Sewing Spandex (Tutorial)


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Random stuff or recommendations I think could potentially be helpful:
  • This guide will apply to most stretch fabrics. Specialized stuff like stretch vinyl or pvc has a few more rules.
  • Spandex is actually a fiber, rather than a specific type of fabric. A lot of fabric labeled as "spandex" is a knit made of spandex mixed with another material (usually nylon or polyester). If you have any allergies to a fiber, check the fiber content on any spandex fabric you're looking at because chances are, spandex fabric is made of more than just spandex.
  • Knit fabrics stretch, wovens typically don't (unless the fiber is mixed with something like spandex, lycra, or nylon, and even then they will not stretch much).
  • Stretch fabrics come in 2-way and 4-way stretch. If you're ordering online, make sure to pay attention to which way your fabric stretches to make sure it will work for what you need.
  • When looking at stretch fabric, check the opacity as the fabric stretches. A lot of spandex fabrics (especially white or other light colored knits) are not very opaque (ESPECIALLY when stretched).
  • If you're ordering online, I can not recommend enough ordering a swatch first. This will allow you to gauge the stretch of your fabric, make sure it's the right color, and see the opacity as the fabric stretches.
If you have any questions or need me to clarify anything, please lmk!

How to sew it:
If you're unfamiliar with stitch types, here's a helpful guide to some common ones: Sewing Machine Stitches - Best Stitches to Use
The stitch you use is by far the most important thing to keep in mind when sewing spandex or any other stretch fabric. Seriously, if you're just skimming through this post, PLEASE read this part.
If you are sewing stretch fabric, you need to use a stitch that can stretch. If you use a normal straight stitch on stretch fabric, it is going to snap and you will have a hole in your garment.
A straight stitch is the most commonly used stitch on a sewing machine, and as great as it is you CAN NOT use this stitch on any seam that you need to stretch. This stitch has no give and will snap when your fabric stretches. Some machines have a special straight stitch that can stretch and those are the exception, but for the most part a straight stitch is not a good idea to use on stretch fabric.
Screen Shot 2024-01-25 at 4.28.17 PM.png

When sewing any kind of stretch fabric, you need to pick a stitch that can stretch with your fabric. For the most part these stitches are variants of a zig zag stitch as that pattern allows for the seam to stretch a bit when the fabric does, but theres also some specialized stitches that do the same thing without a zig zag.
If for some reason your machine does not have a stretch stitch or a zig zag stitch, you can cheat a zig zag stitch by raising the stitch width on your machine. I would definitely recommend testing this out on a swatch first because it may take a few tries to get a good balance of stitch width and length. But once you get the settings right, it will work just as well I promise.
If you have time, here is a great source that goes into depth on a few different options for stretch stitches: Types of Stretch Stitches for Sewing Knits including Video - Melly Sews
If you don't have time, here's the graphic from that site (my personal favorite is the stretch/lighting stitch):
Screen Shot 2024-01-25 at 4.39.48 PM.png

TLDR: The stitch you use is actually important. Please for the love of god don't use a straight stitch.

Presser feet:
I saw that someone had asked about which presser feet you should use for spandex, and honestly in my experience it doesn't really matter. I've used the standard presser foot whenever I have sewn spandex and it works just fine, so don't feel like you need to go out and get a special presser foot.
The one issue you might run into is puckering. Because spandex is a stretch fabric, the tension can change while sewing (like if you're pulling on the fabric while sewing) and can cause puckers. In my honest opinion, light puckering on anything that is supposed to be skintight or very formfitting (leggings/compression pants, compression shirts, balaclavas) is not the end of the world, as the puckers will get smoothed out when you put the piece on and the fabric stretches to you.
If you're working on something where any puckering would be visible (looser fitting garments) or where puckering might screw up the rest of your sewing (anything with a lot of complicated seams), you just need to be mindful to not stretch or pull on the fabric as you sew and you'll be fine. If puckering is something you're really worried about, a walking foot or a roller foot would be helpful as they can help feed the fabric evenly into the machine.
TLDR: Doesn't really matter as long as you aren't stretching the fabric as you sew.

First things first, here is a helpful guide on needle types and sizings if you're unfamiliar: How to Choose the Right Sewing Machine Needle | Sewing Tips, Tutorials, Projects and Events | Sew Essential
In my opinion, he kind of needle you use also isn't super duper important, but it will definitely make things a lot easier in the long run to use a stretch or a ballpoint needle.
Screen Shot 2024-01-25 at 4.01.31 PM.png

When compared to a universal needle, a stretch or a ballpoint needle has a more rounded point, meaning that the needle will slide between the fibers of the fabric instead of stabbing straight through them. With stretch fabrics, this can cause some issues since pierced fibers are a lot weaker and can snap when stretched. If your fabric is a knit (most stretch fabrics are), a broken fiber can lead to some minor unraveling which can cause small holes over time and use. Additionally, the rounded point will help make sure that the stretchy fibers don't get snagged on the needle when sewing.
TLDR: A universal needle is fine, but I would recommend picking up a stretch or ballpoint needle next time you're at a craft store. Universals aren't bad at sewing spandex, stretch needles are just better.
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