Learning how to make a leotard is immensely rewarding and considering the cost of these sparkly little numbers, very economical. Don’t be put off by the high prices of dance and swim fabric, you will often get more than one leotard in a yard, particularly for younger girls. If you have been a little scared to learn how to make a leotard yourself, then here are is a simplified tutorial for beginners to give you the confidence to get started.
Once you learn how to make a basic leotard you can start creating variations including unitards, skirted and color blocked.
How to Make a Leotard – Your Supplies
- Dance or swimwear lycra with at least 75% stretch. If you are not sure what stretch factor your fabric has then get my stretch factor of fabrics chart. If this is your first time learning how to make a leotard, then choose a fabric that has a matt finish and no sparkles or sequins as it will be much easier to sew. (Read my buying guide for Spandex and Lycra)
- Stretch needles (Read sewing machine needle guide)
- 3/8 inch (10mm) swimwear elastic. Always choose a good quality swimwear elastic such as Birch, Singer or Dritz. Swimwear elastic is specially treated to stop rot caused by chlorine and sweat and is nice and firm so your legs won’t stretch out of shape. Don’t choose the clear type of elastic as it is hard to sew and gives inconsistent results.
- Your sewing machine and basic sewing supplies. The great news is you don’t need a serger! You can learn how to sew a leotard on just an ordinary machine. (Read sewing Spandex and Lycra and with a regular machine)
- A leotard pattern. You can make your own by tracing around a leotard you already have, or purchase one of my quality premium leotard patterns. Here are some of my bestsellers. I’ve used leotard pattern #4 for this tutorial
How to Make a Leotard – Cutting Lycra and Spandex
Start by cutting out your pattern and fabric. When cutting leotard fabrics, be careful that your pins don’t leave marks. Test a scrap of fabric and if the pins leave a mark, then use pattern weights or a simple tin from your pantry to hold the pattern down.
Always make sure you use really sharp scissors that won’t burr the edges of the fabric when you cut. If you are confident with a rotary cutter you can get nice clean edges by using it with a cutting mat. Just watch your fingers!
You will often save fabric if you cut your leotard pieces one at a time, folding as you go. Leotard fabric is expensive so plan ahead when cutting and place your pieces close together. You will often have enough fabric left to make a bikini bottom or top if you cut carefully. Scraps can also be great to applique shapes and designs.
How to Sew a Leotard
Now you are ready to start sewing!
The are several stitches you can use when learning how to sew a leotard so please read how to sew leotards with a regular machine if you haven’t already. If you don’t have a serger the best stitch to use is a narrow zig-zag stitch which will retain the elasticity of the fabric.
Grab a piece of Lycra scrap and try a zig-zag of width 1.0 and length 2.5. Stretch it out and see if the stitches snap or if they bounce back. You want your stitches to have a similar elasticity as your fabric.
Finishing the edge can be done with a wider zig-zag like in the photo below. Try a width of 4.0 and length of 3.0 on your scrap.
Don’t forget your stretch needles. It makes all the difference and will save you from a lot of frustration and skipped stitches.
How to Sew a Leotard: Sewing Instructions
Here is a video I made for you! Enjoy and don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel for more sewing and craft videos.
Step 1: With the RIGHT sides together, stitch the front to the back at the shoulder seams. Most of my leotard patterns have a seam allowance of 1/4 inch (6mm) so make sure you check your individual pattern instructions for any variances.
Step 2: Fold the top of the sleeve in half and mark the center. Match the center top of the sleeve to the shoulder seam. With RIGHT sides together, stitch the sleeve to the armhole. You will notice that the sleeve and the armhole curve in opposite directions so work them together pinning carefully before you sew.
Step 3: Sleeve Hems – Open up your leotard and then on the WRONG side of the fabric, turn up the sleeve hem by the seam allowance in the pattern. Most of my leotard patterns will have a seam allowance of 3/8 inch (1cm) for the hems.
Just zig-zag across the sleeve hem catching in the raw edge. Try a width of 5.0 and a length of 2.5. Experienced sewers could even use a twin needle (double needle) on the outside of the sleeve.
It is often a good idea to test a scrap of fabric first to see if the hem will pucker. If it does then use some hemming tape underneath to smooth it out. (Read how to use hemming tape for perfect stretch hems)
Some patterns call for you to sew the neck elastic at this stage while your pieces are still flat. Ultimately it doesn’t really make a difference whether you sew it now or at the end. It just comes down to personal preference.
Step 4: Now you can fold your leotard with RIGHT sides together, matching the arms and crotch. Stitch the side seams all the way along to the bottom of the sleeves. It is a good idea to reinforce the ends of the sleeves with a few extra stitches.
Stitch the crotch.
How to Make a Leotard – Inserting Elastic
Now you have your leotard all together it is time to sew the elastic in the neck and legs. I have a full tutorial on how to sew elastic in leotards for those of you that haven’t done this before. It may seem a little daunting the first time but it really is quite easy. The trick is to use a good quality elastic that doesn’t stretch out of shape and to accurately divide your openings in quarters.
So I hope that demystifies the process of sewing leotards! They are really rewarding to make and most of the time they will take you longer to cut out than to sew once you have made a couple.