Catsuits tend to come in one of three fabrics:
Spandex is the generic term used for Lycra(tm)-like fabrics. Lycra is a trademark of DuPont, yadda yadda yadda.
|I think the best retailer in the UK is FabricLand, who
run a mail-order service from their shops in Bournemouth. They're good value
and friendly, so please don't be put off by their rather quirky website. You want 'Lycra
By way of comparison, the shops on Berwick Street in Soho sell black shiny lycra for £15/m, whereas FabricLand sell £8/m (or £6/m for over 10m, with other bulk reductions and cheaper less shiny fabric available).
I have had the following recommendation for the following US suppliers; my correspondant says: "The hundreds of yards of fabrics from these guys have always arrived on-time and as described on their web sites:
Like most fabric shopping, spandex and velour is largely just a matter of cost and of feeling it in the shop - if it feels cheap and tacky, then it won't feel any better when it's a garment.
Spandex is an elastic - elastaine - worked into threads like nylon, cotton, wool, or whatever. The higher the elastaine content, the more stretchy the fabric. Lots of comfort clothes have low elastaine - 1%-5%. The athletic grade stuff is more like 12%-15%, and will stretch almost twice as large.
Nylon-spandex gets sparkly/shiny when it's stretched, an effect I like; it seems that blokes' cycleshorts are made from it. Cotton/spandex is dull, and it seems most womens' stuff is made from that (I can't imagine why).
You can also buy stretch velvet. The stuff I like comes from Korea, but I don't know the manufacturer. (I should post a picture of the selvedge, in case someone can tell me who it is.) I've bought lots in California, but just recently John Lewis started selling it in black (for only lots of money).
The catsuit patterns I have on this site assume four-way stretch fabric. In the shop, try seeing how stretchy the stuff is, and how far it feels natural to stretch it (it should return to its original length). A few four-way stretch fabrics can run: try teasing the non-machined edge to see if that happens (or just look to see whether it's already happened).
As for how much fabric to ask for, fabric typically comes in two widths: 60" (152cm) and 45" (114cm). (Obviously, if your widest pattern-piece is more than 45" you can't use that.) Curiously, I don't recall ever having seen 4-way stretch in 45", although I have seen 2-way stretch in 60" wide.
In general, the only real way to know what length of fabric to buy is to make the pattern-pieces and see how best to arrange them into the width, but you can't properly determine fabric stretch from a sample, and the stretch may inform how large you make the suit, so for the first time you'll have to guess. As rough guidance, I'm 5'10 (177cm) tall and typically expect to use 60"x2m (60"x78") for a catsuit.
If you're doing something fancy (like the options, once I've written them) with stretch velvet, remember that all your pieces will need to be cut with the fur stroking in the right direction, so you might need more.
A word about spandex-backed PVC: if you stretch it too far, it will develop tiny tears in the PVC. My gold PVC suit has gone all sparkly where that's happened, which is a nice enough effect, but it's no longer as mirror-like as it was. At least I have a fair amount left for next time. :)
Latex is a natural product, made from the sap of the rubber tree. There are other rubbers, but latex is pretty cheap and seems to be the traditional thing for rubber fetishists (and let's face it, nobody else will be trying to make their own catsuits - except apparently SCUBA enthusiasts... you go guys!).
|In the UK, FourD Rubber is the canonical place to order sheet latex from, if you can cope with their minimum order. Occasionally, someone will order a roll from them and sell smaller pieces on Ebay (in particular, Armory-Auctions is an Ebay-shop I've not tried but which looks promising), or you could look on rubberist.net.|
The pros - rubber is much stretchier than lycra (to the point of not needing zips: you can get in through a normal neckline), is stronger, is lovely and shiny if you polish it, and it makes entertaining squeaky noises when you rub it (or perhaps that's the person wearing it).
The cons - rubber is hopeless for letting your skin breathe, higher-maintenance than lycra, relatively difficult to work with, and some people are nastily allergic to it. It's also very high friction, so you're liable to spend a lot of talc or 'personal lubricants' unless you take steps:
The friction problem can be largely eliminated if you mix your rubber up with bleach and acid (which is as dangerous as it sounds, and needs all the precautions you might imagine). The process is called 'chlorinating' the rubber, and it results in a surface which is slippery like paper when dry, a normal rubbery friction when wet (e.g. sweat), while leaving it nice and stretchy and usually shiny.
I started looking into rubber because the good folks from rubberist.net linked here. They seemed quite friendly, and... well, rubber struck me as entertaining experiment so I ordered 15m of black .33mm sheet latex - the minimum order from FourD Rubber. They had it in stock, and managed to get it to me very quickly.
Leather's expensive. And not stretchy. And needs careful upkeep to keep it in good condition. And I don't think sergers like it very much. 'Nuff said.