Sew a Swim Tee from an existing tee shirt sewing pattern
Swim tee shirts or rash guards are popular summer beach, pool, kayak, sail and paddleboarding wear. They protect you from the sun without needing sunscreen, or offer an extra layer of sun protection over your swimsuit. Making swim tees from your favorite sewing pattern is easy. There are a few very important fit notes to take, before you dive in and cut out a swim tee.
Swim fabric has 'snappy' recovery. This means that the fabric snaps back to hug you tightly. A snappy fabric in the same size as you usually cut out will fit snugger than a looser knit fabric. You want a snug fit in your swim tees as swim fabric stretches when wet. Using the Perfect Sizing Worksheet, you can actually calculate what size you should cut your swim tee so it's not too snug but not too loose. There's even a handy Excel version so you don't have to do the calculations. You'll also want to know the tissue pattern measurements of your tee - these are the exact tissue measurements of the pattern pieces themselves. Following the worksheet's instructions, select your perfect size.
How much SPF is there in swim fabric?
According to an article by REI, nylon lycra has 'good' sun protection because of it's molecular structure. Poly/lycra has excellent sun protection because of it's molecular structure. And then there are special SPF fabrics that are woven tighter, and tested to create a specific SPF that can be measured. In our practical experience, though, most nylon/lycra swim contains a high SPF. You can think of this as the tan lines you see when you've been wearing your swim suit, which is made from nylon/lycra. That skin on your bum under your suit hasn't ever seen the light of day, and is pretty light compared to the rest of your skin.
Choosing swim fabric can be up to you - with so many great nylon/lycra swim fabrics out there, be sure to choose a quality fabric. And buy a little extra (a yard or so) and you'll have enough to make a matching swim suit too!
Designing for Swim: what style of tee should you make?
Ideal tee shirt patterns include those that have high jewel or round necks. The neck is an area that is particularly sensitive to sun and doesn't get shielded by hats the way face skin does. You could choose a standard set-in sleeve or a raglan sleeve. Raglans offer more ease of shoulder movement for things like surfing, paddleboarding, kayaking and sailing. But a swim tee made with a set in sleeve is a great day-to-evening shirt; pop it over your swim suit and add shorts, a skirt or wide leg beach pants and you're ready for dinner! It looks polished enough to wear off the beach or pool deck but yet still provides SPF for late-day sun.
Sleeves are a consideration, they should be somewhat snug fitting so they don't flop around when you are swimming or paddling. Swim fabric stretches when wet.
You can feel free to have fun - color block your tee by making the sleeves, body or neckband out of contrast print or solid fabrics. Swim should be fun to sew as it is to wear!
Construct your swim tee the same way you would usually. Definitely use stretch stitches like the "lightning" zigzag (a long zag and a short zig makes it look like a straight stitch, but it stretches) or a standard zigzag for hem finishes and topstitching.
In the video below, we explore how we planned our swim tee's color blocking and styling:
In the next video, we sew together our swim tee! You can see this video by joining the Christine Jonson Sewing Circle on Facebook (it's free and fun!)
What patterns did we use?
We used the Raglan Tee from Travel Trio Three, but you could also use the standard banded neck set in sleeve of Travel Trio One. The latter is more tee shirt and less rash guard styling for more versatile wear.
You can also apply Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV) although take care to practice on a scrap first, as the tee must withstand some heat under a press cloth to apply the HTV graphics. Think of surf-related artwork or a fun back-of-neck personal logo or high hip logo.