How To Sew Stretchy Fabric With A Sewing Machine

Those who want to know how to sew stretchy fabric with a sewing machine can try three steps. First, we’ll teach you how to prepare the material to make sewing easier. You’ll also learn what settings to use when sewing stretchy fabric. 

Do you need to hem your project as well? We wrote another related article about how to hem stretch fabric with a sewing machine. Feel free to read that as well. 

how to sew stretchy fabric with a sewing machine


How Do You Sew Stretchy Material On A Sewing Machine?


Step 1. Prepare the fabric

  • Wash the stretchy material and dry it for a day
  • Put the pattern over the fabric and pin in place, with the pins inside the seam allowance
  • Check the fabric direction and remember that the direction of the most stretch should go across the body when sewing clothing
  • Check if the fold is straight regardless of the selvages, and the fabric should be smooth
  • Cut out the pattern with sharp scissors
  • Spray with spray starch and press the edges to flatten the curls that will develop 


Step 2. Set the machine accordingly

  • Learn how to change a sewing machine needle and replace the current one with a stretch needle or ballpoint needle to avoid damaging the material
  • Check if the needle size is compatible with the fabric
  • Use a regular polyester thread and thread the sewing machine as usual; never use cotton threads because they don’t have some stretch to them, and they might break
  • Press the fabric and pin the edges to stop curling when sewing a seam
  • Set the sewing machine to stretch stitch, but if the machine doesn’t have it, you can use a long and narrow zigzag stitch 
  • Use the narrowest zigzag setting and medium length setting to accommodate the stretch
  • Check the sewing machine manual if the manufacturer recommends a pressure setting for stretch fabric
  • Test the stitches on a scrap stretchy fabric


Step 3. Sew slowly

  • Begin sewing slowly, guiding the fabric through the feed dogs without pushing and pulling that can cause curled seams
  • Allow the feed dog to do its job and move the material under the needle
  • Adjust the presser foot pressure if needed 
  • Finish the seams with zigzag stitch set to a length of 3.0 and width of 3.0 or hem with a twin needle
  • Gently press the finished project with steam 


What Setting Should I Sew Stretchy Fabric On?


Needle and thread for stretchy fabrics

Use a stretch needle or ballpoint needle in place of a regular sewing needle. Then, get the compatible size needle according to the material’s thickness. And as for the thread, use polyester or strengthened polyester as it has a slight stretch than cotton. 


Stitch setting for stretchy fabrics

  • Straight stretch stitch
  • Narrow zigzag stitch
  • Twin needle stitch
  • Overedge stitch


Presser foot for stretchy fabrics


What Is The Stretch Stitch On A Sewing Machine?

The stretch stitch is a particular stitch setting found in some sewing machines designed to sew stretchy materials. The sewing machine will make two stitches forward and go back once for every cycle. This triple stitch is handy for sewing seams of stretch fabrics. 


Other stitches to use for stretch fabric

  • The basic zigzag stitch set to narrow width can be an alternative for the stretch stitch
  • For very stretchy fabrics like Lycra, you can use the three-step zigzag stitch that uses three stitches in the zigzag
  • If you have no choice, you can use the regular straight stitch, but you need to stretch the fabric a bit as you sew
  • If you only need a slight stretch, the lightning stitch will do because the stitches look like angled tiny zigzag stitches 


How Do I Sew Stretchy Fabric Without A Serger?

If you don’t have a serger, but you want to make the hems that would look like you serge them, you can swap your needle for a twin needle. First, check if your sewing machine can use a twin needle and sew with a regular straight stitch. The topstitching lines at the front and zigzag lines below will still allow the fabric to stretch. 

And if you have an overlock machine, we wrote a helpful guide on how to use a serger sewing machine


How Do You Stabilize Stretchy Fabric?

  • Insert ballpoint pins perpendicular to the seam 
  • Hold the fabric flat without pulling when sewing
  • Sew a stabilizing fabric into the seam, typically made of cotton 
  • Add a tissue paper under the stretchy fabric if the feed dogs pull on the fabric
  • Tug the material to find where is the slightest stretch, and place the fabric in the sewing machine so that the needle will sew in that direction 
  • Use an iron-on bias tape to keep the edges from curling 



Was this tutorial easy to follow? To recap how to sew stretchy fabric with a sewing machine, you only need to use polyester thread with a ballpoint needle and set the machine to stretch stitch. You can also opt for a narrow zigzag stitch. 

Then, do not pull the fabric as you sew. You can even use a twin needle to mimic the hem made by a serger on a stretch fabric. We hope you learned a lot; leave us a question if you have any. 

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