Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Tutorial Tuesday: A Guide to Stretch Fabric

Why do fabrics stretch?
Stretch fabrics (knit fabrics) are made using interlaced looped fibres rather than woven fibres .  The “knit” or loops give the fabric some of its stretch, alongside elastic fibres which have stretchy properties themselves, for example lycra/spandex/elastane (3 names for the same fibre), rayon/viscose (2 names for the same fibre) or polyester.

What is stretch and how is it calculated?
The stretch of fabrics are expressed either as “2 way” or “4 way”.  2 way stretch is horizontal, running across the fabric from selvedge to selvedge.  4 way stretch is both horizontal AND vertical, running both across the fabric and up/down the fabric - 
Stretch is expressed as a percentage and is quite simply calculated – 

Stretched fabric width - Original fabric width
-----------------------------------------------------------     x 100  =  Stretch percentage
                  Original fabric width

For example… If you have a 10cm square piece of fabric, stretch it across it’s width until you feel resistance.  This fabric stretches to 15cm so the horizontal stretch is 50% 
(15 - 10 = 5, divided by 10 = 0.5, multiplied by 100 = 50%). 

Now repeat this process from top to bottom of the fabric.  This piece of fabric stretches to 13cm, so the vertical stretch is 30% 
(13 - 10 = 3, divided by 10 = 0.3, multiplied by 100 = 30%).

So this fabric has 4 way stretch, written as 50%/30%.

If there is no vertical stretch then the fabric has 2 way stretch, written as 50%


What can I use different stretch fabrics for?

Knit fabrics can vary greatly in stretch, even within a specific category of knit fabric, but in general the following is a good guide 

The type of fabric you use for your project will depend on the requirements of the garment.  Your pattern will normally specify which types of fabric you can use and any required stretch.  As you get more confident sewing with stretch fabrics you can also use them for patterns designed for woven fabrics (see these articles for some great hints and tips for converting patterns from woven to stretch fabric –

For tighter fitting clothes like leggings/sportswear, 4 way stretch is essential as the fabric will need to stretch both ways (e.g. around the legs and up and down the knee joint).
For looser fitting items or for fitted items which don’t need to give, 2 way stretch will usually suffice, but you can still use 4 way stretch fabrics.
The advantage to 4 way stretch is that you can use the stretch/pattern in either direction.  2 way stretch will offer more stability for fitted clothing, similar to a woven fabric, but will also give you some room to breathe!

For more information about knit fabrics, plus hints, tips and tutorials for sewing with them, see the Girl Charlee Pinterest page

If you need any help or advice regarding stretch fabrics we're happy to help!  You can call us (01635 522530), email us (sales@girlcharlee.co.uk) or add a comment to our blog.  We also provide free samples of our fabrics so you can check them out before you buy!  You can order samples through www.girlcharlee.co.uk by setting up an account and adding the fabrics you want to your stash, then requesting swatches from there.
For more ideas, patterns and tutorials, follow Girl Charlee's boards on Pinterest.

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Happy Sewing!

~ Mark & The Girl Charlee Team


  1. This is an extremely helpful tutorial. Thank you. The light of understanding has gone on! I am a bit apprehensive about sewing with stretch fabrics but less so now.

    1. Thanks Barbara! If you ever need any help or advice just give us a call or drop us an email! Once you've sewn with stretch you'll realise it isn't that scary!

  2. Great blog Mark. I always have problems working out percentages for patterns and this really explains it well. Thanks.