Learn to sew with stretch fabrics

How-toCoralie Grillet

Stretch or knit fabrics are by nature elastic and sometimes slippery. These properties can make it scary or difficult to work with them at first. If you have ever tried to sew a t-shirt only to become frustrated at having the seams burst when you first try it on, you're not alone! 

However it's worth giving them a go as clothes made with stretch fabrics produce the most comfortable garments you'll ever make. Whether it's your first time trying knit fabric or you have already tried taming the beast before, have no fear! With a few simple tips and tricks, you'll become the queen of comfy wardrobe in no time!

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So let's talk how to easily sew with this kind of fabric and how you can prep your machine to do so.

In the industry, stretch garments are sewn using overlockers and cover stitch machines. This is obviously the neatest, fastest and easiest method. 
If you're lucky enough to own an overlocker, you just need to align the edges together and let the machine cut, sew and overlock the seam allowance in one swipe move. 
Magical! And very professional looking.

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And here's the final result, a clean and perfectly finished edge in one swoop.

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However, if you don’t own one of these machines, it's entirely possible to achieve the same results using your home sewing machine with only a few adjustments.


Start by changing your needle. For knit fabric choose a ball point or otherwise known as jersey needle. The tip of this type of needle is not as sharp as regular ones and will prevent holes from forming when stitching.

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Sewing feet

Because regular sewing feet can have a hard time gripping and making the fabric feed through the machine, you need to give your faithful companion some help in order to have a smooth stitch line. A walking foot is the solution because of its extra set of teeth that will help the fabric feed more evenly. Plus it's also a handy accessory to have in your sewing gear if you plan on quilting or doing some very precise seam matching. 

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Once you have the right needle and the walking foot, here's how it looks on your regular sewing machine.

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If you use a regular straight stitch on a knit fabric, it'll burst the first time the garment stretches. To prevent this from happening, you'll need to use a stitch that is more elastic and that will stretch with the fabric. 
A zigzag stitch is the perfect candidate for the job. Use it either with the original setting of your machine meaning a wide stitch. 
Or change the length and width so it ressembles more a straight stitch. I find that a small width of 0.5 mm and a length of 2.5 mm should do the trick. For topstitching, you can lengthen this stitch at 3.5 mm.
Some machines have the possibility of doing a stretch stitch. This is also an excellent option. The best thing to do is to test a few different stitches on a scrap piece of fabric and see what you prefer or what goes best with the look you're after.

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Finishing the seam

The overlock machine does a very neat and professional looking edge to your garment. But if you also want to finish your seam with your regular sewing machine, you can use a zigzag stitch which will produce a similar effect. 


However, finishing the edges isn't really as important as it is with woven. Because stretch fabric is knitted, it won't fray with time and use. So you also have the option of using pinking shears, this method has the advantage of being extra easy and great looking! Just choose the option that is more convienient and better looking for you.

Now, you know everything you need to start sewing with knits! Enjoy making yourself your most comfortable wardrobe ever!