from your surfboard or boogie board. My son can attest to their effectiveness…he forgot his this weekend and is paying the price after an afternoon in the waves with his boogie board!

  11. They're 'rashies' here in Australia. Thanks for showing us we can make our own… most bought ones are so ugly! I love the rambly nature of this post. "Is my serger following me on twitter?" Haha!

  12. i am not sure where you put your woolly nylon on your serger, but i think it goes in your loopers not in the needle. But i dont know for sure.

  13. Loved the 'is serger following me on twitter??' I laughed so hard! AND 'Also: complain more often, seems to fix problems?' I will have to remember this when I am having serger 'challenges'…which seems to be every time I turn it on! LOL Adorable swimwear! I love the whale!

  14. Hey guys: For those of you wondering, the swim trunks pattern was in the Ottobre Summer 3/2009 issue

  15. And DKB: First I put the wooly thread in the loopers, and that was what gave me the big hairy mess and a loud banging noise. I don't know what was going on there. I ended up putting it in the needles and that worked OK, but didn't result in a very stretchy serge. Maybe I need to try it again in the loopers!!

  16. Love the swimsuit, it's great.

    I have not learn to use my serger.

    I'm still scare of making a swimsuit but I'll try after reading this.

  17. Oh my goodness, this is amazing! I love the idea of making my kids swimsuits, and thank you for the fabric link.

  18. You are SLAYING me today. I laughed out loud at least 5 times reading this. My favorite was "Also: complain more often, seems to fix problems?" You phrased it as a question but I'm taking it as gospel and have resolved to start the process immediately!

  19. I'm blushing even typing this, so if you already know this or you think I'm mean, please just call me names and ignore me! Your sewing is so far above mine! And this swimshirt is darling! But I've noticed that the necks of your tops are kind of stretched out. If you use a shorter strip, it will pull it in a bit so it lays nicer…a strip that is 70% of the circumference of the neckline is usually about right. Oh please, please I hope this sounds right! And if you like them the way they are, please ignore me! 🙂

  20. So cute! I use my serger in the same way as you ~ just to neaten up the insides really. I find fabric seams fray so much in the wash if they are not serged. You're probably more patient than me though and I'm a little bit afraid of my serger (and it knows it!) Good luck with your move 🙂

  21. Oh come on, you HAVE to add barnacles!! But not fabric ones. How about beads? Just add one or two each week. Once it's all barnacled-up, I reckon that green woolly nylon might work for a bit of vegetation.

  22. okay, is it more correct to sew and then finish up your seams with the serger? I always thought the nice thing about the serger is that you sew up the seam and finish the edge in one step. I always just serge unless I'm worried about messing something up in which case I sew first and then go over that with the serger. is this wrong?? LOL

    and yes, I think your serger is following you on twitter. 🙂

  23. I love this!! I wish I could get my son to wear a shirt when he swam "but Mom! It would get wet!!" (muddy is fine though?) I think I may be making some swim shorts for my daughter now. She's only 2 but is the size of a 4 year old and none of the swimsuits are designed to cover a diaper!

    BTW – I usually go serger then sewing machine. My theory is that I'm not that great at pin straight lines, so if I can sew between the two upper threads from the serger then I sew straighter 🙂 I also just love having a serger and will drag it out for everything under then sun!

  24. I love it, so cute. I have twin nephews who would realy love one of these each, sometihng to add to my to-do list

  25. Hi Rae, I was wondering about the pattern for the pants, could you list the Otto its out of please, If any followers are in Australia, "crafty mamas" carries Otto current and back issues.
    I like the woolly nylon in the elastic edges for baby bloomers, however I only use it in the upper looper, but I double check the tension guides, cause this often causes a nice "hairball!". Love your blog, great inspiration.

  26. Barnacles! Cracked me up!

    Ive never used my serger for swimwear…I'm too afraid of ruining the $12/yd fabric that I bought for them. I always use a 3 step zig zag but its not the most sturdy of stitches. I'll have to experiment.

  27. Hi Rae – don't give up on wholly nylon and the serger you will become fast friends. It's all I use for finishing the edges if baby blankets, burp clothes etc. Try two spools of wholly nylon and one spool of regular thread in the needle, take the other needle out.

  28. They're swim shirts in my neck of the woods as well. Both pieces looks great. I love the hat as well!

  29. Inspiring! My daughter loves whales too ;o) She definetly needs another set of swim shirts since we are often at the beach (living in Holland just 15 minutes from Lake Michigan)….. I hope you have a non-stressful move!

  30. Yep, I also sew first, then serge. The rationale: if the fitting is off, there’s no way to get that 1/8″ back. I use a serger mostly for finishing edges. And I’ve balked at the cost of Wooly Nylon too, though I’ve heard it’s the best for knits and stretch. It’s just so hard to know when you’re going to be able to use that exact color again.

  31. Rae – I just made a swim shirt for my daughter! I love the ability to choose pretty fabric, as so many of the store-bought rashguards are available only in blinding colors. I used your iron-on method to attach a yellow butterfly to a blue/white shirt. Some I like (but that are expensive) are available at

Comments are closed.