Working with Stretch Fabric by Melissa Fehr

Today we are kicking off our Sew Your Own Activewear blog hop with a guest blog from Melissa Fehr. Melissa is the talented lady behind this awesome book and today she has written a guest blog for us.

Working with stretch fabric such as lycra and jersey can often seem like a daunting task. So Melissa has given us her top tips and techniques for working with this super fun and versatile fabric.

I often hear people say that they think sewing with activewear and other stretch fabrics must be really difficult, or that you must need to have an overlocker to do it, but it’s not true at all! You really can Sew Your Own Activewear with a few simple tips, and it means you can get just the right fit for your body while choosing fabrics and prints that reflect your own style, instead of what’s available in the shops – not to mention pockets in all the right places!

To start off, always sew some test stitches on scraps of your fabric before starting in on your actual pattern pieces. This means you’ll be able to spot problems and make adjustments, as well as build confidence that your stitches will look great on your finished garment.

Whether you’ve got an overlocker or just a sewing machine, if you’re experiencing skipped stitches, it’s nearly always a needle issue – either that the ones you’re using are dull and need replacing with a fresh set, or that you need a different type that are better suited to your fabric. Knitted jersey fabrics usually benefit from using a Ballpoint (sometimes referred to as “jersey”) needle, and activewear fabrics with a high elastane content are usually best paired with a Stretch needle. But sometimes fabrics don’t like to follow the rules, so it’s good to have both types on hand to experiment with if you find yourself up against a diva of a fabric!

When you’re sewing stretchy fabrics on a conventional sewing machine, take care to NOT stretch the fabric as you sew – doing so can cause unsightly rippled seams. I highly recommend using a walking foot attachment when sewing stretchy fabrics, as this moves the fabric along without stretching it. It’s also a great foot for other fussy fabrics like velvet, leather, or fur, too.

Sew Your Own ActivewearWhen sewing seams, use a narrow zigzag stitch, and check on your scraps that you can stretch the fabric fully without breaking the thread. If you can, then you’ll need to shorten the stitch length to give the seam more room to stretch with the fabric. You can then also choose to topstitch the seam if you wish – this gives yourself the added security of an extra line of stitching but also makes the seam allowances lie much flatter and reduces the chance of rubbing or chafing while exercising. To do this, finger press the seam allowances to one side and pin in place. From the right side, topstitch close to the seam line through all three layers using your choice of stretchy stitch: zigzag, triple zigzag, lightning bolt, or even a twin needle.

Threads Steeplechase mock flatlock

If you’ve got an overlocker, you can sew activewear in a flash since the machine automatically trims the seam allowances and finishes them in one go. Plus you get the added benefit of the differential feed, which works in a similar way to the walking foot to prevent rippled seams. I like to use a four-thread stitch for most of my activewear, as you get the security of two lines of needle stitches for your most strenuous workouts, but you can also play around with creating decorative “mock flatlock” stitches using just three threads, too. If you find that the overlocked seam allowances are causing irritation or feel uncomfortable, mock flatlock stitching can help as it moves most of the threads to the right side and away from the body. You can also try using fluffy “wooly nylon” thread in your loopers as a softer alternative to standard polyester threads.

Finally, my biggest tip for sewing stretchy activewear fabrics is to just give it a go! Start small, with just a t-shirt or sweatshirt without too many pieces, and as you build confidence, you’ll see that sewing stretch fabrics isn’t anywhere as difficult as you may have thought!


Take a look at the talented bloggers who will be taking part in our Sew Your Own Activewear blog hop here and follow on Instagram using #SewYourOwnActivewear

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