Menu
MN2402 Acacia / Sewing Techniques / Tips & Advice / Tips & Tutorials

Basic Guide To Sewing With Stretch Fabrics

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen Patterns

I’ve noticed that a lot of people get really scared about sewing stretch or knit 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 main tricks are to use the right needle and to use stitches that will maintain the stretch of the fabric. There are a few other simple techniques and gadgets you should know, and then you’re set to sew!

// Choosing a Needle //

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen PatternsI think the most important aspect of sewing stretch fabrics, is making sure you have the right needle on your machine! For knits, you want to have a ball-point needle, as sharp needle meant for wovens can tear holes in knit fabrics.

For jersey knits, or any knit really, look for a needle that says Jersey/Ballpoint.

Another option is Stretch needles, which is meant for really stretchy fabrics like swimwear and other fabrics with a high amount of spandex or lycra. But can also be used for other knits.

If a Universal needle is all you have on hand, You can get away with using it on heavyweight or sturdy knits. But I would avoid it on any light-mid weight knits at all.

The last needle you see in this photo is a twin needle, which is used for hemming. But I’ll get into this later in this post!

// Sewing Seams //

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

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen Patterns1. Zig Zag stitch

The best stretch stitch on a regular sewing machine is a zig zag stitch. This stitch will allow the fabric to stretch a little after sewing.You may need to adjust the stitch width and stitch length of the zig-zag depending on the weight of your fabric, so make sure you always test it out on scraps at the beginning of a project.

A lot of machines have other built in stretch stitch options, 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 stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen Patterns2. Serger/Overlocker

Another option, if you have a serger/overlock machine, is to use that to sew your seams on knits. These stitches have stretch in it.

Note: most Sergers have a 1 needle or 2 needle option. My machine was set up with just one needle when I did this sample, so thats what you see above. But using the 2 needle (4 thread) option is probably best for seaming knits as its sturdier while still providing stretch.

// Edge Finishing //

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen Patterns1. Zig Zag with no finish

One of the super cool things about stretch 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). And if it is a lighterweight knit, like a jersey knit, the edges will curl – which is a cute edge finish itself!

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen Patterns2. Zig Zag and trim

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!

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen Patterns3. Serger / Overlock or Zig Zag with Overlock

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

Or you can sew the seam with a zig zag, but then finish the edge with the overlock machine for a clean look.

// Hem Finishing //

Let’s talk about folding your hem…

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen Patterns1. Double fold

Ok, so most knit garments are actually hemmed with a single fold. But you can double fold a knit hem just like a woven hem. I would only do this with certain knits, though, as it can create extra bulk. So make sure to test this out with your fabric.

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen Patterns2. Single fold with raw edge

Most knit garments are turned under just once. And because most stretch knits don’t fray, you can choose to keep the unfinished edge.

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen Patterns3. Single fold with overlocked edge

If you like clean finishes, you can also choose to first finish the edge with a serger/overlocker and then fold under once.

// Hem Stitching //

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen Patterns1. Zig Zag stitch

The easiest way to stitch your hem is using that zig zag stitch!

I’m going to show you quick this basic zig zag hem with the different edge finishes…

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen PatternsIf you kept the raw edge with a single fold, you can choose to trim the excess if you want.

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen PatternsHere is the zig zag hem with the double fold hem.

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen PatternsAnd here is the zig zag hem with the overlocked single fold.

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen Patterns2. Twin Needle

My absolutely favourite method of hemming stretchy fabrics is using a twin needle. I don’t often mention it though, as it seems to terrify many people. But twin 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 can get these twin needles in different widths, too.

Here’s how to use it…

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen Patterns a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen PatternsYou simply thread your machine using 2 spools of thread instead of one. Most machines have a spot for a second spool, but if yours does not, you can put the second spool in a cup/mug as a hack!

Thread your machine with both threads at once, as if it is just one thread.

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen PatternsWhen you get to the twin needle, thread one thread through each needle.

Set your machine to a **straight stitch**.

You will have to do this top stitching on the outside (right side) of the fabric.

P.S – this can be a little tricky with wide hems that go beyond your machines measures. 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!

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen PatternsHere is what a twin needle stitch looks like. You will have two straight stitches on the right side of the fabric, with a zig-zag like stretch knit on the wrong side of the fabric.

// Preventing Waviness and Stretching //

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen PatternsI think one of the biggest complaints with sewing stretch fabrics, is the waviness and mis-shapen stretch effect that can happen (like shown above).

There are a few different measures you can take to prevent this…

1. Don’t pull/stretch your fabric!

The biggest way to prevent this is, when sewing, is not to stretch the fabric as you sew unless the pattern calls for it. If you stretch your garment, it will more than likely come out misshapen.

Also, do not let your garment fall to the ground as you sew, as this can automatically stretch your fabric as you sew. So support that fabric as you feed it through the machine!

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen Patterns2. Stretch fusible hem tape

There are different kinds of knit/stretch fusible hem tape (this is an example of one I had in my stash). Follow the directions on the packaging to apply the tape to your seam or hem. This can help stabilize the fabric for less stretching.

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen Patterns a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen Patterns3. Walking Foot

If you have a walking foot/even feed foot for your machine, this can be helpful with knits!

A walking foot has an extra set of of feed dogs on top that work with your machine feed dogs on bottom, and is used with slippery or tricky fabrics to help keep your fabric in place and evenly feed both layers through the machine without pulling, stretching or allowing your fabric to “eat” the fabric.

So with knits, this is helpful in preventing that stretching!

4. Adjusting Presser Foot pressure

If you don’t have a walking foot, you can try adjusting your machine’s presser foot pressure. If your presser foot is set too high and applying too much pressure, it can stretch the fabric as it feeds through the machine. So read your machine’s manual to see how you can adjust this.

a basic guide to sewing stretch fabrics with Megan Nielsen Patterns5. Press, press, press

If all else fails, press! Even better, hover your iron right above the stretched stitches and hit it with some steam – this can help shrink it back up.

// Other Tips //

1. 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.

2. 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!!

3. Another machine I do not show or mention above is a Coverstitch machine, which can be used for hemming knits. It creates a look of a twin needle on the right side, and loops like a serger on the wrong side. This is how you see most RTW t-shirts hemmed!

About Author

Meg is the Founder and Creative Director of Megan Nielsen Patterns, and is constantly dreaming up ideas for new sewing patterns and ways to make your sewing journey more enjoyable! She gets really excited about design details and is always trying to add way too many variations to our patterns.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

34 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Laura
10 years ago

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

Brigita
10 years ago

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.

Rachel W.
10 years ago

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!

Rachel W.
10 years ago
Reply to  Rachel W.

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!

Loren
10 years ago

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.

Trudy Callan
10 years ago

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

Lizz
10 years ago

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.

Emily
10 years ago

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

June
10 years ago

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.

June
10 years ago

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!

heather
heather
10 years ago

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.

trackback

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

trackback

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

trackback

[…] 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. […]

trackback

[…] 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 […]

Mary Kezer
Mary Kezer
9 years ago

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

trackback

[…] 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 […]

trackback

[…] 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 […]

trackback

[…] 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: […]

Charlene Quarles
Charlene Quarles
9 years ago

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.

Kara
Kara
9 years ago

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!

Helen Bond
Helen Bond
8 years ago
Reply to  Meg

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
Helen
8 years ago
Reply to  Helen Bond

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.

Jamie
Jamie
9 years ago

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!

Bella
Bella
8 years ago

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!!

Juanita Menchaca
Juanita Menchaca
8 years ago

I can’t get over what great information that so many people give away online. Makes one feel that there really is a community of loving people out there.
I am going to try out this double needle thing on knits. I don’t have the ballpoint ones (they are hard to find in my area).
I am going to try to do some decorative trimming using bias cut chiffon on a knit. We’ll see how that goes!!! Any suggestions?
Thank you for putting your experience, photos and instructions online for all to see!

Linda
Linda
4 years ago

I’ve made some baby sized pants using stretch knit and I’ve tried a double needle and also a zigzag stitch for hemming the pants and both made the hem edge “frilly”. Is my stitch too small? Couldn’t get the hem to lay flat.

Pamela
Pamela
2 years ago
Reply to  Linda

Hi Linda, I’ve just had exactly the same experience with the hem of a baby t-shirt. I lowered the presser foot tension and tried different stitch sizes and still couldn’t get a flat hem. I’ve ordered a walking foot to see if that helps. I wondered if it may be the quality of the fabric I’m using, as it stretched on the neckline too :(

trackback

[…] a comprehensive guide on sewing with stretch fabrics we recommend checking out this brilliant blog post by our friend and Aussie sewing genius, Megan Nielsen […]

Idania García
Idania García
11 months ago

Gracias por compartir tantos detalles para coser este tipo de telas.