4 things you should keep in mind when sewing with stretchy fabrics
One of the reasons that I took up sewing was when I had a hard time finding trousers and leggings that fit my little girl well. I really wanted to sew comfortable clothes for her, but was a little "scared" to try sewing in stretchy fabrics because I thought it was difficult.
Stretchy fabrics such as jersey are perfect for sewing children's clothes with because they are stretchy and therefore comfortable for the children to wear, and one thing that is extra good about them is that they adapt and give a little even if you have not cut 100% true to the sewing pattern.
Actually, jersey fabric is an excellent fabric type for beginners to sew with if you make sure to follow a couple of tips that I list here below:
- Use a stretchy stitch
- Use a stretch needle
- Check if the sewing pattern is for stretchy fabrics
- Keep an eye on whether the fabric is fed evenly during sewing
Below you can read about the different tips.
1. Use a stretchy stitch.
This is absolutely the most important thing to keep in mind when sewing in stretchy fabrics. Patterns that are made to be sewn with knitwear are designed to stretch when you put them on and often stretch and give when you move. If the seams that holds the garment together cannot also stretch with the fabric then the seams break and the garment falls apart.
The easiest and fastest way is to sew with an overlocker, but an overlocker is absolutely not necessary. An overlocker is fantastic because it sews quickly, cuts the edge and overlocks it for a nice finish and gives a stable seam because it uses 4 threads and all the seams become stretchy - but unfortunately it's also a slightly more expensive machine than a regular household sewing machine and it, of course, also takes up space.
If your regular household sewing machine can sew zigzag, then it is absolutely fine for sewing knitted fabrics. Nowadays, even the cheap sewing machines also have a bit more different types of stitches to choose from, so check your machine's manual and see which of them are stretch stitches. If your machine only has a straight stitch and regular zigzag then you can use a zigzag with a width of 2.5mm and a length of 2.5mm to sew the fabrics together.
A nice finish on an edge with a neat topstitch can be nicely done with a twin needle because those stitches are also elastic. You can also use a coverstitch machine to quickly sew elastic nice topstitches, but like overlocks they are expensive and take up space.
A good thing about knitted fabrics is that they do not fray in the same way as woven fabrics, so it is not a must to cover the edges, but of course it gives a slightly more professional look if you do.
Always test on a piece of fabric of the fabric you want to sew, before you start sewing. What does the seam look like and how much can it stretch??
You can see examples of different stitches in a video below. 👇
2. Use stretch sewing machine needles
Jersey fabrics are knitted fabrics, so you want to avoid cutting the threads in the fabric as this easily leads to larger holes. There are sewing machine needles with a rounded tip that push the threads in the fabric to the side and these are the ones you want to use when sewing knitwear. There are basically two types of sewing machine needles with a rounded tip: stretch needles and jersey/ballpoint needles. I usually see that it is the ones called stretch needles that are recommended for sewing with stretchy fabric, but a combination of sewing machine and sewing project can lead to a jersey needle working better in your particular case. It might be worth trying both. (See the sewing machine needles in the shop here - link opens in a new window.)
Another problem that you can get if you use the wrong needle is skipped stitches - i.e. missed stitches in the seam. An old worn needle can also lead to skip stitches - in such cases it may also be worth thinking about whether it is time to change to a new needle.
3. Check if the sewing pattern is designed for stretchy fabrics
Overall, there are two types of fabrics: woven and knitted. The woven fabrics are not stretchy so clothes made from woven fabrics must have an opening with a zipper or buttons to put them on. Knitted fabrics are stretchy to various extents - especially knitted fabrics with some elastic material in them such as elastane.
Knitted fabrics can differ in stretchiness so it can be good to test how elastic the fabric you want to use is. Good sewing patterns for knitted fabrics usually state how much the fabric should be able to stretch. Test the fabric in width by holding it with 10 cm between where you hold, then pull out as far as it will go and measure how far it stretches. If it now measures 13 cm then the fabric stretches 30% because it stretches 3cm and 3 cm is 30% of 10 cm. I show you how to do it in a video below . 👇
4. Make sure the fabric is fed evenly while sewing
When sewing two pieces of fabric together, it may happen that the two pieces of fabric are not simultaneously fed evenly under the needle. This is usually not a problem when sewing with an overlock as you can easily set the differential feed. (Check the machine's manual to see how to do this.)
If you sew with a regular household sewing machine and have a problem with the top fabric and bottom fabric not feeding in evenly, you can try using a walking foot. A walking foot has "teeth" that pull the fabric in from the top side as you sew. (Check your sewing machine's manual for which model of feet fits your particular machine.)
Watch a short video about different stitches:
Watch a short video abou how to test how stretchy a fabric is: