It was 4th grade and my friend Paola was the height of cool. Not only was she from Mexico and a gymnast who trained with Bela Karoyli, but she wore leotards nearly everyday to school. She always looked so strong as she was back handspringing her way around the playground. Better yet, those leotards never came untucked like regular shirts. While I never had my own stash of Capezio bodysuits to my name, I never forgot how polished Paola always looked in her leotards. I finally decided it was high time for me to sew my own. Here is my lace bodysuit from Jalie’s Bella Dress pattern.
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The hidden bonus pattern in Jalie’s Bella Dress
Did you know that Jalie’s Bella Dress has a leotard pattern in it? Neither did I until I started making my night look for the Day and Night Dress Challenge. It’s actually a brilliant little piece of pattern work on Jalie’s part. The dress with its giant flared skirt and no waist seam would be very, very bulky were it to be fully lined. The leotard provides opacity for thinner knits if needed and it lets you twirl away without fear of flashing. And the leotard adds no additional bulk.
I had gone back and forth about buying Closet Case Patterns’ Nettie Bodysuit for an absurdly long time. I held back because of my last pregnancy and also because I wasn’t sure about the fit. When I found the leotard pattern, it might has well have been Christmas in my sewing room. I know Jalie’s fit really well, and more importantly, they fit me really well.
Adjusting the pattern
Below, I’ll show you how I adapted the leotard to add snaps, but I also changed the neckline. The leotard for this pattern is meant to be a lining, so the neckline is quite low so it doesn’t peek above the dress’ neckline. Because I liked where the dress’ neckline sat in front and in back (after I raised it in my dress), I traced the front and back neckline and added it onto the leotard pattern. It raises the front by a hair and the back by quite a bit. This makes for a bodysuit that I’ll actually feel comfortable wearing.
The lady cutting this pretty blue stretch lace gave me a look of disbelief when I said I was going to make it into a bodysuit. Lauren had inspired me, and I’m no stranger to lace.
To make the lace wearable in public, I decided to underline it. After cutting the lace out, I laid the front and back onto yardage of my favorite white poly/spandex knit. I picked up yards and yards of this stuff at Michael Levine’s Loft a couple years ago. I will be very sad when I run out of it. It’s springy, drapey, smooth, lightweight, and yet opaque. It’s basically the perfect lining.
I set pattern weights around each lace piece and hand basted the lace to the poly/spandex. When you underline, it’s not a bad idea to use a different length of thread along every edge of the pattern piece. This way, you can pull out basting thread as you go without having to worry if you’re going to pull out all of your basting stitches. I cut out the spandex around the lace after the edges were secured with the basting stitches. After this, you just treat the lace/lining layer as one. It’s a bit of work at the beginning, but underlining is lightning fast once you get to construction.
Finishing the neck
Jalie offers no binding piece or length of elastic for the neckline. I simply sewed a crossgrain strip of lace folded in half by width to the right side of the neckline. Then I flipped it to the inside and stitched it down. I will mention that I only sewed one shoulder seam at this point. Often, I sew neck bindings like this. You want to stretch the binding strip just slightly. If you stretch too much, you’ll get puckers, and if you don’t stretch enough, the binding won’t sit flat on your neck. With a little practice, you’ll teach your hands exactly how much stretch there needs to be and you’ll never have to measure neck bindings. After this, sew up the other shoulder seam and stitch down the ends of the binding to the neckline.
Adapting the leotard into a bodysuit with snaps
This is news to me, but I guess leotards generally don’t have snaps for restroom purposes. It sure makes sense now why they always have big neck openings. With a small neck opening, there’s no chance you have of getting your legs through the leg holes. Personally, I don’t want to get fully undressed when visiting the ladies’ room. So, how do we fix it?
- Add length to the torso: I found I needed 1″ extra length in my torso to accommodate the snap closure. Without the extra space, your bodysuit will be quite tight around that area. A muslin will help determine precisely how much length you’ll need.
- Press back seam allowances: at the crotch seam, fold back the seam allowances and press. With my slippy fabric, I used Steam-A-Seam to hold them down. I used twill tape to cover the seam allowances. The twill tape is a nice and stable base for the snaps. Snap tape would also do the trick. You can also finish the seam allowances with a lightweight fabric like Heather suggests in the Nettie sewalong.
- Add the snaps: if you’re using snap tape, just sew the tape into place on top of your pressed seam allowances. A zipper foot lets you sew right at the edge of the tape without having to navigate around the snaps. If you use twill tape or lightweight fabric, add the snaps manually. For this bodysuit, I used my Snap Source setter.
- Finish the leg openings: I chose to set the snaps and then finish the leg openings. You could finish the legs first then set the snaps too. Choose your own adventure.
Styling a bodysuit
This is my item #5 for Wardrobe Sudoku. At this point, I’ve finished 9 items! I wanted this bodysuit to be a wardrobe workhorse, and the contest gives me a chance to think about basics like this one and put them into use. I really like it with my denim skirt and my Designer Stitch Alyse slim leg pants. Look out for more about the Alyse pants on Tuesday.
At the end of the day, I really love this style, and I will be making many many more of these bodysuits. Not having bodysuits in my closet just might be the reason I haven’t worn skirts as much as I’d like to. I’d like to think that Paola would approve.
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.