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?

    • Glad it was helpful! 🙂
      The PDF paper size is in A4, hope you can print it easily.

      • Lisa Peng

        thank you very much!

  • Brenda Stuntz

    I love the post, but the one thing that is missing from EVERY post that is on this subject is how much of your stretch percent is appropriate to use in your pattern. For example, I am making several leotards and my fabrics lengthwise stretch is 60%. If I work the full 60% stretch into the pattern then the leotard would be very tight and nearly busting at the seams… but if i accommodate for it to only stretch 30% will it be too lose? So basically where my problem lies is deciding on how much my fabric SHOULD stretch (not to be confused with will stretch) to make a leotard that fits very snug, but isn’t busting at the seams.

    • Thanks for the great question Brenda! I think your problem is the main difficulty when dealing with stretch fabric and something that should be addressed when drafting. Usually, a pattern calls for a specific stretch percentage because it was drafted for this amount of stretch in a fabric. Also, note that when measuring the amount of stretch, you should stretch it naturally, meaning not overstretch it and record the natural stretch to use when drafting. Then, you would have to draft some negative ease based on the stretch of the fabric. For a pattern like a leotard using a very stretchy fabric, I would take your measurements (bust, waist, hips) and divide them by 4. Then the result times 0.9 to get the measurement to use when drafting. Because there’s no rule except experimenting, I would only advise you to record the stretch of the fabric and negative ease of your pattern and make a few muslins before committing to it. I hope it was the answer you were looking for, let me know how it turns out!

      • Brenda Stuntz

        Thank you, this is what I have come to understand as well. My biggest issue is that I make my own patterns because I make stretch ballet tutus, and as you can imagine there isn’t really a whole lot out there pattern wise or even on the subject for that matter. My issue is that I have to draft a new pattern for each and every fabric that I use because the stretch is different for every fabric that I use. This makes the same pattern fit different for each tutu that I make. So I was just wondering if there is a general standard of tightness if you will.

      • Yes, I see your problem… Sadly, if you’re using different kind of stretch fabric for different kind of body, the patterns will have to be different… At least, that’s the experience I have drafting with stretch. However, if you can record the stretch and negative ease you’re using on each pattern, you might find a general rule that will work well for you. I would very much be interested in the results if that’s the case! 😉

      • Brenda Stuntz

        I have definitely been working on finding some sort of standard just to make life easier when coming up with my pattern measurements. I am finding that a lot of my patterns also have to take into consideration how tightly the wearer likes their garments. Right now I am experimenting with using a 1 way stretch fabric that has 60% stretch width wise. I have scaled my pattern down 30% width wise so that I am only using 50% of my fabrics available stretch. The length of the pattern doesn’t have any stretch so that part was cake. It fits my dress form perfectly as far as tightness is concerned and still has plenty of wiggle room around the body for versatility. NOW, I just have to wait for my ballerina to come home from Russia so I can be 1000% sure she likes the fit. I think beginning with 50% of your fabrics stretch can be a good starting point as far as alterations and pattern scaling is concerned though. If I make it any tighter then my pattern pieces will be so tiny when not stretched that I can’t decorate the bodice easily. Any looser then it will move too much while dancing. I hope this helps someone else out. If anyone finds this to be inaccurate for you experiences then please let me and all of us know. I and my dancer friends would be grateful.

      • Thanks for sharing Brenda! This is amazing! 🙂
        Good luck with your project, you’ll make one happy ballerina!

  • Eddie Shander

    yes, I love this article. It is plain a simple. However, once I found out the percentage of stretch of the fabric, is there a way to find out how much I should take off my paper pattern which is for no stretch or ease?

    • Thank you! I’ve recently discovered that there is such a rule. It’s not something that I have tested yet but as soon as I do, I will write something about it! 🙂