Bodysuit Sewalong: A Guide to 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!
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 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.
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, 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 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.
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.
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.