Sewing with stretch fabricsSewing with stretch fabrics is something that I kept away from for ages. But I needn’t have – why did I worry? There are a few simple things to bear in mind.

First of all make sure you have the right needle. What you need is a jersey or ballpoint needle. Easy to find in any sewing shop, they have a slightly rounded (or blunt) end which means that they don’t ladder the structure of the knitted fabric.

Have a look at your sewing machine manual to learn how to adjust the pressure on the presser foot. It’s not always possible but, if you can reduce the pressure, it helps the two layers of fabric go through the machine at the same rate. Or, if you have a walking foot with your machine, then that does the same thing and is ideal.

stretch-stitchSecondly choose your stitch for the job – this can either be a straight stretch stitch – which probably looks like this (see left) on your sewing machine.zig-zag

Or use a shallow zigzag. Zigzags are easy to find on any machine – just play with the zigzag and stitch length setting until you have something that looks like this (see right):

Thirdly, try really hard not to stretch the fabric as it goes through the machine. It needs to feed through evenly neither stretching not scrunching up.

If you do have an overlocker then – brilliant – use it. There is no doubt that they are brilliant for sewing with stretch fabrics but it is not necessary to have an overlocker to tackle stretch fabrics.

There are 31 comments for this article
  1. Abena at 8:09 am

    Thanks for the advice. I recently sewed a romper for my baby but the neck is all loose and flappy, having used a zigzag stitch with a turnover. Do you think facing it might be more effective and get rid of the looseness?

    • Laura Casey at 9:17 am

      I take it you’re sewing with a stretch fabric? These are alway tricky around the neckline. You need to stabilise it – yes, a facing could sort it out. I would stay-stitch it first, (have a look at the stay stitch page on Sew Different,) check it doesn’t bag out, then use a facing or an elastic trim. You can get loads of really pretty ones that look like lace or ricrac that will also help to hold the fabric in place. x

    • Susan Ramsayworldpresscom986 at 7:35 pm

      If you can weave skinny elastic (it comes on a spool) through the zig zags, you can tighten the neckline.
      Waaaaay back in hi school my friend showed me how to do this for stretched out sweater necks.
      Thanks, Darlene.

    • Robin at 8:29 pm

      Sewing with nancy has a youtube video tgat shows sewing in clear streach elastic in the neck line to hold shape and have some streach and sprong back motion. Pretty cool.

  2. Jewell Hall at 9:42 pm

    I have an outfit that I love,but don’t wear it very often, the sleeves are small, how doI enlarge them? I do not wear sleeveless. I have big arms!

    • Laura Casey at 3:14 pm

      This is a tricky job and you will need some extra fabric that matches your sleeve fabric. It will need to be a couple of inches wide (or however much extra fabric you need to make it comfortable, and the length of the seam on the underside of your sleeve from the sleeve opening to the body of the dress.) You will need to cut open the seam that runs along the underside of the sleeve all the way to the body of the dress. Into this split you will need to insert your new piece of fabric . Obviously this long thin rectangle of fabric can be square at the open end of the sleeve but will need to taper down to a point towards the body. With some care you can extend and the extra insert won’t be too noticeable as it is hidden under your arm.

    • Susan Ramsayworldpresscom986 at 7:37 pm

      I saw this on Pinterest for making bouses looser. Use lace to enlarge your sleeve.
      for blouses they shoed strips at the side seams or a triangle in the back with a bow
      at the top. Very cute. And lace is an “IN” thing now; or it was in 2016.

  3. Linda bennett at 12:59 am

    i have been sewing since I was 10 years old. Self taught and struggled with stretch sewing forever. Thank you so much for the tips. Wonderful blog.

  4. Kellye at 12:08 pm

    I am a little past a beginner sewer. I want to sew knits but can’t find anyone to help me, they all tell me to forget it that they never sew with knits, but that’s mostly the type clothes I want to sew. I’m so frustrated. Thank you for this blog, I have hopes of being able to conquer this now??

    • Linda Simpson at 8:49 pm

      Knits are wonderful, but they are not all created equal: different fibers don’t all react the same in the laundry, some are fairly heavyweight, some very thin, some extremely stretchy & some not so much, some are slinky & body hugging, some are kind of stiff, they each have special considerations to make them “behave” while sewing. To help me develop techniques to help me with their differences I went online to, I have no relationship with them–only that I had used them in the past. You can get a bargain batch of quarter YD or more fabric weighing 5lbs with lots of variety, stretches & textures to practices sewing techniques on. Try different ways to hem, different joining stitches & even stretch threads til you get the look you like & staple notes to the samples. Sometimes these bargain lots are on sale, I think I paid about $15 or so. It was well worth it; I learned which knits were pretty easy to work with & which ones weren’t worth the trouble, without investing in fabric that I would only be disappointed in. It gave me the confidence to purchase knits I liked without apprehension.

  5. rekh at 4:40 am

    Hi dear. I read your blog everything you said it’s really very helpful but can you show in detail about neck thing that how to stabilise it. I have made one dress and my knit is very stretchable. I’m not happy with my neck line at all. It Will be great if you can solve this.

  6. Tide Maclang at 8:30 am

    I just came across your article just now. I love fabrics and sewing but i have not tackle any sewing projects because I am still working and maybe it is too late for me at the my age 64. By the way, you look like Helen Mirren, the actress.

  7. Granny G. at 11:37 pm

    Knits are not really that difficult to sew but they can be a tad problematic until you’ve had some practice. When you buy your fabric, add just a tiny bit extra yardage to use for practice (or just use your cut-out scraps). As far as necklines and armholes are concerned, one way to help prevent wavy edges is to put a strip of plain tissue paper under the seam as you sew it. (test first with your extra bits!) As mentioned, use a needle appropriate for knits and don’t try to sew very fast, use a moderate speed and don’t stretch as you sew. To remove the paper, fold one side over your seam, GENTLY crease it, then open it back out and gently pull it away. The paper on the other side of your seam should now pull away easily.
    When hemming knits, I like to use a double-needle and as mentioned, use the kind intended for knits (Schmetz has some). I like a 4mm width as it makes a nice looking hem. Adjust your bobbin tension to a point looser than you use for wovens and the top tension a little looser as well, then test it on your extra bits. If the seaming lies pretty much flat, you’re good to go. If your seam resembles a raised up narrow ridge, you’ll need to make your tensions looser. The end result of using a double needle is that it looks the same on top as a cover stitch and it’s nicely stretchy as a cover stitch too. I’ve even used a very narrow double needle (2mm) for seams and had excellent results. I have a serger but I’m frequently too lazy to pull it out of the closet! The double needle technique works fine for me.
    Another thing about knits is that they can be VERY different. Depending on what you’re making, you’ll want to know it’s “stretch-ability” – is that a word? When in a store, you can simply test it by stretching in both directions. For example, if you’re making some undies and you’ve found a gorgeous knit that you’d love to use, test it’s stretch. If it stretches equally in both directions, you’re fine. But if it stretches a lot one way but very little in the opposite, you will have problems. You could end up with a pair of panties that will be fine to pull up but might be too tight from hip to hip because the fabric doesn’t stretch in that direction, ouch! Then again, if you’re making a t-shirt that you don’t want to stretch downward and sag but stretches nicely from side to side for comfort, a one-way stretch or a full stretch one way and a moderate stretch in the opposite direction might work fine for you.
    When buying online, make sure your vendor is a reputable one (there are plenty of them). The good ones indicate stretch percentages in the fabric descriptions and the best vendors will also tell you what sort of clothing the fabric is good for making.
    Another thing to consider is weight. You don’t want to try & make a pretty shirt from a heavy-ish double-knit, even if you LOVE the color and/or pattern. There are lots of lovely double-knits available today (unlike the ugly stuff from the ’70’s!) which would make a nice jacket or skirt but you wouldn’t want to try and make undies with it! Also consider the fabric content. For summer wear, 100% cotton is cooler than polyester but a cotton-poly blend is often comfortable too. Then there’s rayon, spandex, etc. Use what you like as long as it’s suitable for your garment.
    Don’t be scared of knits – start with something simple, get a little practice and you’ll find they’re fun and easy to work with.

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