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Sewing with Stretch Fabrics

Lisa_Filippi | Posted in Fabric and Trim on

I would love to get some advice from folks who have experience sewing with stretch fabrics.

I’m about to make two great Donna Karan/VOGUE dresses using a cotton/rayon/lycra blend 2-way stretch fabric and don’t want to make a single cut before I get some pointers. Prewash necessary? Which direction to cut? How do you calculate ease? Fitting tips? Stretch while you sew? Seam tape? Hem tips? Any other wisdom to sew by?

Specific online references are also highly appreciated.

Thanks in advance!


  1. Vanessa | | #1

    Sewing with knits: Use a ball point needle size 80. The most stretch goes AROUND the body. Loosen the pressure on your presser foot a little. Don't get too much thread in your seams, in other words, st. length should be medium in length. Use a serger for your seams as this produces natural stretch with the fabric; use about a 3 in st. length; if you don't have a serger (!?) use a medium zigzag 2x2. Don't stretch your fabric as you sew unless you are using a straight stitch. ANd even then, refer to your manual as most machines have a recommended stretch stitch. Don't overstretch either or seams will never lie flat. Use 1/4 or 3/8" seams. When sewing in elastic, I first serge it on, turn it and then do a three step zigzag on the wrong side with the outside stitch of the three stitches falling off the elastic onto the fabric, this will avoid the elastic edge "lifting" up when it should lie flat (say around the neck in a bathing suit). Hmm... can't think of anything else. You can email me if you like...

    1. Peg_Stallings | | #2

      *Always pre-wash your fabric, with a mild detergent to remove any sizing, and dry in the dryer (not on hot). This will remove any sizing and allow the fabric to shrink, and will show you what the garment will feel like after you have made it. Also will help any iron-on interfacing to adhere better.. Even with lycra, there will still be some shrinkage. Test the fabric for memory (when stretched, it should return to it's original shape without "bubbling". If it stays stretched out..you really don't want to waste time on it for a garment!) The pattern should tell you if recommended fabric is moderate stretch (10-25%) or very stretchy (50-100%). Always use the recommended stretch for the first garment.Use a straight stitch for seams with approx 8 stitches per inch, restraining (not stretching) the seams as you sew. Don't trim the seam allowances to 1/4" until you have tried it on. Knits don't ravel, but a serged finish to the seam allowance eliminates any bulk. Most fitting can be done at the side seams if you have chosen the correct size pattern to begin with. Hemming can be done by hand, straight-stitched narrow hem, or a bonded hem (Stitch Witchery).I wouldn't recommend a blind machine hem unless you have a blind hem (only) machine such as the Babylock Blindhemmer. With the lycra content, you shouldn't need seam tape at the shoulders to hold their shape. If the pattern recommends stretch fabric, the ease is a combination of the stretch in the fabric and the design itself.

      1. linda_watson | | #3

        *I would also be weary of what threads you use. find one that suits your fabric.. you could try using nylon on the two under threads of your over locker

        1. Jan | | #4

          *I think linda watson would mean wooly nylon thread that is soft, rather than the invisible nylon.

          1. Tara_Johansen | | #5

            *NEED SWIMSUIT STRAP ADVICE PLEASE!I need to make a whole bunch of bikinis and I'm having problems with gettingthe straps right. I've tried sewing them inside out, then turning themright side out, and threading the elastic through. However, I'm findingthat it's very time consuming and the threads are breaking sometimes. ThenI was thinking of taking the strap fabric(unsewn), serging on elastic, thenfolding over the other side and using a straight stitch, doing top stitchingfor a finished edge. I'm just finding that either I'm not doing things thebest way, or I need a whole lot of practice to get the strap to lookstraight. Any suggestions?

          2. ruth_rowell | | #6

            *Taunton sells a great book (Sewing With Knits, I think it's called) on this topic. I'd suggest purchasing it!

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