basic guide to sewing with stretch fabrics

January 25th, 2012

A basic guide to sewing with stretch fabrics // @megan_nielsen

I’ve noticed that a lot of people get really scared about sewing stretchy fabrics. I was too until I gave it a try a few years ago – and you know what? It’s not so hard! Really!!

Basically the only trick is to use stitches that will maintain the stretch of the fabric. There are just a few simple techniques you need to know, and then you’re set!

A basic guide to sewing with stretch fabrics // sewing seams

There are two main ways that I sew seams on stretchy fabrics

1) SERGER/OVERLOCKER

I either use my serger/overlocker as it creates a stitch that has stretch in it

2) ZIG ZAG

Or I use the zig zag stitch on my sewing machine, as the shape of the stitch will allow the fabric to stretch a little after sewing.

A lot of machines have built in stretch stitches, that many people swear by. I personally don’t use them, because I don’t think they add that much value – but check your sewing machine’s manual, as you may find you like using those stitches better.

 

A basic guide to sewing with stretch fabrics // finishing edges

One of the super cool things about strech fabrics is that you often don’t have to finish the edges as they won’t fray (unless it’s a loosely woven sweater type fabric).

1) SERGER/OVERLOCKER

If you used a serger to sew your seams you don’t need to neaten anything at all!

2) ZIG ZAG

But if you used a zig zag or other stretch stitch on a sewing machine, then you can either leave the seams as is – or you can neatly trim away the excess fabric. That’s it :) no stress!

The basic guide to sewing with stretch fabrics // hemming

Hemming is also not as scary as you might think!!

The basic guide to sewing with stretch fabrics // hemming

1) DOUBLE NEEDLE

My absolutely favourite method of hemming stretchy fabrics is using a double needle. I don’t often mention it though, as it seems to terrify many people. But double needles are awesome and you will love them if you try! You don’t need a special machine, and the resulting stitch has a great amount of stretch built into it.

You simply thread your machine as per normal, just using 2 spools of thread instead of one, and then thread your needles. Simple simple.

The basic guide to sewing with stretch fabrics // hemming

The only thing that is tough is that you have to do all top stitching on the outside (right side) of the fabric, which can be a little hard with wide hems that go beyond your machines measures.

The basic guide to sewing with stretch fabrics // hemming

My trick is to iron my hem, then place a piece of tape the correct distance from the needle on my machine, and then use that as my sewing guide.

Update: Since posting this, June had the brilliant idea of using a stack of post-it note pads, with the bottom sheet peeled off. Stick it at the desired location and then it provides a little “wall” that the fabric can run alongside. I think this might be even better than my tape solution!

The basic guide to sewing with stretch fabrics // hemming
2) ZIG ZAG

If you’re still worried about using a double needle, another easy method is using a zig zag stitch. Just top stitch your hem and you’re done!

A basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics // final tips
** Just like in regular sewing projects, always prewash and dry your fabric in the way you will after sewing. Keep in mind that many stretch fabrics shrink a lot. I like to tumble dry mine after washing, as I know that’s more than likely how I’ll dry them after sewing my clothing.

** When cutting make sure that you lay your pattern pieces so that the stretchiest part of the fabric is going across your body (side to side) rather than up your body (up and down) – or else you won’t be able to get it on!!

** When sewing do not stretch the fabric unless the pattern calls for it. If you stretch your garment will more than likely come out misshapen.

29 Responses

  1. Laura says:

    Nice guide! I always use twin needle when hemming stretch fabrics. But the Schmetz twin needle that I have is stretch twin needle – made especially for stretch fabrics. Yours is just a regular twin needle, which can sometimes damage knit fabrics. To avoid that I recommend using stretch/ball point twin needle like this one: http://www.amazon.com/Schmetz-Stretch-Twin-Needles-Size/dp/B002F01F7U

    • Meg says:

      Good point! Unfortunately i didn’t have any still in their packets when i was photographing :) Though to be honest, even though the ball point needles are technically the correct ones to use, i’ve used both types on knits and i really haven’t had issues the times i’ve had to use a regular twin (sometimes the ‘stretch’ twins can be hard to find in local stores)
      XOXO

  2. Brigita says:

    I love stretchy fabrics (mostly because I can avoid zippers and button holes with them ;)). I used to dread sewing them but now that I have a sewing machine that has an overlock type of seam I sew a lot with them. It’s fairly easy once you get the hang of it.

  3. Rachel W. says:

    Thank you for the tips– the introduction to using a double-needle was especially helpful and encouraging. I always thought it was some sort of magic, before!

    It looks like none of my machines have a second thread spindle for that extra spool of thread– I wonder if that means I can’t use a double-needle. Alas– time to check the manuals!

    • Meg says:

      Hey Rachel, no worries! I’ve seen people put a bobbin on the same spindle as the main spool of thread in order to get two threads (as in, one on top of the other)- maybe that would work for you?

    • Rachel W. says:

      Oof– I feel dim! I played around with wedging a second spool of thread onto the bobbin winder, but, y’know, putting a bobbin there never occurred to me. Silly me, and thank you again!

  4. Loren says:

    I’ve never used a twin needle, I know my machine has the space for two things of thread and I was never quite sure what they were for. I kind of enjoy sewing with knits because they are generally simpler patterns and therefore harder for me to mess up.

  5. Trudy Callan says:

    This is a wonderful guide. Thank you so much, Meg.

  6. Lizz says:

    I haven’t worked with knits and stretch fabrics as much as I’d like but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done to date. I must thank you for showing how to thread a twin needle. I was taught on a machine that was much different than mine and I could never find decent instructions/pictures when I came home. I’ve been winging it since then and it works but occasionally the threads get a little twisted and this throws off the tension. From your photo I can see the problem and the insanely easy solution. I didn’t know that there was a second “hook” above the needles to separate the two threads before you put them through the eye! Doh.

  7. Emily says:

    I’ve been wanting to sew with stretchy fabrics for a while now but have been much too scared (that and my choices of stretch in Adelaide aren’t too great).
    I’m finally building up the confidence to try it and will add this page to little collection of advice (made by rae has been doing some knit reviews lately which have been really helpful).

    Happy Australia Day!
    Emily

  8. June says:

    Another DIY hem guide is a stack of post-it note pads, with the bottom sheet peeled off. Stick it at the desired location and then it provides a little “wall” that the fabric can run alongside.

    • Meg says:

      Oh June! That is absolutely GENIUS!! So so so clever, i love it! how did you come up with that? Best idea i’ve heard i reckon xoxo

  9. June says:

    Oh, heavens, not my idea, I am not that clever! I probably read about it at patternreview.com.

    Speaking of PR, your patterns have been getting some very nice reviews!

  10. heather says:

    Thank you for the tips. I was terrified about sewing with stretchy fabric, but after seeing this post, I’m definatly gonna give it a try. You have no idea what a life saver you are! I couldn’t find any helpful tips online.

  11. [...] “Basic Guide to Sewing With Stretch fabrics” at Megan Nielsen Design Diary. [...]

  12. [...] you need a bit of help or a refresher on sewing with stretchy fabrics – check out this post i did a while [...]

  13. [...] Today i’m going to share with you how to sew the curved patch pocket on the Briar. I really love this little pocket. It’s delicate enough not to take too much attention from the other details of top – but also adds some needed visual interest when using a plain knit with no texture or print. I know it can seem a little daunting to sew a pocket on a stretch fabric – but i promise you can do it! If you need a little refresher on how to sew with stretchy fabrics, see here. [...]

  14. [...] Remember: you don’t need an overlocker or serger to sew with jersey. You can use the zig zag stitch on your sewing machine, or a twin needle! For a refresher on sewing with stretch visit my quick guide [...]

  15. Mary Kezer says:

    Thank-you x ? (times infinity) best answer I found!

  16. [...] as hard as you’d think :) I think the greatest tool in your arsenal is a twin needle – a bit more about them in this post. If you don’t have one – no stress! You can still sew the hem with a zig zag stitch on [...]

  17. [...] needles). I thought it was my machines fault. But what I learned today while re-reading a ‘how to sew with stretch’ post on Megan’s blog is that you can separate your 2 threads right above your needle so they [...]

  18. [...] If you need some extra tips on sewing with stretchy fabric, then check out this post, or if you’re looking for somewhere to buy jersey fabric check this one out. posted in: [...]

  19. Charlene Quarles says:

    Thank you…Thank you………..I will definitely not be “afraid” of sewing with stretchy fabrics anymore. I really appreciate you posting this for all of us “chickens”. So much super information that I never knew about.

  20. Kara says:

    I appreciate this post but have a major question that I am having hard time getting a good answer for (this is my first ever sewing attempt)! How do you cut the knit in a straight line!? I tried cutting after measuring and it came out wonky! I am trying to do your tutorial (I left hopefully enough extra I may be able to square it up and still make the skirt). Any tricks to cut it straight? I regret choosing knit for my first ever project now!

    • Meg says:

      Oh Kara you poor thing!! I have a few tricks that might help – i often use a rotary cutter and a mat for knit, as it cuts through before it can move around get wonky – or another trick is to use tailors chalk to draw your cut lines on before you start, then no matter what the fabric does you can keep cutting on the line you drew. I hope that helps! xoxo

      • Helen Bond says:

        To keep a stretch fabric in place for cutting, I lay the whole piece of fabric onto a sheet of tissue paper and pin them together, then put the pattern piece on top and cut through all three layers.

        • Helen says:

          I forgot to mention that I also weigh the pattern pieces down with books instead of pinning. this helps to stabilise the fabric as well.

  21. Jamie says:

    Hi Megan! I have a question! I have a one piece bathing suit that I am hoping to wear for the first time tomorrow. The only problem is I am a 42DD so the V-neck is quite revealing on me. I need to cover a 5 1/2 by 9 in space! I want to use stretchy material so that it has some give and it’ll be easier to swim in. My grandma is helping me and says I need to cut the stretchy fabric smaller than what I want it, so that it pulls a little while it’s on. Is there a ratio or trick to knowing how big I need to cut the fabric so that it stretches right?
    Thank you!

  22. Bella says:

    Hi Megan!
    I just recently got some really cute stretchy fabric for some pillow cases. When I went to sew it was awful. The thread was super loose and basically wouldn’t even stay on. Is this because I don’t have the correct needle or could it be something else? My mom typically quilts on this machine, but for some reason I couldn’t get the thread to stick! Could you help me?! I would really hate to not use this fabric!
    Thank you!!

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