Spandex 101: Fabric Prep, Patterns and Basic Modifications

Marvel Now! Rogue, made with moleskin and milliskin spandex. Photo by Superhero Photos.
Marvel Now! Rogue, made with moleskin and milliskin spandex. Photo by Superhero Photos.

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!

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Sailor Jupiter. The base of the fuku is made from white moleskin and attached directly to the skirt base. Photo by Aperture Ashley.

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.

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Cutting the leotard pieces for Sailor Jupiter. I prefer pattern weights and a rotary cutter to pins and scissors to prevent from slipping around.

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.

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Fun fact: All three of these costumes were made using Kwik Sew 3154. Cammy is Jade Cosplay, photo by Tobias Photography. Ms. Marvel photo by Aperture Ashley.

Go-To Patterns

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.
  • If you’re feeling brave, you can draft your own bodysuit. This page also includes instructions on how to draft a spandex hood.
To create the bolt for Ms. Marvel, I laid my front leotard piece on the reverse side of my gold fabric then sketched the design out (in reverse).
To create the bolt for Ms. Marvel, I made a duplicate of my pattern piece and sketched out the design.

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!

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Adding length is a normal adjustment for me. If I think I’ll use a pattern more than once, I’ll tape extra tissue paper in the length I need between the split pieces.

Basic Modifications

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.

An alteration I made to the Crystal Lake pattern for Supergirl. The pattern has a scoop back, so I extended the back piece up.
An alteration I made to the Crystal Lake pattern for Supergirl. The pattern has a scoop back, so I extended the back piece up.

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!

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