Fabric Stretch- Why it Matters for Your Garment

Fabric Stretch: Why It Matters for Your Garments

Fabric stretch, also known as elasticity, refers to how much a fabric can stretch and then return to its original shape. It's a crucial factor in determining the comfort and fit of garments, especially in activewear like leggings and crop tops.

The Importance of Fabric Stretch in Garments

Fabric stretch is vital for the comfort and functionality of garments. When it comes to activewear, the stretch of the fabric can affect everything from how well the leggings fit in the crotch area, to how easy it is to put them on, to how comfortable they are when moving or running.

My Journey with Fabric Stretch

Years ago, when I first started in the fashion industry, I worked for a swimwear company that was one of the pioneers in using chlorine-resistant polyester. However, this fabric had minimal stretch, which required extensive pattern adjustments to make the garments fit correctly. Nowadays, fabric technology has advanced significantly, allowing polyester fabrics used in sublimation printing to have similar stretch properties to nylon Lycra and cotton Lycra blends.

How to Measure Fabric Stretch

To ensure your fabric has the right amount of stretch, you can use a simple method in your workroom or at home. Tape a measuring tape to a table, pinch the fabric at the zero point and the 50 cm mark, then stretch it until it feels comfortably stretched without overextending. Note this measurement and double it to get the percentage of fabric stretch.

A good stretch fabric typically has around 130% stretch. Anything below 120% may feel too tight and uncomfortable.

I found a video on You Tube that helps explain how this is done-


The only difference is that I use a bigger piece and my calculation is to add that amount to the original.

(2 ½ / 5) * 100= 50% stretch-I would call this 150% stretch

I also don’t pull it to the extreme but find a comfortable stretch point.

As you can see it is more art than science.

Fabric Stretch in Sublimation Printing

In the world of sublimation printing, the stretch of polyester fabrics has traditionally been less than that of nylon. However, fabric development over the past 30 years has improved polyester Lycra, making it comparable to nylon Lycra in terms of stretch and comfort. But be careful of high lycra content. It can cause the fabric to be very tight to stretch.

How to Size Patterns for Fabric Stretch

I recently worked with a client who needed to size up a legging pattern by three sizes to accommodate the fabric stretch. This adjustment, however, resulted in the garment being too long. We discussed scaling the pattern down in length rather than just shortening the legs, as the crotch height also needed to be adjusted. This can be done in Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw and many pattern making programs. This way you keep the shape of the legs and crotch without ending up with shaping in the wrong spot.

Practical Tips for Working with Stretch Fabrics

When selecting fabric, it's essential to understand the specifications of its stretch. This can be done by reviewing the fabric’s details or through practical testing methods like the one mentioned above.

Adjusting Patterns for Stretch

Pattern Room Patterns are typically based on an average stretch of 150% in both directions. If your fabric differs from this standard, you may need to adjust the pattern size to ensure a proper fit.

Conclusion: The Future of Fabric Stretch

Fabric stretch is a key factor in creating comfortable, well-fitting garments. With advancements in fabric technology, we now have a variety of stretchy fabrics that can meet the needs of activewear and other types of clothing. Whilst compression and tight stretch fabrics might seem appealing for holding things in, they can cause issues down the development process. In many knit fabric designs, there is a need for stretch to eliminate seams and darts from the pattern, but this requires that the fabric can stretch to accommodate the body where it needs shape. By understanding and testing fabric stretch, you can ensure your garments are both functional and comfortable.

Remember, the stretch of your fabric can make a significant difference in the fit and comfort of your garments. Whether you're working with nylon Lycra or polyester Lycra, understanding and testing fabric stretch is crucial for creating high-quality, comfortable clothing.

I hope you have found this helpful to find the right fabric or your next pattern.


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