I finished my Cheetara costume today! I thought it was going to be really easy and quick—just buy a leotard, tights, and orange boots—but it turned out the leotard I mail-ordered was 4 inches shorter than my torso and too small across the bust. It was unwearable! It tugged uncomfortably and looked like a full-body sports bra (i.e. flat everywhere). After trying to cut it up and re-shape it, I concluded that it was a lost cause. So instead I made my own!

As usual, leotards are another piece of clothing simply not designed for women with a large bust and small waist. So here are instructions for how to make your own from scratch, based on panties (or a bikini) and a tank top that you already own. I wouldn’t recommend using it for gymnastics or other extreme exercise, but it’s great for costumes and light wear!

Materials: 1 to 2 yards four-way stretch fabric (must be four-way, not two-way—a high spandex content is your best bet), thread, needle, measuring tape, white chalk
Time: 2 hours to 2 days, depending on your sewing proficiency

1. First, start by picking out a bikini bottom or panties that have the shape you want for the bottom of your leotard. Also pick out a tank top that has the shape of straps that you would like. If you want a halter or cross-back leotard, then you only need to worry about the front side of the tank. But if you’re not comfortable experimenting, pick a tank whose same exact shape you want to replicate.

2. Lay out your fabric in a single layer and place the bikini on top. Trace around the shape with white chalk, leaving about a half-inch of extra space for your seam allowance. Also note the halfway point at the very bottom. In my case, the width was about 3.5 inches, so I marked it at the 1.75-inch spot. Note: You only need to draw one half of the leotard. Later, you’ll fold the fabric in half and cut it out that way, to keep everything symmetrical.

3. Next, you need to do some measuring. You will need:

a. The measurement from your crotch seam to your shoulder seam. To maintain accuracy, it helps to measure this while wearing the bikini and tank top.

b. The measurement around the thinnest part of your waist.

c. From the thinnest point of your waist down to your crotch seam.

d. The fullest point around your bust. Measure this while wearing the bra you plan to wear with the leotard.

e. The measurement from the fullest point of your bust up to your shoulder seam.

4. Now lay your tank top down on your fabric, with the shoulder seam at the height based on measurement A. Mark with your chalk the width and height of the strap. Make sure to leave extra seam allowance.

5. Now, based on where you want the neckline to go, mark a little cross in the center lowest point. Keep this mark in line with the half-mark at the base of the bikini. Then draw a line from the shoulder to this point. Use your tank as a guide or shape it the way you want.

6. Take measurement D, and divide it in half. Then divide that in half again. Remember this number for the next step.

7. Now take measurement E and lightly draw that distance from the shoulder seam downward. Then take your number from Step 6, and line it up so it starts at the center of the leotard and runs horizontally at the base of measurement E. Lightly draw the horizontal line and make a heavy mark at the outside edge. This is the bottom of your armhole.

8. Following the shape of your tank as a guide, draw a curved line from Step 7’s mark up to the shoulder.

9. Now take measurement C, and mark its location with a cross.

10. Then divide measurement B in half, then in half again. Take this distance and lightly draw a line from Step 9’s cross outward. Heavily mark this point. Now draw a heavy curved line from here up to the armpit mark of Step 7.

11. Lastly, draw a heavy curved line from Step 10’s point to the bikini bottom.

12. Fold your fabric in half along the halfway point of your leotard, pin it in place so it doesn’t slide while cutting, and cut it out. When you unfold it, you’ll have the front half of your leotard.

13. Now repeat the process for the backside, only use the back of your bikini and tank. If you want to make it a halter top or crossback, you’ll draw a horizontal line straight across at the location you wish the leotard to rest on your back. Do not mark straps at all, and cut across this line when you’re cutting out the whole piece. For either one, cut out two strips of fabric at the desired length, making sure one end is the exact same width as the front straps. You’ll then sew these pieces to the front straps before moving on to the next step.

14. Sandwich the front and back of the leotard with the “wrong” side of the fabric facing outward. Now sew together the crotch at the bottom of the bikini. Keeping it sandwiched the same way, line up the sides, and sew from the top of the bikini up to the armpit. Then sew each front strap to the back strap along the top edge.

15. If you are doing normal straps and not a halter or crossback, then you can now turn your leotard right-side out and try it on. If you want it tighter anywhere along the body, you don’t need to undo anything. Simply turn it inside out once again and sew along the same shape, only further in.

16. The last step is to hem all the raw edges. Turn your leotard inside-out. All along the edges, fold about a half inch over, toward yourself. Pin all along this fold to hold it in place, then sew along it, close to (but not touching) the outer edge.

17. You’re done! Unless you want a crossback, in which case there is one more step. Put on the leotard and pull the straps into the placement you want. Look in a mirror to see where they hit the leotard’s back, or have someone pin the straps in place. Take off the leotard and sew the straps in place on the inside of the body.

And, of course, here are photos of my Cheetara costume (please disregard the grey undies showing around my hips—I didn’t feel like changing into nude just for the photo!):

The tights, by the way, come from welovecolors.com, a fantastic online store that carries every style and color of leggings, tights, and fishnets imaginable. Highly recommended (except for the leotards)!