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Tips for Sewing with Stretch Fabrics


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Using Stretch Fabric with a Woven Pattern

I get a lot of emails asking if it's possible to use a pattern that is designed for woven fabrics, but use stretch fabric for the garment.
The answer is Yes, sometimes, but it depends on a few things.

* How detailed is the pattern? (simple lines are better)
* How much lengthwise stretch does the fabric have? (a little is ok, a lot may become problematic)
* Is the pattern easy to 'tweak' for a final fit? (i.e. take in the side seam a little more)

Let me give you a few examples:

Blouse or Pullover - A woven pattern for a blouse (button or pullover) that has sleeves will be the about same measurement across the shoulders as a stretch pattern for a blouse or pullover -- the difference between the 2 patterns is primarily in the amount of ease that is needed in the bust,waist and hip area -- as well as the depth of the armhole. If you were to take a button up shirt pattern (like my Shirt Club Patterns) and make them in stretch fabric, you might find that the armhole was lower than you would like. On the otherhand, if you wanted to make a sweater or jacket type garment, then you might actually prefer the lower armhole.

I recently designed the Sierra Swing Top/Jacket Pattern. This pattern is designed on a Basic Shell Block, so the armhole is smaller and higher than a shirt pattern. Although this pattern is designed for woven fabrics, it is perfect for knits as well. Stabilize the shoulder seam (you should be anyway) and use the pattern exactly as designed for just about any knit, regardless of the amount of stretch.

Fitted Garments - Tops/Dresses - This style of garment, when designed for woven fabrics will always have darts for shaping - whether they are visible darts or are designed into a seam, the darts ARE there. Many ready-to-wear stretch garments, particularly dresses, have darts, especially in the back. If you have a favorite woven pattern for a simple tailored dress - such as the KISS Dress - just go ahead and use your stretch fabric. This will work in any stretch fabric, but if you want the tailored look, use a stable knit such as Ponte de Roma or a good quality doubleknit such as Bare Knit or Sophia (both are available from Nancy's Notions.) Be prepared for tweaking the side seam a little bit.

If your woven pattern has a zipper, you will probably be the happiest if you use a zipper with your stretch fabric as (a hidden zipper will be the best). On the other hand, if your stretch fabric has at least 25% sideways stretch, then you may be able to just skip the zipper. If the pattern has a shaped center back seam, go ahead and use the same seam as you will have a nicer fit in the small of the back. In other words, if you are using a very stable knit, use a zipper and the darts (you will LOVE the fit and comfort!). If you have a stretch knit like an ITY you can skip the zipper.

BTW, the Bare Knits stretch fabrics from Nancy's Notions would be a excellent choice!


Skirts - If the stretch fabric is a stable knit, then use a hidden zipper and go ahead with the pattern. Be prepared to take up the side seams a little before adding the waistband or waist facing. If the skirt pattern (for wovens) is an elastic waist, I just use the same pattern, but take wider side seams when I am stitching. I start with 5/8 (assuming the pattern calls for 1/2), then tweak more if needed. You will find that you can take more out of the side seams from the hip up to the waist on stretch fabrics, but you can just try on and adjust as you go, before inserting elastic. The length of the cut elastic will stay the same as for the woven pattern.

For an example, if I wanted to make the Parasol Skirt from stretch fabric, I would cut the pattern as normal, but when I sewed the side seams, I would take a 5/8" seam - then I would try on the upper yoke portion, take more out if necessary and make a note of total amount I took out so when I stitched the side seams of the skirt portion, I could take out the same amount - so the skirt would match the yoke when I was ready to put them together. If I wanted to take out more above the yoke/skirt line, I could easily do that, too.













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