20th Century, Sewing

Doing a Jantzen: 1920s bathers

I was (and still am) working on an elaborate project for the Historical Sew Fortnightly The Great Outdoors challenge, but (as so often happens), I’m busy dealing with stuff, and won’t be able to get it done in time, so it’s been pushed back to a later challenge.

Luckily, I quite unexpectedly ended up with the inspiration for a simpler alternative item.  I’ve been working my way through all the various T-shirt patterns that are available at the moment.

I was trying the Tessuti Alexa T (not linking to it, because really, don’t buy it – SO overpriced for what it is) in a gorgeous fuchsia merino blend knit.  Unfortunately, I was so disappointed in the cut of the T-shirt that it was unfixable (enormous armholes.  You can fix almost anything but enormous armscythes in a T-shirt), and I almost threw it away.

Then I remembered the gorgeous fuchsia swimsuit that Knotrune did for the HSF Art challenge.  She was inspired by Picasso’s Bathers, and my fuchsia wool was the same shade, and looking at Bathers, it wouldn’t be too hard for me to cut my T-shirt neckline’s down to match Picasso’s

Les baigneuses (The Bathers), Pablo Picasso, 1918

Les baigneuses (The Bathers), Pablo Picasso, 1918

Of course, I had a T-shirt, and The Bathers  are wearing one pieces.  Off to do some research, which yielded, this:

Ta da! Early 1920s Jantzen girl wonderfulness – in two pieces!

So I adjusted the neckline of my T-shirt, bound it and the armscythes, and used the last of my merino to whip up a pair of knee-length shorts (using Cake’s Espresso leggings pattern, which I DO recommend, as my base).

And the result:

1920s inspired bathing suit thedreamstress.com

Ta da!  Early 1920s (ish) swimwear wonderfulness!  On me!

Because it’s the middle of winter, and far  too cold to be outside in a swimsuit (even a wool one), I posed inside, in the bathroom.  It seemed vaguely suitable, especially when I pretended to dive into the bath!

1920s inspired bathing suit thedreamstress.com

I’m really happy with my swimsuit, but I am just thinking of it as a working toile – it’s certainly not period perfect, but it does the job, and will help me to make another one that is perfect later on.

1920s inspired bathing suit thedreamstress.com

For now, it’s fun to wear, and it might even get a trial dip in the sea once the weather is warmer.

1920s inspired bathing suit thedreamstress.com

I might have to work on my diving form though…

1920s inspired bathing suit thedreamstress.com
Here are some flat shots, if you are interested in the construction:

Felicity the cat thedreamstress.com

Felicity the cat thedreamstress.com

I was short on fabric so had to do a bit of piecing:

1920s inspired bathing suit thedreamstress.com

1920s inspired bathing suit thedreamstress.com

The Challenge:  #15  The Great Outdoors

Fabric:  1ishm of  merino/something synthetic (probably nylon) blend knit.

Pattern:  Extremely altered versions of Tessuti’s Alexa T (I don’t think there was a single line left that matched their pattern by the time I was done), and slightly altered Cake Espresso leggings.

Year:  1918-1924

Notions:  polyester thread, elastic

How historically accurate is it?: Not much at all, since it didn’t start out as a period item.  The construction itself is plausible, though I should have done my bindings slightly differently to match the period examples I have studied.  The knit is much finer than a period knit.  The overlocking is actually accurate, as overlockers have been around since the 1880s, and in the ‘teens and 20s were commonly used on knitwear and swimsuits.

Hours to complete:  3 or thereabouts, depending on whether you count my fussing with the Alexa pattern as part of the construction.

First worn:  For the photoshoot

Total cost:  I paid $15 for a 3x metres length of the merino at a clearance sale, and also made a long-sleeved T (that actually works!) out of it, and a cardigan, so lets say $5 +$1 in notions = $6 for the swimsuit.

And (of course), most importantly:
Does Felicity approve?  Well, she certainly enjoyed hanging out with me as I sewed it!
Felicity the cat thedreamstress.com



    • Thank you! Photography is sometimes the hardest part isn’t it? I had to settle for the timer and mirror with these. Can’t wait to see your project!

  1. Disaster salvaged fabulously!
    It actually looks a lot like something one might jog in these days, or do something like that.
    And maybe it could be worn under clothes for winter warmth? I love my old ugly pair of shorts for warmth under skirts in winter. 🙂

    • Thank you! I was so gutted that the T-shirt was so apaulling, and so pleased to find a way to rescue it! The funny thing is, now that the sleeves are bound, they aren’t properly low enough for a 20s swimsuit :-p

      I definitely could wear it as underlayers, but since it is a merino blend it’s not as warm and nice a real merino, so I’m happy for it to be a swimsuit!

  2. Lyndle says

    Cool! Ever since I read the sequel to Cheaper by the Dozen, where the girls obsess over the new revealing one-piece togs instead of the earlier sort with an overdress, I’ve been obsessed with pictures of early 20thC swimsuits. This looks really fab on you, actually – I love that colour on you. Genius inspiration.

    • Great minds! I thought of that exact scene too as I was making this. I think it is actually in Belles on Their Toes, not Cheaper by the Dozen, as I remember the mother finally agreeing too it, when Dad never would have (she also agreed to let them smoke, because she couldn’t see what harm it might do!). I might be wrong though – I haven’t read either since I was a teenager, I must look them up!

      And thank you! I love that colour too!

        • Lyndle says

          Yes, but well done for remembering the name of it!

          • I feel weird, because I know the name, even though I’ve never read it and could not name the author and actually have no idea if it’s even available in Czech / in the Czech Republic. 😛 The odds and ends one learns reading blogs!

    • Elise says

      They look like so much fun, don’t they? For my part, 20s swimsuit necklines are so flattering.

  3. It looks great on you, and it’s a lovely colour too. I’d love to know if it’s comfortable to swim in.

  4. letthemeatcake says

    Lovely basic for fancy beach wear.Would look great with a 1920s beach coat or those mid century hybrid garments by the likes of Claire McCardell and some 1960s- cover- of- vogue-inspired-accessories….like for those beach parties where one wants to be properly attired, yet jump into the pool from time to time….are there still beach parties like that?….I’ m sure Wallis Simpson would know what I’m talking about…

  5. Lynne says

    It looks really good on! How wonderful. What an excellent idea. Will you test it in water? One always wonders about the sag with wool.

    Really great retrieval of fabric!

  6. Elizabeth says

    I love the bathers and the colour! It looks very flattering on you. I must ask though, why you keep using ‘armscythes’ for armscyes?

    • Thank you! I include occasional purposeful minor irrelevant spelling and grammar mistakes in my posts as a public service, so that people who trawl the internet for such things can find them and experience a brief burst of euphoria and smugness.

      • Elizabeth says

        Ah, I had thought perhaps it was an Americanism I hadn’t heard before

  7. Lyndle says

    Oops … That was meant to say
    It also refers to the scything motion made by the arms of a merino-attired swimmer cutting through the water

  8. What a lovely color! It’s one of my favorites. I do hope you’ll try it out when the weather is warmer. I bet you can get some great pictures and have lots of fun, too!


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