The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

To stretch or not to stretch

When shopping online and sewing with knits…it’s good to know what you’re sewing with – I know – duh statement, but knits have a special qualification that will make sewing with them sooooo much easier

Here’s an example.  Ann includes really wonderful descriptions of her fabrics from her online fabric store Gorgeous Fabrics.

What’s this 60% business?  Well, it tells you how much stretch you have.

But how do you translate this and how do you use it to help you find a pattern and match it with the right knit?

There are several different knits, and first you look at the content.

Here you can see that the content is Rayon/Lycra.  That tells us a lot.

The weave (second line) is knit.  Knit is naturally stretchy, like your sweaters, that are knit – they are stretchy too.

But add Lycra (Spandex is the other name for Lycra, which are both tradenames, therefore they are capitalized, like Kleenex as opposed to tissues which is not a trade name).  Anyway, Lycra is a rubber type fiber….like a rubber band – what I like to call “boing” stretch, as opposed to a knit which is an easy softer stretch.  I like to use Lycra/Spandex on my bottoms and knits on my tops – but not always – but that’s a general rule for me.

OK – anyway back to the content….you can see that it’s got some Lycra AND it’s a knit, therefore it’s going to be pretty stretch and because of the Lycra it’s also going to have some good recovery.  Recovery means that after you’ve stretched it, the fabric will return pretty fast back to it’s original shape, where as knit may take a while, and might even take a washing to get back to it’s original shape, but it’s softer and a gentler stretch.

So that’s great but how does this match with a pattern?

Or more relevant – how do you match a pattern to this?

One way is to get an idea of stretches and stretchiness in fabrics….is 60% a lot – can you stretch 500%?

Well, here’s a chart to help you.

Click here to download the chart - don't try and print this bad graphic

This is really handy because this will tell you how much stretch your fabric has.

Then you can match it up to your pattern….and here are some basic guidelines, but stretch is very personal, and with this chart and your pattern you can set your own parameters.

For pants that you want to look like they are woven but feel heavenly when you sit and move around, or you need to move around but need to look professional, use about 20% to 35% stretch.  Most of the time this includes the knit type fabrics, sometimes they will have Lycra, but mostly not.

For swimwear and activewear (I’m making a lot of  my biking gear these days and using this category for my fabrics), use the 50% to 120% stretch categories.  This category almost always includes Lycra – Lycra has that stretch extra “boing” feel that gives it a lot more stretch.

This particular fabric that I’m previewing above is an olive/black stripe with a Jackson Pollock splash through it making it look sort of distressed, and it has 60% stretch with some Lycra in in and a Rayon.

What this tells me is that it’s got great stretch, so I could make a kickin’ turtleneck or close-fitting leggings with this type fabric.  It’s content is Lycra/Rayon which means it will be washable (on synthetic settings), and it tells me that it has a widthwise stretch – and not a lengthwise stretch – so it won’t stretch so much up and down, but will side to side .  This is called 2-way, (as opposed to 4-way which stretches lengthwise & crosswise).

I’m sorta sensitive about my hips and like solids (and the idea of stripes horizontally is really not thrilling me), so I’m thinking about this for a top for me – and quite frankly I’m having problems resisting this – it’s just so cool, and would take all of about 1 hour for me to cut this thing out and whip it up.  Dang, why don’t I have it here in my studio now!!!!


That’s another thing neat about knits.  They hardly take any time at all to sew up!


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