Stretch fabrics and fit

Recently, I received an email from Carole. Carole just got herself a brand new Wiggle skirt pattern and she had a question:

“Does this pattern really need a fabric with 50% stretch? Would it work with a fabric that has 20% stretch? Would I have to use a larger size to compensate for the difference in stretch, or add some ease to the pattern?”

What an excellent question. It comes up on a regular basis in various sewing forums and this is a good opportunity to answer it in detail.

First, what is a 50% stretch?

50% stretch means that if you stretch the begeezus out of your fabric, it will expand to 50% of it’s original width (or length, but at the moment it is width we are interested in). So 10 cm will become 15 cm.

Ok, that’s pretty clear, now let’s imagine this stretched to the limit fabric on you.

 photo spl653342_022-wm900_zpsf840f2eb.jpg

Not so pretty.

What I am trying to say is that although fabric CAN stretch to 50%, it doesn’t mean it SHOULD. The clothes you wear should hug you comfortably, not be a compression bandage. For this reason we only use a part of your fabric’s stretch capabilities, but how do you measure this part?

Every person has different fit preferences.

Some like their clothes on a tight side, like Kim here, others prefer it a bit more relaxed. Your stretch fabric can accommodate them all, you just have to decide how you personally like it. And there is no better way than to “try it on” before you cut it. Here is how.

Let’s take the Wiggle skirt as an example.

Take a look at “Finished garment measures” table in the sewing instructions.

Finished garment measurements wiggle skirt photo finishedgarmentmeasurements_zps85c752bb.jpg

For size 10 the finished skirt measures 96 cm at the hips. Let’s presume you are size 12. The grade of my patterns is 5 cm. This means that the finished skirt in size 12 will be 96+5=101 cm at the hips.

Take your fabric, measure 101 cm width and wrap it around your hips.

How does it feel? Is it too tight? Too loose?

Adjust to the comfortable width and measure the final width of your fabric.

Let’s say, it was tight, but just a little – not enough to go up a whole size. In this case, I’d simply do the following: take the pattern in the size 12, but sew the vertical panels with 1 cm seam allowance, instead of 1.2 cm. This will give you an additional 0.4 cm at every vertical seam, of which there are six. 0.4 X 6 = 2.4 cm of additional width, and it’s a half size up!

If you add only at side seams, you’ll go 0.8 cm up, or just a smidgen more.

See how it works? Try it today!

image source

Lena Merrin
Lena Merrin

A dressmaker of many years, I enjoy drafting patterns and create custom garments.

6 thoughts on “Stretch fabrics and fit

  1. Molly says:

    I naught a pencil skirt. When I tried it on it seemed okay. When I wore it, it was more like a girdle. Can I do anything to make this wearable?

  2. Rhoda Potter says:

    Hi Lena
    I have a swimsuit pattern that was designed for lycra with 100% stretch widthwise and 75% stretch lengthwise. If I make it with a poly/PBT fabric that has 50% stretch in both directions, how much should I add to the length and width? It’s a lap swimming suit, so it should be quite snug.

    • Lena Merrin
      Lena Merrin says:

      Hi Rhoda, I’m afraid a simple calculation might not be possible in this case. It all depends on how much ease the designer put into the pattern and how much comfort you prefer. The only way to find out for sure is to cut a sample and test it. I’d test the fabric first, wrapping it around myself and getting a feel of what it will be like while worn. You never know, maybe 100% stretch will not be necessary afterall.

  3. Tiffany says:

    Thanks for the great post! I was just going to make some pants with stretch cotton/spandex and was wondering the same thing. yay!

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