Intro: "Seamless" Body Suit
This instructable is a 'how-to' on making a body suit for a costume appear to be seamless. One of the things I hate about doing body paint was that it was expensive and rubbed off, or it was time-consuming to apply, or there's paint brush marks, or any number of other issues. Using a bodysuit restricts needing paint to only my hands, feet, face, chest and neck - ideal if I'm not competing in a costume contest.
I made a few of my own bodysuits to take the place of paint, but I hated that there was a seam along the side of my body and/or legs. This is fine for Spiderman or another character who wears a tight-fitting suit super hero suit, but a couple of my characters have skin tone that is not flesh tone, and a simple body suit was a quick solution when I want to wear say, Midna, but didn't feel like spending 2-3 hours on make up.
This suit would also be good for Avatars, Shiva from Final Fantasy, Night Elves and any other number of revealingly dressed characters.
The motivation of creating this tutorial is to help you make a body suit even if you don't have a firm grounding in using a sewing machine. You only need a straight stitch and a zig-zag stitch for a wide neck suit. If your suit needs to be closer fitting at the neck than Midna, you may need either a zipper, snaps or possibly just an elastic band or velco in the back, if your back will not be visible while in costume. If your back will be visible and you need a close fitting neck, you're stuck with a zipper, but you do have a few placement options depending on the character - You might luck out and be able to put a seam on one side under clothing or put it in the lower back to leave the upper back zipper free . For the truly hard core, you can put the zipper along the *ahem* derriere, assuming that that is the only place that won't be visible. This is even doable if making an Avatar, since you'd have a tail - it's just a matter of how dedicated you are to having as few seams visible as possible. (I have not done one of these)
This tutorial will only be covering a basic bodysuit - no hands or feet - for beginners who just want some smooth lines. Personally, I'm rather anit-covering hands and feet because gloves and a single toe foot covering just break the illusion that much more. These suits are all about maintaining as much of the illusion as possible.
With Midna, I studied a number of screencaps and finally determined that she is actually topless. Her only clothing is a skirt and cloak, and her skin is dual-toned - both black and pale blue. Her skin is actually more black than blue, but starting lighter and painting darker will work for you better than starting with black fabric and painting light on top of it. I didn't saturate the black as much as I could have on the body, because I think it adds to the look of having dual-tone skin.
Since my body suit ended up 2 colors, I'll cover painting later on, but you may not need it.
if you need to dye your fabric, do so first, before cutting. I was lucky enough to find this fabric on ebay, in the color I needed. Rit dyes and Jaquard acid dyes work equally well.
Needed for this project:
Four way stretch fabric - Lycra, spandex or in that family
Scissors or Pinking Shears
Knit or medium weight machine needle
Lots of paper
Fabric INK (not paint)
Sharpies of your color choice
Bodysuits are more flattering than bare skin, can give you a better waistline, smooth curves and it allows you to wear shapewear underneath ::cough:: should you feel the need to do so. It's even possible to make a fake bellybutton. They're fast and easy to get on, and it's simply a matter of matching paint to your skin. Additionally, you can wear a push-up bra or other bra under a bodysuit. Pasties do nothing for support, just sayin'. A suit makes it easier to cross play - a male cosplayer can have fake boobs with little extra effort and a female can bind securely and the suit can still be nice and smooth.
Cons: no matter what you do, it will not look like real skin - but it can still look great in photos - and looks a lot better than smudged or fading paint. In my case, I don't mind the extra 'help' smoothing out my curves. Another con is that if you snag part of your suit, you have to either repair it or replace the entire suit to maintain the "seamless" look. One good sized frayed snag will ruin the illusion. Another disadvantage comes with bladder control. You must have it for most bodysuits. I can go 5-8 hours in this and not need to pee, as long as I don't drink anything.
Step 1: Why I Made a Seamless Suit
The image pretty much says it all.
The side seams aren't always visible, but when they are, they REALLY REALLY are.
When I decided to make a new bodysuit I went with a full shoulder to ankle suit to make the leg/hip area more believable. Depending on what you need one for, a leg-less suit could work fine- Even if your legs don't show, making a swimsuit type body suit rather than just a top will still help with smoothing, and help avoid loose fabric around the waist. If you have a mid-driff baring character in pants and a skimpy top, a swim type leotard or suit will go a long way to improving confidence and keep you from wondering if the bottom edge of the modesty top is still tucked in.
This is especially helpful if your character would otherwise need assistance getting your back painted - if nothing else, it's good backup should your find yourself short on paint or painting help with a convention fast coming up.
Step 2: Fabric
Any fabric you choose for a suit needs to be 4-way stretch fabric. It may stretch more in one direction than another, but Lycra or lycra/spandex may stretch 40% one way and 30% another - it will rarely be equal in both directions. You'll have to test your fabric by holding it next to measuring tape and seeing how far it stretches when pulled-do this with a scrap piece so you can pull the snot out of it to test it's limits.
Don't be afraid to do some light (LIGHT) pre-stretching - your suit will lose elasticity over time, and it's better to lose a bit of it now so you won't have sags later.
Pick a fabric that has a slight sheen to it. Human skin is slightly reflective - it shimmers just enough that it is not truly matte. You want a fabric that is not overly shiny, really just enough to not be flat. Take photos of fabrics in different lights and angles, and find one that you like best. Fabrics will show up differently on camera than in real-life.
You can go with thinner fabric, but mine is actually fairly thick, but still came out great. Thicker fabric looses less stretch over time, and provides more support.
Depending on your pattern, you are going to need at least 2 yards. More if you decide to do arms as well. Because of the type of cutting involved, there will be a lot of waste, or scrap fabric.
Make sure you wash your fabric first! You will have to wash your suit at some point in the future, and you don't know how the structure of the fabric will change until you wash it.
If you can get 60" fabric, you can make this using the fabric laid out top edge to bottom edge, if the fabric is not as wide as you are tall from the shoulder to ankle, you will have to get extra fabric and make your left-right direction as your top/bottom, bearing in mind the stretch difference one way or another.
Step 3: Patterns! - Don't Panic!
In preparation for cutting your super stretchy fabric, you can do this one of two ways.
The lazy way, which will take longer to sew, but much less preparation time. I made my first suit the lazy way, and it actually worked out pretty well, despite having to take in my seams several times.
OR: The exacting way . Either way, you will need to take measurements.
Break out your measuring tape and take the following measurements - or take out your list if you already have this written down and add or compare.
Shoulder to waist
Arm hole size-where arm meets the shoulder
Using measurements, make marks in chalk at the thigh, hip, calf, knee, etc - then join the marks in a trace out an outline this exact size. All of these are laid out flat, which is why the pattern looks especially wide. Because the fabric has stretch, making them this exact size will be too large, but you can take them in after the first pass.
Cut the fabric along the trace, folded over along the center front.
The crotch area is tricky. You will end up with a seam here, but where you want to place it is up to you. Keep in mind the center bottom of the pattern is where the seam will begin - my character is wearing a skirt, so this area was not important to keep it seamleass. If you are making an Avatar, you would want the seam to be under your loincloth (front) and have a more form fitting behind seam that joins in the center and goes along the back.
Pattern one is what I used for Midna - there is a center back panel because this was my first attempt at a body suit and I wasn't sure how the curves would work along the hips if I made a single central seam. The narrow back panel is invisible because of the cloak I wear with the character. This has a v-neck.
The Exacting Way:
Take all of your measurements and multiply them by the percentage the fabric stretches and reduce your overall pattern size by this much. If the fabric stretches more in one direction than the other, you will have to use a calculator accordingly. Always leave 5/8 inch seam allowance. I was too paranoid that I would cut off too much fabric and ruin the very large single cut of fabric that I had, so I stitched the legs and back once, tried it on, then took them in, one seam at a time.
With the ankles, I did not turn under the hem because I wanted it to lay as flat as possible, so the arm holes and ankle edges are not hemmed.
The back top edge does not come all the way up to my neck with this pattern so that I could get in and out of it through the neck hole. The deep v-shape makes this easier as well. Your character may require a higher neck, in which case you may be looking at adding a zipper. If you must have a tighter fitting neck, I'd recommend leaving it unhemmed as well, trim with regular scissors rather than pinking shears. Please don't use a turtleneck. I hate seeing bodysuits with turtlenecks, it's always very obvious- if you really really want to cover the neck rather than paint it, make the neck long enough to end right under the chin, so you can blend the edge better by hiding it under a natural feature.
One of the reasons I do not use footies on my bodysuits is that I think a natural, painted foot (and hand) looks a lot better than an attached footie. You CAN go to the trouble of making toes and feet, but I'm not covering that here. You can usually disguise the edges of fabric at the ankle and wrist (if you make arms) with jewelry or armor.
Step 4: Stitching
If you have a serger, I highly recommend using it for this project, but if you do not, no fear! you can still make this with a regular machine.
On your first pass of sttching, simply use a "2" zig-zag stitch, around medium width. You can make a closer stitch, but I find it'll bunch the fabric if you aren't careful.
If you're doing this the lazy way, don't do your straight stitching until the suit fits you the way you want it to.
On the second pass, use a straight stitch - this will reinforce the zigzag. If possible, place your straight stitch toward the inner edge of your zig-zag. If you wish, do two passes of straight stitch, next to each other, within the range of the zig-zag.Trim excess fabric off with Pinking shears to prevent fraying. it's unlikely to happen with Lyrca, but I always use them anyway.
When you think you're done, take time to wear the suit and walk around the house with it on. Jump and fall into any poses you'll be expecting to do as part of the whole costume when you wear it to avoid any unpleasant surprises, such as popping a stitch when you drop down into a lunge. Flex your legs and calves, bend over, stretch your arms above your head. The suit should be skin tight, but have just enough give to let you be comfortable in it and move. If there's any place with sag, fix it. Problem areas can occur behind the knee and at the lower back.
Step 5: Fake Belly Button
Practice on a scrap first!
Cut a very small hole in an 0 shape where your natural belly button is on the suit. Taking a 2 inch or so length of fabric, machine stitch it into a tube. using small stitches, hand stitch wrong sides together the tube to the hole in your suit. Tie the tube into a knot close to the opening and cut off the excess. If you don't want a knot, press together and superglue, then cut off excess fabric.
Poke or cut a very small hole in a long 0 shape where your belly button is on the suit. Take a circular piece of fabric about an inch around and hand stitch so stitches are inside the suit. Bunch the circle as you go. When done, stitch the inside cone tip of the circle flat, reduce to make smaller and clip excess, or leave it be.
Step 6: Other Uses:
I had too much fabric from Midna, so I ended up dying a couple of yards aqua blue for Aayla and made her Lekku and modesty panel out of it. In this case, I used a paint pen to put markings on her lekku - similar to what she has in the movie, though they're hard to see.
Step 7: Painting
I used black fabric ink for the black areas on my suit, but you can use fabric paint if you wish. I found that the ink looked more like skin and less like 'paint on top of fabric'. Fabric ink has to have outlines so it doesn't run into the rest of your fabric. Fabric paint has the advantage of staying put and being very opaque if that's what you are looking for.
Since my suit was already assembled, I used cardboard to back the fabric as I painted - this kept the wet areas from touching places I did not want it to. I also did a bit of a no-no, I painted parts of the suit while I was wearing it and let it completely dry before removing it. The ink came off okay after a day or so. The ink may require a hot iron to fix the color.
Wide tip sharpies are an option, but not one I recommend for large areas. I used a sharpie on my first, legless suit and the color was not even for large areas.
Any reference images of the game model (or what I am assuming is the game model) property of Nintendo, or whoever it is that actually owns the Zelda games.
Step 8: Tips:
Once your suit is assembled and/or painted, there is one other thing you should consider - using eyeshadow the same color or slightly darker, and brushing it into crevasses, after you put it on. Skin tone is not perfectly even, and it should not be when in a suit either. Trust me, adding this extra step is still much faster than doing all over body paint.
Take a wide, fluffy brush and get a loose eyeshadow, or even a regular packed eyeshadow and very gently brush the powder behind your knees, inside elbows if your suit has arms, armpits, lower back and under the ribs to generate false shadows. Use an eyeshadow the same color or slightly lighter and brush lightly long the front shin bone, sides of thighs, top of arms and upper chest. If your suit is white, just use very pale grey shadows. This should not be dramatic, just enough to look like natural skin variation. Stippling or taking a stiff paint brush or toothbrush and flicking darker eyeshadow specs randomly on the suit will also add to the effect.
When you are done with the suit for the weekend, wash it right away, preferably by hand, and hang it up or fold it and put it away. It's easy to forget and leave it in your bag until you're getting ready for your next convention, but take the time to unpack and clean everything as soon as you get home. Checking it over right away will also help you find that one popped stitch and fix it immediately so you don't find it the day you're packing up for the next weekend photoshoot.