V1549: Sewing with Stretch

As I never have just one project on the go – I’m currently mid-way through sewing my first stretch garment. Vogue 1549 to be precise – a 1970’s pattern by Diane Von Furstenburg, creator of the infamous wrap dress.

Looking at her current collection (see here), her wrap dress hasn’t changed at all. Except for maybe the length. This little number is made from a luscious silk jersey:

For my version, I bought a lovely printed rayon/Lycra blend jersey with a bit of sheen to it from EmmaOneSock – with a print perfect for a wrap dress. But back to this post’s purpose – sewing with stretch – as it’s totally different from sewing with woven fabrics, and a lot less well behaved as well!

Rayon fabric rather fascinates me actually – strictly speaking, it isn’t an artificial fibre (like polyester) as it comes from ‘cellulose’ (a polymer that forms the primary cell walls in plants), but it can’t be classified as a natural fibre, because it has to go through some pretty intensive chemical processing to get it into the form you see above. So much so, that’s it’s probably closer to being a plastic than a plant fibre. It drapes well, absorbs dyes really well so you get some great colours, although it apparently doesn’t age well. The process of making Rayon has been around since the 1880’s – and the next generation of this production technique gave us Nylon. 

The most important care instruction with Rayon is that after hand washing, it needs to be laid flat to dry, as the fibres loose up to 50% of their strength when wet – hanging it up to dry will result in a stretch that doesn’t bounce back! Of course, blended rayon such as my fabric won’t show the fullness of this effect due to the cross-pollination of each fabric’s characteristics, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, right?

Choosing the Right Needle: Needles for stretch fabric are different to those for wovens – mainly in that the tip of the needle is rounded. This is because you don’t want a sharp needle point cutting through the ‘loops’, rather – you want to ‘push’ through the loops. The larger the needle size, the more rounded the tip. Usually with wovens, the tighter the weave of the fabric, the smaller and sharper the needle you use to prevent the fabric from ‘pulling’. Similarly with stretch, the finer the fabric yarn, the finer the needle needs to be.

You can see in the picture above the two different needle types, suiting the two different fabric types – stretch and woven. You can also get stretch woven fabric – fabric that is woven, but the fibre itself is stretchy. By having a close look at your fabric, it’s generally pretty easy to determin which category it falls into.

Choosing the Right Stitch: The usual straight stitch approach won’t work here. This stitch has no room for movement, and whats the point in sewing stretch if once you’ve put your garment together, it doesn’t give? You’re likely to end up with popped seams if you use straight stitch.

Most modern machines come with a ‘lightning’ stitch – easy to spot because it looks like a little lightning bolt. This has the effect of allowing your seams to stretch with your fabric:

Soon to follow – actually sewing the wrap dress!


1 Comment

  1. Hi there, could you email me a photo of the back of this pattern. I’ve been searching high and low for the line drawings as I adapt a pattern I already own. Basically I want to know if the back is one piece or has a centre back seamline and if the bodice and skirt are separate or cut as one. I also would like to see how much flare the original skirt has. Thanks! Carolyn

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