What is Stretch Factor (A Quick Guide)?

4 min read

Both fabric content & stretch factor play an important role in this. You may have come across this term whilst conducting your own research for a project, with many experts recommending ‘high or low percentage’ stretching. If after all of this you are still wondering, ‘what is a stretch factor?’, it refers to how far one can stretch a particular piece of fabric past its state of relaxation. This plays an important role in how the finished garment will sit on the body.

Each fabric will have its own stretch factor, as does their lycra, spandex or elastane content. Unless you are intimately familiar with the numerous options available, it can be difficult understanding what is the right stretching factor for your designs. To help, the team at Pattern Emporium have put together a quick fabric stretch guide below to help you choose the ideal fabric for you.

Fabric Stretch Guide

 

In the handmade world, stretch knit fabric is generally described as either 2-way or 4-way stretch.

Stretch Fabric - what is stretch factor?

    

WHAT IS 4-WAY STRETCH FABRIC?

  • The fabric stretches both across the fabric AND up & down the fabric. 
  • Generally recovers much better than a 2-way stretch.
  • Contains a % of lycra, spandex or elastane to give it that stretch & recovery.
  • Perfect for fitted or fit & flare stretch garments that need to stretch over our curves. 
  • Recommended for the Spellbound & Wanderlust Dresses, the True Romance, Allure & Trapeze Tops.
  • Recommended for the waistband of the Heartlight & Starlight Skirts. 

     

WHAT IS 2-WAY STRETCH FABRIC?

  • Fabric stretches selvage to selvage, horizontally across the fabric BUT NOT vertically up and down the fabric.
  • Not suitable for fitted stretch garments when the vertical stretch is zero (rigid).

NOTE: You will sometimes find fabrics that have a reasonable amount of vertical stretch (give/slight stretch), despite being described as a 2 way stretch. Do a stretch factor test (outlined below) if you can and if buying online, ask the seller if there is any vertical give. 

          

WHAT IS A FABRIC'S STRETCH FACTOR?

Stretch factor is how far a fabric stretches past it’s relaxed state. This is important for the correct fit of a stretch fitted garment.

    

WHY IS DETERMINING STRETCH FACTOR IMPORTANT?

If you are sewing a fitted stretch garment it's important for the fabric to have both horizontal & vertical stretch.

As a fabric stretches OUT on your body, it will also pull UP. 

For this reason, it's important for a fitted stretch garment to be made out of 4-way stretch.

If a fabric has no vertical stretch, the fabric won't be able to comfortably pull up, making it too short both through the body, crotch, armhole &/or legs. This can be very uncomfortable.

Skilled designers will begin by determining fabric stretch, allowing them to make the right decision when opting for those with a higher stretch percentage to create looser-fitting pieces or lower stretch percentages for a tighter fit. Learning how to measure yourself is crucial to minimising the issues with your garments throughout the process.

 

STEPS TO DETERMINING STRETCH FABRIC:

While many of us may start out tugging at the various fabrics in our collection – risking damage to its quality – determining stretch fabric can actually be super easy. Here's how:  

1. PRINT OUT THE STRETCH FACTOR GUIDE:

  • Print out this simple fabric stretch factor guide first. Click here to download the pdf.
  • You will be using this guide in the process, so make sure it's printed actual size. Do not scale. 

2. CUT AND LABEL A FABRIC SWATCH:

  • Measure & cut a fabric sample 10cm x 10cm (3 7/8”), on the grain of the fabric.  
  • Don’t include the actual selvage in your sample.
  • Draw an arrow on your fabric to remind you which direction horizontal is.

3. DETERMINE HORIZONTAL STRETCH

  • Fold the fabric swatch in half, along the horizontal grain.
  • Hold fabric at left edge (A) of guide & stretch as far right as possible.
  • Note the % stretch factor it reaches on the guide.

4. VERTICAL STRETCH

  • Repeat Steps 3-5, this time folding the fabric in half along the vertical grain.

    

WHAT STRETCH FACTOR DO I NEED TO SEW PATTERN EMPORIUM PATTERNS?

Once you understand the ins and outs of fabric stretching factors, it becomes far easier to gain the necessary insight into how you will be able to manipulate your chosen material when fitting to garments. To make it even easier, simply refer to the fabric pages of your Pattern Emporium pattern. It will tell you exactly what stretch fabric you need. 

     

WHAT FABRICS HAVE 4-WAY STRETCH?

ITY, cotton elastane, poly elastane, poly jersey, swimwear fabric, some pontes, rayon elastane, rayon bamboo elastane, stretch lace, stretch velour (stretch velvet), double brushed polyester.

Note: swimwear & leggings fabrics may fit firmer than other fabrics due to the nature of the stretch.

   

PATTERN EMPORIUM STRETCH PATTERNS

To view our collection of stretch patterns, click here.

These include skirts, tops & dresses with both boys and girls’ patterns. If you have any more questions about what stretching factors are, and how to use the fabric stretch guide to find the right choices for your project, contact our friendly team at Pattern Emporium today.