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Patternmaking & Sewing Notes
by Don McCunn

Jumpsuits, Onesies, Overalls, etc.

Garments hang from three areas of the body: the shoulders, the waist-to-hip region, and for women the difference between the above the bust and full bust.

The garments described here are bifrucated* garments that hang from the shoulders and extend down to include the legs. Marcus B. and I were discussing this issue in my Reddit group Bespoke Sewing Patterns. He had this to say:

"Generally speaking I think that an overweight man (and probably women with "non standard" figures too) nowadays often have to be content with bad fitting and often plainly uncomfortable clothes simply because the RTW industry doesn't account for them. It's a shame and a brief look in the times where custom made garnments were more common shows so many stunning solutions have totally disappeared."

I have had several occasions to create this type of garment which I will describe here.

* Bifrucated – To divide into two branches or parts.

Body Suit

One of the first garments I used this construction technique for back in the 70s was to create a body suit to change the shape of an actor. I was asked to design the costumes for a production on The Would Be Gentleman. The actor who was cast in the lead had a very slight build. So I created a body suit out of muslin that was close fitting, then used cotton batting to give the actor a more rotund appearance.

Would Be Gentleman

It was a fun experience for me because friends of the lead came to opening night. They accosted him after the show and said "Where were you? We came to see you but never saw you." He had actually been on stage almost the entire production. For those of you interested in costuming, I found a drawing of that garment in a history book. It is historically accurate. I should know, I played the role of the tailor in the show.

I used the same concept for a production of Stepping Out to change a young dancer into a more matronly appearance. The advantage of using a body suit for this is that padding can be added to the thighs as well as the stomach to keep the proportions more natural. Cotton batting is my go to material for padding because of the way it follows the movement of the body. And Stepping Out has some very serious tap dancing sequences which she executed beautifully.

Jumpsuits (aka Onesies)

When I wrote the first edition of my book in the early 70s, jumpsuits were the rage. I included instructions for how to make one in the style of the period. I have scanned the nine pages from the book into a PDF file which you can see by clicking the image below. These instructions use the basic bodice (aka upper torso) sloper and pants measurements described in my How to Make Sewing Patterns. In addition to jumpsuits these instructions also include how to make gussets for both the arm and crotch curve.

These pages are something I have left out of my subsequent editions of How to Make Sewing Patterns. But Jumpsuits, aka Onesies, seem to be back in vogue.

Cover and Jumpsuit

Recommended Reading: Fashion Archives: A Look at the History of the Jumpsuit

Long Johns & Overalls

At the turn of this century I was introduced to fashion dolls. I was fascinated by the idea of developing fashions in quarter scale. I had done bespoke* patterns up until now which were never designed to be mass-produced. But each brand of fashion doll had a specific body sculpt that was reproduced faithfully thousands of times.

I decided to try selling patterns for fashion dolls. Some patterns were designed for a specific doll. But some patterns could work on all three brands of fashion dolls. I was drawn to the idea of reproducing the garments inspired by the "We Can Do It" poster created to get women to work for WWII.

I was intrigued by the idea of using long johns for the undergarments and overalls for the outer garment. You can see the images and patterns for each of these.

* Bespoke – Made for a particular customer.
We Can Do It

Long Johns

As you can see I wanted to have one pattern that could be used for both short and long versions. They are made out of t-shirt fabric which allows the front and back pants pattern to be merged at the side seam.

Long Johns for Fashion Dolls


I was interested to see that I could use the same denim fabric as would be used for full size garments. I was fortunate to find doll size overall buckles.

Both the long johns and the overalls are roomey enough that they work on all three body sculpts. I like to refer to these garments and patterns as Ready-to-Wear (RTW) to distinguish it from Bespoke.

Overalls for Fashion Dolls

Overalls for Bellies

I had the priviledge of working with my model Alex when she was going through her first pregnancy. She asked me to make her a pair of overalls which I was glad to do. They gave her the comfort of a garment that would expand as she did without having to worry about a constantly changing waistline. The lacing at the side also gave her some ability to adjust how snug the garment fit.

I am including this here because, as Marcus B. said, people with waists larger than hips are going to have a hard time finding clothes that are comfortable. By constructing the garment so it hangs from the shoulders, as all the garments above do, this problem can be resolved.

As you can see these overalls curve in under the belly. If a person does not have a changing waistline like this, I recommend extending the front crotch curve so the fabric hangs straight down the front of the leg to the cuff as I described on my web page Pants Fitting Issues. See "Adjusting for Tummies" at the bottom of that web page. I have also included instructions for adjusting a pants sloper in the second edition of my How to Make Sewing Patterns (2016) on pages 48 and 49.

  Alex in Overalls

Copyright © 2015 by Donald H. McCunn