If you are a beginner then probably the most daunting part of learning how to make your own leotard is sewing elastic in the legs, arms and neck. Never fear! It is actually quite easy to learn how to sew elastic in leotards And once you have done it a couple of times you will wonder why you ever spent money on store-bought leotards and swimwear.
How to Sew Elastic in Leotards and Swimwear
These are the instructions for sewing elastic in all my swimsuit patterns and leotard patterns. There may be slight differences in other brands of patterns so always double-check the instructions before sewing and compare methods.
My photos show you how to sew elastic in leotards legs but the method for the neck or waist is exactly the same.
If you want to learn how to make a leotard or swimwear then the key items you will need to get a professional result are the right elastic and the right sewing machine needles. Don’t skimp on either of these as you will regret it.
Best Elastic for Leotards and Swimwear?
The best elastic for leotards is swimwear elastic. This elastic is specially treated to be chlorine and sweat resistant and tends to be quite firm. It is typically woven elastic so it doesn’t stretch out when you sew over it.
Most brands come in ¼ inch (6mm) or ⅜ inch (1cm) widths. The majority of my leotard patterns and swimwear patterns use the ⅜ inch (1.0cm) width as it is easier for beginners to sew over and gives more consistent results. Quality swimwear elastic brands include Birch (Australia), Hemline(UK) and Dritz (USA).
Further reading: Elastic Types Guide
Needles to Sew Elastic in Leotards and Swimwear
Always use a stretch needle to sew your elastic in leotards and swimwear. Regular needles will give you skipped stitches. Quality brands that manufacture stretch needles include Singer, Klass and Schmetz.
Further reading: Sewing Needle Guide
How To Sew Elastic in Leotards and Swimwear- Video
Before you start, check out this quick video I made to show you how to sew elastic in leotards. It really is so easy!
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How to Sew Elastic in Leotards and Swimwear – Instructions
Step 1 – Prepare Elastic
Cut the elastic the length indicated in the pattern. Give the elastic a good stretch and then double-check the length. A good quality elastic should always return to its original length once stretched.
Overlap the ends of the elastics by ½ inch (12mm) and sew it in a circle. Keep the overlap nice and flat by stitching 2 rows as shown.
Mark the elastic in quarters. This is easiest to do by folding it in half then half again.
Step 2 – Marking Quarters
Now you will need to mark the leg hole in quarters. Use the same folding method. I always make the first mark at the crotch then fold and fold again to find the other marks. Mark on the WRONG side of the fabric.
Note that the length of the curve at the front and back of the leg is different so the top mark will not be at the side seam. It will be slightly forward.
Step 3 – Matching Quarters
On the WRONG side of the pants, now match and pin the quarter marks on the elastic to the quarter marks on the leghole. I always try and put the overlap of the elastic at the crotch so no bulk shows through around the curve of the legs.
Match the edge of the elastic to the edge of the leg hole. The elastic is slightly smaller than the fabric edge.
Step 4 – Stitch
Zig-Zag around the leg hole with a wide zig-zag stitch (width 6.0 and length 3.0) right in the middle of the elastic. You will need to stretch the elastic out as you sew between the marked points.
Step 5 – Fold and Stitch Again
Now with the pants still the WRONG way out fold the elastic in by the width of the elastic and zig-zag over the edge with a narrower stitch. (width 4.0 and length 2.0).
You will be stitching so the zig-zag goes off the edge of the elastic.
See how on the inside you will see 2 rows of stitching but the outside has just the one row visible.
Repeat this elastic method for the other leg and neck or waist if required.
How to Sew Elastic in Leotards – Extra Tips
Sewing Elastic in the Waist
The waist is a little easier since it is just straight across. When you divide in the waist in quarters, it will have marks at center front, center back and the side seams.
Sewing Elastic in the Neck
When dividing the neck in quarters, start with marking the center front and center back. Then match these marks and fold in half to get the mid-points. In the majority of leotards or swimwear, the mid-points will not be at the shoulder seams as the front and back neck will usually be different heights.
I hope this tutorial gives you the confidence to make your own leotard or swimwear. Please comment below if you have any questions.
How Much Elastic Do You Need for a Leotard
When purchasing elastic for a leotard, get at least the size of the armholes, neck and leg, and add another 10 inches for backup. The actual amount you use will be smaller than the openings. The best width elastic for leotards and swimsuits is ⅜ inch (1cm) wide.
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