Fabric Bending (i.e. working with spandex)

Spandex. A blessing to some, a curse to others. Thanks to spandex we have jeans that stretch ever-so-slightly and allow us to move comfortably. Just ask my mom. Can’t tell you how many times (during back to school clothes shopping trips) she would tell me how lucky I was…back in the day she wore jeans without any stretch capabilities (uphill both ways, etc.). Now, I have a hard time wearing jeans without any stretch memory.

For those involved with cosplay, spandex will inevitably sneak its way into at least one of your costumes. My time has finally arrived.

Korra is from the Water Tribe–loosely based on Arctic residents, the Inuit. A thin spandex top is by no means “authentic” to that culture or climate. However, unlike Katara in the previous Airbender series, Korra’s shirt is quite formfitting. I could not achieve that look with woven fiber fabrics (cotton, flannel, silk, or linen). The fabric would bunch whenever I move and if I made it snug, without a bit of stretch in the fabric it would be difficult to move at all. Certainly there are blended woven fabrics with spandex fibers, but after looking around the internet at other Korra cosplay I decided that I preferred a spandex top.

In planning my Korra costume, I have been most anxious about designing her shirt. Most of the other costume I have made include layers of garments. This affords me some peace of mind because most minor mistakes are ultimately concealed by another costume component. This shirt is all she wears on her torso (unless you count her parka which she wore back home and which I *might* make if I have time). Every seam will be seen. If it bunches up, it will be noticed. And my history with sewing knits is full of jammed needles, chewed up fabric, and messy seams. (The staff at the fabric store recommended a size 10 to 12 ballpoint needle for these thinner knit fabrics.)

I’m not saying that cosplayers should be afraid of making mistakes. For the most part, I have observed that cosplayers in Seattle are a big, friendly community who are eager to congratulate each other on a costume well-done and ask construction questions. However, I have also observed that now that I sew costumes I am much more conscious about how other costumes are constructed and even if I don’t intend to, I notice textures, seams, and fit. I am sure other costumers notice too.

When I went in search of materials, the fabric gods were smiled down on me at the Pacific Fabrics in Bellevue. In an effort to save money (another story for another day), I made a beeline for the remnants tables and found these three fabrics buried in a multicolor pile of nylon/Lycra.  (Dupont registered “Lycra” as its brand name for spandex fibers, so technically Lycra and spandex are the same. I say Kleenex, you say facial tissue.) The sales associate confirmed this as swimsuit fabric. Based on the available light blue spandex, it looks like I am replicating Korra’s Season 1 attire.


Most of my knit fabric projects have been relatively loose with a decent amount of ease. I’ve only worked with spandex-like fabric once before, when I created a close-fitting pattern block in my summer sewing class. This pattern is definitely designed with a negative ease (meaning the pattern is actually smaller than my body measurements) to ensure that the stretchy knit shirt is form fitting.

Black Knit Shirt
What a ridiculous facial expression.

This body block served as my base for Korra’s shirt pattern. I only made two changes:

1) extend the neckline and create a collar

2) extend the base of the shirt past my hips and create a body suit that I can snap together at the crotch (I want to make sure this shirt won’t ride up throughout the day).


While working on this pattern design, I stumbled onto two fantastic websites that are devoted to stretch-fit pattern making.  If you are planning to make something with spandex, I highly recommend you check out these two websites. They include sewing tips and tools in addition to pattern instructions.

Pattern School was my resource for the “underwear” portion of the body suit. Stretchy.org provided inspiration for the collar.

I was hoping to have a muslin to show you at the end of this post, but I ran out of time (I blame Amazon Prime videos on the Xbox). I also do not have enough scrap fabric to construct a full muslin. As soon as I sew something I’ll post photos.

I hope you had a wonderful weekend!!


Updated with muslin results!!

After a good night’s sleep, I was ready to create a partial muslin of Korra’s shirt. The morning started off a bit rocky, with my sewing machine getting tangled and jammed in the spandex. But I rethreaded the machine and it seemed to work nicely after that. I had to throw on a camisole to take pictures of the muslin for “coverage reasons” and ended up looking like a Star Trek: TNG wannabe.

I feel much better about the overall design and construction of this costume, and I identified three things to adjust on the pattern before diving in with the REAL fabric:

  1. The neckline/collar notch in the front is too wide
  2. The collar side seams need to taper more to keep the collar from sagging
  3. The shoulder line needs to slope in more 

To document the necessary changes, I used fabric chalk to draw where the shoulder line should be and also to demonstrate how much the collar side seams overlapped.

To boldly go where I’ve never stitched before…


The fabric knew where it needed to be
Fabric chalk marks showin the degree of overlap at the collar side seam


2 thoughts on “Fabric Bending (i.e. working with spandex)

  1. I’m definitely scared to try out spandex. I’m only working on my first stretch project now! You look like you’re doing well though! Also, thanks for the links!

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