Tips for Stretch Fabrics

August 5, 2008

Examples of stretch fabrics might be Lycra, knits, jerseys, stretch satin, stretch poplin, even something that is not cut on the direction of the thread, especially something bias cut.

Wondering how not to make stretchy fabric stretch beyond belief, yet still keep the seam stretchy enough so that it does not break, when the fabric stretches?

Well here are some tips from what I have read and been practicing, just some secrets of the trade.

Stabilizing the fabric to avoid wavy seams

You can avoid wavy seams on stretch fabrics by sewing through a layer of iron on water soluble stabilizer applied over the seam line. Or you can sew through thin tissue paper the you can then rip out of the seam. Or you can use starch (flour and water solution that you spray on), let it dry and that will stabilize the fabric, but test it first on a scrap piece to make sure you do not stain the fabric.

Another trick is to glue on adhesive tape on the exterior edge of the fabric, and then stitch next to the band, towards the interior. The extra taped edge can be then cut away.

The right needle

Consult your sewing machine manual for indications about what needle to choose for the right fabric. Knits and jerseys require a ball point needle, that is not very sharp, but blunt and it will not cut the weave of the fabric, but push the threads aside when piercing the fabric. A ball point needle will avoid those loose running fraying stitches in jerseys.

Choosing the right stitch

The stitch you choose for stretch fabrics needs to stretch with the fabric without breaking.

Serger / Overlock Stitches

A serger is best, I love my Singer QUANTUMLOCK 14T967DC! Here’s a list of all it can do:

Most often I serge the edges without needing an additional re-enforcement stitch, simply by serging both seam allowances together. This gives clothes a store both look on the inside.

3 thread mock safety stitch

In case I want narrow seams on the inside, for stretch jerseys or even for transparent fabrics in general the G setting on my Singer is my favorite.

This stitch stretches with the fabric, the seam will not break when the fabric is stretched. It is ideal for super-stretch knits like those used on swim-wear or athlete clothing. This stitch uses two needles and one looper.

I like it because it uses just 3 threads so it is more economic.

4 thread ultra stretch mock safety stitch

If you need a little extra strength, then an extra thread and tension settings A will do:

“The Four-Thread Ultra-Stretch Mock Safety Stitch is stronger than the Three-Thread Ultra-Stretch Mock Safety Stitch. The additional thread provides added strength to the seam and is good choice for knits as well as wovens. This stitch works well when applying ribbing to a garment. Ribbing is often seen on cuffs, collars and waistbands of active wear. This stitch requires two needle threads and two looper threads.”

These are the stitches I use most on my serger for sewing sides and setting in armholes, etc…for the basic steps in garment construction.

Cover-stitches for hems

The singer offers 3 kinds of coverstitch: narrow, wide and triple. I like the narrow coverstitch for thin jerseys, the wide for knits.

“Two needles create parallel rows of top stitching and one looper sew an edge finish on the underneath side. Depending on which needle position is selected the width can be 5.6mm wide or 2.8 mm wide.”

The triple cover stitch would look great on any fabric, even with different colors for the threads, but I use it rarely, because it is harder to take the fabric out or the machine once you finish the seam.

This innovative stitch provides a very wide 5.6 mm professional and creative triple topstitch to sewing projects. Three needles create parallel rows of topstitching and one looper sews an edge finish on the underneath side. This is ideal for heavier fabrics traditionally used in home decorating. It also adds a unique accent for garment construction. In addition to sewing on woven fabrics, the Triple Cover Hem makes a beautiful topstitch and a strong hem on stretch fabrics. This stitch emulates hem finishing as seen on ready-to-wear garments.

Flatlock as a mock cover stitch

There are sergers out there that do not have coverstitches built in, as there are coverstitch machines that only do hems.

You can use a flatlock stitch on your serger to simulate a coverstitch, only you will not have two parallel lines, but many parallel vertical stitches on the right side of the fabric and a safety stitch on the back that will prevent the fabric from fraying. I think the result on the right side is called a ladder stitch.

“The Flatlock Stitch is used decoratively to achieve the look of applied trim on a garment, craft or home decorator projects. Special decorative threads are used for a textured and dramatic embellishment effect. The Flatlock Stitch can also be used to serge non-bulky seams. The Flatlock Stitch is sewn with one needle and the upper and lower loopers. Both sides of the Flatlocking Stitch are considered decorative. The decorative loop effect is achieved when the Flatlock seams are stitched with the fabrics wrong sides together. The ladder stitch is achieved when the Flatlock seams are stitch with the fabrics right sides together. There are 2 different ways to set up for a Three-Thread Flatlock stitch. For a more narrow stitch (4.0) select the right overedge needle; for a wider stitch (6.0) the left overedge needle is used.”

Blind stitch for invisible hems

Other models might have a blind stitch and that can be used with stretch fabrics just as well for hems. There is also a blind stitch foot as an attachment to the machine; it helps you guide the fabric while sewing.

Ruffled edges and rolled hems

For ruffled edges salad like finishes on stretch fabrics, pull the fabric on the back and front a little to stretch it (don’t over do it, just tension it a little). Choose a rolled hem on a serger and use nice decorative threads.

“The Rolled Hem Stitch is used to finish edges of scarves, ruffles, table linens, and some garments. It is suitable for lightweight to medium weight fabrics, such as sheers, silkies and broadcloth. Beautiful pin tucks can be achieved with the rolled hem. They can enhance a yoke, heirloom sewing, wearable art and even home decorating projects.”

Differential feed

With a serger that has differential feed, you can play with the feed dogs to gather or stretch the fabric while sewing. The Brother 1034D serger’s user manual link below explains this very well.

There are two rows of feed dogs on the serger, one in front, one in the back.

If they both feed the fabric equally that is normal sewing. The feed ratio is 1.0 for normal sewing.

With a low feed ratio, like 0.7 to 1.0, the main feed, the read feed dogs pull harder then the front dogs, the material is pulled tight. This prevents thin materials from puckering.

With a higher feed radio, between 1.0 and 2.0, the differential feed (front) pulls harder then the rear feed dogs, the material is gathered or pushed together. This prevents stretch materials from stretching or puckering.

So to produce a salad like edge, choose the lower feed ratio, to prevent a salad like looking edge, choose a higher feed ratio.

Where to see examples

Look for machine and serger manuals, they have a bunch of examples that can inspire you.

For more examples on using these stitches have a look at the Brother serger, once you get familiar with your machine, you can achieve similar results, all you have to do is choose the right tension threads and thread the right needles/loopers J Lol that sounds easy, right?!

Sewing Machine Stitches

While a serger is great to have and surely speeds things up, not having one should not stop you from sewing stretch jerseys. You need to play with the stitches on your machine, test them first on scraps and adjust the thread tension and stitch length/width.

Zig Zags or stretch straight stitch

The zig zag stitch for stretch fabrics should be used instead of a straight simple stitch that would break when you stretch the fabric. Some machines have a triple step straight stitch that works great with some fabrics, but can sometimes stretch them too much and produce wavy seams. Choose a longer step if this happens and try again.

For a zig zag choose: ½-2mm wide and 3-4mm long stitches.

For finishing edges of seam allowances some home sewing machines offer overlock like stitches, if these are not available then use the wide zig zag stitch instead, with steps’ length above 1.5mm. The sorter the length of the stitch, the more the fabric will stretch, salad like looking…test it before and compromise between the fraying and the stretch. The needle should pierce the fabric towards the interior, and it should step off the fabric on the outer side of the fabric. You can also sew a zig zag and then cut the allowance off, just be careful not to cut the seam itself.

Twin Needle

Using a double needle or a twin needle, the hems can be done while maintaining the elasticity of the seam. On the right side of the fabric two straight parallel stitches will appear, while on the wrong side, a zig zag stitch will also re-enforce the raw edge of the folded hem. The zig zag on the back is responsible for the stretchiness of this seam.

Ruffled edges

A salad looking like edge can be created on stretch or bias fabrics with a narrow zig zag stitch with short stitches, using a decorative shiny thread, like rayon, and holding the fabric to stretch it while sewing. You can create a fold into the fabric and sew over the fold’s edge, then cut off the excess allowance off. I like to sew from the wrong side of the fabric, with the decorative thread in the bobbin, and hold the raw edge of the fabric upwards guided through the machine feet, so that the edge is in the middle of the zig zag and the sewing thread covers it. This way I don’t have to cut off any excess fabric.

Fold over elastic

I love fold over elastic tapes that capture the raw edge of the fabric in the middle, they are a great way to add shine and finish the edges with a professional look. Same stitches can be applied to the folded elastic: double straight stitch, or a zig zag or a twin needle/cover stitch.

Decorative elastics can also be used, see:

Some fabrics allow you to leave the edges unfinished as they are, pull on the fabric to check for fraying first.

Look at the way jerseys are finished for the store bought clothes. You can use other serger stitches with decorative thread, even with metallic threads in the lower loopers for decorative effects, add ribbons under the seams, or apply a coverstitch that encloses a thin clear elastic band on the underside to do gathers, or do a coverstitch close to the edge of the fabric without folding it, leaving a raw edge that will not fray beyond the stitch…use your creativity for creative creations

Clever tips from Burda:

More tips for knits from Laura:

Totally use this for every hem you make:

Knit Types for

Are you still reading this? If so, do you feel ready to get your hands on some knits?

28 Responses to “Tips for Stretch Fabrics”

  1. oonaballoona Says:

    and i’ve been lurking at yours! i’m poring over your stretch jersey tips for the loads of fabric i got for my birthday.

    i was telling my husband i now understand the awesome-ness of bwof…

  2. Mirela Says:

    Yeah…no need for pattern making with Burda patterns 🙂

  3. cindybin Says:

    Well I was going to say something positive about your blog, what with it being sewing tips and such, but then I see on the sidebar you have something about THONGS–bra and thongs sexy stretch. I shudder to think what that is about. Do you actually wear thongs? Why would you have an article about that? Also you say something about a cocktail top and skirt. I hope you don’t actually drink alcohol.

    • Toby Says:

      Really cindybin, if you don’t drink alcohol or wear thongs that is entirely your perogative but please allow other adults to make their own choices without getting bent out of shape. If she or anyone else wears thongs or drinks, does it really affect your life? Probably not.

  4. mom2fur Says:

    I love the idea of sewing through tissue. I’ve made several versions of the Burda “Lydia” top. I always stay-stitch around the curved edges, so the top part comes out nice…but my hems are always stretched-out. I think I need to do the tissue trick there, or at least stay-stitch, too.
    BTW, I think the bra and thong outfit is lovely, although I wouldn’t wear it–too chubby, LOL! It isn’t immodest if worn a)under clothes or b)in the bedroom. I doubt anyone would walk outside to get the newspaper wearing it.
    I don’t even know what a cocktail top is, LOL! And there is nothing wrong with an adult drinking on occasion as long as they do it responsibly.
    Feel free to delete that last paragraph, but I had to say something!

  5. mom2fur Says:

    Okay, I clicked on the photo. A cocktail top is a beautiful version of a halter. Very pretty!

  6. AlinA Says:

    Cindybin, I don’t think I understand your comment… In some European countries and in Latin America wearing thongs is no big issue, even wearing a thong at the beach, part of a swimming costume. And I think that a “cocktail top and skirt” is evening wear(like a cocktail dress). You don’t have to drink alcohol to wear it;)
    Mirela, I love your blog and this material about stretchy fabrics. You put a lot of work into it:-) BTW, you can delete my comment regarding Cindy’s post, too. I don’t want to be rude but I had to comment about it.

  7. Mirela Says:

    Thanks girls!

    I won’t be deleting the comments, I enjoy reading them so thank you for telling me your opinions!

    cindybin, I do drink alcohol but not instead of water 😉 I did quit smoking and started to crochet. I wear thongs everyday under clothes, but I prefer the GStrings. They are perfect under pants, no underwear lines show through. I find them very comfortable, especially more comfortable them other panties that ride up and would not go back to anything else, except for boyshorts. I make most of my clothes, that includes underwear. I do wear something under the clothes, so do all of us right? And lingerie should stay sexy gives a woman confidence and makes her feel pretty and yes, sexy. So why shouldn’t I include a post about it?

    mom2fur, the thong and bra are meant as lingerie, so it can be worn under clothes or in the bedroom.
    The bra (and thong for those perfect bodies out there) could be part of a swimsuit, but in a different fabric.
    The “cocktail” top and skirt are the cocktail dress version, as in going out to a party somewhere, with or without cocktails, even virgin cocktails will do 🙂 The nice part about separates is they can be split apart, thus one could wear a halter or a skirt to any occasion with jeans or a t shirt.

    mom2fur, I included some more links: also click on the link with the Burda tips for stretchy fabrics, there is another way to do the hems with tape.

    AlinA, in some countries, Romania included, the thong can be a swimsuit altogether, without a bra hahaha

    For anyone interested in buying these items we are talking about, they are for sale at Everywear: for everything to wear.

  8. mom2fur Says:

    Thanks for the link for the stretchy fabric tips! And I think that top would be adorable with either jeans or a fancy skirt. Too bad I can’t wear things like that, but it is pretty!

  9. Mary Says:


    In response to cindybin

    “Well I was going to say something positive about your blog, what with it being sewing tips and such, but then I see on the sidebar you have something about THONGS–bra and thongs sexy stretch. I shudder to think what that is about. Do you actually wear thongs? Why would you have an article about that? Also you say something about a cocktail top and skirt. I hope you don’t actually drink alcohol.”

  10. Ex Girlfiend Says:

    Hey, nice tips. Perhaps I’ll buy a glass of beer to that person from that chat who told me to visit your blog 🙂

  11. SHERRI DAVIS Says:

    please tell me. Can you use foldover elastic with a serger? if so how?

  12. mirela Says:

    I think you can use the foldover elastic with the server, there either is a special foot for the machine, that guides the elastic so the fabric is in the fold, and it depends on what stitch you select. I used it without a special attachment,by hand guiding the fabric and elastic, with a narrow coverstitch or the chain stitch, but these stitches might not be available on all sergers. Hope this helps!

  13. […] how she adapted the Sadie pattern to get the softer drape, and as I read further found a link to a post on how to work with stretch fabrics. And there, folks, appears to be the answer to my stretched out t-shirt seams. […]

  14. Stoffe Shop Says:

    Hy, I like your design. Well done and nice blog. Sincerely Stoffe kaufen

  15. Charly Says:

    Hi, Just got a lovely stretchy top. no time to try it on and last in shop. It fit but its too tight round the middle… how can i stretch it??? its currently hugging a suitcase to try to sort it lol

  16. Mirela Says:

    Hi Charly…I’m not sure, it probably depends on the fabric too, I would try steaming it over that suitcase or iron it according to the fabric caring instructions, and stretching it lightly as you go…hope this helps

  17. Laura Shell Says:

    Hi. I am sewing a stretch dance fabric onto a costume that is also made of a stretch fabric. I was going to use a zig zag stitch on my sewing machine. Do you think that is the best way to go about it?


  18. Mirela Says:

    Hello Laura. You can use a zig zag stitch, or the triple stitch if you have one. The reason is when the fabric is stretched, the seam also stretches with the fabric, it will not break. Just make sure your fabrics are not over stretched where the seam is applied, you can try adding a piece of tissue paper underneath and then break it off.

  19. Esther Says:

    I’m shortening the sleeves of a longsleeve tshirt 58% cotton and 42% polyester. I’m using twin needles and my sleeves get wider at the end-something -which isn’t my intention! Does anyone know why this is happening? I have only touched the lenght, haven’t touched the width at all!
    thanks ! esther

  20. […] These are the stitches I use most on my serger for sewing sides and setting in armholes, etc…for the basic steps in garment construction. Tips for Stretch Fabrics « Cutting Edge Stitches & Seams […]

  21. Bonnie w Says:

    Cant find where you did the thong Cindybin is talking about. I,m trying to make one thanks

  22. Bonnie w Says:

    Did you have a picture of the thongs? I,m useing swimsuit material, having lots of fun . But when I sew sides thread wants to break, so that is giving less stretch. Used straight stitch on stretch, also tried zizag. Can you help me in what I,m doing wrong. THANK YOU bONNIE

  23. Mirela Says:

    Try to use the zig zag on a regular sewing machine or you could try a double needle, that way you end up with two parallel straight stitches on the front of the fabric and a zig zag on the back, which is going to be a stretchy seam.
    Some machines have that wide zig zag composed out of three straight steps on each branch…you see that a lot on lingerie. Sorry, the pictures were on flickr but I stopped paying for storage. Good luck with the project!

  24. synthetikat Says:

    I’ve been looking for a good comprehensive guide for sewing stretchy fabric and you win. It’s so hard to find something that’s not overly wordy and riddled with ridiculous and pointless words. (Much like my comment haha). Thanks so much for this!

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  26. […] threads in serger stitches mean a whole lot of not only of stretch but strength. More threads in stretches are bulkier instead of stronger, albeit there are several exceptions such as the wrapped, three-thread stitch and the super stretch […]

  27. Jenna Rolen Says:

    Hey, I’ve been looking for someone who could give me tips on working with the Nike dri fit material. I am making a tshirt quilt for a friend and pretty much all the shirts are the dri fit material. Would most of these tips work with that type of shirt also?

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