16 May 2014

Sewing with Stretch Fabrics. Who Me?

This month's theme for the stash busting sewalong that I'm participating in, is stretch sewing, so I thought it was a perfect time to finish up this post that I actually started writing a couple of months ago!

I am a self professed non stretch seamstress. Apart from the odd alteration, I have been known to turn clients down in the past if they even mentioned the word "stretch".

There's a few reasons that I have avoided stretch sewing. Most of these stem from the fact that the fabric stretches. Yeah, kind of obvious I know, but this presents a few issues.

Firstly, you can't really make a toile to try out a pattern. Calico won't work, as it doesn't stretch! Unless you make a toile up in the same fabric as the final garment, you don't really get an idea of what it will do, so making things for others can get tricky. And if you're going to make the toile from the same fabric, you might as well just dive in and make the actual garment. (Which is what I usually do for myself,  not always successfully).

Secondly, you need to use a stretch stitch, which for me means that I can't use my Janome 1600P, my fastest machine, which only does straight stitching. I don't like to just overlock seams, so that means using the stretch stitch on my Janome Memory Craft 4800, which is a 3 step stitch, which takes much longer to sew. Then I overlock.

Example of my typical stretch seam
Thirdly, attaching elastic. I have always associated stretch sewing with elastic for some reason, but most of the things that I have been sewing don't have any elastic in sight. I have been forced to face this phobia head on with bra making however, so I'm getting over that too!

Coverstitched bound neckline
Lastly, finishing hems and other edges are a bit more labour intensive. I must say, since acquiring my coverstitch machine earlier this year, hems have been made a lot easier though. Previous to this I had been using a stretch twin needle, which works out fine, but the coverstitch machine just looks that bit more professional. I've only used it for about six garments so far, so I'm still getting to know it. My preferred method for finishing armholes is to do an inside or outside bind, depending on the finished look that I'm after.

One of my first attempts at a hem with the coverstitch machine
A better example of a coverstitch hem
Thankfully for my clients, and my wardrobe, I have been branching out in my sewing. In late summer 2012 I bought a stack of fabric from The Fabric Store when they had a sale on stretch fabrics, and made up a bunch of sleeveless tops for myself, which made me realise how quick and easy stretch sewing can be (if you let it). I have been on a mission since then to perfect my stretch sewing block to fit my body, so my future tops and dresses don't turn out too loose or too tight. Of course, then there's the amount of stretch in each fabric to account for. More issues to overcome - Who knew it was so complicated?

The above tops are most of the ones that I made in 2012. All are based on the same basic block, with modifications throughout. I didn't do any adjustments to take into account the amount of stretch in each, and you can kind of see from the photos (especially the back views) how the fit is different. The blue ones have a really good stretch (approximately 85%), the purple has a stretch of around 35%, and the stripes have very little at all (around 30%). This one also seemed to shrink after washing a few times. The peach stretch is about 100%, but once it's been washed a few times, it doesn't recover.

Since the start of last year, here's a roundup of (most of) the stretch sewing that I've done:

Rib Knit Jumper for me

Client shirt dress
Client faux wrap dresses in three colours

Peach top

There's still a lot of stretch sewing that I would avoid - lycra for example, but I'm more open to stretch sewing now. I have plans to make a couple of stretch garments for myself this month for the stashbusting sewalong, time permitting. I'm planning on some fairly simple designs, so they shouldn't take too long to do!

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