Friday, November 06, 2009

NST - Stretch and how to work its - The Answers

Listed below are the suggestions that were made to the last New Sewist Thursdays post:

Gwensews said...

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.

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.

Michelle said...

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.


scotbrit said...
Try underlining erratic fabric...might stabilize it.


Gigi said...
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).


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


Nancy K said...
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.


Vicki said...
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 :)


Carol said...
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.


Marji said...
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.


Sue said...
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.

umjudis said...

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.

Sz said...
A tip I've used when making knit pants - as in one seams in slinky 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.

Please note that I've only posted the comments that offered suggestions on how to solve the challenge of working with stretch fabrics - and these answers run the gamut from working with knits to working with fabrics with a percentage of stretch in them. 

I have to say that I've learned a thing or two from these comments and Marji I will only be looking for fabrics with 2% stretch in them now!  I thought 4% was good but from your sage advice, I will look for a lesser amount of lycra.

I hope that this has been as enlightening to everyone as it has been to me.  Ladies thank you sooooo much for offering up your suggestions, I really appreciate it!

Tomorrow, I will be working on the second dress in the Cardigan Series and I want to see if I can squeeze in one more piece before the weekend ends.  I am really in the mood to if you are missing your's at my house! *LOL* always, more later!


  1. Just to be totally clear re proportion of lycra in a stretch woven - I personally don't like anything more than 2% for Pants. As you often stress, "for Me" anything more than 2% lycra ends up with me feeling like my pants are inching toward my ankles.
    There are some fabrics that you're going to like a lot and want to use - use those for skirts where you support that waist with elastic or stay tape. And then fit during construction, and be prepared to fit more closely.

    In truth, it's a bit like working with bias. You have to make allowances for your fabric.

    Have a great weekend sewing!

  2. Well, to really get an idea of fit in different fabrics - you could do what I did - make a very simple pattern 7 times in different fabrics, and then wear them over and over.

    I had an elastic-waist, no-pocket pant pattern that I finally got to fit well. I made:
    a very lightweight gray stretch denim
    a heavyweight blue pinstripe denim with no stretch
    a brown stretch gabardine
    a royal blue non-stretch gabardine
    a forest green non-stretch gabardine
    a very heavyweight avocado non-stretch twill
    a soft brown/gray 100% wool tiny plaid that surprisingly had a bit of stretch

    I had to create a sudden wardrobe when school started this fall because I had gained weight. These pants coordinate with most of the tops already in my wardrobe(don't know why the tops weren't also too small, but then...). And I did add a small inside pocket at the waist elastic - big enough for a couple of credit cards, my driver's license, and my work ID.

    Anyway, I sure can compare the different fit of these fabrics - all from the same pattern and all made in about a month.

    Carolyn, I can't tell you how much I love your blog. You have truly inspired me to sew again, and to sew for the body I have, and to use the skills I have. You rock!

    I'm another Carolyn...


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