How to Sew Stretchy Fabric: A Handy Guide

Jean Chaney
Jean Chaney
Research Writer
Jean is the brains behind her fashion label. She's a whiz with a needle and thread, and has been sewing since she was old enough to hold a pair of scissors. Jean has always read more
Reviewed By
Isabel Misner
Isabel Misner
Expert Consultant
A professional seamstress. Isabel has her own video blog where she shares her experience about all the aspects of sewing – from choosing suitable materials to step-by-step read more
Last updated: September 09, 2023
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Stretchy fabrics are the soft comfy fabrics we love to wear. A lot of clothes are made with stretchy fabrics but sewing them is the main challenge for most sewists especially beginners. Learning how to sew stretchy fabrics will get you out of your comfort zone as a sewist whether you are a beginner or an advanced learner. For a newbie, it can be a little scary but with a few tips and tricks you will be breezing through different projects in no time.

Before you get started, you have to ensure you have the correct tools and materials. Choose the needle, thread and stitch type correctly before you start working on a stretchy fabric project. Plus, contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need a serger or overlock machine Trusted Source Overlock - Wikipedia An overlock is a kind of stitch that sews over the edge of one or two pieces of cloth for edging, hemming, or seaming. Usually an overlock sewing machine will cut the edges of the cloth as they are fed through, though some are made without cutters. . A basic or intermediate sewing machine would do just okay. Read on for more hints and pro tips on how to work with stretchy fabrics.

Sewing stretchy fabric: general tips

Here are some neat tricks that will help you sew stretchy fabric without puckering:

1. Use a ballpoint needle. You cannot use the sharp needles you use to work woven fabric, they will bear holes in the stretchy fabric. A ball-point needle should be your starting point.

2. Use polyester thread. Polyester thread has got a bit of stretch which makes it more resilient when you stretch the fabric you are working on. Cotton thread has no stretch at all. If you are already using cotton thread for quilting or any other project, ditch it for the common all-purpose polyester thread when working on stretchy fabrics.

3. Pick a stretch stitch. You can’t use a straight stitched seam on stretchy fabric because it will not stretch enough to accommodate the flexibility of the fabric. If you have a serger, the better because a serged seam will stretch.

If you don’t have a serger, don’t fret. You can choose the stretch stitch on you sewing machine’s settings. Some machines have it as the lightning bolt stitch. If you don’t have either of the options, you can simply set your machine to a narrow zigzag and for a more professional looking hem, use the double needle hem which is pretty stretchy.

4. If you are knew to sewing stretchy fabric, choose fabric that doesn’t curl at the edges for your first project. It is much easier to work with flat stable knits but if you must work with curling fabric then you can buy a few extra inches so you can cut out the curling edges. You can as well use a starchy spray and press the edges to reverse the curl.

5. Always pre-wash your stretchy fabric before you begin working on it. Wash it and let it dry flat for at least one day. This prevents future shrinkage.

6. After sewing some stretchy fabric like knits the seams usually appear stretched out. You can use an iron to press gently or apply steam from it to shrink the seam back to normal.

7. A walking foot will make your work easier. It is not a must-have but a great bonus.

8. Ensure you lay your patterns according to the direction of the stretch. The direction of the stretch is usually the width of the fabric and it mostly goes around the body.

How to hand sew stretchy fabric

Hand sewing a stretch fabric isn’t a walk in the park but if you have the passion, it won’t feel like work. The process isn’t so different from using a sewing machine, except it takes longer.

Hand sewing stretchy fabrics has its own perks. It is inexpensive: you only need needles, thread and a pair of scissors. Plus, you can always bring your project with you anywhere. Also, stretchy fabric is delicate and it is prone to warping, or curling during sewing. Hand sewing is much gentler and better at caring for your garments compared to a sewing machine that can harm the material for good with its edges and accessories.

Here is a step by step guide on how to hand sew stretchy fabric:

Step 1

How to Sew Stretchy Fabric: A Handy Guide

Choose the correct needle for the project. The needle matters a lot because it determines the quality of the stitches. It also affects the material: a sharp needle will bear holes in the fabric. You can invest in a needle set like the popular Tulip Needle 6 Piece Set. The set has received praise from expert reviewers and repeat users for its unmatched versatility as you get reliable hand sewing needles, quilting needles, milliner’s needles, applique, and embroidery needles.

Step 2

Choose the correct thread. Choose polyester thread in the color that matches your fabric.

Step 3

When hand sewing stretch fabric, you will be working from left to right. First off, secure the thread to the fabric.

Step 4

Insert the needle through a few threads for the fabric from left to right. Move to the right then insert the thread from right to left through a few threads on the hem of the fabric. Pull the thread gently. Be careful not to tighten it all the way.

The thread should be tight enough to secure the stitching at the same time loose enough to allow the fabric to stretch as well as prevent it from warping.

Step 5

Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you finish the entire hem.

How to sew stretchy fabric with a sewing machine

How to Sew Stretchy Fabric: A Handy Guide

Sewing stretchy fabric on a sewing machine is intimidating for a lot of people, especially beginners. It is much easier and faster if you have the right tools, materials and techniques. Here is how to sew stretchy fabric with a sewing machine:

Step 1

Choose the right fabric, pre-wash it and leave it to dry flat. Choose an all-purpose polyester thread that matches the color of your fabric. As for needles, go for a ball-point needle.

Step 2

Choose a stitch for your fabric. There are 5 stitches that you can use for stretchy fabric: the zig-zag stitch, lightning stitch, stretch stitch, 3 step zig zag stitch and the straight stitch.

The zig zag stitch is the best option if you have a basic sewing machine with no fancy stitches. Just make it narrow enough.

The 3-step zigzag stitch gives a lot of stretch and is perfect for all types of stretchy fabric including the super-stretchy Lycra. Each zig zag consists of 3 tiny stitches. It is these multiple stitches that make sewing a seam with this stitch take much longer.

If your machine has the stretch straight stitch, go for it. It also takes longer to sew seams using it but it is worth the effort.

The lightning stitch is pretty much similar to a small zig zag except its stitches are slightly angled. It looks somewhat straight from a distance.

A regular straight stitch should be your last resort. Just ensure that you gently stretch the fabric as you sew. When done, the fabric will relax and the stitches will have some stretch.

Step 3

Prep for the stretch sewing. There are certain things you can do to make the sewing process easier. One is adjusting the pressure on your presser foot. This helps prevent your fabric from unnecessary stretching or puckering. You can also test the stitches to see that they are performing well.

Cutting the fabric is also a step in preparing for sewing. When you are cutting out pieces of fabric to be sewn together in a seam, try much as you can to cut them together then leave them that way. Stretchy fabric can be hard to align correctly. Use a pair of scissors or rotary cutter for a clean cut. The Fiskars Classic (45mm) Comfort Loop Rotary Cutter remains the most popular rotary cutter among sewists. It is highly acclaimed by top reviewers because of the convenience it offers with its long-lasting sharpness and ergonomically designed loop handle.

Step 4

Sew. When you start sewing, let the fabric feed into the machine naturally. If you pull it back and forth, you will stretch the seam. You can press it forward, just slightly from the front as it feeds from the presser foot to avoid stretching it.

If you are working on a large project, ensure the fabric doesn’t hang off the machine as you sew. The weight of the fabric can stretch the seam, making it harder for you to sew neatly.

When sewing leave a seam allowance that is at least wider than the stitch you are using. This will help prevent the seam from getting puckered or stretch. You can trim the excess allowance after you are done sewing to have a neat finish.

Step 5

Hem the stretch. One of the main perks for sewing stretchy fabric is that they never need to be hemmed. However, there are times when hemming is necessary, especially if you want a clean finish. Unhemmed stretchy garments also tend to curl up.

You can use any of the 5 stitches discussed above to hem a stretchy garment but most of them tend to leave a visible stitch pattern on the outside of the garment. Also, the zig zag stitches can create a puckered hem on certain fabrics.

The double needle stitch is the ultimate way of getting clean hems on stretch fabric. It creates 2 lines of straight stitches on top of the fabric and a zig zag in between the two rows of stitches. Most sewing machines have this capability and it is super easy to use. If yours doesn’t come with the feature you can always buy one.

To create a hem, fold the edge of the fabric then pin it. Set your machine to the straight stitch setting then sew as you normally would, leaving a good distance from the folded edge.

Final thoughts

Whether you are a newbie or a seasoned sewist, knowing how to sew a stretchy fabric is an essential skill that can help you tackle various sewing projects with ease. After all, majority of the cozy and easy maintenance clothes are made with stretchy fabric. If you don’t have a sewing machine, you can sew using your hands. Hand sewing offers better control and is much more affordable. Plus, you can easily carry your projects with you anywhere.

The top trick is to choose the thread, needles and stitches right. Once you have the right tools and materials, you only need some of the tips provided above to sew just about any kind of stretchy fabric. For added convenience, you can invest in extra accessories like a cutting mat and sewing clips.


Overlock - Wikipedia
An overlock is a kind of stitch that sews over the edge of one or two pieces of cloth for edging, hemming, or seaming. Usually an overlock sewing machine will cut the edges of the cloth as they are fed through, though some are made without cutters.
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