Mermaid tail from swimwear

Mermaid off port bow! This was a summer project we did while vacationing in Maine: a mermaid tail from swimwear.

This was made for a six year-old mermaid. It required two different types of swimwear material (one for body, one for tail), plastic canvas sheets, a pair of flip flops, a ball of yarn, and duct tape. Oh, and a sewing machine (no sergers; pinking shears optional). For the initial template, I traced the lower body directly on tracing paper. I bought the largest format tracing paper I could find at the local craft store, and Scotch-taped the sheets vertically and horizontally, to get a large enough template. I then cut the template down the midline to get a half-shape to be cut on the fold of the fabric.

The 6yo template measured 42 inches in height (30” waist piece + 12” tail piece). It was widest at 13” at the tail fin and 7” a the hip of the body; note that this is half-width. The fabric is fish-scale swimwear, which I happened to find at Designer Fabrics in Toronto; bought about 2.5 yards, which will probably make 3 tails for children in the 3-10year range. Bought about 1 yard of the tail fabric.

In this version, the piece up to the ankles is in mermaid fabric, while the tail is in a neutral turquoise. Here is the template pinned to the fabric. You will need to cut twice: one for the front and the other, for the back.

I added 1” to the body outline, but now recommend adding 2”. The fabric has to curve around the hips, and you can always take the seam in if needed.

Doing a quick baste-and-fit-check is recommended, because you may end up taking in the seams several times; swimwear is intended to be nearly skin-tight. Sewing the material posed no problems whatsoever; a straight stitch at regular length worked.

The tail has the same construction: two half-panels. Here is the turquoise fabric pinned to the tail.

The chief construction challenge of this costume is in the tail. It all depends on whether you want a tail the mermaid can walk around in (tutu bottom), swim in bonafide swimming pools (monofin — not recommended for young children, as feet are joined together), or splish-splash in a toddler pool (plexiglas armature!). Without the skeleton, the tail doesn’t hold it’s shape.

I liked this idea the best: a plastic canvas “skeleton” with flip-flips attached. The flip-flops allow the mermaid to waggle the tail, you don’t worry about the plexiglas, and it doesn’t require an expensive monofin.

I got the plastic canvas at a Michael’s craft store on the drive up to Maine. Duct tape was used to form the tail shape. There weren’t larger canvas sheets as in the video, so I joined two sheets together with (what else) duct tape. I used an awl to make holes in the flip-flop and to push yarn through. Here is what the setup looks like:

NOTE: There is a mistake in this picture! The back half of the flip flops should be sticking off the end of the canvas, and only the front should be tied to the canvas. Not doing this results in the FFs coming off the canvas from a little bit of vigourous kicking! I’ll replace with an accurate picture in the near future. However, the picture is still useful to see the canvas “skeleton”, duct tape and all, and flip flops.

Finally, the top and tail pieces are joined right-sides-together, and a simple seam sewn (yes, that easy). A simple hem is sufficient for the waistline. The armature/skeleton is inserted just before the mermaid.

And we are off to showboat at the local quarry!