How to Sew Stretch Fabric: Our Tips

Stretch fabric doesn’t sew like a simple woven fabric, as you can imagine. But as long as you take a few precautions and follow a few tips, sewing stretch is no longer a problem. We provide you with everything you need to know to make your stretch fabric creations a success, with complete peace of mind.

What is a stretch fabric?

Stretch fabric is exactly what it’s called, a stretch fabric, lycra, jersey, etc… These are “knit” type fabrics. That is to say, whose weave is knitted. The mesh is then constructed by passing loops between them. They are constructed from a single thread. Thanks to this weaving process, the fabric is stretchable in all directions. Sometimes elastane is added to make the fabric even more stretchy.

Visually, the front and back of a stretch fabric are different and if you look at the threads, you will see that they are neither parallel nor perpendicular. Generally speaking, we will talk about jersey fabric, whose manufacturing technique has the same name, a name that comes from the island of Jersey where it originated. It can also be a woven fabric to which an elastic fiber is added to make it stretch.

Discover the different stretch fabrics

Stretch fabrics can therefore be knitted with synthetic or natural fibers as well as warp and weft woven fabrics. Thus, you can find several types of stretch fabrics:

Pure cotton jersey, which, as the name suggests, is made of 100% cotton. It is absorbent, insulating and breathable, and for this reason it is ideal for making T-shirts.

Viscose jersey, on the other hand, is more difficult to work with because it is not only elastic but also flowing.

We can also mention bamboo jersey, much used for children, cotton/elastane jersey, etc…

Synthetic jersey, on the other hand, is rather used for sportswear and swimwear. It can be made of polyester, polyamide or nylon. Its advantage is that it dries quickly. To begin, choose a jersey fabric with low stretch and medium thickness, it will make your task easier.

Necessary equipment

To sew stretch fabric, you need the following:

  • very fine pins, otherwise you risk damaging your fabric;
  • a tailor’s chalk or erasable marker to be able to easily trace without deforming your fabric;
  • a sharp chisel or, even better, a rotary cutter;
  • a sewing machine or, if you have one, a serger;
  • for the needle of the sewing machine, take a stretch needle, that is to say a needle with a shorter and narrower eye and a deeper hollow, adapted to the fabric or a jersey needle ;
  • you can take a polyester thread or a foam thread;
  • finally, choose a pattern that is suitable for stretch fabric as you can find in our free patterns.


Prepare the stretch fabric

Before you start making your fabric, it is necessary to prepare your fabric. It is therefore important to start by washing it. In this way, you avoid ending up with a garment that, once finished, may shrink at the first wash.

Make sure to check and follow the washing recommendations according to the fabric you have chosen. If in doubt, choose a machine wash at 30°. Let the fabric air dry and then iron it with a soft iron. When in doubt, it is better to make a test.

Cut and sew stretch fabric

Cut stretch fabric

To cut the different elements, it is necessary to locate the straight line, i.e. the one that is parallel to the edge. Generally, stretch fabrics are more stretchy in width than in height. The straight yarn is in the direction that is most resistant to stretching, i.e. the height.

Pin your fabric layers carefully and abundantly to prevent them from moving while you trace your elements one after the other. Don’t forget to add seam allowances if your pattern does not include them.

Once the pieces have been cut, preferably with a rotary cutter to prevent warping, lay them flat or roll them. This way, your stretch fabric will not warp.

Sewing with an overlock machine

If you own an overlock machine, sewing stretch fabric will be greatly simplified. In fact, you will be able to sew several thicknesses together, but also overcast the edges to obtain impeccable finishes. It will allow you to keep all the elasticity of the fabric. You will therefore be able to sew simply and quickly with your overlock machine.

Sew the stretch fabric with a sewing machine

However, if you do not own an overlock machine, it is quite possible to sew with your family sewing machine.

You will be able to choose different stitches according to your needs. For example, some seams should not stretch, so you can use a straight stitch for these.

On the other hand, others must keep a certain elasticity, for these you should choose a stretch stitch, which can also be called stretch or stretch knit stitch. In order to do this easily, make sure before cutting to provide slightly higher seam values, you will always be able to cut off the excess fabric after sewing. The zigzag stitch is frequently used for sewing stretch fabrics.

Finally, if among the functions of your machine, you benefit from the overlock stitch, it allows you to sew and overcast in one go.

Tips for the most common problems

While sewing your stretch fabric, you may encounter difficulties. We, therefore, offer you solutions to the most common problems.

If your fabric curls when you sew, it may be due to a problem with the tension of your presser foot. If your machine allows it, change the tension, otherwise, if you have a double-drive foot, use it. If necessary, a water-soluble interlining can be used to be placed along the seam.

When faced with the puzzle of applying a zipper or making buttonholes on stretch fabric, you can use the same interlining technique to simplify your work. To stiffen the jersey, you can also interline it where you need to apply snaps, make embroidery, etc…

If your fabric does not advance when you start sewing, place baking paper or tissue paper between your fabric and the feed dogs. This will make it easier for your fabric to advance. This solution can also be used if your machine tends to “swallow” your fabric when you start it up.