Bodysuit Sewalong: More Fabric Options and Resources
We’ll be moving along to sewing techniques and cutting out your pattern later this week, but in the meantime there’s still a lot more to say about spandex fabrics. We covered some of the most common types of stretch fabrics in the last post, but there are a lot more options if you’re feeling adventurous or trying to create a specific effect. Let’s take a look.
Cotton/spandex jersey may be a good option if you don’t like the look or feel of traditional spandex for your project. This material is popular for dance and yoga wear because of its breathability and matte finish, and it makes for a low-key and very comfortable bodysuit look.
You’ll also probably find some cotton/polyester/spandex blends, which can be a good choice if you’re on a limited budget. Just keep in mind that polyester blends are more difficult to dye if you don’t find the exact color you need, and may pill with time and wear.
While cotton and poly blends with small amounts of stretch are popular for t-shirts and dresses, you’ll need something with a bit more spring in it for a bodysuit. Look for a high fraction of spandex (at least 8–10%, though this may vary by the type of fabric) and a generous amount of stretch in both directions. Again, check against the stretch gauge on the pattern envelope if you’re unsure.
Mesh and Net
Sheer fabrics can be great for cutout details, for creating the illusion of a strapless bodice or plunging neckline without risk of slippage, and so forth. Different types and weights are available depending on your needs.
Stretch mesh comes in a vast array of colors and prints, some with glitter, foil, or novelty embellishments. Use it anywhere you want a sheer-but-not-too-sheer effect.
Fishnet fabric can be found in small or large mesh sizes and a moderate range of colors, including neon.
Glissenette is a very light mesh available in shimmery or matte versions. It generally has two-way stretch, so be careful of the fit if using it over large areas, but it’s worth a try if you need a piece to be very sheer.
Powermesh or powernet is a firm, crisp stretch mesh usually used for undergarments and shapewear, available in a range of weights from light to very heavy. Colors are usually limited, but it can be a good lining choice if you like the body-shaping effect.
Stretch (Fake) Leather and Stretch Vinyl
These fabrics are popular in costumes for superheroes, action movies, and sci-fi, though they can be tricky to work with. For bodysuits you’ll want the type of faux leather that consists of a rubbery coating (PVC or polyurethane) on a 4-way stretch knit backing. 2-way stretch can work for small details, but you’ll probably need to make adjustments if using it over larger areas (though cutting on the bias can help you eke out a little more stretch if it’s your only option).
Faux leather or pleather is available in a range of solid colors and metallics. Smooth and textured versions are available depending on your desired look, and you can also find quilted, laser-cut, and embossed types for adding texture and detail.
Stretch vinyl is the way to go if you want a very (very very) shiny look.
A lot of on-screen superheroes these days are wearing bodysuits with a high-tech look, using thicker fabrics and lots of texture. You can create this textured effect in a lot of ways – by layering fabrics and nets, with quilting, with printed designs or even paint – but there are also fabrics that seem intrinsically suited to this look. Bear in mind that these fabrics are thicker than standard spandex, and may have less stretch, so always check the envelope stretch gauge and adjust the size if necessary.
Spacer fabric is my newest love. This fabric is two layers of knit connected by a poly fill, which makes it thick and bouncy but lightweight. It has a matte finish, and is available in smooth or textured versions in a couple different thicknesses. The loft also makes it a great backing for other materials when you’re doing quilted details. Make sure you get the type with stretch, and get a swatch if ordering online because some versions are too thick and stiff for bodysuits.
Scuba is another type of thick, springy knit with lots of body, though you’ll see some variation in the fabrics so described. Color availability tends to vary, but you’ll sometimes find solid or printed scuba mixed in with the fashion fabrics.
Stretch velvet was a ’90s fashion favorite, and has lost some popularity since. It doesn’t suit every character, but looks super dramatic in the right circumstances. Available in plain, glittery, metallic, crushed, embossed, and burnout designs for different effects, it has a luxurious look and is gloriously soft to wear. The main drawback is that it tends to be warm.
Stretch Lace is mostly better suited for undergarments than bodysuits, since it’s lightweight, sheer, and not very durable. That said, it might work well layered over another fabric for decorative effect. Both full-width yardage and narrower trims are available.
There’s a huge amount of variation in spandex fabrics, and bodysuits demand a fabric with excellent stretch and recovery. The best way to buy these fabrics is in person, so you can feel the material with your own hands and check the stretch before you buy. If you have a bit of time before you need to start sewing, ordering swatches from your favorite online retailer is the next best thing.
Bodysuit-appropriate fabrics can be found in most fabric stores, as long as you know what you’re looking for, but here are a handful of more specialized online retailers:
Spandex World – This New York-based store has a great selection of spandex in all types, including stretch pleather, spacer, and novelty fabrics.
Spandex House – Based just a few blocks away from Spandex World, and with a similarly vast selection. Their fabrics are available for retail or wholesale depending on your needs.
Seattle Fabrics – this west coast retailer specializes in outdoor and technical fabrics, so their offerings focus on moisture-wicking and abrasion-resistant spandex.
RCT fabrics (Fabricline) – Another source for wicking and high performance spandex plus elastics and trims, based in Portland, OR.
It used to be that if you needed a particular fabric design for your costume, you’d be in for a long and probably disappointing search unless you gave up and painted it yourself. Now there are a growing number of custom fabric printers that will print your digital images on fabric for a (relatively) reasonable price. While still not cheap – prices per yard may be three times what you’d expect for a ready-made fabric or more – this service can be a godsend for the obsessively accurate. If you go this route, definitely get samples first to make sure you’re happy with the results.