When you’re a seamstress, you’ll get the chance to work with a variety of different fabrics, depending on the particular project you have in mind. Fabrics come in hundreds of colors and designs, and in different thicknesses, and textures.
Stretch fabrics are just one of the many fabric types. Learning to sew stretch fabric with a sewing machine is not so difficult once you get a little experience under your belt.
- Choose the right sewing needle
- Pay attention to the stitch setting
- Use ballpoint pins to secure fabric
- Sew in direction that’s least stretchy
What Are Stretch Fabrics Used for?
If you’re curious how to sew stretch fabric with a sewing machine, you’re not alone. If you’ve never worked with fabrics that stretch, it can be a little intimidating. After all, how do you know how to properly sew a piece of fabric that seems to stretch to infinity and back? Fortunately, sewing with these types of fabrics isn’t as difficult as it sounds, which is good because there are numerous things you can do with them, including making items such as:
- Ski outfits
- Skating costumes
- Foundation garments
There are also many types of fabrics that stretch, including cotton/Lycra® knit, special fabric made just for swimsuits, slinky fabric, metallic and holographic fabrics, and specialized lace, twill, lame, and velvet that stretches. One of the most popular types of stretch fabric is spandex, which has been around since 1958 and is used mostly for swimsuits and sportswear that includes everything from yoga pants to leotards. Spandex is mostly known by its trade name, Lycra®.
In addition to those mentioned above, other stretch fabrics include various spandex blends, rubber/latex, and neoprene rubber. Not all of these fabrics are suitable for everyday clothing items and in fact, many are unable to be dry-cleaned as well. If you’re going to try your hand at sewing with stretch fabrics, make sure you get the kind that is appropriate for the project at hand.
The Many Advantages of Spandex
Since spandex is such a popular fabric to work with, you might as well learn a few of its many advantages. Not only is spandex easy to work with once you get used to it, but it provides perks that include the following:
- Lightweight and comfortable
- Offers great shape retention
- Dries quickly
- Very durable and strong
- Breathable and stretchable
- Never suffers with pilling or static
- Resists perspiration, body oils, lotions, and so on
- Stronger than rubber
- Very smooth, soft, and supple
Because of all of these things, sewing with spandex has become very popular because let’s face it, exercise clothing, swimwear, and support garments will never go out of style or become unnecessary. For this reason alone, it is good for seamstresses to familiarize themselves with how to work with this very versatile and amazing fabric.
Working with Stretch Fabrics
When you decide you want to sew stretch fabric with a sewing machine, the first thing you need to do is choose the right sewing needle. Although there are many options available, below are a few tips to pay attention to:
- For loosely woven knits, choose a ballpoint needle. These are sized from 10 to 16 (70 to 100 in Europe), and the smaller the number, the finer the needle. These needles help protect the fabric from any damages.
- For lightweight or tightly woven knits – including spandex – choose a stretch needle, which is available in sizes 11 to 14 (75 to 90 in Europe). For delicate stretch fabrics, these needles help avoid skipped stitches in the fabric.
- If you find you need a special size, choose a universal needle. They range in sizes from 8 to 19 (60 to 120 in Europe), and if you’re not sure which one you need, just choose one that is in the middle of these numbers, such as a size 14.
- If you decide you want zigzag hems, use a double needle if your brand of sewing machine can accommodate it. Double needles produce a double-zigzag look for seams that are both more secure and more attractive.
Pay Attention to the Stitch Setting
When you’re working with stretch fabrics, it is wise to use a baste stitch for the area you wish to secure. If it comes out incorrectly, you can simply pull out the thread and start over again. Basting is not a necessity when you’re working with stretch fabrics, but it is highly recommended, especially if you are new at working with this type of material.
If your sewing machine has a stretch stitch setting, you should always use it. This setting is perfect for any type of stretch fabric, but not all sewing machines have it. If your machine does have it, keep in mind that the stitches made with this setting are tight and, therefore, difficult to remove if you make a mistake, so once again, basting is always your best choice before you start sewing.
If you have no stretch stitch setting, you can use either a zigzag stitch or even a straight stitch as an alternative. The zigzag stitch is better, of course, so if you’re considering using the straight stitch, it is a good idea to practice on some scrap material before you get to the real thing.
In addition, when you want to keep your hems and seams stretchy, you can always use the overedge stitch as long as you’re using a serger machine. Two-thread hems and seams created with a serger result in the top and bottom threads being secured with loops on the outer edges of your fabric, which is called an overedge stitch, and this type of stitch is perfect for all types of seams and hems.
If you’re interested in using an overedge stitch, you’ll need to check your instruction manual first to make sure it can accommodate the stitch.
Finally, with stretch fabric you have to make sure you use longer stitches, so choose a stitch length of 2.5 mm to 3 mm to get the slack you need to work with this type of fabric. If your sewing machine has a digital interface, it will automatically adjust the length of the stitch, while the machines with dials will require you to set the stitch length manually.
Some Tips to Work with Stretch Fabric Successfully
Once you have the right needle and the correct setting on your sewing machine, working with stretch fabric becomes a little easier. If you’re looking for even more tips to work with stretchy fabric on your sewing machine, here are a few you shouldn’t overlook:
- Always use ballpoint pins to secure the fabric correctly before you start sewing. Remember to insert the pins perpendicular to the hems or seams for the best results.
- If you’re making a top out of stretchy fabric, you should place a stabilizing fabric under the shoulder seams to prevent this area from sagging. You can use almost any type of non-stretch fabric, including cotton, silk organza, or fusible tricot.
- Always sew in the direction that’s the least stretchy. If you’re not sure which direction this is, give the fabric a few tugs in different places and that should tell you.
- Don’t hold the fabric too tightly as you sew. Hold it gently so that it is flat, but never stretched-out.
- If your feed dogs are pulling too much on the fabric, you can insert tissue paper under the fabric so that it will move efficiently. Once you’re done, all you’ll have to do is tear the tissue paper away from the stitches.