How to find the percentage of stretch in jersey fabrics.

Sewing jersey garments is great fun and can be super quick, especially if you are lucky enough to own an overlocker. However there are a few things worth knowing about jersey fabrics to help make the right choice for your chosen style.

Jersey fabrics can be made from different fibres such as cotton, viscose, silk etc. each having their own properties such as performance, warmth and texture. They may have stretch purely because they are a knitted fabric or they may have an extra fibre called elastane, also known as lycra or spandex. This will effect the recovery of stretch. Fabrics containing elastane will ping back to the original state much more readily than those without. If you are making leggings or other tightly fitted clothing fabrics with elastane will be the best option.

There is also stretch direction to consider. Some fabrics will stretch across the width only, this is known as a 2-way stretch. Other fabrics will stretch both across the width and down the length this is known as a 4-way stretch. Slightly confusing terminology!

Your dressmaking pattern should state if you need a fabric with a 2-way or 4-way stretch. You might also see a guide on the side of the pattern showing you how far your fabric has to stretch. This is another important aspect as it will effect the fit of the garment. If you choose a fabric that does not have enough stretch you might find it turns out to tight or the stretch might be needed to allow you to put the garment on over your head. Generally speaking if you have more than enough stretch your garment should still work out. Finding out how much stretch a fabric has is now more commonly being described as percentage of stretch which sounds like complicated maths, however it is really easy to work out.

I created a handy stretch guide for this post that you can download here:

stretch percentage

You can also use a normal ruler. To keep the maths as simple as possible I have used 10cm as its an easy number work with. Fold your fabric somewhere away from the edge and across the width. Hold the fabric in position at the beginning of the stretch guide or your ruler. You can also mark this with a pin or a chalk mark for better accuracy.

Hold the un-stretched fabric at the other end of the unstretched guide or at the 10cm point on the ruler.

Now gently but firmly pull the fabric to where it comfortably stretches to along the guide or ruler. If you are using 10cm as your starting point each 1cm will be 10%. Don’t over stretch the fabric, try and imagine it as a garment, its unlikely to be stretched to the point of no return!

You can also measure the fabrics recovery when you let go. Its easier to do this if you have a chalk mark or pin. Pull the fabric to determine the percentage of stretch, continue to hold the left hand edge at the beginning of the guide or ruler and let go of the other side. If the fabric pings back to its original starting point it has 100% recovery. The fabric recovery is useful to know, again if you are making close fitting garments like leggings 100% recovery would avoid baggy knees, but would not be important if you were making a loose fit t-shirt.

I hope you found this post useful, if you would like to shop jersey fabrics. Bobbins and Buttons online store has a great a selection of printed and plain jersey fabrics in light and heavy weights suitable for all your jersey makes.


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Julia Claridge

I was about 6 or 7 years old when I had my first go on a sewing machine, it was an old hand crank machine that my mum used with her patients, she was an occupational therapist. I still vividly remember watching with amazement as the tiny perfectly formed stitches were created as I turned the handle. I Grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when buying clothes was less affordable and dressmaking was an answer to updating your wardrobe more regularly. My own mother was a talented dressmaker who made most of my clothes and my sisters clothes as well as a many for herself. I soon got involved with making my clothes, I loved the whole experience of picking out fabrics, trims and a pattern to create a new outfit, then going home to make a new garment or outfit. When it came to leaving school I visited a careers advisor who asked what I wanted to do next. My answer was ..Sew! Read more...

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