Home Sewing Tutorials Sewing Lycra / Spandex / Elastane

Sewing Lycra / Spandex / Elastane

written by Sarah

Three different names all meaning basically the same thing: super stretchy fabric mostly for tight fitting garments, such as in sports wear or under garments. However, you can use it for anytime you need some serious stretch and hold. Lycra is simply the “brand” name for spandex made by DuPont Textiles. In the United States, we commonly call it Spandex, but worldwide it’s more commonly referred to as Elastane.

So why do we love spandex so much? It has a man made stretching  and wrinkle resistance features not found in natural fibers. And, unless directly noted, it’s machine washable. With the popularity of spandex growing, Lycra has expanded into fashion sewing and has made such blends as silk and wool. Definitely pretty awesome. However, the fear of this fabric may stop many of us from sewing it. Let’s go over some helpful tips to get the job done easier.

First off, prepare yourself for success with the right tools.

Here are the tools you need:

Stretch Needle
Very sharp scissors or rotary cutter – any dullness will snag and stretch the fabric.
Twin Needle for Topstitching.
Polyester Thread or nylon for sergers
Super Sharp pins
Walking Foot – very helpful to prevent layers from slipping around, but not necessarily ‘required’.

The Prep

We really can’t get away from prewashing our fabric. As with most fabrics, spandex should be prewashed unless noted otherwise. Try to remove it from the dryer as soon as the cycle stops to prevent any creases.

Check your fabric for any inconsistencies. If you see any holes, markings, fades, or bubbles, work around them.

Construction:

Whenever possible, use a serger. The seams simply stretch better. In other cases, use a narrow zigzag stitch. If you experience puckering, loosen the needle tension. To get really specific, slowly wind your bobbin to prevent the thread being over stretched.

Topstitching? Switch to a Twin Needle. Topstitching is also a great way to keep those seams laying flat, especially on collars.

According to Threads Magazine, “Areas of stress, like crotch and underarm seams, need a 2.5mm triple stitch ; other seams, such as those at side, inner leg, and casings, take a narrow, .05mm- to 1.5mm-long zigzag”. Threads Magazine also recommends manually stretching the seams. If the thread breaks, the tension must be loosened.

For Garment Construction, make sure the direction of most stretch follows the pattern direction meant to go across the body. Since needle holes are permanent. Any hand basting or tacking needs to be done within the seam allowance. When I want to sew something perfectly, I always hand baste first. Lycra is especially slippery, I would suggest hand basting as a headache preventative.

Invisible zippers and snaps are great closures for lycra. Buttonholes can also be sewn, but you must add cording to the buttonhole for stability.

Interfacing can be used with lycra. Choose a fusible knit interfacing for best results. Also, use interfacing behind any closures and fuse it along the direction of least stretch.

Ironing:

Steaming is possible with Elastane. However, keep the iron in a synthetic setting and use a press cloth. I have also found it helpful to steam the fabric to get out some unsightly wrinkles. Simply hover the iron a inch or two above the fabric and allow to steam to set it.

Isn’t stretch fabric awesome? Feel free to download and share our Quick Reference Card!

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Most importantly, don’t be discouraged if you mess up. Sewing lycra is a whole new technique and takes practice!

Happy Sewing!

If you know of a good tip or trick not mentioned, please share it with the community in the comment section below.

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16 comments

Kathleen February 25, 2017 at 3:27 pm

Hi, just found this blog while searching for tip on sewing with spandex. I am making recital dance leotards for American Girl dolls. I have. Janome 7330 and am finding it difficult to come up with a good combination of stitch length and width. The stretch stitches on the machine seem to be too bulky and don’t look like a straight seam on the right side of the garment. The back and forth of the stitch seems overkill for doll clothes. A tiny zigzag stitch would be ok if I could find the right balance between length and width. I only have the machine less than a year but have been sewing for FIFTY YEARS ona singer touch and sew which Imtraded in for this Janome. Still regretting it. But still enjoy sewing for my grandkids dolls. Thanks.

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Sarah March 1, 2017 at 11:56 am

The Singer Touch and Sews were amazing machines! Would you mind sending me a picture of the seams your machine is creating? Our email is info@sewingpartsonline.com

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Brooklynn June 27, 2017 at 8:59 pm

Omg I have been trying everything to sew dance wear and not one stitch will work .I’ve even tried the stretch needles where it would stitch but barely and still skips stitches. I’ve tried putting paper under which helps a tiny bit .do I need to get a walking foot ?? What do I do I’m going crazy help!!!

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Sarah June 28, 2017 at 9:01 am

Oh no! I’m so sorry you’re having trouble! What is the make and model of your sewing machine?

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MARLEEN WIFFEN January 7, 2017 at 11:23 am

PLEASE CAN YOU TELL ME THE BEST NEEDLE TO USE ON 5% SPANDA & 95% RAYON PLUS 100% RAYON. MY DAUGHTER CUT THE SLEEVES ON THESE 2 ARTICLES SHE BROUGHT ME TO FIX. CAN YOU HELP ME. THANK YOU.

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Sarah January 9, 2017 at 10:02 am

I would use a ballpoint or stretch needle. They can be found here: https://goo.gl/QiKY1L Good luck!

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Janet June 8, 2016 at 9:51 pm

Will you be offering an online course for “making swimwear”? I am a beginner, I would love to learn more about working with spandex. I am trying to sew some for my daughter, so far it’s been a wreck – lol, but I will keep trying 😉 I would love to join in!

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Sarah June 10, 2016 at 12:43 pm

Hi Janet! That is a GREAT idea! We have a Beginner’s Guide to Sewing episode on how to work with knits and stretch fabric, but not specifically on sewing swim wear yet. However, I can give you some solid tips.

First, I highly recommend making a test garment out of cheap spandex first. This will allow you to play around with construction and fit before you use the good stuff.
Second, you want to use a tricot stitch or some kind of special stretch stitch. In my opinion, a plain zig zag just doesn’t hold up.
Third, swimsuit elastic is your friend. It’s usually made of braided cotton and is resistant to the harsh chemicals found in pools.
Fourth, until you’ve got a good bit of experience under your belt, I recommend hand basting seams before heading to the sewing machine. It prevents puckering and shifting.
Lastly, always be kind to yourself and don’t give up! We were all beginners at one point and we all messed up A LOT. That’s how you learn!

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Sandy November 2, 2015 at 7:39 pm

Hi do you have tips for sewing around curves on Spandex I seem to get them puckerd and ‘Frilly’

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Sarah November 11, 2015 at 1:47 pm

Hi! The puckering usually happens because the fabric is being stretched while it’s being sewn. If you are sewing slowly and not pulling on the fabric while you sew and it still puckers, try placing some tissue paper or tear away stabilize under the curve as you sew it. It will prevent those annoying puckers.

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Stephanie January 20, 2015 at 11:31 am

Hi! Just finding this page and I hope you’re still viewing questions.

I am working with a Janome S-3015 (loaner from the school in which I work). Anyway, I cannot locate a walking foot to fit this specific model and any I’m seeing are around $60. I really don’t want to spend $60 for a machine I don’t even own. With that said….will the regular foot work or do I risk failure in sewing my project? Thanks for any info you can offer me….

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Sarah January 21, 2015 at 9:48 am

Hi Stephanie! And are you sewing many layers? If your machine has a presser foot pressure adjustment knob, you can reduce it to 1, which will make it easier to sew the fabric with a regular foot.
$60 is pretty pricey – we sell a compatible walking foot for $44 here:
https://www.sewingpartsonline.com/open-toe-walking-foot-low-shank-sa188.aspx
Have you watched our Beginners Guide to Sewing Knit and Stretch fabric? We have some more tips in that video you might find useful.
Please let me know if I can help with anything else!

Roller Foot: https://www.sewingpartsonline.com/roller-foot-janome-new-home-singer-p60499.aspx

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Crisyanna Villarreal September 26, 2013 at 11:05 pm

Hello! I am brand new to sewing and am totally disappointed in my progress thus far. But I will not be deterred! On the agenda are a type of compression leggings. I found your tips very helpful but I still have some questions. I hope you can help.
1. Will straight stitch work? (I’m thinking of letting the seam allowance curl on the outside; function over fashion.)
2. Will fine needle work?
3. Was I overly ambitious in starting with lycra?

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Sarah September 27, 2013 at 8:53 am

Hi Crisyanna! I’m go glad you are sticking to it! Never give up! Here we go:
1. Unfortunately, a straight stitch won’t work because it doesn’t have any stretch to it. It will break as the fabric is stretch (personal experience making yoga pants – very embarrassing day). A short zig zag using polyester thread is your best bet if you don’t have a serger/Overlock machine.
2. A stretch need or ballpoint is what you want to use.
3. LOL – yeah, lycra is difficult to work with. I would have recommended starting with cotton, but you can do it! The fun in sewing is experimenting and just playing around. I’ve been sewing for years and am still learning. And still messing up.
What seems to be giving you the most trouble? And which kind of machine do you have? I’d be happy to look it up and see if I know any tips and tricks for using it.

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Crisyanna September 27, 2013 at 11:08 pm

I bought a 1951 Singer about a month ago. I believe it’s a 99 model. It came with standard attachments, which I haven’t used yet. As I researched,I learned there is a buttonholer and zigzagger. Since I’m a beginner, I put off ordering them. I didn’t anticipate needing either so soon.

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Sarah September 30, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Awesome! What a great find! Did it come with a walking foot? Those are great for lycra – and pretty much every fabric.

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