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.
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.