by Leanne Mallory

This is my method for producing a two piece bodysuit. Some of the steps can be skipped (inset pockets, adjustable waist) to simplify how it is made.

  Materials and Supplies

McCalls Patterns 9123 (pants, view D); 2149 (top, view D)
One hide of black leather (make sure you have enough!)
Cotton quilt batting (the lighter weight stuff)
Lining (silk in a satin or charmeuse weave works well)
0.5m Black cotton (for inset pant's pockets)
1.0m Power mesh (double, not single weave type)
Zipper for back of top
Heavy snaps for pants
Pant hook for pants
Black cotton thread (~800m)
Heavy black upholstery thread (nylon preferably)
Satin ribbon for finishing seams
1.5m heavy 1" wide elastic
1.5m 1" wide buttonholed elastic
1 flat button
2 boxes pins (you will need these to keep the lining and quilt batting together)
hem clips or binder clips (use these, not pins to hold the leather to the rest)
white tailor's pencil
leather needles for the sewing machine
leather hand sewing needle
4 bobbins
pliers (for pulling needle through the leather when hand sewing)

lots of patience!

  Hide Selection

Leather comes in several weights. Be wary when choosing which to use. The lightest weight which is used for garments can be too thin for trooping in, and the heaviest garment weight is used in making motorcycle jackets. What is best falls somewhere in between. Price will vary depending on the weight of the leather and is always given as $ per sq ft.

Go to a reputable leather dealer and look carefully at what they have. Compare several hides before making your selection. Avoid hides with too many flaws (holes, scars) in the center. Select one where the texture is consistent across the hide so you won't have large variation in your body suit when it's finished. If you are lucky, a leather dealer will bring in several hides for you to look at.

A typical hide is 45-60 sq ft. Buy more than what you need, not less! An average body suit requires 50-60 sq ft depending on your body size and type, and how many flaws have to be avoided. Dye lots vary and color matching can be a real chore, too. Leather can be tanned and dyed using different processes. Select a hide which has been chemically tanned and dyed. Avoid ones which have been urea or vegetable tanned or dyed. Leather treated with a nonchemical process can get nasty when wet and have the dye run. This is why it is important to be picky about what you buy.

Before I start to lay out the pattern on the leather, I check the hide with a bright light and flag any flaws I want to avoid with sticky notes. Sometimes flaws can be hidden (eg use that spot at the ankle area of the pants or in seam allowances). Usually I spend an hour or so working out how to cut the pattern while minimizing wasteage.

  Trousers (McCall's 9123)

This pattern is designed to have an elastic waistband. I have a sneaky trick I use which combines an elastic waistband with a fly front AND allows the waist size to be adjusted. The L size on the pattern will fit up to ~43" waist. With the adjustment trick, the L can be used for a 38-42" waist (or so). If you want an entirely fitted waist, use a size SMALLER than what the pattern calls for and make a mock-up of it to check for fit before cutting the leather. Remember skin tight = hot. If there is no air or breathing space between your skin and the bodysuit, you will feel much hotter than if you fit it a bit looser and allow some air flow. Fitting looser also allows a set of under armour or a cooling system to be worn.

You will be using pattern pieces 18, 19, 20. The waistband is included in pattern pieces 18 and 19. The only piece which needs altering is 18.

Modifying pattern piece 18 - you will need to add some material at the center front seam to form the fly facing.

Measure 2" out at the top and add a strip 12" long down the center. The bottom of the fly facing will stop roughly where the black diamond is on the pattern. Curve the bottom part. This will partially be trimmed so don't worry about having extra here. You can see where this is added and what it looks like to the left.

  Cutting the Leather and Quilt Batting

Pin the pocket pattern on the cotton and cut out. Zigzag the edges to prevent future fraying. Make sure you have 4 cloth copies (two pockets worth). Set this aside for later.

Now the fun part - laying out the pattern on the hide. Take your time with this to minimize wasteage. Leather is expensive! Cut the leather about 1/2" larger than the pattern. Flip the pattern pieces over to get a 'left' and ''right' for front and back. Make sure you have one of each side for front and back before cutting! (I once made the mistake of cutting two right fronts!)

Quilt batting - use the leather as a template to cut the quilt batting. Add ~1" along the outer leg seam. This is to allow for the effect quilting has on the lining and quilt batting. Both will 'shrink' and be pulled in as you put in the quilt lines. The excess will be trimmed later.

  Cutting the Lining

I use silk which is difficult to work with. A polyester lining would be handled slightly differently. Use each of the quilt batting pieces as a pattern. Lay each one on top of the silk individually, with the 'good' side of the silk facing down. Pin the quilt batting to the lining - not just around the edges, but in a couple lines down the center as well. Make sure the pin heads are facing OUT along the edges so they will be easy to remove. This is to keep the lining from sliding out of place or moving around. Cut out your lining, leaving all the pins in place.

  Preparation for Quilting

Using the hem or binder clips, match the outer seam of the leather to the quilt batting and lining. You are now ready to draw on the first on the quilting lines. I use a white tailor's pencil to draw the lines on. Orient it roughly parallel with the side seam. The pattern is not straight along the edge, but don't worry about this. It won't be noticeable once the pants are sewn together.

Now you are ready to sew in the first of the quilting lines. Fill your 4 bobbins with the black cotton thread. (FYI Cotton is preferable because under stress the thread will break rather than tear the material which is what a polyeater thread will do. Resewing a seam is far easier than trying to patch a torn costume.) Whenever you think you are running low, check the bobbin! You do not want to run out in the middle of a quilt line because you will have a miserable time matching the stitches up if this happens. (I only had this happen once and ended up finishing that line of stitches by hand)


Make sure that the clips are back of your stitching line. Breaking a needle is no fun either. Most important is to go slow and be patient. Quilting the body suit can take up to 16 hours over three days. Rushing often results in broken needles and frustration. Depending on your sewing machine, you may need to drop the feeddogs and manually pull the leather through. Experiment with a scrap or two first before sewing the bodysuit pieces. Sew with the leather side DOWN. The lining will bunch and you will have a mess to sort out if you try to sew with it facing down.

Once the first quilt line is in, pin the lining and quilt batting together from the lining side. Remove the pins from the quilt batting side after you have done this. This is to keep things from shifting and to prevent pins from becoming lost on the inside (just imagine Vader discovering a pin stuck inside his bodysuit - ouch!). I put the pins in rows about 2" apart. You will be doing a lot of pinning and unpinning to get things to look right!

The second stitching line is set 1" over from the first. I use a quilting square and metal meter stick to mark the lines on. Don't mark all of the lines on at once! If you are out by a little bit with one after you sew it in place, the rest will be out. I alternate between sewing a line and marking the next one. Shalamar built a guide to go on his wife's sewing machine which she used to follow the previous stitching lines, so there are other ways to space the lines.

  How Much to Quilt

When quilting the front panel, stop at where the center front seam was marked on the original pattern along the section with the fly facing (see below for where this is). Quilt the leg portion below that. It takes me about 8 hours to quilt all four of the panels in the pants.


  Attaching the Pockets

Change your needle at this point. The old one will have been dulled with all the quilting.

Attach the pockets to the side seams on the pants. Lay the pocket on the leather about 2 1/2" from the top. Sew a narrow seam. Flip the pocket over and sew through the cotton and leather alongside the seam you just made to help it lie flat.

  Seam Finishing - First Method

Now you need to make a decision about how to finish the seams. Most people simply zigzag stitch the lining, quilt batting, and leather together before sewing the seams. This works well on parts which are curved. There are two other techniques I am going to show in this tutorial. Both require a bit of hand sewing, but the finish is far more polished.

No matter how you finish the seams, you will need to 'break' the hide along the seam with a rubber or rawhide mallet to give it some more flexibility. Now is your chance for some revenge after all the quilting. I use my great uncle's rawhide mallet and a wooden block to do this. Simply fold the seam open on the lining side and give each spot a few whacks.

In the first finishing technique, sew the seam together, then fold the selvage back and tack it in place with a series of stitches to the lining. You will then cover this with a ribbon which is sewn by hand over the seam (see below). I call this a single ribbon finish.

  Seam Finishing - Second Method

The second technique. Sew a ribbon along the seam selvage on each piece before you sew the seam together, then sew the seam, making sure that the ribbon is not caught in the seamline. Fold the ribbon back to the lining on the inside and hand sew in place. I call this a double ribbon finish. It also hides the edges. You can see the ribbon sewn along the edge here.

  Sewing the Seams

Back to actually sewing the seams now. Trim the excess lining and quilt batting from the inside leg, and clip the front and back pieces of each leg together along the inside seam. Sew together.

  Fly Construction - 1

Use sticky notes to mark the right and left fronts. The fly facing is handled differently on each. On the left side, trim away the lining and quilt batting in the fly area to the last quilting line or to where the original (no fly facing present) seam line on the pattern was. On the right side, also trim the lining and quilt batting, but to about halfway rather than all the way to the same point (see below).

  Fly Construction - 2

Fold the fly facing back on the right side so that it is roughly in half. Sew in place. The facing on the left will end up being folded and sewn back as clipped below, but don't sew it in place just yet!


  Fly Construction - 3

Trim the lining and quilt batting away from the center back 3" down from the top and to the closest quilting line. This is to reduce bulk when the waistband is folded down. Clip the two pant legs together along the crotch seam (center back through to center front). It will be difficult to sew right through the center, so sew one side, then the other. The centermost section you will be sewing by hand with the upholstery thread. Only sew up to the bottom of the fly facing in front.

  Outer Side Seam and Pockets

This is complicated by the pockets. Match up the front and back at the top. Clip together. On the left side, you will be sewing the front and back together ~3" down from the top of the pieces. On the right, leave the top 1 1/2" of the side seam open, and sew ~1 1/2" down from that spot. This is to allow for the elastic adjustment (you will see what I mean in the waistband section). Pin the pocket together and clip the leather from below the pocket to the bottom on the leg. When you sew the bottom leather portion, sew up into the pocket by ~1" along the straight seam, to about where the white headed pin is in this picture. Leave the top horizontal part of the pocket open. This will be sewn into the waistband.


  Waistband - 1

Here is where things get a bit tricky depending on how you decide to make the waistband. If it is fitted, simply roll it down by 1 1/2" and run a line of stitching around the bottom of the waistband you have created. For my elastic trick, it's a bit more complicated.

On the right side. Unpick the lines of quilting to ~1/2" below the leather. Tie the threads off, run the ends in under the lining and trim the lining and quilting back. Unpick the front flap to ~3" below the top of the piece. Trim the excess leather away to 1 1/2" below the top in front, trim the excess lining and quilt batting back from the side seam. Cut a piece of the heavy elastic so that it is ~1/2 the distance across the top of the front right panel. Sew this onto a piece of the buttonholed elastic which is roughly 4" longer that the heavy elastic one. This will be anchored at the center front and will be the means of adjusting the tightness of the front on the right side.

What you have should look something like what is shown to the left.

  Waistband - 2

Before sewing anything in place, you need to add a button at the side seam, and trim the leather back so the button is accessible. Pin the elastic in place about 1 5/8" below the top. This is so it doesn't get accidentally sewn in when the waistband is folded down. Fold the waistband down and sew in place.


  Waistband - 3

The finished waistband on the right side should look like this.


  Fly Construction - 4

Fly on left side. Remove the lining and quilting batting to a point where it is not doubled over when the fly facing is folded back along the center seam line. You may need to partially unpick one of the quilting lines to do this. Trim the leather at the top down 1 1/2" and over 2" to remove bulk.

  Fly Construction - 5

Fold the fly facing back along what would be the center front seam and secure in place. About 4" down from the top and 3/4" in from the center, place the first of the snaps (male side). Stick a pin through the center hole to hold the snap in place (that’s what the holes are for - snap placement). The other three snaps will be 2-2 1/2" apart. Sew in place using the nylon upholstery thread, only going through one layer of leather. This is so the stitching won’t be visible on the outside.

  Fly Construction - 6

Sew the fly facing in place by following one of the quilt lines on the leather side. Make sure you do not sew too close to the snaps. Trim the excess leather from the fly facing.

  Waistband - 4

Back to the waistband now. Prep your elastic by sewing the heavy elastic to the buttonholed one with vertical lines of stitching between every second buttonhole. This is to strengthen the elastic. Make sure you have enough elastic to go though the waistband which remains to be sewn. Pin the elastic in place, with the buttonholed side against the lining, 1 1/2" down from the top as you did for the right front and sew the waistband in place. Be careful not to accidentally catch the elastic as you sew. I usually sew the waistband in place by hand to avoid this problem.

  Waistband - 5

Attach the pants hook at the top of the fly facing with upholstery thread. Tug on the waistband elastic to make sure it moves freely.

  Fly Construction - 7

Returning to the fly facing on the right side. Sew the loop for the pants hook at the top of the fly facing, lining up the left and right so that they overlap by about 1 1/2". With the two sides hooked together, use pins through the leather of the right fly facing to find the center of each male snap. This gives you where the female snaps will be placed. When you stitch the female snaps in place, be sure to rotate the stitches by 45 degrees relative to where they are on the male snaps. This allows for a better connection when the snaps are together.

  Fly Construction - 8


  Fly Construction - 9

About 3/4" below the lowest snap, sew a horizontal line through both fly facings to hold the fly in place. Given the four layers of leather, this is best done by hand.

  Fly Construction - 10

You are now finished with the top of the pants.

  Hemming the Legs - 1

There are a couple ways to hem the pant legs. The simplest method is to roll up the hem and sew. A way to reduce bulk is to unpick the quilt lines to where the hem is folded up, tie off the threads, and trim the quilt batting and lining away. The leather at the side seams also needs to be cut back.

  Hemming the Legs - 2

I sew the hem with a whip stitch through the leather and into the lining and quilt batting. The stitches are not visible from the leather side with this technique.

  Finished Trousers

Finished trousers!

  Top (McCalls Pattern 2149)

You will need pattern pieces 2, 3, 5, and 6. Each needs to be modified.

  Sleeve (pattern piece 6) - 1

You will be turning an asymmetric sleeve into a symmetrical one. First you need to mark the center of the sleeve. Ignore the dot at the shoulder. The shoulder seam on the front and back bodices is going to be moved. Use the ‘horizontal shorten/lengthen here line’ and the distance between the two black diamonds on the underarm seam to find the center of the sleeve. Draw a line down the center. Ignore the darts in the pattern. The sleeve will need to be lengthened as you will not be adding a cuff to it. Measure your underarm seam (armpit to wrist). Using the intersection of the cuff and underarm seams as your guide, add the difference plus an inch or so to the length of the sleeve.

  Sleeve - 2

Seam adjustment. The sleeve needs to be narrowed. Measure around your wrist and add 1". This is your cuff size. Since you will be wearing a glove over the sleeve, excess material will only add bulk. Measure out from your center line at the wrist end by half this amount and mark it. This is where your underarm seam will end at the wrist. Draw your new underarm seamlines on your pattern starting at the intersection of the shoulder and underarm seam and ending at the spots you have just marked. Measure 5/8" outside of this and draw parallel lines to give your cutting lines. If you have large shoulders, it might be wise to make a muslin, check the fit, and alter the pattern accordingly.

  Bodice (pattern pieces 2, 3, and 5)

There are three major adjustments which need to be made to the bodice front and back. The first is to adjust the shoulder seam placement. Line the front and back up along the shoulder seam line and tape the pattern pieces together.

  Bodice - 2

Cut them apart along the dotted line labelled ‘normal shoulder line.’ Add a new 5/8" seam allowance on each piece with paper.


  Bodice - 3

You can now create the front neck facing. Take pattern piece 5 and add a piece of paper to the shoulder seam. Lay the front bodice (pattern piece 2) over top of it. Use the black diamond at the neck to line up the pieces. Trace around the new part of the bodice front, onto the facing pattern below. This gives you the extension so that the facing and bodice front match.

  Bodice - 4

Measure 2 1/4" out from the neck edge of the facing pattern, and mark this distance. Trim away the excess paper. The center front is not the edge of the pattern. This needs to be adjusted for. Measure 1 3/8" in from the center edge of the facing. This is the correct location for the center front. Cut away the pattern paper you don’t need.

  Bodice - 5

The second major modification to the front and back bodices removes extra width. Be prepared to spend a bit of time measuring your chest and waist and then marking the pattern for where it needs to be decreased in size (the pattern fits on the large side).

Bodice front. Fold the pattern along the center front seam and tape that in place. You will be turning what would have been two pieces in the shirt into one piece for the bodysuit. Mark a horizontal line from the center front to where the side seam stops at the sleeve opening. Draw a second line from the shoulder seam to the hem. Make sure it is parallel with the center front.

  Bodice - 6

You are now going to narrow the pattern for the front. To do this, you need to know the distance from the center of your chest along the line you marked to the side seam. Cut along the vertical line you have drawn and move the two pieces so that you remove the excess width across the front. I always take the measurement I have been given for this and add 1" for breathing space. It’s better to be a bit on the large size than too small. Seams can always be used to bring the size down later and to customize the fit further, if necessary. Line the two pieces up along the shoulder seam. Make sure the distance from the side of your neck to the point of your shoulder matches the pattern. You may need to compromise a bit with the fit. Be patient and take your time. Remember - if you are going to wear ice packs or bulk up with padding under your bodysuit that you will need to make sure there is enough room to allow for that. Tape the two pieces together once you are happy with your adjustments. The hem won’t match along the bottom. You will be fixing the length later.

  Bodice - 7

Bodice back. Mark a horizontal line from the center back to where the side seam stops at the sleeve opening. Add a 3/4" seam allowance to the center back. This is to allow for the zipper. Draw a second line from the shoulder seam to the hem. Make sure it is parallel with the center back.

  Bodice - 8

You are now going to narrow the pattern for the back. To do this, you need to know the distance from the center of your own back along the line you marked to the side seam. Cut along the vertical line you have drawn and move the two pieces so that you remove the excess width across the back. Make sure that the shoulder seam on the back pattern piece matches with that on the front. Line the two pieces up along the shoulder seam and tape once you are happy with the fit. Remember, it’s better to err on the large side rather than the small. The hem won’t match along the bottom.

  Bodice - 9

Top length - back. Most bodysuits have some degree of overlap, with the top being long enough to fall below the waist and over the pants. How much overlap depends on what you want it to look like. My bodysuit snaps together at the waist, so the overlap is only 2". For most people, I set the length so that it stops at the point of the hip. Lower, and it might be visible beneath the codpiece in front. The length is easy enough to shorten if it is too long. If you are long bodied, you might need to add some paper at the bottom of the pattern. Be sure to add ~1" for a hem.

  Bodice - 10

Top length - front. Using the bodice back as a guide, line up the shoulder seams and mark the length along the bottom of the front piece. You may have to add paper along the bottom.

The front will need to be made into a pattern which does not require the leather to be folded over. Tape a sheet of paper you have placed underneath the pattern to the pattern along the center front.

  Bodice - 11

Trace the pattern onto the paper, fold the paper back, and cut away the excess. You now should have a mirror image of the pattern piece you have modified.


At this point you could go cut the leather, if you are confident of the fit. One way to be absolutely sure is to buy a few yards of a cheap, non-stretch material and make a mock-up of the top to test the fit. It's far better to discover you have made a mistake that way then after you have cut out and assembled the top from far more expensive leather.


Cut the leather first, making sure you have a left and right sleeves. Do not add any extra to the pattern since you will have adjusted for fit already. I add an 1" allowance for the snap area at the cuffs. You do not need to do this if you are using a zipper closure or are sewing the seam all the way to the wrist. If the latter, make sure the cuff area is large enough to get your hand through. The back is one layer of the power mesh, so you will need a right and left back. The front and sleeves will also need pieces in the quilt batting and lining. These should be cut a touch larger than the leather to accommodate the effect of quilting it all together. Cut one of the front facing from the lining. Set aside the back and front facing until you have finished quilting.


Unlike the pants, you will be quilting from the center out. I keep the lining and quilt batting pinned together as for the pants to keep the silk from moving around on me. A trick which helps keep the leather, batting, and lining in place is to very carefully pin them together. You want to catch a few fibers on the back of the leather when you do this, not pierce right through the leather. From the center front work towards the sides, placing your quilt lines at 1" intervals. A variant to the front is found in the ROTJ version. The front is actually three pieces, with two vertical seams to either side of the chest box. Unless this is pointed out, most would never notice those exist. I don’t bother sewing the front together in this way unless specifically asked to do so.

  Seam Finishing Prep

I prepare the front for finishing before sewing it to the sleeves or back. The shoulder seams and front neck I pick the quilt lines back by 5/8", tie off and bury the loose threads, and trim away the batting and lining (bulk reduction). The sleeve insets are zigzag stitched. Along each side seam I sew a length of ribbon. The simplest way to finish the edges is to just zigzag them.

  Quilting - Sleeves 1

The sleeves also are quilted from the center outwards. There are two variants for the stitch pattern. The quilt lines can be parallel, spaced evenly at 1" intervals ....

  Quilting Sleeves - 2

..... OR they can taper, so that they diminish in width from shoulder (1" apart) to wrist. You will need to measure across the shoulder at its widest point and the wrist to work out how many lines and what the difference between top and bottom will be. This takes a few minutes more to plan out, but is not that difficult


  Sleeve Prep

I zigzag the shoulder inset edge and trim back the excess batting and lining from the snap area on the sleeves after they have been quilted.

If you haven't zigzagged the edges of the powermesh for the back, do it now.

  Assembly - 1

You are now ready to assemble to bodysuit top. The first seams to sew are at the shoulders, where the front bodice panel attaches to the back. Sew with the powermesh side up so that it lays properly and doesn't bunch. After this seam is in place, I fold the datin ribbon I finish the seam with on the leather side back and sew it in place.

  Assembly - 2

Next is the sleeve seam at the shoulders. This eliminates the problem of trying to inset a sleeve. Match the shoulder seam with the center of the sleeve. Sew from the shoulder seam outwards. You may have to sew the stitches over the shoulder seam by hand.

  Assembly - 3

What you should have once both sleeves are attached looks like this.


  Assembly - 4

Last set of seams are the underarm on the sleeve and side seam on the bodice. Sew from the armpit outwards. Where the seams meet in the armpit will require a few stitches to go in by hand due to the thickness of all the materials at that point. Leave about 6" open above the wrist for the snaps to be attached. Fold over the satin ribbon on the side seam and tack in place to cover the raw leather edges.

  Assembly - 5

The front neck facing is next. You will need to clip the leather so that the curve lies flat. Fold the facing to the inside and sew in place. It should reach to the side seams. use a rolled short hem along the back of the neck. Sew in place with a zigzag stitch by hand or machine to allow the powermesh to stretch.

  Assembly - 6


  Zipper Installation - 1

You will want a coat type zipper which opens fully. Buy one which is fairly heavy duty and easy to start and zip up. With the right side of the top to the inside, roll the center back edge in by ~3/8". Repeat this so that you have three layers of fabric and pin in place.

  Zipper Installation - 2

Turn the top right side out. Pin the zipper underneath the hem you have just created and sew in place. I sew twice on each side, once close to the zipper, and a second time ~1/4" out. This gives a bit of strength to the stitching.

  Zipper Installation - 3



  Bodice Hem - 1

In the back, where the powermesh is, use a simple rolled hem sewn with a zigzag stitch to allow the fabric to stretch. In the front, unpick the quilt lines to the point where the hem will be folded up. Tie off the loose threads at that point and clip off the lining and quilt batting to remove excess material. Fold the hem up and sew in place. At the side seams, the powermesh should be folded to the back and the quilted leather to the front.

  Bodice Hem - 2



  Cuffs - 1

These can be finished with a simple hem or with a snap opening at the wrist. Prepare the cuff area by unpicking the quilting lines to the hem fold, tie off the threads, and remove the excess lining and quilt batting. The sleeve seam should be open to about 3 1/2" above where the hem fold will be to allow for the snap closure (if you choose this option). If you want the sleeve to be tight at the wrist, snaps will allow you to get your hand through.

  Cuffs - 2

Adding the snaps is a bit like origami with leather. On one side, sew the male snaps on what would be the seam allowance. I use nylon thread for this as there could be a fair amount of stress placed on the snaps. On the opposite side, with the extra leather, sew the female snaps through one layer of leather, making sure that they meet up properly with the male sides. This may take a bit of adjusting. Once the snaps are sew in place, take the extra leather in place and hem the cuff. The picture below will give you an idea of what is involved here.


  Cuffs - 3

The finished cuff will look like this from the inside....

  Cuffs - 4

.... and outside.


  Finished Top

Your bodysuit is now finished!

  Bodysuit Care

Leather has to be cleaned with a special process. You cannot wash it is water! To keep it supple, use saddle soap or another surface product designed specifically for leather. Turn the bodysuit inside out immediately after wearing it to allow it to air dry. This prevents odour buildup and water damage from sweat to the lining and leather. Have it professionally cleaned regularly. This is well worth the cost and will extend the life of your bodysuit.