What is Elastane?

Sewing with jersey/knit fabrics has become more and more popular, understandably so, there are lots of garment styles that are super quick to sew. There is some sympathy on fit with stretch fabrics too. These are two qualities that make sewing jersey/knit garments quite an attractive prospect especially if you have limited time or like quick results. Along with the fact that there are many beautiful jersey/knit fabrics available to sew with, such as the aptly named Art Gallery collection of knitted fabrics.

It can get a little confusing understanding some of the properties of jersey/knit fabrics. One property of knit fabrics that crops up regularly is elastane, also referred to as spandex or Lycra.

So what is elastane and why are there different names. I thought I would explore and share my knowledge and my findings in this post.

Elastane is a generic term used to describe a yarn or fabric with exceptional elasticity.

Elastane fibres are man-made. These fibres are never used alone to make fabric, they are used in conjunction with other yarns to create fabric, which can be man-made or natural, such as polyester and cotton.

Elastane has amazing stretch as well as great recovery. It can be stretched to up to seven times its relaxed measurement.  If you really stretch a piece of fabric that has a content of elastane it will ping back to its original size easily. I’m sure like me you have owned t-shirts that are great the first time you wear them and then after a few washes become misshapen. Most loose fit t-shirts though made from knitted fabric are not made from knitted fabric that contains elastane, therefore the fabric often continues to stretch but does not recover resulting in an out of shape garment.

Elastane is often referred to as Spandex or Lycra. Until doing a spot of research for this post I had thought Spandex was a trade name however it is just another generic term for this type of yarn or fabric that is particularly used in North America. I did find out that Spandex is an anagram of expands. Lycra, however, is a brand name invented by a company called DuPont and definitely the most well-known brand name of the fibre. You can learn more about Lycra on their website here.

Finding information about the history of elastane was more difficult than I expected. I found two websites with some information www.cirfs.org and www.ivc-ev.de From these sites I learned that elastane was first invented in 1937 but wasn’t used until much later around 1960. Stretch fabrics prior to the invention of elastane contained latex rubber which is not as lightweight and durable as elastane.

It is clear that the invention of this fibre revolutionised the clothing industry, in particular, the performance and sportswear sector. Elastane is lightweight so when blended with lightweight breathable yarns it makes ideal fabrics for sportswear, fabrics that can closely fit the contours of the body but still allow freedom of movement. Elastane is also used in woven fabrics like stretch twill that would be suitable to make more tailored items such as trousers or a suit, the elastane enables a close fit as well as good shape retention.

As sewers, we are able to make our own sportswear or suits as well as many other types of clothing with fabrics that contain elastane fibres. Even a small amount of elastane content has a good amount of stretch. Many of the knit fabrics I stock contain some elastane.  Art gallery knits are a beautiful soft medium weight 95% cotton and 5% elastane. The star and cloud range of knit fabrics also contain 5% elastane. These are all ideal for a multitude of projects including t-shirts and dresses. Tight fitting leggings that don’t bag at the knees, as well as looser fit leggings, work well in these fabrics.

Good quality knit fabrics containing elastane are a bit more expensive than some but are a joy to work with and I think worth every penny.





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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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