Knits are great to sew with. They are so comfortable, they don’t wrinkle easily and are very easy to fit. But there’s so much different kinds of knits, that it can be easy get overwhelmed when choosing your next project’s fabric.

When choosing to sew a pattern designed for a stretch fabric, it’s wise to consider what type of knits is recommended and find something similar. Just like you would with a woven pattern.
One way to categorize knits is by their percentage of stretch. There’s an easy method to measure that and it so happens to be today’s How-To, what a coincidence! 😉

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So let’s dive right into it and determine the stretch a fabric has.
Usually, the maximum stretch will be found on the crossgrain.

Knit fabrics are either a 2-way stretch, meaning that it’ll only stretch across the crossgrain (selvage to selvage) or a 4-way stretch, which will stretch both on and across the grain.
In any case, you want to measure the percentage of stretch on the crossgrain to find out what you’re dealing with.

Grainlines Guide - Stitch-N-Smile.com

To do so, we’ll use a stretch and recovery gauge! This very cool tool is so useful to have when fabric shopping. I’ve created one for myself recently and I’m loving it so much that I had to share it with you!

The file is available to download at the end of this post, just print it on cardboard or use regular paper and glue it to a stronger paper so it won’t get damaged easily. You can even laminate it if you’re feeling fancy! 😉

This handy tool measures the amount of stretch the fabric has. At the same time, it’s also very useful to note the recovery of a knit fabric. That way, you won’t be surprised if your well fitted t-shirt becomes a loose and baggy tee over time.

First start by folding the fabric in half along the grain.

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With pins, measure a 10 cm/4″ section. (If you’re using my stretch gauge, that’s the part between the pins.) Try to avoid the edge of the fabric, to have an more accurate measurement. Selvage and borders tend to have a different stretch.

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Hold one pin aligned with the zero mark and stretch the fabric until it starts resisting. The trick here is to not overstretch it, you want to measure its natural stretch.

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Record the percentage of stretch your fabric has. For this exemple, the fabric has a 85% stretch, that’s quite a lot!

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Then to determine the recovery your fabric has, let the pin go, while still holding the one at zero.

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If the pin returns to its original location, great! It means it has a 100% recovery and won’t loose its shape easily. You can safely use it for active wear or swimwear.
If not, determine the amount of recovery you’re okay with and decide what to sew with it accordingly. The fabric used here has a 10% recovery and was perfect for my Myrtle dress.

Here’s the fabric used for the Jacqueline Hoodie. As you can see, it has barely a 20% stretch. It would’ve been useful to know that beforehand, that way I could’ve adjusted the bottom band according to the stretch of this fabric. Oh well, it still fits, live and learn as they say!

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And finally, here’s a fabric that has a great recovery, no matter how many times I stretched it, it always returned to zero. This one was used for my Moneta dress and more recently for the Lindy Petal skirt (free pattern, anyone? 🙂 )

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To give you an idea of what you’re dealing with, here’s what I found about stretch fabric and the different types of knits.

Stable knits usually can stretch to about 20% (like double knit, interlock…). Moderate stretch knits like nylon tricot go up to 25% while stretchy knits (jersey, terry knit) can stretch to 50%. I’ve noticed that this category usually stretches 4-way.
Then the 75% to 100% stretch fabric have usually great recovery and are perfect for a swimsuit or active wear project. These typically include fabric with Lycra or Spandex in them.

Want to measure your own fabric? You can download the stretch guide by clicking on the following button. Then print it on cardboard and you’re good to go!

Stretch Gauge - Stitch-N-Smile.com

Download your stretch gauge!

 Have fun measuring your stash! 🙂

  • Marianne Gizzi

    Great article ! Thank you !

    • Thanks, very happy you’ve enjoyed it! 🙂

  • Sincere

    Thank you. Very informative and helpful!

  • Celeste B. Janey

    Been sewing for many years and found it extremely helpful.

    • Thanks! Glad it helped you! 🙂

  • Lisa Peng

    This is very helpful! May I ask what paper size you have your stretch gauge on so I can convert to US size to print?