Friday 22 August 2014

Hemming Very Stretchy Fabric...

Hemming VERY stretchy fabrics - testing various techniques to see which worked best ~ Threading My Way

A couple of weeks ago, I showed you my tunic top. It's not often I sew for myself and I was particularly pleased, as I had sewn this top without a commercial pattern, tracing around an existing garment instead.

However, the fabric is extremely stretchy and the hems have that wavy appearance - not a good look for a garment. I had used a stretch twin needle and my regular presser foot, which had previously worked well on kids' t-shirts that were not as stretchy. 

In the original tunic top post, I said that I was going to experiment with different techniques for sewing hems on very stretchy fabric. In the meantime, Lindsay, from PA Country Crafts, left this comment: Did you try steaming the wonky seams? That seems to help a lot.

It never occurred to me to use an iron on stretch fabric, but I tried Lindsay's suggestion. Just like you do in shirring, I held the iron above the fabric and steamed. The wonkiness started to disappear!!! A few more shots of steam and then a quick press with a coolish iron, so as not to melt or burn the fabric, and the hems became almost respectable, as evidenced in the photo above.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lindsay!!! I was originally going to redo the hems, but not now. They're not perfect, but they're good enough to leave as is.

I still wanted to experiment to see if there were better ways to hem very stretchy fabrics. Here are my results. I did 12 different tests, but have narrowed it down to show you five.

I added tissue paper to the mix and increased the stitch length to 3. It's less wavy, but the stitching between the two lines has caused a ridge, rather like piping. I'm not sure if this is the increased stitch length or if the tension is out. 

I swapped the regular presser foot to a walking foot and there's an improvement, but still wavy.

Back to the regular presser foot and with an ordinary stretch needle instead of the twin and a zig zag stitch. Getting better!

Even better when tissue paper was added.

And the best result was with a walking foot, using a regular stretch needle and a zig zag stitch with a width of 1 and a length of 3.5. None of these tests have been steamed and they have all been done with the presser foot pressure reduce to 22. (This will be a machine specific setting.)

Note that a walking foot is NOT designed to be used with a zig zag stitch. The gap where the needle goes is quite narrow. If you want to try this, MAKE SURE the width of the stitch is narrow enough that the needle doesn't hit the plate and break.

I SO wanted to keep sewing hems with a twin needle, but it does appear that a zig zag stitch gives a much better finish on very stretchy fabric, with my machine. I'm still going to use a twin needle on knit fabric that is not as stretchy.

However, the tests that have the best stretch, are the ones with the twin needle. Years ago, when I used to do a lot of sewing with stretch fabric, the hems were always the weak point. We'll see how well these hems last. 

Again, I would value your comments re any experiences you have had, sewing hems with stretch fabric.

... Pam


  1. There's certainly quite a difference in the sample results, eh? You have the patience of a saint - I probably would have given up after about the 3rd test :D

  2. Thanks for sharing your trial and errors with us, Pam! Those stretchy fabrics can really be a pain to hem and your last suggestion seems to be the trick! Happy sewing, friend!

  3. Thank You Pam , despite using only natural stretchy materials [man made threads are harder to control] i still have this problem , and this is the first time i read a goof solution .......until now i either used a 3 step Zigzag and or sewed a bias tape at the edges....

  4. I have never tried sewing with knits, but thanks to you Pam if I ever do I now know what to do.with the hems :)

  5. Still working up the courage to do a knit project. This gives me encouragement!

  6. Great experiments will keep this in mind as I have not done stretch in a long time.

  7. I've pinned this for next time I'm sewing with knits! Thanks for sharing all this with us Pam!
    Thanks for linking to a Round Tuit!
    Hope you have a fabulous week!
    Jill @ Creating my way to Success

  8. I too have always had trouble sewing hems on stretchy fabrics. So next time I will try your suggestions, thank you!

  9. Interesting post. I have been avoiding stretchy projects because of the hemming issue. This gives my more confidence and to pull out the materials and give it a go. Thanks for the great post.

    1. I definitely find hemming the hardest thing about sewing with stretchy fabric. Good on you for giving it a go, Gayle.

  10. Thank you for this post! I saved it for when I use stretchy fabric!

  11. tons of great info! appreciate your taking the time to run the tests and share your results. Who knew about the steam?!?!

  12. Thank you so much. Very helpful information :)
    Let's Make It Lovely

  13. Thanks for experimenting and sharing this Pam so we all don't have to, lol!

  14. The twin/double needle and wooly/bulky nylon thread in the bobbin works best for me. That or the flatlock stitch on my machine. But the more I sew knits the more I keep eyeing coverstitch machines. It gives such a nice finish but sadly, it's not in the budget for me right now.

    It's neat seeing how the different techinques worked on the same fabric. Thanks for sharing!

  15. I have found that when hemming stretchy fabric to use a twin stretch needle, wooly nylon thread for the bobbin, and regular thread for the top. Set your machine stitch length on the longest stitch possible. If you use this method you will not get the fabric bunching up and looking like a cord in between the double needle. I guarantee you once you get this down you will use it all the time.

    1. Thanks so much, Bev. I am aiming to some stretch sewing next month and will definitely give this a go.


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