Sewing stretch fabric with a sewing machine
Sewing stretch fabrics
Although a serger is ideal for working with stretch fabrics, it has limitations when working on a very small scale.
A regular sewing machine can work wonderfully with a few minor adjustments:
Needles and Thread
Needle & thread are basics needed to sew all fabrics, however selecting the ones best suited for stretch fabrics will make the project go more smoothly.
Choose a sewing machine needle designed for stretch fabrics - these have a ball point. On the right hand side are just 2 examples of specialty needles for working with stretch fabric.
Schmetz has a terrific guide explaining the different types of needles & usage: Schmetz Needle Guide.
When sewing with synthetic fabrics it is best to also use a synthetic thread to reduce thread snapping or breaking when the garment is put on.
Using a combination of these thread types - Polyester thread for the upper thread & Woolly Nylon for the lower or bobbin thread - provides "give" to sewn areas. The polyester thread is easier to thread through the eye of the sewing machine needle & it permits traditional sewing techniques such as gathering.
Fabrics and Degree of Stretch
There is such a wonderful selection of fabrics with stretch - in a variety of colours, patterns, weights - laces, jersey, bamboo or cotton for casual, fancies for evening, knits with texture, fine net. The beauty of stretch fabric is the comfort & fit.
The pattern will indicate the best fabric weight & degree of elasticity needed for the sewing project.
Patterns designed for stretch fabric will have a "stretch scale" to measure the minimum amount of fabric stretch required.
For commercial patterns, this scale will be printed on the envelope.
My patterns include the scale on the supplies page as handy single page reference when going to the fabric store.
The "stretch test" is very important for comfort & getting a good fit. To get an accurate read, fold the fabric & use the folded edge - at least 6" (15.24cm) from selvage & cut edge - to test against the scale. This simple test will ensure that the fabric you would like to use has sufficient elasticity for the pattern before making the purchase.
The following photos show pins for demonstration purposes, while in store just holding the fabric to the scale on the pattern & stretching as indicated is quick & easy.
When selecting the fabric, check the "curl factor":
Certain stretch fabrics tend to curl, as shown in the photo on the right & can be seen on the cut edge of the bolt.
Fabric that curls at the edges, adds a degree of difficulty to all aspects of the sewing project from placing the pattern pieces, to cutting accuracy to the actual sewing.
- Avoid the following types of fabric:
Stitches and Technique
If your sewing machine does not happen to have a special setting, a straight stitch can be used by applying stretch to the fabric while sewing:
Use the thread tails to gently stretch the fabric as you sew, by pulling at the back with one hand & guiding the fabric at the front with the other hand.
Stretching the fabric will cause standard straight stitching (length) to be sewn at a greater density & allow for some stretch. Stitches sewn with this method will have the appearance of a looser stitch.
Having a problem with fabric bunching, puckering or not moving properly as you sew?