How to Sew Stretchy Fabric: sewing stretch fabric with maake
The definitive guide to sewing stretch fabric.
After you have mastered sewing with woven fabric, it’s time for the big step: sewing with the very intimidating stretch fabric!
But where did sewing stretch fabric get this reputation?
It’s actually a sewing myth. A stretchy textile isn’t as firm a fabric as cotton or linen so it can dance around the sewing machine.
Know that you have to have a different approach when you sew lycra, spandex or polyester fabric blends. If you do that, it will help get you there. There are some tips and tricks you have to follow. After that, you’ll be able to sew your own leggings and T-shirts (these are actually very easy to sew).
What are stretch fabrics?
A stretch material can be any of a number of stretch fabrics, made from knitted or woven fibres, that stretches. There are several fabrics that fall into this category. But mostly, stretchy fabrics are jersey knit fabrics. They feature a 4-way stretch, ie the fabric can stretch in every direction lengthwise as well as crosswise.
Some stretchy fabrics only have a 2-way stretch, depending on the type of fabric you’re using to make a product. No matter the fabric stretch, the biggest advantage of sewing with this type of fabric is that the raw edges don’t fray!
Popular stretch fabrics include lycra and polyester blends, or when you sew knit fabrics that are single knit fabrics or double knits. We love both single- and double knit fabric because these stretch fabrics are so comfortable to wear. Especially when you're exercising or lounging – the fabric moves with the body, is breathable and never constricts.
Garments made from stretch fabric include T-shirts, leggings and other activewear as well as loungewear (tracksuits, pyjamas etc) and underwear. Popular lycra fabric also includes swimwear, while you would use a thicker double knit fabric for clothing like pants and skirts.
A stretch material pattern is excellent for all occasions. This fabric is ideal for all ages and styles. Knowing how to determine the stretch factor in the fabric helps you understand how to cut out the perfect outfit.
The patterns may read a fabric with 20%, 50%, 75% stretch factor.
If you are a beginner, choose a knit pattern and fabric with a small amount of stretch. This will make it easier for you to handle the fabric. When sewing knit fabrics that are thicker jersey knits, you’ll find that stitches on these fabrics tend to be easier to sew than thinner knits. If you’re just getting started with stretch fabric, ‘stable’ jersey knit fabric is easier to work with. You may want to make your life easier and find a fabric that doesn’t curl at the edges. This is especially important if it's your first jersey knit fabric project and you’re wary of sewing with knits.
Choose the perfect stretch fabric
maake has an exclusive selection of 80 base fabric types, many of which are stretchy fabrics, including knits. Take a look at our fabric collection:
Important tips to use when you sew stretchy fabric
- Before you start sewing, wash your fabric. Make sure you lay the fabric flat to dry so that it doesn’t lose its shape.
- If you want a stretchy material that is easy to sew, make sure you choose a fabric that is flat and doesn’t curl, as this will be easier to sew. If the fabric curls at the edges, make sure to buy a little more fabric so that you can cut off the curly bits. Otherwise, get rid of the curl by using a starch spray and ironing the edges of the fabric.
- Before you start cutting, lay your fabric out flat on a table/surface. Make sure not to stretch the fabric. Take your pattern and put it on the fabric. Keep the fabric in its place by pinning it down and using weight, like a scissors, to flatten it while you sew stitches.
- When you cut the fabric, make sure that the pins stay inside your seam allowance so that when you sew, the stitches align.
- Go slowly throughout the entire sewing process. Make sure that the fabric is constantly flat and doesn’t move, or your stitches will be skew.
Sewing stretch fabric: Tips and tricks
Sewing with stretchy textiles for beginners is a great choice. This fabric is also a dream choice for a wide range of garments, no matter how skilled a sewer you are: the properties of this popular texture make it such a fun fabric to work with. So, take a look at the range of fabric options available to start your next creative project.
How to handle this type of fabric
When you sew the fabric pieces together, gently guide the fabric through the feed dogs of the sewing machine. Do not make abrupt movements. This should be a consistent rule to follow when using a fabric sewing machine. And avoid pushing or pulling the fabric. A common complaint people have when they sew stretch material, is that the fabric appears wavy and misshapen. The best and most simple way to prevent this is to ensure not to stretch the fabric when you sew. The only time you can do this is if the pattern needs it. If you pull your garment while you sew, it will more than likely come out misshapen.
Setting your device at a slow speed when you sew will help you be more gentle with your fabric. Your machine may advise you to loosen the pressure so consult your manual to check if possible. Ensure you choose the best fabric for your project or pattern.
Before you get started...
When getting started, sew the fabric in the direction that is the least stretchy. Some fabric has the same amount of stretch in all directions. This means that going in the least stretchy direction is not always possible, but it’s worth giving it a try. Gently pull the fabric in the two different directions, and check if you notice any difference. There is a way to minimise your machine’s natural pull on stretchy fabric. Position the fabric so that you will sew in the direction that’s the least elastic.
Another thing to bear in mind is to always pre-wash your fabric before you sew, especially when it's stretchy. Leave it to dry flat for a day so that it won’t lose its shape. Then, grab your pattern and place it on the fabric. Pin it and cut out the pattern with your shiny new scissors.
Some kinds of stretchy fabric such as jersey knits have edges that tend to curl. This makes the fabric trickier to sew. To reverse the curl, use spray starch and press the edges before you start to sew.
Choose the right needle for sewing knit fabric and lycra
If you use a regular sewing needle in your machine take note of the following. When you sew stretch material with a regular needle, you may skip a stitch or create holes. This is easily preventable by switching to a ball-point needle when you sew. They have a rounded point that pushes through the fabric without catching or cutting through the fibres when you stitch. And this tends to dodge fabric runs and tears when you stitch, too. Other names for this type of needle are stretch needle or jersey needle.
Typically, ball-point needles are suitable to stitch stretch knits, while stretch needles are better for elastic and super stretchy knit materials. Stretch needles are also great to stitch swim and dance lycra, and other fabric that has a high amount of lycra.
Use the right type of thread for sewing stretch fabrics
A strengthened polyester thread usually works better than a cotton thread to sew stretch material. That's because it’s more resistant and less likely to break when you stitch. Also, polyester fabric is less likely to rot from sweat or chlorine when sewing a leotard or swimsuit pattern.
If you only have a cotton thread on hand, try loosening the tension in your bobbin before you stitch. Only then should you start to sew seams or hems. Cotton threads have no stretch at all, so don’t use those for seams when you stitch. Polyester threads actually have a bit of elasticity anyway. So they will be more resilient when you stretch that T-shirt hem when you stitch it.
The best stitch to sew stretchy knits
Stretch material is comfortable and versatile, and that’s why we love to sew seams with this type of fabric. But a straight stitch seam on a sewing machine will not stretch enough to accommodate the stretch of the fabric. Not even when you use polyester thread to sew the seam.
Your sewing machine manual is probably a good place to start deciding on the best stretch stitch to pick for seams. Otherwise, try to sew some stitches on a scrap of stretch material to see which stitch works best. Some say the best stitch for stretchy textiles is a narrow zig zag stitch. Your home sewing machine needle will work just fine with zig zag and a number of other stitches.
Another option, if you have a serger/overlock sewing machine, is to use that to sew your seams on knits. All types of these stretch stitches are ideal to stitch stretchy cloth.
Remember these tips when you start sewing
- Often, knit fabric looks identical on both sides, but don’t stress: that just means you can use either side of the fabric when you sew stitches.
- Make sure you have the right amount of seam allowance before you start to sew stitches. They may only give a quarter of an inch for the seam, while others give the ‘standard’ 5/8 of an inch for a seam. Make sure to check your seams before you stitch!
- Before you start to sew any stitch with the fabric, check the sewing machine settings for stretch fabrics or knits in case the machine has special features and gives details of the best stitches.
- If your fabric looks like you have stretched it out a bit once you’ve done sewing the pattern, press it softly with a steam iron. This will hopefully shrink the fabric back to its former shape.
Now that you’ve done your research, it’s time to sew your fabric project!