Bodysuit Sewalong: A Guide to Spandex

Blue milliskin spandex

Today we’re talking about fabrics! You have a lot of choices for making your bodysuit, depending on what look you need for your chosen cosplay. Most or all of them will include some fraction of spandex, a rubbery fiber that can stretch to three times its length, blended with another material like nylon or polyester. Spandex fabrics are available to suit any number of styles, with shiny, glossy, matte, metallic, glittery, or holographic finishes. You can find prints, sequins, embossing, cutouts, and distressed effects too. Pick a lightweight spandex for easy wear, or a heavier weight for more coverage, depending on what’s most comfortable for you. Let’s take a tour of the options!

Check the gauge on the back of the pattern envelope to make sure your chosen fabric has enough stretch

Check the gauge on the back of the pattern envelope to make sure your chosen fabric has enough stretch.

First things first: the back of the envelope has a printed gauge that will help to determine if your chosen fabric is suitable for the pattern. Fold the fabric along the lengthwise or crosswise grain and grab the folded edge with your hands 4″ apart (the length of the black bar.) It should stretch to the full length of the white bar – about 60% – in BOTH directions for the bodysuit to fit as designed. A less stretchy fabric or fabric that only stretches in one direction might still be usable for details and accents, but you’ll need to adjust the size to compensate if you use it over larger areas.

Also, make sure your fabric has good recovery and springs back immediately after you stretch it. Some fabrics have plenty of stretch, but not enough spring, so they “grow” over time and end up looking saggy and wrinkly. Not a good look for a bodysuit! Fortunately, most fabrics with significant spandex content will recover just fine.

Nylon/Spandex fabrics

Nylon is a very strong synthetic fiber, and a traditional companion for spandex in all sorts of dance, swim, and activewear. Similar fabrics may also be available in a polyester/spandex blend, depending on where you shop.

Regular spandex is a common swimsuit fabric, and you’re probably already familiar for that reason. It’s medium-to-lightweight and relatively easy to sew, with good stretch and recovery, so it can be a good material for bodysuits. That said, it’s a bit shinier than some of the other options, which can sometimes make it hard to photograph.

Matte and shiny milliskin

Matte milliskin (left) versus shiny (right)

Milliskin is a mid-weight nylon/spandex blend with excellent stretch and recovery. This is a great basic bodysuit fabric, with a substantial feel and a great color selection. At its shiniest it’s more lustrous than glossy, and it’s also available in a matte finish, so it looks great even in harsh lighting. Both finishes are available in the same range of colors, so you can mix shiny and matte in the same outfit for added texture and emphasis.

Heavyweight spandex

Heavyweight spandex sold for football pants and wrestling uniforms.

Heavyweight spandex, sometimes called jumbo spandex, is sold for wrestling uniforms and football pants. It’s a good option if you want something a little beefier to smooth out undergarment lines and the like. A pretty good range of colors are available, although surface finishes vary. Bear in mind you may need a little more ease in the fit if you go with a heavyweight fabric, and you’ll probably want a heavyweight zipper to match.

Moleskin is the heavier-weight counterpart to milliskin. It’s also available in lustrous and matte finishes, and while the color options aren’t as numerous, it can be a good choice if you’re looking for something with a bit more heft and opacity.

wet-look spandex

Wet-look spandex

Wet-look spandex has a glossy sheen that gives it a satiny or even plasticky effect, depending on the color. If you want something that imitates the super-shiny style of superhero costumes, but prefer an easier sewing experience than pleather or vinyl, this can be a great choice.

copper metallic spandex and purple mystique foil dot spandex

Copper metallic spandex (left) versus purple “mystique” foil dot spandex (right)

Metallic spandex is available in metal tones, bright colors, black, and sometimes prints. A foil coating on the surface of the fabric creates the distinctive “liquid metal” look. While hard to beat for sheer brilliance, this is not the most durable fabric finish and the foil may lose its shine over time or develop cracks in highly stretched areas.

Foil/hologram dot spandex is available in a huge variety of colors, designs, and special effects. Metallic or holographic foil is applied to the fabric surface as tiny dots, which are more resistant to cracking when the fabric is stretched. Unfortunately, these special finishes are still delicate and may dull with time and washing. Pay attention to the care instructions, and be especially careful about using them in high-wear areas, as the foil can sometimes rub off and leave bare or discolored patches.

Supplex is a brand of nylon microfiber spandex that boasts of improved breathability and a matte, cotton-like finish

Supplex is a brand of nylon microfiber spandex that claims improved breathability and a matte, cotton-like finish.

High-performance spandex is designed for athletic clothing, and has special features to improve breathability or wick moisture away from your skin. If you’re wearing your bodysuit under armor or other layers and need to stay comfortable, performance fabrics can make a big difference.

Some lightweight spandex fabrics may be slightly sheer, especially in light colors. You can deal with this by backing the fabric with a swimwear lining that matches the fabric or your skin, or with a second layer of the outer fabric. You can baste the layers together and sew them as one to prevent the seam allowances from showing through, but make sure neither layer is stretched or distorted to avoid creating wrinkles.

In the next post I’ll get into some of the other types of stretch fabrics that you might want to try out, and also list some resources for finding stretch fabrics if you don’t have a good local option.

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9 comments

  • It can be very hard to find such a comprehensive and complete guide to sewing and materials these days, especially guides meant to educate the cosplaying community. This guide to spandex is amazinggg. I am so pleased ^_^

    I hope to see more posts about the various types of fabric materials used in cosplay in the future!

    Also, the authors should let us know more about themselves…Who are Gillian and Effy and how did they get introduced into the world of cosplay???

    • So glad you found it useful! Any requests for other types of fabric you’d like us to talk about?

      • Any chance you’ll cover the use of spacer fabric and basting other spandex to it to create a quilted effect? I’m considering using this method and I’m curious what you guys think.

        • Spacer fabric is great for a quilted look, the stitching stands out really well. If you’re layering another fabric with it I would suggest using a temporary (wash-away) adhesive to prevent the layers from shifting, and maybe sewing with a walking foot.

          Keep in mind that some spacer fabrics are stretchier than others, so make sure you get one that will work for your intended purpose and use a stretch stitch to preserve the fabric properties. I’d recommend doing the quilting before you cut out your pattern pieces, because the fabric will tend to contract as you quilt it and you don’t want your pieces to end up too small.

          When in doubt, make a small sample to play with before you put a lot of time into quilting big pieces. That should help you to decide if you like the effect and if it’ll work for your project. Hope that helps!

      • Hi, Id love to know what the best 4 way stretch fabric would be for beautiful draping?
        In england you can get what they call dance crepe, its thin but very stretchy and heavy, so it drapes beautifully- i would love to get close to that kind of fabric.

        • Hi, sorry I missed this earlier. I’m not familiar with dance crepe so I’m not sure what the direct American equivalent would be, but the heavy drape you describe makes me think of matte jersey. It has wonderful drape and movement, almost like a liquid. I don’t know that I’d use it for a bodysuit because it doesn’t have quite enough recovery, but it would be ideal for dresses, skirts, etc. If you need both stretch and recovery, maybe a microfiber knit? I’ve used lightweight Supplex knits that moved and draped really nicely. If you’re ordering online I’d definitely recommend getting swatches first since the stretch, sheerness, and other properties can vary quite a bit.

        • Nylon acetate

  • I’ve been wanting to know what makes wet look fabric wet look is it a coating? Also is some wet look fabric water resistant? Like you could just wash it?

    • It’s actually the fabric itself that’s shiny. That makes wet-look spandex a little more durable than coated fabrics, and it can be machine washed, but it’s still a good idea to use a gentle cycle and cold water so the fabric lasts longer. It’s not water-resistant in the sense that wearing it would keep you dry, though!

      Some metallic coated spandex fabrics may look similar (depending on color – some have more of a true metallic look, while others look plasticky/glossy) but you can tell the difference when you touch them and in some cases the coating may crack when stretched too much. With these it’s best to very gently hand wash, ideally with the garment inside-out, as the foil coating can rub off or discolor if it’s handled roughly.

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