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How to Sew Stretch Fabrics on a Basic Sewing Machine

As you may know using an Overlocker is the fastest and neatest way to seam stretch fabrics but these are expensive and take up valuable space in your home. I have collected together some essential information to help make sewing stretch fabrics on a basic sewing machine a successful experience!

First of all here are some terms you will hear when dealing with stretch fabrics…

 2-way stretch fabric

Fabric that stretches across the width but not the length

Common in dress making fabrics for it’s comfort!

4-way stretch fabric

Fabric that stretches across the width and the length

Common in garments such as swimwear, active wear, and dance wear.

Memory

How much the fabric stretches and if it goes completely back after it has been stretched.

Stretch stitch ‘+.S.S.-‘

A style of stitch that will not snap when stretched.

 

Needles

You must use either stretch or ball-point machine needles when sewing stretch fabrics. Because these needles part the fabric they don’t make holes where as universal needles can leave holes in some woven fabrics. They can also miss lots of stitches in very stretchy fabrics making it impossible to sew a seam.

You can use either ball-point or stretch needles for most projects but only stretch needles work when sewing very stretchy 4-way stretch fabric.

Another needle you may like is a stretch twin needle. This needle is commonly used to hem stretch garments. It sews two parallel lines on top with a zigzag underneath and will give your finished hems a lovely professional look.

Stitch & Thread choice

Stitch choice plays a big part when sewing stretch fabrics. Because regular polyester thread doesn’t stretch but the fabric does you could end up with the thread snapping and holes in your seams! It is therefore necessary to use a stitch that stretches… unless you use a stretchy thread… more about that later!!

There are a few stretch stitch options you can use and you will need to practice these stitches in order to find the one that work best for your project. Below are a few of the most common stitches. Please look at the instruction manual to identify these stitches on your sewing machine.

 

Zigzag stitch is the most common. Adjust the stitch width and stitch length to get the right stitch. It needs to be as narrow as possible with a small stitch length to get the stretch.

Triple Stitch is a ‘stretch stitch’ and will be located at the top of your stretch stitch selection. It is basically a back-stitch… 2 stiches forward and 1 back, which works well but must be used with caution, as it is bulky and can distort the fabric. Triple Zigzag Stitch may be necessary when sewing super stretchy 4-way stretch fabrics! Again you will find it at the top of your stretch stitch selection. This is also a backstitch but a zigzag version and so it can also be rather bulky.

Over Edge Stretch Stitch is the domestic machine’s version of an overlocking stitch so if you want an overlocked look and small seam allowances this is the one to use. This is quite a time consuming process, as you have to cut away the excess seam allowance after sewing each seam.

Maxi lock stretch thread

There is now this amazing stretchy thread from America, which is available on Amazon. It is pretty expensive so I have just bought the Eggshell and Black colour to start me off.

This stretch thread is easy to use. You can wind a bobbin and thread your machine like normal. For sewing, set the stitch length to 3, and the tension to 4.5. You can then stitch a regular stitch… As the actual thread will stretch, the stitch doesn’t have to! Of course, you can still use a stretch stitch if you want to… all of the stretch stitches perform even better when you use stretch thread.

Finishing the Seam Allowance

Stretch fabrics tend not to fray so it is not always necessary to finish the seam allowance. If you want to make the seams extra secure or flat you can zigzag the seam allowance together as you normally would.

 

Exceptions

  • With a 2-way stretch fabric you can usually stitch down the length as normal because the fabric doesn’t stretch down its length, only across its width.
  • You can sometimes get away with just loosening the tension on slightly stretchy fabric, as this will give the stitch a little slack/stretch. I do this when top stitching a wider neckline or armhole that doesn’t need to stretch much as I prefer the look.
  • When you are sewing something non stretch like interfacing, seam tape or trim onto a stretch fabric you can use a normal stitch. It helps, where possible, to sew with the no stretch on top.

 

Use a Walking Foot

If you use a regular presser foot, which presses down on the fabric as it’s fed through the sewing machine, the fabric will stretch and the stitches will hold that stretch in place. The best way to stop this from happening is by using a Walking Foot. This foot bounces up and down while you sew, which is a bit off putting to start with but it works brilliantly with stretch fabrics. It’s also great for quilting, as well as sewing velvet and slippery fabrics that never seem to stay where they have been pinned! This is because the presser foot pushes these more challenging fabrics out of place! The Walking Foot is honestly one of the most useful feet I have ever bought. I absolutely love it!

Also known as an Even Feed Foot, the Walking Foot is quite expensive but if you plan to sew a lot of stretch fabrics and don’t want to buy an Overlocker I would really urge you to splash out and buy a Walking Foot.

 

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ONE DAY SEWING CLASSES for beginners

I have introduced a couple of one day sewing classes for those who find it difficult to commit to a weekly/monthly class.  Also, as my Sew Basic course is usually oversubscribed and there are often no places available in my Sew Club, I thought that these intermittent sewing days would offer an alternative option for some of you. They won’t happen on a regular basis because I don’t have very many spare days and to be honest with you when I do, sometimes  I just want to go out shopping! However, I will add them as and when I can onto the BOOKINGS page, so keep an eye out if you’re interested! There are two types of class available, both for a student who is relatively new to sewing.  One is the Sew Basic Intensive Course and the other is the Sew Day. The details are listed below and the cost for each one is £80.00

It’s a long day, starting at 9.30am and finishing at 5.30pm with a one-hour break for lunch. There is a Waitrose and several cafés just 2 minutes walk away if you want to stretch your legs!  Everything is provided, including the Sewing Machines, but you can bring your own machine to learn on if you’d prefer.

SEW BASIC INTENSIVE is a very condensed version of the Sew Basic Course. 

On this one-day course you will learn a variety of essential techniques. Rather than making something specific, the emphasis is on really understanding the techniques you have learnt and how to use a sewing machine to get the best finish possible. Please bear in mind that this is a faster paced course than the regular Sew Basic Course so it  may be challenging for a complete beginner. 

TECHNIQUES COVERED: THREADING UP, TENSION, VARIOUS SEAMS, TOP STITCHING, VARIOUS HEMS, BIAS BINDING, FACINGS, DARTS, BUTTONHOLES, AND A BASIC ZIP.

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SEW DAY is designed to continue on from the Basic course.  

On this one day class you will learn how to use a simple pattern.  You will need to bring your own fabric and together we’ll follow the instructions on the pattern, to cut out the fabric pieces and sew them together. I will explain what sort of fabric you will need and how much to bring. Due to the space needed to cut out, this class will have a maximum of three students. 

Unfortunately, at the moment, Sew Day’s are only available to those who have completed a Sew Basic Course.

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A BIT MORE ABOUT THE SEW BASIC COURSE

There is a Sew Basic Course starting soon so I thought it would be a good idea for me to tell you a little more about it.

Sew Basic is a five week course designed to leave the student confident on a sewing machine and with enough skills to get going on some exciting sewing projects. Each class lasts two and a half hours.

Though it sounds like a course just for beginners, I’ve actually had more experienced sewers attend this course who’ve felt that it has really improved their technique and finish. They’ve also found out the reasons for those annoying little things can go wrong when you’re sewing!

All the way through this course I will give you the information you need to get the best finish to your work. The costumes I used to make for film and TV always had to look as good on the inside as they did on the outside in case they got ripped off in a passionate scene!!

I encourage all students to work at their own pace so nobody feels rushed or held back. There will be lots of individual attention… I’ll give extra support to those who need it and extra challenges and information to those who want it. I am happy to answer any questions you may have so no one should ever feel unsure in my classes.

I have everything here that you may need, though if you would like to learn on your own machine that’s absolutely fine and probably quite sensible. You will receive a course book of all the techniques we are going to cover, which also has lots of instructions to remind you how to do the techniques and plenty of room to make extra notes of your own.

Sew School London

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WHAT IS COVERED…

The first 2.5 hour class is all about the sewing machine… threading up the correct way, when and how to change the tension, how to get better foot control. You will learn about different stitch lengths and types and when to use which one. We also cover a basic seam and how to finish off the seam allowance so it doesn’t fray.

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The second class is all about enclosed seams, hems and bias binding. Enclosed seams are really useful if you want what your making to look great on the inside but don’t want to line it. And having a variety of different hems to choose from means you will always be able to choose the best type of hem for what you are making.

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In week three we cover lots of very useful sewing techniques…  How to sew a perfect curve, bagging out, facings and understitching, darts, and piping. It’s a busy 2.5 hours!

In fourth class you will learn all about gathering as well as putting much of what you’ve learnt so far into practice by making a sweet little (doll sized) tiered skirt.

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The fifth and final class is about openings – buttonholes and a simple zip. You will learn these techniques in a practical way by turning your buttonhole sample into a teeny cushion and the zip sample into a pencil case… both very pleasing techniques to master!

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DATES AND BOOKING

The next available course starts in June 2017.

There are five classes in total.  All classes are on Thursday Mornings from 10.30am till 1:00pm

15th June

22nd June

29th June

6th June

13th July 

The total cost of this course is £140.00 

£80.00 must be paid to book your place.

The balance of £60.00 is due on the first lesson.

Only six places available so please book your place early.

To do this go to the Bookings page.

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FASHION SEW CLUB – AGE 8+

I have started a new sewing club for children above the age of eight years old who love sewing and designing. So, if you have a Little Sewing Bee in the making, then this is the perfect club for them.

Learning how to make mini clothes is a fantastic introduction to dress making as they are quicker to make and use less fabric!   I spent many happy hours making clothes for my Sindy dolls when I was little (I know I’m getting old!) and I’m feeling pretty excited at the thought of being able to do it again! 

Those children who come every month will soon pick up all the essential techniques needed to make clothes and then with a creative mind and my guidance, the possibilities are endless.  In this class all the clothes will be sewn by hand using a simple running stitch.  It would be brilliant if your child already knows this stitch, can thread a needle and tie a knot as they will be able to go straight on to making clothes, but if not, don’t worry, they will be taught all these skills in their first session.

 

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The children will be encouraged to work on their own project  so even though they will all be sewing together and learning the same techniques, they may well be making different things.   Hopefully this will be inspiring for them. I will help with the technical side of things like making sure the design is achievable, making a pattern, and explaining how to sew it together.

Once a student has been coming for some time, they may get the opportunity to learn the straight stitch on a sewing machine.  However, as this class is for a younger age group, the sewing machines will only be allowed if I feel it is safe.

Sew School

I do have a teenage sewing class every other Saturday morning where the children learn how to use and safely control a sewing machine. After they have mastered a few basic techniques, they  work on projects chosen to build on techniques and gain confidence. Most of these projects are fashion related.

I am really looking forward to my new Fashion Sew Club.  I think this club is a fabulous introduction to dress making and a fantastic opportunity for any young designer.

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The Fashion Sew Club will take place once a month on a Saturday afternoon  from 3pm-5pm.

 

£15.00 per session  PAYMENT IS REQUIRED IN ADVANCE TO BOOK A PLACE

You can do this through the Booking page on my website.

 

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Sew School Students in Business

I feel so proud whenever one of my students emails me a picture of something they’ve made or brings it to a sewing session to show me, some Sew Clubbers have even done craft fairs selling various things they’ve made (mainly to fund their sewing habit!), but when a student goes into business using  skills they have learnt from Sew School then I could almost burst with pride!!

Kelly did the Sew Basic Course  in February 2014. She then joined Sew Club and came along every month full of enthusiasm, a big bag of projects from home and a list of questions! A serious collector of fabrics, it made total sense when Kelly started Fabric Love, an online fabric store, in January 2015.  This is all very impressive considering that Kelly is a mum of three boys all of primary school age! Fabric Love is a great place to find gorgeous, quality fabrics for your next crafting or dressmaking project and to share your beautiful makes with others. After a year in business Fabric Love has gone from strength to strength but with Kelly in the sewing seat I’m not at all surprised.  http://www.fabriclove.co.uk

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Sian completed the Sew Basic Course in 2014 whilst on maternity leave and after returning to work still manages to fit Sew Club in once a month.  Sian always has a challenging project on the go and I really enjoy helping her develop her ideas.  With another baby on the way, Sian invested in a very clever sewing machine and launched her business making and selling beautiful personalised sewn gifts in December 2015. It’s Sew Personal is collection of personalised gifts, made from high quality materials all handmade to order.  Sian has been super busy this Christmas and received some fantastic reviews, nearly all commenting on the quality of her products  which doesn’t surprise me as when it come to sewing Sian is a perfectionist! http://itssewpersonal.co.uk

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Emma had private lessons with me for quite some time several years ago.  Full of fabulous creative ideas and big plans, she needed help turning her ideas into garments. She was already pretty good on the sewing machine but wanted to develop her dressmaking skills to progress her passion of becoming an established designer. With a natural eye for pattern and colour, Emma learnt to create her own printed fabrics and these became the basis of her clothing designs.  It’s an incredibly difficult industry to break into but Lucy Peach Slice has been nominated for several design awards and has received lots of exciting reviews.  “Eclectic, adorable, original, amazing. That’s how we’re describing the stunning fashions for girls from UK label Lucy Peach Slice.” babyolgy.com.au  I still assist Emma with her samples and love being involved in the creative process from fabric to garment. http://lucypeachslice.com

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Although Caroline has not gone into a sewing related business I am still very proud of her as she was one of my first ever Sew Basic students and still comes to Sew Club every month where she creates her own style of clothes to match her stunning jewellery. https://www.facebook.com/mybeautifulgothic

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BEST DOOR STOPPER FILLING TO USE

This month’s Sew Club project was a cube shaped Door Stopper. Of course we worked on getting nice corners and so on but mostly we chatted about what I had decided to fill it with.  The ones you buy in the shops have something heavy at the bottom to give it the necessary weight and polyester filling on top to push out the shape.  When I last did this project  I used dried beans as they were on special offer but some of my students were concerned that beans or rice could attract mice!!  Thinking this was a very good point, I decided to look into an alternative.

Whilst browsing the internet I soon discovered ‘weighted plastic beads’ designed for the job.  They are advertised specifically to weight down toys, door stoppers and blankets for Autistic children.  Unfortunately these beads would work out too expensive as I needed enough for 15 doorstops and like to keep costs to a minimum for my students. I also thought of using marbles but again they would be too expensive. And another idea was bags of sand, something I’d seen used so much in shop bought stoppers.  Although this would be much more affordable, I was worried I’d end up with sand all over my floor!

After looking at lots of options, I decided to go for a 10mm pebble gravel, which was a bargain from my local garden centre and gave a lovely crunchy beach sound!  The added bonus was that our garden path would be getting the left overs! The gravel was put in little plastic bags to keep it all together at the bottom of the doorstop and then the rest of the door stop was filled with polyester stuffing.

Another great tip is to use cushion inners/pads  for the polyester stuffing.  It’s much cheaper than buying specific stuffing.  I always stock up on these when I have to go to Ikea…  as well as calico which they sell at about £2 per metre.  It makes a very stressful experience feel a bit more worth while!!

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SEW CLUB – Level 2

My level 2 Sew Club students have produced some impressive work over the past few months. I feeling very proud to be their teacher!

 

Sian's beautiful bear was made out of old baby grows just in time for her daughters 1st birthday. It was a real challenge for Sian but definitely worth the effort. We've all loved watching it come together at Sew Club!

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Sian’s beautiful bear was made out of her daughters old baby grows.  It was finished just in time for her daughters 1st birthday. It was a challenging project but definitely worth the effort. We’ve all loved watching it come together at Sew Club!

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Above Left – Bindi did a fantastic job at copying a favourite pair of trousers.  She made her own pattern, and perfected the technique of shirring with elastic on the bobbin.  I love the fabric she choose which was thin but weighty so it hung down rather than puffed out! It’s so important to choose the right fabric when you’re copying a garment. It must feel and drape the same way as the original or else however perfect your pattern is, your copied pair won’t look the same.

Above Right – Maxine is making a fashionable shift dress in a gorgeous Liberty print.  Liberty print is a beautiful quality fabric… it’s light and floaty but not see through! It is a bit pricey, especially if you need a lot but I think it’s definitely worth the cost for a special occasion.

 

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Above Left – Kate has made a sweet summer dress for her daughter based on an old favourite.  You don’t need much fabric for this style of dress so it’s a great way to use up any odd lengths that are too small to do much with.

Above Right – Sarah wanted to make a pair of pyjama bottoms similar to some Boden ones she had worn to threads!  She found a really lovely cotton print from John Lewis and a simple pattern with clear instructions.  In Sew Club we have found some pattern instructions to be too wordy and confusing so if you’re relatively new to dress making it’s worth looking around for one with less information rather than too much!

 

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SEW CLUB – Summer 2015

PEG BAGS
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In May my Sew Club students made some striking peg bags. They were all edged with bias binding, which is very affordable by the roll from Ebay. The small wooden hangers are from the children’s department in Ikea.

The more projects we do with bias binding the better and more confident my students get at it! We always sew our bias binding on in two stages to get a better finish. Remember… the first stitch line that attaches the bias binding to the edge marks where to fold the bias over to on the other side. Sewing slowly and accurately is the key!

 

FABRIC STORAGE ROLLS

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In June my Sew Club students made a pretty and useful fabric storage roll to practice inserting a zip. Based on a jewellery roll, these cotton versions can be used to store all sorts of things, not just jewellery. I use mine to hold an ‘out and about’ first aid kit!

They were so popular that all the spare ones I had cut out were bought! I always hand out a printed instruction sheet with details on what to buy, measurements to cut out and reminder steps on how to sew it all together so my students can make another one at home if they want to.

 

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Making My New Website

Some of you may have seen my old website… I loved the look of it but felt it was definitely time for something more professional with the facility to book online.  I wanted to keep the new site just as simple and easy to follow and I didn’t want too much information for people to get lost in as personally I find that very frustrating and confusing. Being dyslexic, websites that are too wordy and busy looking put me off straight away. I think many creative people feel the same way. I wanted my new website to be very clear and visual… this is also an indication of how I teach! 

After looking online at website developers local to me I found the lovely Lucy Hall who is a very knowledgeable and helpful lady.  Not only has she done a fab job at upgrading my website but she’s also been very patient in teaching me how to edit it in WordPress.  It’s actually much easier than I expected though my problem is remembering it all a week from now! Thankfully Lucy has made a  fantastic video to remind me… how great is that! It’s all been pretty stress free so far thanks to Lucy.  So if you’re looking for someone to build you a website then look no further… I can’t recommend her enough.

Lucy has also explained the importance of social media and has helped me set it all up.  I now have links to Twitter and Facebook, and a Blog… to be honest this terrifies me as I’d much rather be sewing than wasting hours looking at a screen wondering what to write! There are so many amazing bloggers out there, I feel quite intimidated… I promise you, I’m a much better teacher than I am a writer!