I typically save my commission posts for the end of the month, but since I’ve been working on several Gotham-themed bodysuits lately, I thought I’d share a few extra tips and tricks on working with them (P.S. You can find more spandex tips in my Spandex 101 series!).
My go-to pattern for a basic catsuit is Kwik Sew 3052. View A is a perfect blank slate for pretty much ANY superhero suit you can think of (and yes, with a few tweaks it will work for dudes!). A basic, single-color suit using this pattern exactly as drafted takes me approximately 2 hours from cutting to finishing the last seam. It really is a super simple build and a great introduction to working with catsuits. That said, most superhero suits aren’t a single color and often have all sorts of funky design lines on them. So let’s talk about some of the alterations you can do to this pattern.
My first step with this pattern is typically to move the front zipper to the back. You can do this by subtracting the seam allowance for the zipper from the front seam and adding it to the back seam. Voila! Back zipper.
One of the issues you might run into with this pattern is fitting. Since you only have a front and back seam to work with, it’s easy to look like a giant garbage bag. Adding side seams is a good way to give yourself more flexibility for alterations. I did this for Spoiler since her suit in the reference images I used had a very prominent side seam. This also makes setting your sleeves much easier!
I turned to Kwik Sew 3154 for guidance on how to draft the side seams, since this Spoiler is much smaller than me. Sadly, this pattern is OOP, but you can still find it on Etsy and eBay!
Your curves doesn’t have to be exact. The big idea here is to give yourself a curve for your bust, waist, and hips. Most of us aren’t straight up and down!
Another option for fitting on a basic suit is adding princess seams. Princess seams run over the bust and give you a lot of control over your bust and waist. I opted to add princess seams to my Batwoman and Mia‘s Batgirl suit for a more flattering shape. I used a stretch vinyl for my suit which has a limited degree of stretch, so I needed more seams for tailoring.
To add my princess seams, I tried on one of my old muslins and figured out where my bust apex (i.e., the fullest part of your bewb) was. From there, I just drew in the curve I wanted. Once that was done, I transferred the line over to my pattern piece and added a seam allowance. And that’s it! I mucked up a little on Batwoman since I didn’t wear the bra I intend to wear while drawing on myself. I haven’t decided yet if I care enough to remake it. Always wear your intended undergarments when drafting, kiddos!
For more complex superhero designs, I like to make a muslin out of cheap fabric and draw on my designs. For Callula Cosplay‘s Huntress, I did just that. To start, I made a quick mock-up, and once we tweaked the fit, I pulled out a Sharpie and drew all the lines she wanted to add while she was wearing it. After we finished, I labeled and cut all the pieces, added a small seam allowance, and went from there. If your suit is symmetrical (like this one), you only need to mark up one half of the suit.
A note: it is vital that your muslin has a similar degree of stretchiness as your final fabric. Otherwise, this is going to be an exercise in futility.
Hope that helps for all you aspiring superheroes! Check out my Spandex 101 series for additional information on working with spandex. I’ll post more tips and tricks for all you wannabe vigilantes as I continue working on Batwoman.
It’s hard to get around a superhero suit without some type of applique. Pretty much EVERY superhero has some type of logo, with some more complex than others.
There are two basic ways to create a stretchy applique: slap it on the right side and top stitch or create a reverse applique by cutting out your design from your main fabric. Personally, I like the top stitch approach. I’ve used it for Deadpool, Ms. Marvel, and Supergirl. It’s very easy to do with a few basic tools and adds a bit of extra depth to your costume.
The tutorial linked above covers just about every question you could have relating to appliques, but I will share a few tips that make life easier for me:
You CAN use irons on spandex! I see so many people freak out over this. Yes, excessive heat is bad for spandex, as it will lose its elasticity. Just set your iron to a low, synthetic setting and use a press cloth.
DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT use pins for this. You will get bubbles (most likely). While working on Deadpool, I ran out of fusible stabilizer and just pinned stabilizer in place. So annoying. Layer your fabric pieces between your stabilizer like a stabilizer/fabric sandwich and you’ll be good.
Take mechafaux’s advise and trace out your stitch line. It’s very difficult to see your fabric through the stabilizer, so taking just a few extra minutes to sketch out your lines is suuuper helpful.
If your needle is giving you trouble, extend the length of your stitch.
Creating a more complex logo like Supergirl is essentially the same, but requires a few extra steps. You’ll want to create your logo prior to attaching it to your leotard. I used this tutorial from The Dangerous Ladies. Creating your logo is pretty similar to attaching an applique, but you’ll want to use double-sided fusible web to attach the various fabrics together. I’ve used a couple of different brands and had success with pretty much all of them. Test a scrap of fabric before you work on the final thing!
Also, a logo like this loses its stretchiness due to the fusible web. Make sure to attach it to an area that won’t require too much stretch.
Another approach to creating logos or larger designs is to design and create inlays. I mentioned in this post how I came up to my designs for top stitching, and it’s the same for inlays: create a mock-up and draw in your design. Once you create your pattern pieces, you’ll need to add a seam allowance (typically 3/8″). My one main tip for inlays is to baste your stitches before serging or committing to your final stitch.
Remember when I worked on Deadpool and mentioned that my fabric was waaaaayyyy too bright? Well, I fixed that nonsense by dyeing it! I know, seems crazy, right? Well, my friend Meredith shared a tutorial that blew my mind. BONUS: it’s super simple.
Pretreat your fabric, then create a dye bath with iDye Poly and add a small amount (I used 1/4 cup) of vinegar to create an acid bath. This will allow the fabric to accept the dye. Swirl it around in your boiling pot for a few minutes (I let mine boil for about 2 minutes), let it cool, then run it through the cold wash. Boom, awesome color.
Just make sure to use a pot large enough to let your fabric swirl freely. Otherwise you’ll get funky splotches.
Holding up Bootcovers
One of my biggest annoyances with most costumes is ridiculous boots, especially thigh highs. Finding boots that cover my calves is hard. Finding some that fit, kind of match my costume, and are less than $100 is like finding a rainbow-farting unicorn. Instead, I make bootcovers out of spandex. There are lots of awesomebootcover tutorials on the web. What I want to mention instead is how to hold those bad boys up. Many thanks to DJ Spider for her awesome tutorial!
To do this:
Put on your tights and boot covers, adjusting them to the height you want.
Carefully pin your tights and boot covers together, pointing the needle down. More pins helps!
Very gently pull your combined tights/covers off.
Using a zig zag stitch, carefully stretch your tights and boots to the same tension and sew them together.
Grab your excess tight below your stitching and snip it off so it doesn’t twist on you.
Go kick some superhero ass.
Create Super Cheap Armor and Accessories
Need a flexible piece of armor? Cover craft foam with spandex! This is one of the coolest techniques I’ve learned this year, and I used it on Supergirl. RuffleButt Cosplay has more details here, but here are my CliffNotes:
Pattern out the piece you need and cut out your craft foam. Use your pattern to cut out your spandex, making sure to add a seam allowance.
Coat your fabric and foam with contact cement. Let them dry for a few moments, then attach the two.
Once each piece has dried for a few minutes, grab your glue gun. Snip your fabric at corners and over curves and glue the fabric to the back side of the craft foam.
Let it dry and admire your handiwork. I attached the Supergirl belt with Velcro.
That wraps up this series on spandex! I hope you found it useful. If I could leave you with one final tip, it’s this: have fun and don’t be afraid to experiment. Your first couple of projects might not be perfect, but you’ll get there! Just like anything else, you’ll get better with practice.
Welcome back to the Spandex 101 series! If you need a refresher, check out Part 1 on supplies and Part 2 on prep. Today, we’re getting into the meat of spandex construction, and I’ll also mention a few ways that you can finish off spandex projects.
First off, let’s talk stitches on a regular sewing machine. Anytime you work with spandex, you’ll want to use a stretch stitch or a zigzag stitch. A regular old straight stitch just can’t stand handle the pull of spandex and will most likely pop (Note: there’s some disagreement on this. If you stretch fabric while sewing, it should theoretically hold, but I’ve never been a fan of that method). For standard stitching, go with a narrow zigzag (I normally set my machine to 2.5).
I also like to use a chain stitch with spandex, which is basically a stretch version of a straight stitch. Most of the time I use them with top-stitched appliques or with zippers. Your machine may or may not have this stitch. Make sure to check your manual!
You can also baste with a zigzag stitch within your seam allowance. I use basting stitches quite a bit with spandex. It’s great to match up pieces like side seams or neck bands and see how they look before committing to your final stitch.
A friendly reminder: make sure you’re using stretch needles! Ever tried sewing something even remotely stretchy and get skipped stitches? You’ve probably been using the wrong needle. Knit fabrics are structurally different from wovens in that they’re made from lots of loops, which helps give them their marvelous stretchiness. Stretch needles slide through those loops instead of slicing them like a regular needle. You can read more about all that good stuff here.
If you’re serging spandex, I’d recommend a basic 4-thread overlock. It’s super fast, secure, and stretches with your fabric. Make sure to check your manual for the type of thread and needles to use.
One thing to keep in mind with sergers is that you don’t want to use pins. Between the blade and the needles, they can really screw up your machine and/or potentially injure you. If you’re new to serging, I’d highly recommend basting your seams and using short zigzag stitches anywhere that your seams meet. Stretchy fabric can move around on you while sewing, so basting together those seams helps you get used to the machine instead of worrying about the fabric moving around.
Spandex is one of those marvelous fabrics that you don’t technically need to finish. The edges won’t fray (but they may curl up, just FYI!), so once you’ve sewn your seam together, you can call it a day. Of course, if you want to do something more to give the seam a little extra strength, you can add an extra row of zigzag stitching in the seam allowance.
Sergers are awesome for finishing spandex, because you can sew your seam and finish it all in one move. You can also zigzag a seam and serge the edge, but I prefer to just serge. Try it out and see what works best for you!
Hems, Holes, and Everything Inbetween
So you’ve got a garment that’s sewn together, but how do you finish those pesky arm and leg holes? Well, there’s a couple of things you can do:
As I mentioned earlier, spandex doesn’t fray, so if you’re going to be wearing boots or gloves that cover arm or leg holes, you can technically leave it unfinished and be fine. If you want a cleaner finish, a zigzag stitch is a good option. I did this with my polka dot Lady Skater hem.
For a more RTW finish, try using a twin needle. This is a double pronged needle that stitches straight on the right side of a garment but has a zigzag-like stitch on the wrong side, which gives it a bit of flexibility. This isn’t quite as flexible as a regular zigzag stitch, so use it on areas like wrist and ankle openings or skirt hems.
Bands are a great finish for stretch materials, especially if you’re new to sewing them. I used this approach for Supergirl when I realized that I didn’t have quite enough length for the arm. This gave me an extra few inches to work with and was a clean finish. I use my Renfrew and Lady Skater bands a lot, but you can easily make your own!
One final technique I want to discuss is elastic. Let’s say that you’ve got an sleeveless opening or have a leotard leg hole to finish. My preferred approach is to use 3/8″ elastic. To apply it, pin the elastic to the wrong side of your fabric and baste in place. You may have to stretch the elastic as you stitch (especially around curved areas like the bum), so take your time and use as many pins as you need.
Once the elastic is basted in place, fold it over and use your regular zigzag stitch to secure the elastic. This hides your basting stitch and secures everything in place. I love this approach because it’s clean and gives you a little extra security, especially for those high hip leos! Many leotard patterns have guides for how much elastic you need. I always find that they’re a little loose for my liking, so I typically take them in a bit. Make sure to hold the elastic around yourself and see what works for you!
That’s it for this week’s post! Next week, I’ll talk about extra things that you can do with spandex, including dyeing, applying appliques, and more! It will probably be the last post in my spandex series, so if you have any questions or requests, let me know!
Hello and welcome to part 2 of my Spandex 101 series! If you need a refresher on part 1, you can view that here.
Thank you so much for your feedback on the last post! I knew a lot of you wanted to know more about spandex, but the collective response totally blew me away. Again, if you have specific requests for topics, feel free to ask!
Today, I’m going to talk a little bit a bout pretreating your fabric, my go-to patterns, and basic modifications. I had hoped to include basic techniques as well, but this post is hefty enough as is. Next week!
Pretreating Spandex and You: A Love-Hate Relationship
Prepare your eyeballs, because I am going to confess to something scandalous: I rarely wash/pre-treat my spandex. The horror! But… not really. See, spandex is one of those magical fabrics that doesn’t really shrink. The only time that I might pre-treat my fabric is if I think colors might bleed into each other, but that’s pretty rare for me.
With costumes, I find that you have to think outside of the pre-wash “rule”. The idea is actually to treat your fabric as you intend to wash it later. I don’t know about you guys, but my full costumes never go directly in the wash. Since they’re only worn a handful of times (5-7 wears for a well-loved costume), most of the time I’ll spot clean stains and high funk areas and also Febreeze them. As soon as I get out of costume, it goes on a hanger to air dry, which also helps with odor and cleanliness. Since I wear a ton of layers with spandex, this also keeps the fabric from directly touching my skin.
Another benefit to not pre-washing spandex: it helps your fabric lay flat when cutting. When spandex gets thrown in the wash and dries, it tends to curl at the edges, sometimes by several inches. That is SUPER annoying to deal with when you’re cutting fabric.
Speaking of cutting, I mentioned last time that a rotary cutter and mat is my preferred cutting method. This is true for almost all of my sewing creations, but especially spandex. Spandex likes to slide around on itself when cutting, so being able to lay it flat on my cutting table and just go to town really alleviates some frustration. As I mentioned last time, this can be somewhat costly, but the cost is totally worth it, especially if you think you’ll make a lot of spandex costumes.
Pro-tip: if you have any resistance whatsoever when cutting, either sharpen or get a new rotary blade. Seriously, it is not worth the wrist pain to tough it out. Your lines will be cleaner and your wrists will thank you.
One more pro-tip: When cutting, point the rotary AWAY from you and always be mindful of retracting the blade. Those mofos are sharp and no one needs a trip to the ER or to get blood in spandex.
Superhero costumes often have all sorts of crazy design elements to them, and unless you’ve stumbled across a magical resource of superhero specific patterns (please share. I will give you Internet hugs and cupcakes), you’re going to have to make your own patterns for designs. Fortunately, there are lots of awesome basic designs that you can use as templates. Here are a few of my favorites:
Kwik Sew has tons of fantastic spandex friendly patterns for both men and women. Some of my favorites are 3154 (sadly OOP, but check eBay and Etsy!), 3052, 3636 and 3029 . Their instructions are also great. P.S., Check out WindoftheStars video on patterns.
Jalie is a name that comes up often with skating/dance patterns. They have a huge selection, but I haven’t purchased any of their patterns yet. If anyone’s tried them, let me know what you think!
Green Pepper’s Crystal Lake pattern (a.k.a. the sailor fuku pattern) is a good basic skater pattern. It only has one seam up the back, so there’s not a lot of places to muck up if you’re new to spandex. The only real down side is that it’s fairly limited in size, so proceed with caution. I used this pattern for my mom’s Supergirl.
To draft some of those crazy designs, I typically create a muslin (mock-up) out of cheap spandex. Do be mindful of stretchiness, because you don’t want to make a mock-up of 4-way stretch then do a final version in 2-way stretch. It’ll look all kinds of wonky.
Once my mock-up is created, I’ll draw out the lines of the design that I need and add seam allowances if necessary. I’ll then cut up the design, make it pretty on paper, and use that paper design as my final pattern. This can take some trial and error, but it’s my favorite way of creating design elements. It works great for both inlays and appliques!
Just like other sewing projects, you have a ton of options with spandex to make a project fit you better. The most basic modifications are for height. This is where I find it helpful to look at drafting information on patterns. Kwik Sew women’s patterns are drafted for 5’6″ and accommodate for various cups based on size (a fun bit of information ONLY found on their fitting guide. Ugh). So for example, I’m typically a L in Kwik Sew patterns, and L-XL sizes are drafted for D cups, which works perfectly for me. Fortunately, you don’t really need to do FBAs for stretchy fabrics, since the stretch takes care of that for you. But it might be something to look at if you need more (or less) room with the bust or hips.
To add or reduce length for height, simply cut at the appropriate cut lines and add or reduce your length, blending between your cut pattern pieces as needed. I’m 5’10”, so I typically add 3-4″ to most of my Kwik Sew patterns. A large bust might also mean that you need more length to accommodate everything. If you make a muslin and notice the fabric uh… riding up your lady bits, that’s a good indicator to add a bit of length.
A note for choosing sizes: Wear your intended shapewear when taking measurements and choosing sizes. This is applicable to all patterns, but it’s still worth mentioning. I’ve mentioned before that I wear shapewear with spandex, which means that I often have to grade between several sizes.
Here are a few other basic modifications:
Shifting zippers: If you’ve got a leo or a catsuit and want to move a back zip to the front (or front to back), simply subtract the seam allowance from the pattern piece for the zipper, cut the altered piece on the fabric fold, and add the zipper seam allowance to your intended pattern piece.
Adding a zipper: Many stretchy patterns have a large hole in the back or a scoop neckline to allow the wearer to put on the garment without zips. To get past this, I just take my ruler and draw a line up the fabric using the pattern piece as a guide. If the pattern piece is supposed to be cut on the fold, add in a seam allowance (I usually use 1/2″)
Going sleeveless: My go-to leo pattern is Kwik Sew 3154. I’ve used it for several turtleneck leotards, but many of the designs are sleeveless. For that alteration, I ditch the sleeve and finish the arm hole with 3/8″ elastic. I’ll describe this process more in my next post.
That’s it for this week’s post! I hope it helps. I covered a lot of information today, so if you need any clarifications, please feel free to ask in the comments or shoot me an e-mail. Next week, I’ll talk about construction techniques and how to finish projects. Again, if you have any suggestions for topics I’d love to hear them!
Pull up a chair, grab some coffee, and let’s chat about spandex. Spandex is an amazing fabric for both cosplay and everyday wear. It’s amazing for any project that needs a bit of stretch, whether you’re looking to turn yourself into a superhero or make a pair of sexy yoga pants.
Just to be upfront, I don’t feel particularly skilled at working with spandex. However, I have been dabbling with it for about a year now, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned along the way.
First up, let’s talk terminology. Spandex (or elastine outside of North America) is a synthetic fabric known for its exceptional stretchiness. Many knit fabrics and even some wovens contain a small amount of spandex (around 3-5%) to allow for stretchiness in daily wear. I’m focusing today on the spandex you find in dance and swimwear, which contains significantly higher amounts of spandex (typically 10-20% or so).
Lycra is one of the more common brand names of spandex. Think of it as the difference between Kleenex and facial tissue.
There are many types of spandex that you can choose from when designing costumes. One of the biggest things to take into consideration when selecting a spandex is whether it is 2-way or 4-way stretch. 2-way stretch fabric will only stretch one direction: horizontally or vertically. 4-way stretch fabric will stretch in both directions. This is especially important for finding a fabric that will work for your pattern. If a pattern calls for 2-way stretch, you can use 4-way stretch fabric. However, if your pattern calls for 4-way stretch, you can’t use 2-way stretch without altering the pattern.
Here’s a quick overview of a few specialty types of spandex, courtesy of Spandex World:
Nylon spandex such as milliskin. This is a bit thinner than heavy-weight spandex such as moleskin. Moleskin is thick enough that you typically don’t need a lining, but milliskin might. For reference, the yellow on my Kotobukiya Rogue is moleskin and the green is milliskin.
Cotton and Rayon Lycra is most often found in things like t-shirts and yoga wear.
Performance lycra is used for athletic clothing. It is specifically designed to wick moisture away from the body, so it’s a better bet for active wear than cotton lycra, which retains moisture.
Specialty prints, like all those fun galaxy and mermaid prints. These are ridiculously fun.
Where to Buy Spandex
So where can you get spandex? Most of the time, anywhere that sells fabric will have some type of spandex available for sale. Here are a few of my go-to resources:
Local spandex warehouse. I’m fortunately to live in an area that has a fabric district, so Dallas Spandex is one of my go-to spots. In fact, I often check there first since I hate paying $15-20 for shipping. I’d rather have the extra yardage! Check Google to see if there’s a good spandex outlet near you.
A note: I would not use the spandex that’s available at Hancock’s and Jo-Ann’s. Most of the time, that fabric is insanely sheer and ridiculously overpriced. Use only in case of emergency!
Tools of the Trade
The last topic I want to mention briefly is commonly used tools. There’s a misconception that you absolutely have to have a serger (also known as an overlocker) in order to use spandex. This is completely false! Having a serger will make life easier, but it’s not an absolute must. I’ll talk about techniques you can use sans serger next time, but if you want to learn more right now, check out check out this post from Craftsy.
Here are a few tools I always use when working with spandex:
Stretch needle: This is an absolute must. Have you ever tried to sew a knit or with spandex and gotten skipped stitches? Most likely, it’s because you’re using the wrong needle. Stretch needles are specifically designed for those super stretchy fabrics and will help you get consistent, even stitches.
A machine with a stretch stitch: Non-negotiable. Most of the time, I just use a basic zig-zag stitch, but sometimes, you might need a specialty stretch stitch, like a chain stitch. Check your sewing machine manual for specific stitches.
Rotary and board: Obviously, you can use scissors instead, but I find a rotary cutter super helpful with most of my fabric cutting and spandex in particular. Spandex can get slinky and move around, so I like to just lay it flat and use pattern weights to hold everything down. This can be expensive at about $80 full price, so if you’re on a budget, keep an eye out for 40-50% off coupons from Jo-Ann’s and Hancock’s.
Fabric weights: Same reason here as the rotary and board. You can buy fabric weights if you want, but they’re pretty hefty in price. Washers are an inexpensive alternative, and you can make ’em supercute.
That’s it for today! Next week, I’ll talk about pretreating and prepping your fabric, some of my go-to superhero patterns and modifications, and sewing construction. If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future post, please mention it in the comments!
Have you worked with spandex before? What are some of your favorite tips and tricks?