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How To Sew Stretch Fabric Without Plunging Into The Abyss Of Despair

how to sew stretchy fabric

Whether you are an accomplished sewer or a novice, knowing how to sew stretch fabric is a key skill that will help with a wealth of sewing projects and keep your nerves.

It’s no secret that sewing with stretchy fabric can be somewhat of a challenge (some people find it downright scary!) Stretch fabrics tend to make up a huge majority of people’s wardrobes. They are comfortable, easy to wear and require minimal care. Knowing how to sew stretch fabric will give you the confidence to push your sewing skills, and, trust us. It isn’t as hard as you might think.

What is stretch fabric?

Stretch fabric is a generic term for any textile; knitted or woven, that has a greater amount of recovery and stretch than is normally expected. These textiles can be stretch-woven fabrics, single knits, some double knits, and even bias-cut fabrics.

Most stretch fabrics are knits. Jersey fabrics make up a large percentage of this group. The most prominent feature of these fabrics is their 4-way stretch. This means they stretch both crosswise and lengthwise. There are some stretch fabrics – usually heavier ones – that only have a 2-way stretch. Therefore, it is vital to make sure you check you are using the right kind of stretchy fabric for your project.

how to sew stretch fabric

What can stretchy fabric be used for?

People love wearing stretchy materials thanks to their innate ability to move and grow with us. They are soft and comfortable and are perfect for keeping up with an active lifestyle.

Can I learn how to sew with stretchy fabrics with my home sewing machine?

A common misunderstanding about how to sew with stretchy fabrics is that you need to serger. Overlockers or sergers are wonderful at handling stretch fabrics and creating a polished finish, but are they always necessary? Although a serger can make it quicker to sew with stretchy knits, it is a costly addition to your sewing machine. It is also not imperative for sewing with stretchy textiles. A zigzag stitch on a standard sewing machine can be used as an alternative to a serger.

The difficulty some people might find with sewing stretchy fabrics comes from the amount of stretch that certain materials might have. It is important to factor in the percentage of stretch in your chosen fabric, and that it matches the pattern you are working with.

Top Tips for sewing stretch fabric

By following a few simple tricks and tips, your knowledge of how to sew stretch fabric will sky rocket. Ensuring the finished seams lie neatly and flat and at the same time don’t break when the garment is used is your endgame.

How to handle the fabric

sewing stretch fabric
  1. Ensure you have the right fabric for your project or pattern.
  2. Always pre-wash your stretchy fabric. Leave it to dry flat for at least a day so that it keeps its shape.
  3. Take your pattern and place it on the fabric. To keep your fabric in place, pin it and cut out the patterns with scissors OR use paper weights and a rotary cutter.
  4. Try to keep pins inside the seam allowance. This avoids opening unwanted holes in the garment
  5. Take away the curl. Some kinds of stretchy fabrics – such as knitted jersey – have edges that tend to curl. This can make it even harder to sew. To reverse the curl, use a starchy spray and press the edges

TOP TIP: Know how to cut your fabric: remember not to stretch your fabric when cutting it. We recommend laying it flat on a table or other flat work surface. Don’t let the material hang over the edges, as this could stretch it out of place.

What thread & needle to use for stretch fabric

  1. Choose the right type of needle. All stretchy knit fabrics should be sewn with a special needle; either a ballpoint or a stretch needle. A ballpoint needle consists of a rounded tip, which pushes the yarns away when sewing. It avoids damaging the knit fabric while cutting and sewing. This contrasts with the usual piercing through and ripping them.
  2. The size matters after all. Ensure you opt for the right size of needle for your fabric.
  3. What thread to use for stretch fabric: special threads are not usually required and a regular polyester thread works well as it has a slight amount of stretch. Stay away from cotton thread as it can break when pulled.

TOP TIP: Part of understanding how to sew stretch fabrics is to have patience. It is super important to take your time when sewing stretchy materials. Pause occasionally with the needle down, so you can readjust the alignment of the raw edges of the material. Don’t rush it!

The Best Stretch Stitches & Sewing Machine Settings for Stretchy Fabrics

sewing machine settings for stretchy fabric
  1. Use stitches that will hold the stretch of the fabric. The stitches need to stretch with the fabric, so they don’t pucker and break. If you must sew with a straight stitch, then hold the material taut, but don’t pull it.
  2. There is a wide variety of stretch stitches available, depending on your sewing machine model. The best stitches to use for sewing stretch fabrics are:
    • Narrow zigzag: opt for a very narrow setting with the zigzag, with the stitch length equal to the stitch width
    • Overedge stitch: a specialty stitch that locks over the edge of the fabric so it stitches and finishes a seam in one pass
    • Straight stretch stitch: this stitch looks like 3 parallel rows of straight stitches
    • Twin-needle stitch: this stitch requires a twin needle. The right side of the fabric has 2 parallel rows of stitching. On the wrong side of the fabric, the bobbin thread follows a zigzag pattern
  3. Try a different presser foot. A dual feed foot or walking foot attachment for your sewing machine are great for helping to stop one layer of material stretching out when sewing. Check the manual of your machine to see which one is compatible.

TOP TIP: If you are planning on stitching buttonholes in a stretch fabric, we recommend sewing in the direction of least stretch. This can be difficult with a 4-way stretch fabric, but test all sides to see if one has slightly less give. Stabilise the wrong side of the fabric first with fusible interfacing. This should give you beautiful and stable buttonholes.

We hope these top tips for how to sew stretchy fabrics will give you the confidence you need when sewing stretchy fabrics and save you from unnecessary frustration. Now that you have mastered the skills, why not discovering all different kinds of stretchy materials? Click on the button below to start discovering.

try your fabric

20 comments

  • Thanks!👍

  • What about a circle skirt from 2-way stretch net? It doesn’t stretch along the length of the fabric so do I just have to cut out however many panels it takes? I don’t want it stretching vertically. If I did it in two half-circles the range of stretch would vary so much as to be impossible/unpredictable unless there’s a way to lock down the stretch.

  • Thank you for this article. I have just started learning to sew and got excited to try different projects out( which some include stretch fabric). I then was disappointed when I read about needing a serger for these projects. This article has brought back the joy in learning to sew.

  • This has helped amazingly! Thank you very much for sharing!!

  • Ive been tying to find the best high grade, High rub rate resistant, 4 way stretchy fabric material. For the inside of a sports shoe. Which grade would be recommended for this sort of wear & tear resistance

  • Can we stitch another material along with fourway stretch material?

  • I’m making a quilt I’ve got stretchy material and different types of cotton material can I use them together in a quilt

  • Thank you for this! I decided to try and sew my first piece of clothing did ZERO research beforehand. I bought some jersey knit based on how much I liked the weight/color. Now I feel more confident in how best to use it!

  • I’m a beginner sewer and was really struggling to use a stretch fabric for a costume that i’m making. Switching to a walking foot really changed it for me! My results aren’t perfect but they’re SO MUCH better. Thank you!

  • Thank you for the clear explanation, I’m much more confident to make a start now. I particularly like the tip to use starch to keep the curly edges under control.

  • Thanks for this blog, its very informative. I was wondering if you could tell me what sewing technique would be the most appropriate to work with heavy duty elastic.

  • good job n quality

  • I have had no success whatsoever trying to sew even straight stich on what was supposed to be a simple job stitching a few straight seams. The machine works perfectly on woven material for straight and zigzag, but the lower thread will not catch the upper one to form a stitch on the stretchy material. I have checked the timing and have a stretchy ball ended needle. Ok my Ricoh machine is old but what’s going on?

  • Thank you! I will be sewing wide hair bands from swim suit material. I feel more knowledge able now, thanks to your article. Best information I have found.

  • I want my stretch fabric tight. How many inches off of original measurements for sleek close to body contour fit.

  • This was very helpful, thank you!

  • Wow, I’m a newbie to sewing and am having the jersey pencil skirt as my first project. These are such great, valuable tips for me. Thank you very much.

  • I’ve got jersey fabric that is lightweight but holds it shape ie not so lightweight that it pulls out of shape easily. Can I cut a dress pattern on the bias using this fabric or will it lose its shape and become baggy?

  • I found exactly what I was looking for AND learned a few new things I didn’t expect to learn, thank you very much!

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