Spandex is a great option in you’re in the mood to sew your own swimsuit, or are constructing dance costumes or activewear. But the stretchiness that makes spandex so perfect for these types of garments is also what makes it tricky to work with. Like any other knit fabric, spandex is more manageable if you own a serger. However, it’s still possible to sew spandex on a regular sewing machine. Here are a few sewing spandex tips:
You might sometimes see spandex and lycra used interchangeably. Lycra is a brand name for spandex manufactured by DuPont, so not all spandex is lycra. Like all other fabrics, the quality will vary by manufacturer, so keep that in mind as you shop for fabric.
No matter where the grainline is, you’ll want to cut the pattern so that the greatest amount of stretch is going around your body.
As you pin, keep all pins inside the seam allowance to avoid creating holes in the fabric.
Use a new needle, and make sure it’s ballpoint, as they work a lot better for sewing knits. If it’s an option for your machine, consider using a stretch needle, which will help prevent skipped stitches while you are working with the spandex.
As always, check your stitch length and tension on a fabric scrap first. You may need to make adjustments to keep the stitches from becoming puckered. Also experiment with a narrow zig-zag stitch versus a straight stitch. Stretch your test scrap to see if the stitches break. If they do, you’ll want to play around with your tension and stitch length to get the right amount of stretchiness in your seams. This is one of the most important sewing spandex tips! It will save you a lot of frustration later when your seams are busting open.
Use paper as a stabilizer. Tissue paper (save your scraps when you cut out the pattern!) or even wax paper from the kitchen will help. Sandwich the fabric between the paper. This will keep the presser foot and feed dogs from stretching the fabric too much.
Use a twin needle (two needles side by side; check your sewing machine manual for threading instructions), on hems for a professional-looking finish.
Keep the fabric slightly stretched as you sew it, holding it behind and in front of the needle, but be careful not to pull the fabric.
If you can, use a straight stitch needle plate. This will prevent your fabric from getting sucked down into the feed dogs and creating a mess.
Another option to allow your seams to stretch with the fabric is to use wooly nylon in the bobbin, and regular polyester thread (stay away from anything that’s all cotton; it won’t stretch enough with the fabric) on top. Wooly nylon thread will need to be hand wound on the bobbin to keep its stretchiness.
Depending on the garment you are making, you may need to stabilize some of the seams (particularly shoulder seams) so they don’t get stretched out when worn.