Stretch fabrics are perfect for creating comfortable, form-fitting garments such as leggings, swimsuits, and activewear. It looks modern, it is convenient, and rightfully popular.
But sewing stretch fabrics can also present unique challenges, such as fabric slippage, skipped stitches, and uneven seams. A beginner who wants to experiment with stretch fabric is surely going to find it a challenge!
That is why we have prepared a comprehensive guide on sewing stretch fabric, the common mistakes that happen, and how to deal with them. Still, there is nothing like trial and error, and you should start making mistakes today to be an expert in stretch fabrics tomorrow.
This article will discuss the basics of sewing stretch fabric and tips on setting up your machine that will help you with stretch fabric, whether you are a beginner or an expert.
Understanding Stretch Fabric
Stretch Fabric is a breathable material that wicks away sweat like other moisture-wicking fabrics, using the process of capillary action. It is made using elastane, popularly known worldwide as Lycra or spandex.
These fibers work like tiny pipelines. They carry the sweat from deep inside your clothes to the outer layer. Here, they are exposed to air and light, and then the sweat evaporates in the air.
This makes it ideal for working out or spending time outdoors, which is why this activity-friendly fabric is heavily used to make leggings, tights, yoga pants, and athletic wear.
On top of that, stretch fabric is pretty comfortable and figure-flattering, while offering a full range of motion. All these features make it a top choice for convenience and forward-fashion. Since it tends to slip and slide, sewing the stretch fabric is equally difficult.
Common Mistakes When Sewing Stretch Fabrics
Sewing stretch fabrics can be both exciting and challenging, especially for beginners. By understanding these common mistakes, you can improve your sewing skills and create stunning garments that maintain their elasticity and shape.
1. Not Using the Correct Needle.
Regular needles like ballpoint or knit needles will simply not do the job and will likely cause skipped stitches or breakage.
2. Not Using the Correct Thread.
The standard thread is not strong enough to withstand the stress put on it when sewing with stretch fabrics.
3. Sewing on the Wrong Side of the Fabric.
When sewing on the wrong side, most knit fabrics tend to curl under, resulting in an unsightly and uneven seam.
4. Overstretching Fabric When Pinning.
Overstretching of the fabric when pinning can cause the fabric to become distorted and, thus, affect the overall look of the finished product.
5. Using Too Large of A Stitch Length.
If you use a large piece of fabric, it can cause the fabric to stretch out and lose its shape, resulting in an ill-fitting garment that doesn’t look as good as it could.
6. Not Using A Walking or Even-Feed Foot.
This mistake can lead to uneven stitches, puckering, and fabric distortion.
7. Skipping The Stabilizer.
A stabilizer helps provide stability and support for the fabric, preventing it from stretching and puckering while stitching. Without one, you may end up with uneven stitches or even holes in your material.
8. Not Reducing the Pressure on the Presser Foot.
Too much presser foot pressure can cause your seams to be too tight, resulting in puckering or even tearing of the fabric.
9. Not Using A Zigzag Stitch for Seams and Hems.
When you don’t use a zig-zag stitch, it can lead to stretched-out seams, excessively tight hems, and even fabric tears.
10. Not Testing The Stretchability of the Fabric Before Sewing.
Without an idea of the stretchability of the fabric, you may end up choosing the wrong stitches. This can easily give you uneven seams, puckering fabric, and ill-fitted garments.
15 Smooth Sewing Tips for Stretch Fabric
- When you are working with a stretch fabric and another fabric, make sure that the overall weight of the stretch fabric is comparable to the chosen fabric. This will ensure that the product that you manufacture offers optimal stretch results.
- Cut the seam allowances from each pattern piece so they don’t bunch up when you’re sewing.
- When sewing seams, always sew over pins instead of through them to avoid stretching out your fabrics while sewing. This also helps prevent fraying around the edges of the seam allowance after washing or wearing your garment.
- If you’re using a serger, make sure that your stitching is even and consistent along the seam line. If there are any puckering or wrinkles, it can add extra bulk under clothing layers due to stretching and pulling on the fabric over time. This ensures that there is no puckering or wrinkles where it was serged, which can add extra bulk on the fabric over time.
- Make sure you know how much stretch your chosen fabric will have before choosing a design, style, or pattern. Some types may not work well with certain stretch fabrics unless specified in the style details (such as a waltz silhouette).
- When sewing stretch fabrics together, make sure that you align the edges of all layers evenly. This ensures they don’t pucker or curl when you press them with steam during assembly (this can make it difficult to fit them into garments).
- Before you begin cutting out the pieces from the pattern, we recommend that you use pins instead of glue to hold down your seams. Pins are superior to glue as they offer a temporary, adjustable grip without damaging fabrics or leaving residue.
- Ensure settings like tension, stitch length, stitch width, presser foot pressure, needle type and size, etc., are all adjusted before you start sewing. You can always refer to the sewing machine manual for more help.
- Try to get hold of an ironing board that is big enough for what you’re working on, or place your ironing board on top of another one to make enough space. (use clamps if needed)
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing or drying any stretch or woven fabrics before you start designing and sewing. Some fabrics shrink in size, and it can really play with your design.
- Cut your garment in one piece, along the grain line, not across. Cutting garments in one piece along the grain line maintains the fabric’s natural alignment and flow.
- When sewing stretch fabric, use a wide zigzag stitch on the wrong side of your garment.
- We recommend using a seam allowance of at least 1/2 inch when working with stretch fabrics.
- Use a stretch stitch instead of a standard straight stitch to prevent stretching.
- Increase the pressure on your sewing machine. This will help prevent the fabric from bunching up as you sew.
Rushing through a project can cause mistakes that will be difficult to fix later on. If you take your time and follow these tips, you’ll be able to sew stretch fabric with beautiful results!
Choosing the Right Needles for Sewing with Stretch Fabric
When you are working with stretch fabric, choosing the right type and size of needle is crucial. The type of needle will determine how strong your stitches are, how smoothly the fabric slides through the machine, and the amount of stress placed on the fabric.
One of the best needle options for stretch fabrics is a ballpoint or stretch needle. These needles have a slightly rounded tip, which allows them to slide between the fibers of the fabric without breaking or damaging them. Additionally, ballpoint or stretch needles are designed to prevent skipped stitches, which can be a common issue when sewing stretch fabrics.
Another option to consider is a universal needle. While universal needles are not specifically designed for stretch fabrics, they can still work well on many types of knit fabrics. Just make sure to choose a needle size appropriate for the weight of the fabric you are using.
Especially if you’re working with a lightweight knit fabric, like a jersey or interlock, you can get away with using a universal needle size 80/12.
Choosing the Correct Thread for Stretch Fabric
Choosing the right type of thread for sewing with stretch fabric is important if you want your garments to look their best.
- Lightweight Thread: For lightweight stretch fabrics like Stretch tulle and elastane, we prefer using a lightweight thread. This will help prevent the fabric from bunching up or stretching out of form.
- Stronger Thread: We use stronger threads for heavier stretch fabrics like Spandex, which are used to produce denim or corduroy. This is because these fabrics tend to tear or fray when sewn with a lighter thread.
Regardless of the fabric you’re sewing, we advise you to test your stitches on a scrap piece of fabric before working them on your garment. This will help you avoid surprises and ensure your garment looks its best when finished.
5 Best Stitches for Sewing Stretch Fabric
Modern sewing machines come equipped with various stitches that can be used to significant effect. To ensure successful results, it’s always wise to test the stitch on a scrap piece of fabric before attempting your project.
Here are the five best stitches for working with stretch materials:
- The Lightning Bolt Stretch Stitch
Often referred to as the lightning stitch, it’s an essential tool for home sewers working with stretch fabrics. This stitch creates an appearance similar to that of straight stitching but features overlapping of each previous stitch in order to create an iconic lightning bolt-like shape.
The narrow zigzag pattern helps reduce puckering while allowing the seam to stretch and bend.
In addition, the straighter shape permits seams to be pressed open completely flat, which makes it ideal for sewing stretchy materials.
- A Triple Straight Stitch
Triple straight stitch is especially suitable for stretch materials such as leggings and athletic wear due to its strength when pulled. This type of stitch locks three times, with a forward, backwards, and then forward motion resulting in three stitches side by side.
Here’s how you can make a Triple Straight Stitch: Triple Stretch Stitch
However, this should not be used on lightweight fabric; it will create too large of a hole and cause wave-like distortions in the seams where it has been applied.
Therefore, stick with medium or heavyweight stretch fabric when opting for a triple straight stitch.
- Knit Stitch
Knit stitch is ideal for stretch fabric, providing a clean, professional finish that prevents fraying and curling.
Knit stitch should be used for stretch fabric when you want to maintain the elasticity and flexibility of the material. This is especially important for garments that need to stretch and comfortably fit the body, such as sportswear, activewear, and fitted clothing.
- Stretch Buttonhole Stitch
Another option is using the stretch buttonhole stitch. This stitching technique is ideal for creating buttonholes on the specific type of stretchy knit garments that are made using the production method, looping.
- Stretch Blind Hem
The stretch blind-hem stitch offers an effective technique for hemming stretch fabrics using a narrow zigzag instead of straight stitches. This method preserves the fabric’s elasticity and enhances the garment’s overall look.
For best results, use a Blind Hem Foot along with your machine’s blind hem stitch for virtually invisible hems.
This marvelous stitch works wonders on stretch materials like t-shirts, jerseys, and more! So go ahead and give your stretchy garments the professional touch they deserve!
Tools of the Trade – Essential Supplies you need when Sewing Stretch Fabric
- Serger or Overlock Machine: A serger or overlock machine is necessary when sewing stretch fabric. It helps to finish seams, secure edges, and prevent fraying.
- Stretch Needles: Stretch needles are designed to penetrate and feed stretchy fabrics through a machine more easily.
- Ballpoint Needles: You need ballpoint needles to penetrate knit fabrics in a way that won’t damage the fibers.
- Sewing Clips: Keep fabric layers in place, especially when sewing with stretch fabrics.
- Clear Elastic: Clear elastic adds extra stretch and stability to seams.
- Fusible Interfacing: Fusible interfacing gives your garment extra body and stability.
7. Stretch Thread: Is designed to give more elasticity to seams so they won’t pop open when stretched.
Best Sewing Machine Settings For Stretch Fabric
After choosing the perfect stretch fabric, thread, needles, and the best stitch for your design, it is time to set your machine.
The best sewing machine settings for stretch stitches are:
- Speed: 3.5 to 4.5
- Stitch Width: 2-3 mm
- Presser Foot Pressure: Light
The stitch length should be set between 1.5-2.5 mm, and the stitch width should be set between 2-3 mm. While working, you should also adjust the pressure on the presser foot to accommodate the type of fabric being sewn.
When it comes to casual and athletic apparel, stretch fabric is the ideal choice. It can stretch to offer the perfect combination of comfort, breathability, and fit. In fact, these materials can be tailored to closely resemble your body’s contours.
However, you must remember that stretch fabric is unique and has to be treated differently.
Following the tips in this article, you can ensure successful sewing projects with stretch fabric. If you need any help, contact us!
Stretch Fabric Sewing Tips: FAQ
Q: What is the recommended tension setting for stretch fabric?
A: The recommended tension setting for stretch fabric is between 2-3. This setting should be applied in order to get the optimal stitch and result.
Q: How to relax a piece of stretch fabric?
A: To relax a piece of stretch fabric, you can use a simple solution of water and baby shampoo or hair conditioner. Make sure to stir until the liquid has a smooth, soapy texture.
Q: Are stretch fabrics prone to shrinkage?
A: Yes, stretch fabrics are prone to shrinkage. Generally, elastane fabrics will contract when exposed to high temperatures.
This is because the fibres are already pulled during manufacturing, so any additional heat causes them to relax and reduce in size.
Q: Can you sew stretchy fabric with a regular sewing machine?
A: Yes, you can sew stretchy fabric with a regular sewing machine. Most machines will have a stretch stitch setting, making it easier to sew stretchy fabrics.