sewing stretch fabrics
Fashion,  Free Patterns,  Serger

Sewing Stretch Fabrics with Sulky

sewing stretch fabric flat lay

Sewing Stretch Fabrics – The Skinny on Loungewear

Sewing stretch fabrics is often an intimidating subject. As sewists we have to take the stretch factor into account, match the thread weight with the needle type, be sure to not stretch while we sew (in MOST cases), and worry about the final fit of the garment. However, with a few tips and techniques to reference, you’ll have no trouble sewing stretch fabrics and creating a wardrobe full of great loungewear for 2021 and beyond.

Sewing Stretch Fabrics – Loungewear

Loungewear is the new workwear this year, with more people working from home and working behind a webcam. We’re wearing sweats and leggings throughout the day, which is a great comfort in these times of uncertainty. A great pair of leggings is costly (ahem…lululemon!), so let’s make a pair ourselves using our sewing talents!

finished knit leggings

If you prefer a flowy pant, or sweatpant, to leggings, these same techniques here apply to most stretch fabrics. When choosing a stretch pant pattern of any sort, be sure to reference the pattern envelope or instruction sheet to ensure you choose a fabric with the correct amount of stretch. There will be a “stretch gauge” printed with the pattern. Take a section of the desired fabric and stretch it along the stretch gauge to see how far the fabric stretches. The gauge indicates a stretch percentage. Then read the pattern to see if that fabric stretches enough. This video explains how to gauge the percentage of stretch in a fabric.

sewing stretch fabrics gauge

Sewing Stretch Fabrics – Needles & Thread

Polyester thread is a good partner with most stretch fabrics. Sulky Poly Deco™ is a strong thread that also has a nice sheen for topstitching and hem details. Poly Deco is suitable in the serger as well as a standard sewing machine. The 40 wt. thread needs a size 80/12 needle to pass through the needle eye without dragging or catching. The TYPE of needle depends on the fabric and technique!

For most stretch fabric, a Jersey needle is a MUST. This needle has a ball point, which separates the knit fibers when creating a stitch. Unlike a needle with a sharp tip that would pierce the fabric fibers and cause snags or holes, a ballpoint needle allows the thread to nest between fibers.

sewing stretch fabrics with jersey needles

If you’re working with Spandex or Slinky Knit, a Super Stretch needle is your BFF for sewing stretch fabrics. These needles have a medium ballpoint tip that prevents the destruction of fabric fibers. A specifically shaped groove reduces the occurrence of missed stitches by optimally spacing the needle from the rotating hook. This needle assortment contains three 75/11 sized needles and two 90/14 sized needles. The 75/11 is suitable for Sulky Poly Deco when working with lighter weight knits with 75% stretch. The 90/14 is great for machine embroidery, when stitching stretch fabrics at higher speeds.

sewing stretch fabrics with super stretch needles

A Twin Needle is great for hems (and necklines if making a comfy T-shirt). If using a serger without a coverstitch option, use a Twin Needle on your sewing machine for a professional finish.

Twin Needle for stretch fabrics

Stitching Tips for Loungewear

The pattern you choose will dictate specific stitch lengths to use for each part of the pattern. Always refer to these instructions to ensure the final fit is accurate and as intended.

Most loungewear patterns are suitable for either a serger or standard sewing machine. A serger is handy for sewing seams and finishing them in one step, reducing the probability of puckers and uneven seams. However, careful sewing on a standard machine also yields great results.

When working on a serger, make sure to serge at the intended seam allowance. It’s helpful to mark the machine bed using a piece of seam guide tape to ensure the fabric feeds into the machine with a consistent seam allowance. This is also a great tip for standard sewing machines! Place the tape along the indicator etched into the machine bed, with the tape across the entire bed width. Position the fabric edge against the tape edge when sewing each piece.

seam guide tape for sewing stretch fabrics

If using a standard sewing machine and the stretch fabric gets pushed into the throat plate or bunches during sewing, lessen the presser foot pressure or use a walking foot. This ensures the fabric layers are feeding through the machine at the same rate, so the top layer doesn’t shift away from the bottom layer.

For a serger, use a 4-thread overlock stitch for sewing stretch fabrics. For a standard sewing machine, choose a stretch stitch to ensure the stitch stretches with the fabric.

If you still have trouble taming the stretch during sewing, apply cut strips of Sulky Sticky Fabri-Solvy stabilizer to the seams. Leave the stabilizer intact throughout construction, and then wash it away when the pants are complete. This is a GREAT tip for stabilizing hems, too!

sticky fabri-solvy for sewing stretch fabrics

Loungewear Legging Patterns

There are so many Leggings patterns to choose from. How do we know which one to pick for our shape? It really comes down to the coverage and style you prefer, as the fabric obviously stretches to fit the body.

If you prefer fuller coverage, choose a style with a high waist and perhaps an extra wide waistband.

Remember that patterns are a blueprint that are adaptable for a number of additions, such as embellishments and pockets! Add a patch pocket over each side seam to hold a phone or other essentials, if the pattern doesn’t include one. Pockets take standard leggings to high-fashion loungewear that become wardrobe staples!

This is a great free leggings pattern by Emily Thompson of Life Sew Savory that has two waistband options. It’s a basic, easy-sew pattern that comes in multiple sizes.

loungewear leggings pattern

Choose a buttery, soft stretch fabric that will last through multiple washings and lots of wearing! Remember to also choose a fabric that’s thick enough to not see through when stretched. You don’t want your unmentionables to be seen when you bend over!

If this style doesn’t suit you, there are loads of leggings patterns online to search! Include your preferred style options in your search, too.

Reflective Embellishments for Loungewear

sewing stretch fabrics with reflective thread

If you use your loungewear leggings for running, or hiking or otherwise working out, check out Sulky CRY thread. It’s a reflective thread that provides a reflective glow when exposed to light. Use this thread for topstitching on your leggings if you run or take the dogs for a walk after sundown.

CRY thread reflecting in

CRY, which stands for Coated Reflective Yarn, is easy to sew with a size 90/14 needle. You can also use it for machine embroidery by lowering the machine speed and choosing an open, airy design. The thread works well for monograms if they aren’t too heavy in stitch count.

CRY Thread for workout wear
Stay safe out there by making yourself reflective! This thread would also make for some neat masks, too!

Here’s to a happy, healthy New Year full of comfy, cozy (and safe!) loungewear.


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I am the Director of Content for Sulky of America. The former Editor in Chief of Sew News and Creative Machine Embroidery magazines, I hosted Sew it All TV on PBS for nine seasons. I've appeared on It's Sew Easy on PBS, DIY Network's Uncommon Threads, Hallmark's Marie Osmond Show, MacPhee Workshop and more! Come sew with me!