How to make a belly cover
We’ve talked a little about belly covers (aka body stockings) here on this site and Facebook. I got some great feedback so I thought it might be helpful to post a tutorial for those looking to make their own. Belly covers can be expensive, and then there is the matter of fit. However if you are picky or are not a great seamstress, then you may want to buy one ready made. I like making my own because I am cheap and I love to sew, but that may not be the case for everyone.
Disclaimer: I am not a great seamstress. I cut a lot of corners and live in the land of “good enough.” This tutorial should get you started, but it is not perfect or definitive. In fact, I had to make three before one fit me. I’ll talk about the troubles I had and some ways to avoid them throughout the post.
What you’ll need:
- A body stocking, bathing suit or leotard
- 1 yard of stretch mesh or lace fabric (4-way stretch is best)
- 1/4 inch wide braided elastic
- A regular sewing machine
- An overlocking/serger sewing machine (optional, but preferred)
- Matching thread
- Fabric scissors/shears
- Tailor’s chalk, pen or marker
- Cutting mat (optional) or long ruler
First, you’ll need to pick out your fabric. I like to purchase my stretch mesh at Spandex World because the colors are endless. Plus the price is really amazing. The caveat is that you have to have a minimum purchase of $20 and the smallest amount you can buy is one yard. I don’t mind though. Plus, you may be able to make two or three belly covers with one yard of fabric based on how you use your fabric. You’ll also need to be familiar with your sewing machine/s. I prefer to use my serger and you can make the whole belly cover that way. You can also use your regular machine or a mixture of both. In this tutorial, I primarily use my serger, but I break out the old-school machine once and I’ll let you know when.
If you choose to make your belly cover using a regular machine, all of the same instructions will apply. You will want to use the zig-zag stitch on the largest stitch length setting. You may also want to reinforce by sewing a second seam on top of your first seam. You may also do this with a straight stitch, just remember to slightly stretch the fabric as your sew. Another thing to consider is that this tutorial starts off with a ready-made belly cover that I purchased online. It fits me pretty well, so I used that as a base. You could make one from scratch, but I am not that crafty.
Step 1: Lay out your fabric and place your pattern on top.
You’ll just be tracing through one layer of fabric, so don’t fold your fabric in half. As you can see, I’ve used super fancy “pattern weights,” aka candles, to keep everything in place. Leave yourself plenty of seam allowance at the selvage. In this case it’s about two inches. Make sure to smooth and stretch your existing belly cover as much as possible without warping your fabric underneath.
Make sure the bottom (crotch) and the top are aligned and squared off.
Step 2: Trace
Trace the outline of the belly cover using a tailor’s chalk, pen or pencil. I find that marker pens work best on this kind of fabric. Trace just the back of the belly cover at this point. Gently pull out the edges with your fingers as you go along, but be careful not to move the pattern.
When you get to the top elastic line (if using a traditional belly cover) pull at the sides to square it off, using the grid on your cutting matt (if you have one)
If you’re using a bathing suit or leotard as a pattern, you’ll need to measure your torso length from the crotch to right under your breasts. Add about an inch or two to those measurements, just in case. When tracing your pattern, measure upwards from the bottom of the crotch to the length of your torso (plus 1-2 inches). Fold down the item you are using as your pattern and draw a straight horizontal line to make the top of your belly cover. This might be tricky, so you might want to do this step last.
Step 3: Cut
Now you’re ready to cut out your fabric. Add 1-2 inches along the sides for your seam allowance. I have a bad habit of not adding enough seam allowance. My belly covers tend to be a little too small on me because of this. When will I learn? LOL. When in doubt cut it larger than you think you’ll need and cut it down later.
Once you’ve cut the piece out–don’t forget that this is the back– it’s a good idea to make sure the pattern is symmetrical. Fold your piece of fabric in half and even out the edges until everything is perfectly lined up and even. I usually cut out the leg holes at this point.
Take this piece and lay it on top of the uncut fabric. Trace and cut. You’ll want to make sure that everything is lined up properly. You should have two identical pieces after this. However, if you have a large posterior or a large stomach, you may want to make one piece slightly larger than the other one to compensate for this. Only trial and error can help you. I know that I should probably make my back piece a little larger through the hip area to compensate for my booty.
Now, fold the top piece in half and even out the edges. Next, you’ll need to make leg holes for the front. Refer to the shape of the belly cover or pattern you are using for your point of reference. I have found that these belly covers fit more like boy shorts or lady briefs, so sometimes I will refer to an actual pair of underwear.
Fold the front piece in half to make sure both sides are even, trace the shape of your leg holes and cut them out.
And now you’re ready to start sewing!
Step 4: Sew!
Here comes the easy part, in my opinion. I love using a sewing machine or serger. It’s so fun. It takes the tedium of cutting and pinning away.
Here’s a picture of my awesome serger all set up with red thread. I bought it used from Craig’s List for $150.
I have my serger set to trim the edges at 5/8″. In retrospect, I may have been better off disabling the knife to give me a little extra room on the sides. I think this is part of the reason why my belly covers end up a little too small for me. Experiment with seam allowances.
You’ll want to sew the crotch first. I pin along the seam in addition to pinning the pattern pieces together in other key spots to avoid slippage. This kind of fabric is very slippery on a sewing machine, so it is important to pin, pin, pin and go slowly so you can correct any slippage right as it begins to happen.
I should also note that it is hard to determine the right side with this fabric. Some might say it doesn’t really have a right side, but I think it does. You can tell by a slight difference in the texture and the sheen. Regardless of which side is the right side, make sure your two pieces match. Remember the quintessential sewing tip: Right sides together.
Then, you can start sewing the sides together. Leave about two inches of extra space toward the top of one of your side seams. This will help us attach the elastic in a minute.
Next, you can sew on your elastic. You have two choices for attaching the elastic; you can use a regular sewing machine or a serger.
You’ll want to measure the elastic first. I’m not so good at this part and this is another misstep that I often make which causes my belly covers to be a little small on me. I’m sure there is a formula somewhere, but I don’t know it. I just measure around the widest part of my hips while keeping the elastic stretched because the elastic will need to fit over your hips as you put on the belly cover. Try not to stretch it too much, because chances are you won’t be able to replicate the stretch once you are sewing. I also try not to make it too big either, because then the elastic won’t be tight enough around your torso. You’re looking for that sweet spot. You may want to play around with basting the elastic on at different lengths until you find the right length. Once you have that measurement, you may want to write it down and save it for safe keeping. In fact, if you’re really proactive, you may want to use your fabric pieces as a pattern by tracing them on to craft paper, newspaper, parchment paper or pattern paper.
Sewing the elastic on is a bit tricky. Make sure the belly cover is inside out. Place your elastic on top, leaving room if you wish (you can trim it down later if you are using a regular sewing machine. DO NOT do this if using a serger), and pin it down just a little. You’ll be stretching it as you go along, so you needn’t pin the whole thing. You’ll start on the side that has the little opening and secure it.
Put the sewing machine on the zig-zag stitch at the largest stitch length (probably 5 on most machines).
Gently pull the elastic as you sew, trying not to stretch the fabric too much.
Close up the open seam by using the serger or the regular machine.
Trim the excess fabric at the top to be flush with elastic, if you wish.
If you decide to use your serger to add the elastic, then you don’t need to leave the seam opens on the side. You’ll still start on the side seam, but you will taper in with the serger until the elastic and the fabric are flush. Don’t forget to drop your blade! Slightly stretch your elastic as you go along, being careful not to stretch the fabric, too.
Finish by overlapping the elastic on top of itself for about an inch or two and taper the stitches until the garment is free.
And now your belly cover is complete! Make sure all of your threads are secure. I tied off the threads, just to be safe. I know there is a fancier way to tie off threads, especially with sergers, but I’ve never figured it out. If using a sewing machine make sure you always back-stitch at the top and bottom of every seam.
You won’t need to finish the leg holes unless you want to. I don’t because I find this fabric doesn’t run and I like a looser leg hole.
Finally, you may want to think about how to secure your belly cover when you are dancing. You can add loops for straps (I like to use the clear plastic bra straps that come with some bras, or you can buy them separately at the fabric store). Here’s a tutorial on how to add straps (scroll to step 2). The tutorial shows you how to sew them in, but you can sew in loops using twill tape and hook the straps on. That way you can use one set of straps for multiple belly covers.
Snaps also work great but are a bit tricky. You’ll have to add snaps to your costumes in just the right way so that everything snaps together perfectly. I find this a difficult challenge, but the effect is pretty nice if you get it right. Use a minimum of 4 snaps, although it is likely that you will need about 7-8–3 in the front, 1 on each side seam, and 2-3 in the back.
Final belly cover
Elastic sewn on with a regular sewing machine:
Elastic sewn on with a serger:
Viola! A red belly cover to match my beautiful red belly dance costume!
If I left out any steps or if you have any questions, please leave a comment below. I am happy to help if I can! Again, I live in a land of “good enough” so my instructions aren’t precise and it may take a bit of trial and error. Experiment with cheap fabric before buying what you need. Good luck!
Don’t want to mess with all of that sewing? Check out this great tutorial from Lauren on how to make a belly cover using fishnet stockings.