If you want to broaden your sewing skills to more than sewing with quilting cotton or other non-stretch fabrics, this post will be a “must-read” for you.
We will go over all the critical facts you need to know about how to sew stretchy materials.
We will also go over the stitches that you can use with your regular sewing machine if you don’t have a fancy serger to work with.
Stretch stitching may seem a bit intimidating at first, but don’t worry; this tutorial will help you feel confident when you attempt your first stretchy fabric sewing project.
How Do You Cut and Sew Stretch Fabrics?
It’s no secret that sewing stretch fabric has its own set of challenges. Before we go over how to cut or sew stretch fabrics, let’s go over a couple of phrases that you will find while looking into stretchy fabrics.
- Stretch Factor
This simply means how far a fabric will stretch when it is pulled. Some patterns will give you the percentage of stretch factor that the fabric selection should have.
To figure out the percentage of a specific fabric, all you need to do is measure the width of the fabric when it is stretched to the max and then divide that number by the width of the fabric when it is “resting”( not stretched at all.)
You then subtract one from that final number, giving you a decimal number. Convert that decimal to a percentage, and there you have the stretch factor percentage.
- 2-Way and 4-Way Stretch
Stretch fabrics come in either 2-Way or 4-Way stretch. 2-Way will only stretch horizontally from selvage edge to selvage edge. 4-Way will stretch horizontally AND vertically, giving you the most stretch possible.
Depending on the pattern you choose, it should instruct you on how much stretch you will need for the project you’re working on.
Now that we understand what the Stretch Factor and 2 or 4 Way Stretch means let’s discuss cutting stretchy fabric.
Stretchy fabrics, especially thinner fabrics, are notorious for curling edges. If the curled edges are too difficult for you to work with, you can temporarily use a starch spray and an iron to stiffen the edges, making them easier to cut and sew.
The most important thing to remember when cutting stretch fabrics is to cut them when they are “resting.” You do not want the fabric to be stretched while cutting, or it won’t be the correct size for your pattern.
Try using pattern weights or straight pins when cutting out pattern pieces and double-check that the fabric is laying flat and rested.
When sewing stretch fabric, you want to make sure you are not pushing or pulling the fabric through the sewing machine unless directed to do so by the pattern. Stretching the fabric while sewing may cause bunching or skipped stitches.
Another great tip for sewing stretch fabrics is using a ballpoint needle or other needle made specifically for stretch or knit fabrics. This, too, will help with skipped stitches or unwanted pulling.
How to Sew Stretch Fabric in 5 Simple Steps
This tutorial is extremely basic to show you what type of stitches you can use and how to work with stretch fabrics with a regular sewing machine.
Before you start cutting and sewing your actual project, I highly recommend practicing with an extra scrap of stretch material, so you get a feel for how to sew stretchy fabric with your machine.
Step 1: Pre-wash and cut your fabric.
It is crucial to pre-wash your stretch fabrics since they can shrink up to 10% in their first wash. Once you have pre-washed, you are ready to cut your fabric.
Remember not to pull or stretch the fabric while you are cutting it. The great part about stretch fabrics is they are very forgiving when it comes to straight edges. Since they do stretch and have some give to them, your cuts don’t have to be perfectly straight every time.
Step 2: Choose the correct foot and thread.
You will have to play around with your machine, but either a regular standard sewing machine foot or a walking foot will work with stretch fabrics. It’s really going to depend on you, the speed of your machine, the power of your feed dogs, and the fabric itself. This is one of the reasons I suggest practicing on a scrap piece of fabric first.
When it comes to thread, polyester thread will be best for stretchy fabrics. It is much stronger than cotton thread and has more stretch in its fibers.
Step 3: Choose the right stitch.
This step is going to rely heavily on your machine. If you have a very basic sewing machine with just a few stitches, the only stitch that would work well is the trusty zig-zag stitch.
However, some machines have, literally, hundreds of stitches to choose from. There are multiple different types of zig-zag stitches and stitches designed specifically for stretch fabrics.
Refer to your sewing machine’s manual to see what options you have and play around with the different types to determine what is best for you.
Step 4: Practice different stitch lengths.
This is always a fun step for me. I love experimenting with the different stitch widths and lengths to find the perfect fit for a project. To know if the length and width are right, you will see no weird gaps in your seams and no bunching. The photo below uses a simple zig-zag stitch, just using various stitch lengths and widths.
Step 5: Start your actual project and have fun!
Once you have figured out the basics of what foot, thread, and stitch to use, then you are set to start your project. The only other tip I would like to give is to take the sewing slowly, especially at first. Stretchy fabric can be a bit unwieldy if you are not used to working with it.
There are so many gorgeous stretch fabrics available and thousands of amazing patterns on the market to make all types of clothing, home decor, etc.
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It may take some time and some practice to get used to working with different stretch, knit fabrics, but once you have a good handle on the basic skills, the possibilities will be limitless to what you can create.
As always, best of luck and happy sewing, everyone!