Sewing Stretch Fabric

I have been working on some lingerie patterns that I would like to share with you.  My husband wanted me to call this post ‘Not around your ankles.’  Always something to bear in mind when making lingerie!

So, this is my first completed lingerie pattern:

I have called it ‘Tegan Lace Shorts Pattern’.  This is probably the easiest pair of lace knickers to make ever as the lace trim already has a nice edging on it and is quite elasticated, so no sewing on extra elastic or hemming!  It is available at Bramble Patch Designs in both PDF and paper format.

There are a few more in the pipeline:

Making my own lingerie hadn’t been something I had thought of doing until fairly recently as it involves sewing stretch fabrics and for years I had avoided sewing with stretch fabrics.  Once or twice I had repaired a T-shirt hem with my sewing machine only to have it tear apart again as soon as I put it on which is when I decided that maybe it just couldn’t be done by ordinary people with ordinary sewing machines.  Now I know how to deal with stretch fabrics and as long as you follow the basic rules it’s not that difficult or scary.

I’ve written this tutorial for anyone who’s found the perfect pattern they want to make only to discover that it needs a scary stretch fabric and, therefore, it was not for them!

You only need four main things to sew stretch fabric:

1. Some form of zigzag/stretch stitch on your machine.

You do not need a specialist machine to work with stretchy material.  A Serger does provide a really good finish if you have one but it’s not necessary.  Any sewing machine with a zigzag stitch can sew these fabrics.  Why a zigzag?  Because each stitch can stretch, so it won’t break, whereas a straight stitch is rigid so if the fabric around it stretches, the stitch will snap.

Some machines have a variety of zigzag stitches, overcasting stitches, stretch and knit stitches which are brilliant.  Mine has a really useful elongated zigzag knit stitch that looks like a lightning bolt which I use a lot and another knit stitch which seams and finishes all in one.  My old machine probably had these too but I haven’t read the manual for about twenty years.  OK, so I’ve just dug out my old manual and it does have several stretch stitches!  Check your sewing machine manual to see what your machine is capable of, you might be very pleasantly surprised.  Most sewing machines can do an awful lot more than most of us realize.  But, even if your machine can only do plain straight and zigzag stitches, you’ve got everything you need.  For example picot edged knicker elastic is first attached on the right side of a garment using a straight stitch, flipped back to the wrong side, then zigzagged in place:

A standard straight stitch and a twin needle creates a very professional and stretchy coverstitch for hemming. When sewn from the right side you have two neat rows of parallel stitches, with a zigzag on the reverse:

You can sew seams with a plain zigzag stitch, hem with a plain zigzag and neaten edges with a plain zigzag. (Although most knits do not fray so usually the cut edges can stay as they are.)

2. The correct needle.

If you are sewing stretch lace you will need a fine sharp needle and if you are sewing a knitted fabric such as cotton jersey, elastane, power mesh or tricot you will need a fine ballpoint or stretch needle as a sharp one could snag the fabric.  Remember that if you are using a man made material your needle will dull quicker, so change it frequently.

3. The correct thread.

Use an all purpose polyester thread as it is both strong and flexible.

4. Let the fabric feed itself.

This is important.  If you ‘help’ the fabric through, or pull it – even just to hold the threads so they don’t knot – it will stretch and stretch into a very odd shape:


These two pieces of fabric were the same size and shape.  The one on the left stretched because I held onto the threads, whereas the one on the right was allowed to feed through by itself.

If your machine has a walking foot this is a good time to use it so that the fabric feeds evenly WALKING FOOT WILL FIT, BROTHER, JANOME, SINGER, TOYOTA DOMESTIC SEWING MACHINES , and you might have to experiment with reducing the foot pressure a bit.  Oh, and it helps to have a really sharp pair of scissors for cutting stretchy fabrics.  I’ve just bought a new pair 240 mm Stainless Steel Tailoring Scissors, Superior Quality, Stainless Steel Scissor Blade  and have been both shocked and amazed at the difference they make.  I was looking at the (much) more expensive ones as I want them to perform well and to last.  But these had such good reviews and I decided for the really small cost it was worth taking the risk.  They really are very good.

That’s it really.  It’s not difficult, just different to sewing woven fabric.

This tutorial covers the basics which should be all you need to start sewing your own lingerie.


Happy sewing.