Stretch Stitch – The Best Stitches for Sewing Knits

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Stretch stitch is all about give and take. It is a stitch indicated on some machines by a lightning bolt symbol or just a zigzag icon. The stretch stitch is ideal for fabric that has built-in stretch qualities. It is designed to allow garment seams to give a little by letting the fabric stretch.

Stretch StitchPinStretch Stitch


Types of Stretch StitchThe Zigzag StitchThe Triple Straight StitchThe Three-Step ZigzagThe Lightning Bolt StitchOther Zigzag Decorative StitchesMore Stretch Sewing TutorialsSewing a Stretch Stitch by HandStretch Stitch – In Conclusion

Types of Stretch Stitch

Here are some of the stretch stitch options you may not be aware of on your machine. This is good news for these sewing enthusiasts who do not have the luxury of a serger. A stretch stitch can be made using a standard automatic sewing machine.

It is always a good idea to try out your stitches on a scrap of the fabric you plan to use. Tweak the setting of the stitches until you find the right length and width for the fabric. To test your stretch stitch, pull at the seam to ensure the stitches do not break. If they don`t easily break, you are ready to go!

Stretch Stitch Options by MachineStretch Stitch Options by MachinePinStretch Stitch Options by Machine

The Zigzag Stitch

This is the primary stretch stitch on a machine because it stitches from side to side, and this zigzag motion gives the stretch needed. The stitch width and length can be adjusted to suit different types of fabric. 

The Triple Straight Stitch

This stitch is an option if you have one on your machine. It is more suited to strong stretch fabrics and sports-type garments because it is not as flexible as a zigzag stitch. Test the stitch on the fabric first. It may be suited to polar fleece, for example but definitely not for lycra.

The Three-Step Zigzag

The three-step zigzag on your machine is another alternative to the standard zigzag. A three-step zigzag is a good option for more delicate stretch knits. It does not result in the tunneled effect that the plain zigzag can give because the zigzag is made up of a series of three tiny stitches. The three-step zigzag makes a neat and easy-to-use stretch stitch.

The Lightning Bolt Stitch

This is a stitch emblem found on most modern machines. It is similar to a zigzag function, but the stitches are made slightly differently. The lightning bolt stitch operates in an upward and downward direction. This difference of direction helps to reduce tunneling or puckering of the fabric. The stitch looks just like the symbol on the machine, and if you have this stitch option, it is a perfect stretch stitch.

Other Zigzag Decorative Stitches

Then there are other decorative stitches that serve different stretch functions and can be used for sewing on stretch elastic, neatening edges and decorative effects. Any of the zigzag stitches have the potential to work on stretchy fabrics.

Honeycomb Stitch – This zigzag stitch is perfect for attaching elastic to any fabric and for stretch fabrics too. It makes a beautiful border for adding stretch lace to a garment.Overedge Stitch – This stitch is very similar to the stitch on a serger. The overedge stitch gives you a straight and zigzag at the same time. It is sometimes called the over-lock stitch on a machine, but it does not have the cutter to trim the seam edges. You can try this alternative to the overlock and trim away the edge with a sharp pair of scissors, and then cut, sew and trim function of a serger or overlocker machine will have been performed.Feather Stitch – This decorative stitch looks lovely as an edging on a collar or cuff. It is a simple stitch and fits well with a stretch fabric as a light but firm stitch.

More Stretch Sewing Tutorials

Tricot Stitch – Sewing Stretch and GatheringHow to Hem Knit Fabric – With No PuckeringHow to Gather Knit Fabric – Gathering with ElasticKnit Binding – How to Sew Knit NeckbandsTypes of Knit Fabric – Stretch for BeginnersHow to Sew Stretch Fabric | 12 Easy TipsSTRETCH Factor of Fabrics | Printable ChartHow to Use a Twin Needle {Double Needle}

Sewing a Stretch Stitch by Hand

Knit fabrics are comfortable and soft to wear, and if you do not have a machine or if there is a little tight spot in the garment`s design, you need to use a hand-sewn, stretch stitch. 

Here is a step-by-step approach to hand sew stretch fabric:

Find the right needle to sew your stretch fabric. A fine needle is best because it will slip through the fabric with ease.Choose the correct thread for the hand sewing. A polyester thread is a good choice. Find a color that matches the fabric as closely as possible.Secure the thread to the fabric. A double backstitch or a firm knot is the way to choose.Thread the needle through a few threads along with the fabric, going from left to right. Pull the needle and thread up, but not too tightly.Use a herringbone stitch.

Herringbone StitchHerringbone StitchPinHerringbone Stitch

This method of sewing a few stitches from left to right along the stitching line has the same effect as a stretch stitch. It is a slow way of sewing a stretch fabric, but it is an excellent way to complete the task in some situations. The hand-sewn stretch stitch is perfect on delicate stretch fabrics. The hand-sewn stretch stitch could be the handy little mending option for a tiny tear.

Stretch Stitch – In Conclusion

If you have thought that the only way to sew stretch fabric is with a serger machine, you can think again! The secret of the stretch stitch you choose is making sure you are not pulling or tightening the threads as you sew. Hand stitching is possible, although much slower than your trusty machine. Whatever you decide to use, remember to have a give and take attitude. 

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