We’re welcoming our brand Ambassador Wendy Gardiner back on the blog today! This time she’s covering stretchy and knitted fabrics. Sewing stretchy fabrics can be tricky as they can slip and stretch, but with a few simple steps you can tame their waywardness and successfully sew knits.
Wendy has gathered her top tips for you and added some beautiful patterns to put these tips to the test! For more tips and tricks check out the education area on our website here.
General Hints and Tips:
Needles – Stretchy fabric needs to be sewn with a ball point or stretch needle which has a rounded tip rather than a sharp point. This tip will part the fibres, not pierce them, and thus prevent skipped and uneven stitching.
Whether you use a ball point or stretch needle will depend on the fabric. A ball point needle works well with regular knit fabrics but do try a stretch needle when sewing two or four-way stretch that has a mix of Lycra or Spandex in it.
Pins – just like needles, these need to be replaced frequently as they will blunt and blunt pins can damage stretch fabrics by snagging and causing runs! Keep pinning to the seam allowances wherever possible. My preference is always for glass headed or flower head pins that are easy to whip out as you sew and find if dropped!
Presser foot pressure – on some machines you can alter the pressure of the presser foot to help feed fabrics evenly. For heavier weight or bulky layers you lower the pressure and for lightweight slippery fabrics, you increase it. Check your user’s manual – the dial is usually top left of the machine, or if computerised, you may need to go into ‘settings’.
Walking Foot – A walking foot is a great tool for sewing all sorts of difficult to feed fabrics – including stretch knits. To attach this foot you do need to take off the ‘ankle’ holding the presser foot. The hook on the left of the foot then wraps around the shank and is screwed in place. Make sure that the hook/lever on the right of the foot is placed over the needle screw bar as you attach the foot because this lever is attached to the feed dogs on the machine that go up and down as you sew, working in conjunction with the feed dogs on the machine. Using this foot will ensure that both layers of fabric are fed evenly and together.
Sew any horizontal seams that go around the body with a stretch stitch (which looks like a bolt of lightening) or a small zigzag so that the seam will stretch with you. Reduce the stitch width to 2 – 2.5 and the length to 1.6. Vertical seams do not necessarily have to be stitched with a stretch stitch as they don’t need to stretch. A straight stitch, with 2.5-2.8 length is fine.
As most stretch fabrics don’t fray you don’t have to neaten the raw edges of seams. However, some knits will curl at the edges, which can cause ridges at the seams. To prevent this, either stitch again with a straight stitch or small zig zag and trim close to this second row of stitching, or overlock the seams with an overlocker.
TIP: If you use a four thread overlocker, you can sew the seam, trim excess and neaten edges all in one go!
Seam support – sometimes a stretchy fabric will need additional support on areas that you don’t want to stretch such as shoulders or front neck edge and front edge where the zip is inserted. Stabilise these areas with a strip of edge tape or cotton tape stitched into the seam as you sew the seam. If sewing a garment with raglan sleeves, you can also add a strip of bias cotton tape around the curve of the under arm seam. Clip into the fabric for a smooth curve, but not into the tape. For neck edges, fuse a strip of edge tape to the seam allowance butting up to the seam line. This will prevent the neck edge stretching more than you actually want it to!
One of the best ways to hem is with a ball point or stretch twin needle. This has two needles on one shank and is inserted into the machine exactly the same way as any other needle. You can get twin needles with different gaps between the needles ranging from 1.6 to 6mm. A gap of 2.5 – 3mm is good for hemming.
- Turn up the hem allowance and straighten the edge if needed.
- Attach your second thread spindle and insert the twin needle.
- Thread both threads together through the upper path until the last hook above the needle, then put just one thread behind that hook, leaving the other loose.
- Thread the needles by hand (sorry the auto needle threaders don’t work here).
- Select a straight stitch with the needles in the centre position and test the stitch. If you find a little hump between the needles is created, try loosening the thread tension a little at a time.
- Once satisfied, sew with the right side of the garment uppermost as on the top you get two perfectly parallel rows of stitching and on the underside a zigzag created by the bobbin thread switching between the two top threads – effectively mimicking a cover stitch hem you often seen on shop bought clothing.
We’ve gathered some lovely sewing patterns for you to test and expand your sewing skills!
Pattern: Simplicity 8376.
Simplicity’s pattern hack collection is designed to put the creativity in your hands. Starting from basic shapes use these patterns and instructions to create unique pieces and build your perfect wardrobe. This pattern is designed to work with stretch fabrics and is perfect for beginners.
Pattern: Burda 6485.
This figure hugging dress is super comfortable thanks to stretch fabric. The cut is simple and features a round neckline with a narrow skirt. Choose between two sleeve lengths and the crisscross waistband is an eye catching detail to play with!
Pattern: Simplicity 8265.
You can create a beautiful (work) capsule wardrobe with this versatile pattern from Simplicity. The pattern includes a long sleeve tunic, a pull on skirt and trousers (for stretch knits only) and an unlined coat or vest with side slits (suitable for knitted or woven fabrics).
Pattern: Simplicity 8222.
Create a comfortable and casual outfit with this pattern which is designed by Mimi G for Simplicity. Sew the perfect stretch denim skinny jeans with fly front as this pattern includes separate pattern pieces for slim, average, and curvy fit! The pattern also includes a knit bomber jacket that features instructions to quilt fabric, and ribbed knit bands.
Pattern: Burda Style 6531.
Sew this pattern with a two-way stretch jersey to create a super comfortable and incredibly stylish dress! Both styles are flared at the hem. Choose from 2 different styles: view A has integral tie bands knotted in front, view B is gathered at the bust.
Pattern: Butterick B5795.
This pattern not only comes with a beautiful mock wrap swimsuit with built in bra, it also includes a semi-fitted cover up and a top or swimdress with princess seams. All are suited for stretchy fabrics, perfect for putting your sewing skills to the ultimate test!
Don’t forget to share your latest makes with us on social media using the hashtags #simplicitybyme or #mccallsbyme. We can’t wait to see what you’ve been making. There are prizes to be won each month too!