Stretchy materials like knit or woven fabrics are extremely comfortable and super versatile, serving you year-round whether you want something nice and breathable or something warm and cozy.
That said, stretchy fabrics can be a pain to sew because you have to know how to properly work with them in order to avoid bunching up your stitches or messing up the material’s elasticity.
How do you hem stretchy fabric by hand? When hemming stretch fabrics by hand it’s important to always place your stitches along the direction of the stretch of the fabric. Use an elastic polyester thread and a stretch stitch to do this.
When you sew with a sewing machine, there are a few standard stitches that you can employ to work with the fabric’s stretchiness. If you don’t have a sewing machine or just want to do a quick hemming job, here are some steps you can follow to sew stretchy fabrics by hand.
Characteristics of Stretch Fabric
There are a few types of stretchy fabric, but the first thing you should pay attention to is the direction of the stretch.
Thinner materials like knit or woven fabrics often have a four-way stretch, meaning that the fabric stretches both horizontally and vertically, like the four directions of a compass.
Some thicker materials, like denim, can also have some stretch, but in this case, the stretch is two-way, meaning the fabric only stretches vertically (for denim, anyway).
When hemming stretchy fabrics, either by hand or with a sewing machine, knowing the direction of the stretch will help you figure out how to position your stitches. You should always place your stitches in the same direction as the stretch’s direction.
If the material stretches horizontally, placing your stitches horizontally will allow the fabric to maintain its elasticity as it wraps around your body, so it would still take its proper shape after hemming.
Hand-sewing stretchy fabric is a bit trickier than sewing with a sewing machine since you will have to use a stretchy polyester thread and a stretch stitch to work with the material. Otherwise, you will risk making the hem look bunched up and awkward.
With a sewing machine, you can employ the zigzag stitch, which is a standard stitch to sew a stretchy material. When hemming stretchy fabric by hand, you can use a catch stitch to achieve the same level of elasticity.
How To Sew Stretch Fabric By Hand – Catch Stitch
When sewing a catch stitch by hand, the stitch will look like very small stitches on the right side of the fabric (virtually invisible) and have a zigzag look on the wrong side of the fabric.
Before you sew, you should pick out a needle and very fine thread that matches the color of your fabric. Knit fabric will heal after you insert the needle, so you don’t have to worry too much about the size of the needle – a standard hand sewing needle would do.
Below are the step by step instructions to help you do a catch stitch by hand:
Note: You will be working from left to right to achieve this catch stitch.
Turn your work to the wrong side. Fold up your hem by half an inch to 1 inch, with the wrong side facing together (folded in toward the wrong side, not the right side).
Use sewing pins to pin the hem in place. If you don’t have sewing pins, you can use an iron to create a sharp crease at the hem to make your sewing easier.
Insert the needle by bringing it from the inside of the fold to the outside of the fold (wrong side of the project). This way, the leftover thread will be hidden inside the fold when your hem is finished.
On the wrong side of the fabric and outside of the fold, insert your needle from right to left, collecting only a tiny bit of fabric so that the stitch is only slightly visible from the right side of the fabric. You now have a diagonal stitch going from left to right.
On the folded fabric, insert your needle from right to left, collecting a small bit of fabric. You now have an inverted “V” shape stitch that holds your hem together.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you have finished your hem, removing the sewing pins as you go. You can make the “V” close together or as far apart as you’d like. Just make sure that the stitches are even.
When you work, make sure that you don’t pull your stitches too tightly, as it may make the stretchy fabric look bunched up on the right side.
Finish the hem by securing the end with a knot and weave the loose end into the fold. You should have a nice and even hem that works with your stretchy fabric!