Don’t Be Afraid of Stretch Fabrics!

If you take a look inside your wardrobe you’ll probably find that the majority of your clothes are made using stretch, or knit fabrics. However, many people are reluctant to use them for their own sewing projects thinking that they’re tricky to use or require special equipment. 


I will talk you through a few simple hints and tips and you’ll soon be sewing knits like a pro.


First of all, consider your fabric. Something friendly like making a t-shirt (or pair of harem pants) from a medium weight cotton jersey is a more sensible place to start than slippy dippy shiny spandex leggings. 

Secondly, while it seems entirely logical to stock up on super cheap jersey to practise with, I would advise caution. Cheap jersey is, as you would expect, thinner and of lower quality. It is therefore harder to sew and the exact opposite of what you should be working with as a beginner. There are a lot of printed jerseys out there that are beautiful quality, but they are also pricey. My recommendation when you are first starting to work with knit fabrics is to stock up on good quality, plain/solid colours. That way you get the best balance of decent quality fabric and value for money.


If you have an overlocker (serger) this is the time to become better acquainted with it. Dig out the instructions (yawn, I know) and discover its stretch settings. I promise, once you do this, you’ll never look back.

If you only have a sewing machine – don’t panic!

If you’re sewing a seam that doesn’t need a huge amount of stretch then a medium length straight stitch will do just fine. If you’re sewing a seam that needs to stretch a lot (such as the waistband on a pair of harem pants) then use either a 3 step zigzag or a large zigzag. Your machine may also have the option of a specific stretch stitch which may be suitable for all seams. Whichever you choose, practise on some scrap fabric first and have a go at stretching it.


Your iron is your friend! Yes I know it’s annoying to have to keep stopping to press your hems, but trust me, it’s worth it! I often get lazy and/or impatient when trying new patterns and regularly skip this step. I always regret it. 

Try a twin needle. These look a bit weird, but you literally just pop them in your machine and thread each needle as normal. They sew two rows of straight stitch on the top of your fabric and the bobbin thread zigzags between the two. This gives you a neat finish that can withstand a good amount of stretching. 

If you don’t fancy a twin needle then try a ballpoint needle. A ballpoint needle moves the fibres of your knit fabric apart as it goes through, helping to give you a smoother finish. If you’re sewing a hem use a slightly longer stitch than normal so it has a little ‘give’.

Still Having Trouble?

I used to have a very temperamental machine that would chew up knitted fabric by sucking it down through the feed dogs, towards the bobbin. It drove me crazy!! If your machine also likes to dine on knits then it might be worth buying some tearaway stabiliser. This is basically just special paper that you sew through and can then tear away (the clue is in the name). You put it on top of your fabric as you sew, and it should stop your fabric getting mangled. If you’re desperate to get sewing right now and don’t have time to go to the shops, then try regular computer printer paper. It doesn’t tear away so nicely, so take care, but it should do the job just fine!

Finally, my last tip is to try a walking foot. This is a special foot that you attach onto your sewing machine, and it feed fabric through from above at the same time as the feed dogs are pushing through from below. This helps control tricky fabrics and stops them getting overstretched as you sew. (If you’re thinking about trying my nappy pattern, a walking foot might be a useful investment as both minky and PUL are slippery customers.) I would however, try all the other steps I’ve mentioned before splashing out on a foot you may not need. I personally, very rarely use my walking foot.

I hope you now feel brave enough to try sewing with stretch fabrics. If you’re looking for a super easy pattern to start with then why not try my Harem Pants Pattern (link). If you have any questions or are looking for a place to show off the fabulous photos of your latest makes with knit fabrics, then why not join our Sewing Group? 

Happy sewing!