Link to better zentai instructions (update of site in progress)
Zentai refers to a bodysuit with hood, gloves, and feet attached for full coverage. 'Zentai taitsu' apparently means 'whole body tights' in Japanese where it supposedly started. (If you're curious about Zentai, take a look at Ayus Zentai for a gentle introduction - they're very friendly and safely on the other side of the glass.)
It's simple and obvious to replace a catsuit's mock turtleneck neckline with a hood with gloves and feet to make a zentai. Most such suits have two zips: a short one down from the top of the hood to the nape of the neck, and one up the back.
This page presents a way to make a zipless zentai suit - someone's suggested calling it an 'Origami Zentai'. The benefit is that there's no zip making the back seam stiff and non-stretchy, and no need to contort to struggle to reach right between your shoulderblades for a tiny zip key (although there's still a little contortion needed). Unlike a shoulder-zip zentai (which also eliminates the back zip), the shoulder-seams aren't itchy and won't pucker. The disadvantage is that it pulls up under the armpits, much like the surplice neckline, which can be uncomfortable if your elastic is too strong.
(I've been using 1" wide elastic, which is too strong. I'd suggest trying 1/2" elastic.)
See also 'failures' below.
This pattern is based on the normal raglan sleeve construction, but has a novel overlap of the whole shoulder region to make a closure formed of fabric and elastic instead of a zip or buttons: the back of the suit continues over the shoulders for a short distance down the chest (with some short inner sleeves to hold it in position), while the front of the suit continues with the real outer sleeves over the shoulders for a short distance down the back.
- Read how to draft the raglan pattern. Draft this pattern as normal, but you only need to draft the front raglan seam for the left side, and the rear raglan seam for the right side. (See diagram to the side.) Don't cut it apart yet to add the shoulder darts: we're going to augment the sleeves first.
- Be careful to make sure that the fabric will stretch enough to let your head in through the neck with 10% to spare.
- Mark the left-front side of the pattern 'Front-outer' and the right-rear side 'Back-inner'.
- For the 'front-outer' side, measure about four inches up the centre BACK line to K, and extend UU' by 2" to T (as shown in diagram) and draw a smooth curve TK. TKT is the rear 'tension curve', running from armpit to armpit, over the back.
- (This 2" is actually 1" plus the width of your elastic. I've been using 1" wide elastic, but find it pulls too much; try 1/2" elastic.)
- For the 'back-inner' side, you have a choice: you can either make a
chest-crossing (blue, above) or behind-the-neck (gold, above) suit.
- Chest-crossing (blue above): This is like the 'front-outer' side: measure four inches down the centre FRONT line to K' and extend U'U by 1" to T', then draw the 'tension curve' T'K'T' which will run from armpit to armpit, across the front. You can see this as the pale yellow area in the diagram for the short sleeve arm to the side.
- Behind-the-neck (gold above): extend U'U by 1" to T', then plot a tangent from T' to the neckline circle. TH'H'T will be the 'tension curve'.
- Note: Both options work. The first is more comfortable - no pulling on the neck or against the front of the shoulders, and reduced pulling up under the arms, but is harder to doff than the second. (Pull the neckline over your head to the back of your neck, and work it down your shoulders, then reach up behind your back from below, catch the neckline, and gently work it down by tugging alternate sides.)
- The reason for starting the tension curves at T instead of U is to reduce pulling at your underarm, much as for the surplice neckline. You will need a corresponding 2" long slash at U on the body (or however long you made U'T).
- Now draft the shoulder darts as for the raglan sleeve, remembering that you will pivot the pieces around U, not T.
- You will have two sleeve-shoulder patterns, each with one raglan seam, and one 'tension curve' (the curve to which you will sew elastic).
- Draft the 'front-outer' sleeve to full arm length (with a glove, if you want one) and the 'back-inner' sleeve to T-shirt length.
- Join the front chest and back panels to the main body pattern pieces.
- You must add seam allowance to all pieces (at least in this shoulder/arm region), because the details are sufficiently small that it becomes significant.
- Cut each sleeve piece from folded cloth (for four fabric pieces).
- Sew the body completely.
- Sew the shoulder darts for each shoulder piece separately.
- Sew the front and back raglan seams to the corresponding sleeve pieces.
- Sew the short centre-back seams of the outer layer together. If you drafted a chest-crossing suit, sew the centre-front seams of the inner layer too.
- Sew elastic along the tension curve of the sleeve pieces - either use a casing (long rectangle folded double and sewn along one edge, with elastic threaded through), or just zig-zag directly on (you will need more seam allowance if you sew the elastic on directly).
- If you're sewing a chest-crossing suit, sew a casing (without elastic) around the inner layer's neck hole, making sure your head can fit through it before you sew, and noticing if the sewn edge is tight: you may need to stretch this while you're sewing it to the suit.
- Pin the two sleeve pieces together so the short inner sleeve's outer surface is against the long outer sleeve's inner surface.
- Arrange the layers together along the long main sleeve seam, at the
underm, and down the short slash in the body at U, and sew.
This can be difficult because the elastic and the multiple layers of cloth make a fat wad to get through the sewing machine, even with the elastic not overlapping, but it can be eased by tacking the fat bit by hand first, or by pinning and sewing the front layers together, then the rear layers, and then both together: it's much easier to control only two layers at a time. I also find it helpful to turn the sewing machine slowly by hand.
- Sew the hood into the outer layer's neck circumference, being careful that the face is at the front.
It's fairly easy to put this on, but make sure you don't need to 'go' before you try this for the first few times:
- Pull it up your legs and body as normal.
- Find the short inner sleeves and slide your arms through them, and if it's a chest-crossing suit, pull the neck over your head. (You might find it easier to work this sleeve, neck, sleeve, rather than sleeve, sleeve, neck.)
- Pull the outer sleeves on: raise your arm to see the seam attaching the two sleeves together, and hook a finger of the opposite hand into the start of the outer sleeve to help your arm in.
- Once you have the sleeves on (and once you've read the taking-off instructions for the hood, below) you can pull the tension curve and hood over your head.
Taking this off is only a little harder than putting it on:
- This process is easier if you let the suit turn itself inside out if it wants to.
- Ease the hood gently off your head, perhaps by pulling the chin up to your nose and tucking your chin down against your neck.
- Pull the chin and the top of the hood gently off, keeping your chin tucked, and then draw the rear tension curve over your head and over your shoulders.
- Slide the main sleeves off your arms by holding the tension curve of the sleeve at the shoulder with your opposite hand and drawing your arm out, letting the sleeve invert.
- If it's a chest-crossing suit, pull the inner neckline over your head to the back of your neck.
- Now comes the tricky bit. (It's easier with a behind-the-neck suit.)
- Slide the inner tension curve over one shoulder as far down as you can with the opposite hand, also easing the inner sleeve a short way down the arm so its armpit is clear and not gripping any of the suit.
- Using the same hand to catch the tension curve by your neck on the other side with your fingers, drop your elbow to pull that over your shoulder.
- Free up what's caught under that side's underarm (perhaps with your thumb, pulling down on the front tension curve.)
- Reach up behind your back to grasp any part of the neckline and work it gently down, tugging in different places, until you can use your elbows.
I've been pondering alternatives to this method of entry, and recently tried making a suit with an overlap on the back - a V shape extending from coccyx to shoulders. Overall, it works fairly well, but it was very hard to work out how to sew the bottom ends of the V to make it lay flat (still not solved properly) and the edges of the V tend to try to spread to expose the lower spine, an effect that was exacerbated when I moved the top ends of the V higher (to make the suit easier to put on) and in the process made its top narrower.
Since I deliberately made this suit less taut than normal - only 85% scaling - the spreading V needs further thought: I could use hooks-and-eyes, perhaps, or introduce extra seams across the top of the legs, to spread the bottom of the V out.