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Daunted by Sewing Stretch Fabric?  Don't be !

Daunted by Sewing Stretch Fabric? Don't be !

At this time of year there are dozens of T-shirts in the shops, all looking the same, all at various prices from the very cheap to quite ridiculous prices.
I am guilty of buying new ones most years, but wait, why should I keep spending money just to look the same as everybody else? Why should I put up with the store dictating to me what the neckline should be like, what length the sleeves should be, how long in the body it should be? And thats only the start of it, try buying a nicely patterned one..... You see the problem?

Many people ask me about sewing with stretch fabrics, and are daunted by it. But don't be, with a few simple rules you can be sewing your own "designer" tops quicker than you can go to the shops to buy one.
Your first attempt at sewing stretch fabrics might not turn out exactly as you would like, which is why I recommend you making a Toile or test garment first. For this find some cheap jersey fabric or an extra large men's t-shirt to practice on.

The pattern I am using is Tilly and The Buttons Agnes, but all the pattern houses have a suitable pattern. Look for one which says use stretch fabrics only. When choosing your fabric for your first actual garment think about using a patterned fabric, it will be more forgiving to wear on a close fitting garment like this, and if you do have wonky stitching here and there it will not be so obvious.
When you get your fabric home take a good look at it and see if it stretches just across the width or if it stretches down the length as well. This is important because when you come to cut your pattern out you will need to make sure that there is stretch going across the garment, so bear this in mind if you are using a fabric which just stretches one way.
When choosing your size read the instructions on the pattern envelope, take your current measurements and choose the recommended size. If you like a looser fit and the pattern says that it is very close fitting you may want to cut out a larger size.
Place your fabric flat, with none of it overhanging your cutting surface or the fabric will pull out of shape  and match the selvedges. Position each pattern piece with the grain line parallel to the edge unless instructed differently. Cut out with very sharp scissors.
Although the pattern instructions do not mention it, I think it prudent to stay stitch the neckline before doing anything else. A stay stitch is a row of stitches just inside the seam allowance to stop the fabric from stretching in that area
There are some changes you need to make to your sewing machine first though.

  • You need a stretch or ballpoint needle in your sewing machine, sell them NEEDLES FOR STRETCH FABRICS Did you know that you really ought to use a new needle for every project? They blunt quicker than you think and cause all sorts of problems which may make you think that your sewing machine is broken.
  • I use a marvelous product to sew stretch fabrics wih , it is a stretch thread which enables  you to sew your new tops using just an ordinary straight stitch! It is Mettler Seraflock and I would not be without it, it makes sewing stretch fabrics so easy. See it here METTLER SERAFLOCK The alternative is using a stretch stitch on your sewing machine or if your machine does not have one use a fine zig zag stitch.
  • You need a small amount of seam tape Seam tape or a piece of very thin ribbon will do nicely. This is to stabilise the shoulder seams to prevent them from stretching
  • A twin needle for stretch fabrics Stretch twin needle This produces great looking hems.

After stay stitching the neckline to prevent it from stretching too much attach a small piece of stay tape or ribbon on the wrong side of the back shoulders, along the seam line.

The only difficult part on this pattern is the neckline. The neck band is about 10% smaller then the neckline itself so you need to stitch it in place whilst stretching the band but not the neckline itself. This is why I stay-stitched the neckline first!
Join the shoulder seams and neaten the seams, then join the band along the short edges forming a circle. Press in half wrong sides together.
This next bit is where you need patience because you need to pin the neckband on to the garment stretching it evenly. I suggest that you do as I did and baste it in place with a long machine stitch first to check that it is not too loose or too tight. The basting stitches can easily be removed so that you can alter the length of the neckband it's to make it sit correctly on your body. So try it on after basting and if you are happy sew it on properly and overlock the raw edges together. If not then it is worth removing it and trying again.

You will need to top stitch just under the band in order to stop the overlocked seam from curling up. You could use your twin needle here or use a decorative stitch on your sewing machine, this looks nice on a plain fabric.

Now comes the easy bit, pin and stitch the fronts to the back starting at the bottom, matching the underarm seam and ending up at the sleeve.
Finish the seam with your overlocker.  Dont have one? You a missing a real treat! They give professional finishes to the insides of all garments and do much more!  They come in a good price range to suit your budget, take a look on this link Overlockers Mine is a Brother 3034D and I absolutely love it. 

I must say that I do love the inside of any garment to look as good as the outside, but if you do not have an overlocker most sewing machines have an overlock foot which I use frequently, or you can just use a zig zag stitch if you prefer. I must admit that I have quite a collection of machine feet, which I do use, and I browse the selection on this link frequently Machine feet  trying to justify purchasing a new one! Not that I need a reason of course.

This is the top almost finished. If your neckband looks a little loose then quite often a blast of steam from your iron will shrink it back again.

The hems were first overlocked then finished with a double row of stitching using a twin needle. I use the seam guide on my machine always in order to ensure that my top stitching is even all the way round.

This is the finished top. I am pleased with it because it fits me well, it is not too tight or too loose. The length is where I chose it to be which makes me happy. Thats the wonderful thing about sewing, everything you make is individual and unique and more to the point fits your figure perfectly.
Once you have made your first top, think how you would like another one to look. Do you want it longer, shorter? More boxy or more fitted? Do you want to make the back logger than the front? Do you want long or short sleeves? This pattern has neck and sleeve variations, but for your first one I would start with the basic version.

I hope that after reading this you are not daunted by the thought of sewing with stretch fabrics,  true, you need to take more care and you may need a seam ripper handy but it really is worth practising and perfecting.
My T-shirt took less than two hours to make and cost next to nothing as I picked up a remnant from a local shop. Having the right equipment made making it even more enjoyable of course, but whatever equipment you have do have a go, it really is very nice indeed wearing something which nobody else has got.

Happy T-shirt sewing


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