Thursday, November 05, 2009

New Sewists Thursdays - Stretch and how to work it!

I received this question from Kathy (spottedroo):

"So here is my new sewist question. Or really new sewist problem: stretch. I am having the hardest time getting my garments to fit right because different fabrics stretch by different amounts (even if they are not labeled "stretch." I made a pair of denim pants that fit perfectly. When I tried to make a second pair in a not-at-all-stretchy rayon woven it was too tight to wear. Then I made a third pair in linen, and within a day of wearing them they felt like they were falling off. And knits are even worse. T-shirts have been fine but I've made two knit dresses where the fabric has stretched vertically from its own weight. One dress started with the pockets at my hips and by the end of the day they were half-way down my thigh! Very discouraging. Any advice you have is appreciated!"

Kathy ~ I can answer your question regarding linen...well I've already discussed linen here on my blog in this post.

But this week I would like to do something a little different.  I always receive these wonderful answers/comments/suggestions regarding topics that are discussed in New Sewists Thursdays and I wonder if anyone ever reads them.  So this week, if you have an answer, a suggestion, or even a comment regarding Kathy's question...would you post it?  And in case you are I'm not taking the easy way out.  I have this same problem with fabrics with lycra in them.  Sometimes they work and sometimes they don' I'm looking for answers too.

So talk to both me and us out!  I will make sure that all the comments are collected and posted so that we all will have easy access to the information...

Thanks in advance for your willingness to share!


  1. Here is a terrific tool to use in calculating ease for all fabrics. has a PDF chart you can download and print to determine the stretch/ease factor.

    Go to and click on "Tips and How To's". When that list comes up, click on "Perfect Sizing Worksheet" and download the PDF. She explains stretch/ease so well.

  2. I think there are quite a few things going on for Kathy, and one of them is just the "learning curve" that we all go through as we begin to understand the behaviors of different fabrics. One of the reasons that I don't sew with linen is because I don't like it's tendency to grow. A second thing to consider is the behavior of the fabric on the bias. When you look at the shape of a pants pattern, you can see that the legs of the pattern are aligned with the grain of the fabric, and the tilt of the hip area away from the leg means that that portion of the pattern is cut on the bias. Test your fabric to see how it behaves on the bias, some will stretch out more than others, and if this is the case you may find that you have a tight pair of pants because the area that is cut on the bias is elongating. This is one of the reasons that I like to work with fairly heavy twills and denim for pants...there is very little change in it's behavior either on grain or on the bias.

    As for the knit dress that stretched from it's own weight, some knits stretch only in one direction (on the cross-grain) and some in both directions. It is important to test for this and also take into consideration it's stability and how much it will stretch when sewing. Everything you add to it (pockets, a sash) will add weight. The weight of a skirt will even cause a bodice to stretch vertically in certain knits. For this reason, it is important to really test your knits before cutting into them and deciding just what kinds of garments they are suited for. This is also something that you tend to learn with time...the dress that has the pockets half-way down the now know to use a more stable knit for a dress of that style, or a knit that stretches only on the cross-grain.

    While it may seem frustrating, all this is knowledge that comes with time. Fortunately, when you do have something mysterious a pair of linen pants that magically grow as the day goes can come to blogs like this one and find an answer for what is causing it, and how to account for it in subsequent garments.

  3. Try underlining erratic fabric...might stabilize it.

  4. Unfortunately, there is no teacher like experience. It took me awhile to learn that every fabric fits differently. There is no such thing as just cutting out your pattern and sewing it up even if you've made it before. Even if you made it in the same fabric since dyes can also make a difference in the weight and behaviour of the fabric. It's a good idea to allow 1" side seams in case you need extra ease and to try the garment on throughout the sewing process so that adjustments can be made. Also, where wovens with lycra are concerned, I've learned not to use any for skirts/pants/dresses that have more than 2% lycra because they can bag out terribly unless you underline (and then you've lost the stretch).

  5. To be absolutely clear on my above post--the worksheet at allows you to calculate how much ease you will have using fabric with 25% stretch, 50% stretch, 75%, or no stretch at all, using the same pattern for any fabric. For instance, you have a pant pattern and a fabric with 50% stretch. You can calculate how much ease you will have using that particular fabric. Using the same pattern and a fabric with 10% stretch--you can calculate how much ease you will have.

  6. I always read, but sometimes it's about a week later than posted. I don't have any suggestions on predicting fabric stretch, especially when talking about stretch around a garment. Would it work to hang the fabric before cutting to see how it behaves? Or would the weight of the fabric be misleading compared to the weight of a finished garment?

  7. I wasn't clear on the hanging fabric - I was referring to see how a garment might stretch lengthwise.

  8. Thanks so much Carolyn for posting my question, and to everyone whose offered suggestions! I'm pretty new on the learning curve so it's nice to hear this gets easier. I like the idea of cutting with 1" side seams and using underlining to help support stretchy garments. As for the dress— I think I'm going to cut it apart and make a simple top without so much weight.

  9. I've had problems with stretch fabric in pants and have decided that they need to be sewn tight, much tighter than you'd ever sew a pair of pants without stretch. They need to feel tight. This of course will vary depending on how much stretch is in the fabric. I like to add to the side seams an 'in case' seam allowance so that I can accommodate different fabrics and then I fit as I sew. The pants I am making now have quite a bit of stretch in them, so I took in my side seams about 3/4" on each side and the cb about 1/4". I also like to sew the waistband on before I sew up the cb seam. Obviously I have to cut a waistband with a cb seam. Then I can easily fine tune my waist fit.

  10. You have to think about the characteristics of each fabric. And you need to fit as you sew. All fabrics will behave differently and the more you sew the more likely you will be able to predict the outcome. Give yourself seam "insurance" for non stretchy fabrics and sew up in an order that allows you to pin fit up the sides. Never just sew up a garment and then try on!! With really stretchy fabrics you may need to go down a size but again if the shoulders are right you can take in the sides. Draping the heavy knits over a dress model or even a chair will give you an idea on how much it will stretch in length and then you can adjust the length of the pattern to match. Carolyn has done a great post on linen - it can have a mind of its own. Good luck! Now I will go back and read the other comments and learn a thing or two myself :)

  11. I read a tip in a book of mine, I think it may have been More Power Sewing, about cutting the back piece for a pair of pants, then stretching the seat area with an iron and steam, then put the pattern piece back on the fabric and recut where needed. With my jeans pattern, I have it traced in two sizes - I cut stretch denim a size smaller than non-stretch. Don't know if any of that will help.

  12. I left a comment on SG last week that I agree with Claudine that stretch fabrics (and I specifically meant stretch wovens) are not my favorite, and felt like I got jumped all over by a bunch of women who love them.
    I agree with Gigi that pants using a stretch woven that contains more than 2% lycra are just asking for trouble.
    I do like a stretch woven with only 2% lycra for a straight skirt.
    I also agree with everyone else that experience will help a great deal in learning what will work and what won't.
    -One thing you can do is stabilize seams that you don't want to stretch by using a clear elastic or straight grain stay tape. That would include shoulder seams and the front surplice on a wrap.
    I love jersey knits for tops and some dresses such as the ubiquitous DVF type wrap dress.
    A good knit to learn on is a stable double knit such as the ponte knits - they can be found at Joanns and Hancocks. They have the look of a wool double knit, but are synthetic and not horridly expensive.

  13. Hi, love love lvoe the tip! ^^
    Come check out Madonna for D&G and Linda Evangelista for W Magazine, they also look stunning!


  14. I do try to read this blog regularly- just usually as a lurker, not commenting much! I've never had the problems posted with linen, but then I've usually made dresses that aren't worn all day with it- more of a go-to-church-eat-lunch-come-home-and-change type of dress.

    But knits! I'm scared to death of them. I'd love to sew them, but am afraid of them. I'm hoping some comments here will give me the courage to tackle them!

  15. Here's a trick you can try if you are not sure how much a stretch woven will grow. Cut two rectangular pieces as if you were making a simple, snug miniskirt with an elastic waist, and pull it on over lightweight clothes. Wear it around the house as you sit, stand, reach etc. You will get a good idea how much it may stretch, and how good the recovery is.
    I, like others here, am wary of many stretch wovens for pants - my rule of thumb is not a percentage of lycra, iy is a level of stretch. Any more than 10% across the grain, or 5% in length, doesn't make the cut except for workout wear.
    I always stabilize the crotch seam, zipper area & any pocket edges on stretch wovens. I use lightweight selvedge or 1/4" twill tape.
    As for knits, my rule of thumb is if it stretches more than 5% in the lengthwise dimension, it doesn't get made into anything over 24 - 27 inches long. That means I'll make a skirt or top, but not a dress or slacks.

  16. I want to let you know that I read every New Sewists Thursday post and comments. Also, I use many of the ideas and find them helpful. My learning curve is pretty steep right now! I particularly appreciate this post because I have the same problem.

  17. Sometimes the fabric itself doesn't retain the stretch well. When purchasing, you can try holding the cut end in your fist. Stretch the fabric around it or curl your fist around it and then let go. (Hope that's clear.) If it holds the imprint of your hand/knuckles, the fabric has poor retention & will stretch out of shape easily. I also add 1" seams to the side to allow for fitting adjustments.


  18. A tip I've used when making knit pants - as in one seams inslinky is to serge some swimsuit (the clear 1/4 inch type) elastic into the vertical seams. It helps them to keep from sagging & bagging during the day.


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