Updated on September 6, 2022 by Sarina

Cotton is a part of our everyday life. From time immemorial, we humans have been using cotton clothes. Even today, the textile world is highly dependent on cotton, despite the fact that there are many, many different innovative new textiles in the market. Be it your regular wear casual clothing or office-going shirts or outdoor gear, cotton is considered a perfect choice.

We all love cotton for our own reasons. Some may love wearing cotton clothes as it is comfortable and breathable. Some may choose it because of its inexpensiveness, and some value its absorbency. Some love its availability in all types of colors and patterns than any other fabric.

But no one is heard saying that cotton is their favourite because of its stretch.

So, is 100% Cotton Stretchable?

Cotton fabric does not have natural stretch on the straight grain, along the lengthwise direction, parallel to selvedge.

stretch of cotton along the selvedge

On the crosswise grain, it is a little more stretchy. And on the bias grain, a lot more

And loosely woven cotton fabrics stretch more than the tightly woven cotton fabrics. Cotton is more stretchable when wet than dry.

Elasticity and stretchability

Stretchability can also be roughly translated to elasticity. The term elasticity can be defined as any fabric’s potential to return to its original shape after being stretched. The ones we label as elastic will regain their former shape when it is stretched and let go. The most elastic fibers that you commonly see in clothes are spandex.

Why the non-stretch property of cotton is welcome?

Generally Cotton fibers are less elastic than most other fibers like rayon or polyester. This property of non-elasticity quite often limits the usability of the cotton fabric but also makes it suitable for some purposes.

Cotton is an excellent choice for daily wear fabric because of the lesser stretchability. This is because less stretchable fabrics are more stable. It can last longer and it may be easier to sew.

Names of cotton fabrics with good stretch

Cotton Jersey and Cotton Terrycloth Knit have great stretch.The terrycloth knit has a loopy surface texture whereas jersey fabric is smooth. 

How to increase the stretch of cotton

It is not possible to expect cotton to stretch like the other materials like polyester or and there is hardly any regain in shape after it gets stretched.  But this does not mean that cotton has zero stretch. There are some different conditions under which the cotton can be stretchy. Let us now explore these conditions and, thus, the various ways to increase the stretchiness of cotton.

Cut cotton on the bias grain

The straight grain of the fabric is parallel to the selvage of the fabric – the lengthwise direction. And it does not budge much as you try to stretch it in that direction. But that is not the case when it is cut in the diagonal direction- ie, in the bias grain.

Mixing of cotton with other fibers

When other fibers are mixed with cotton like spandex, the stretchability of cotton increases. Even a 3% addition of spandex fibers makes all the difference in the stretchability of cotton clothes. A lot of gym wear shorts, leggings which are considered breathable and stretchy are a blend of cotton and spandex

Structure of the fabric

The stretchability of cotton fiber also depends on the the way it is made.  The individual yarn fibers of 100% cotton are rigid and non-stretchable. But some amount of stretch can be introduced into the cotton fabric by the way the fabric is made – by knitting.

Cotton knit fabrics are used to make comfortable clothes for daily wear, like pajamas or lingerie. The knit weave is used in cotton to induce stretchiness. It makes the cotton more durable and long-lasting.

Does cotton clothes become stretchier overtime?

The stretchability of cotton fibers definitely increases over time. As you continue wearing any particular cotton cloth, the stretch increases and becomes slightly more elastic than what it was initially. You can easily observe this change in daily wear clothes you have been using for a long time. However, the stretch is not that significant.

The cotton cloth will never attain the stretchability of the spandex or rayon fiber cloth. There is one crucial factor in understanding this context.

The nature of the stretchability of the cotton fibers is distinct. Elasticity of the fabric doesnot increase.

After long-term usage, when a cotton fiber cloth gets stretchier, it will never return back to its original shape. 

So, what exactly do we mean when we say cotton stretches over time? It means the clothes become less tight. After a long time of usage, the cotton fabric becomes loose and does not hug your body anymore. This makes cotton clothes highly comfortable and loose. So you can quickly move around in the same clothes and won’t feel a trace of discomfort. The gradual loosening up of cotton makes it unique and comfortable. 

Why does Wet Cotton Clothes stretch?

Cotton clothes are more stretchable in wet conditions than in dry conditions.

When you wash and then dry cotton clothes in the dryer or washer, they shrink, rather than stretch. But when the cotton fabric is wet they are more susceptible to stretchiness and also damage. Especially thin cotton fabrics like cotton lawn.

Cotton clothes stretch the most when in wet conditions due to a reason. There is pure science behind this phenomenon. Cotton fiber is completely a plant fiber. That means innumerable microscopic plant cells are embedded to form one fiber. Natural cells have the capacity to soak water or imbibe water and become turgid. The same happens in the case of cotton fibers. When the clothes are woven, the fiber is in dry form. That means the plant cells making up the fibers are in flaccid form. As soon as it imbibes water, the plant cells swell up, becoming turgid. Turgid plant cells lose their original shape and become loose and saggy. The same thing gets reflected in the clothes. They lose their integrity and shape when wet. Contrastingly, when the fibers lose their water content, they regain their original shape and dry form.

Also, when you lay out the wet clothes, they droop down because the heaviness of water pulls the clothes down as per the law of gravitation. That is why if you lay the clothes flat, the water will not pull the clothes down, and they will remain intact in shape and integrity.

How can you stretch wrinkled cotton clothes smooth?

Cotton clothes get wrinkled very quickly. This is definitely an inconvenience as we want our clothes to look smooth. But cotton fabrics can be manipulated in different ways to stretch and remove wrinkles when they are wet.

Use a Conditioner

Garment conditioners are best for keeping cotton garments in proper shape. Simply mix one tablespoon of garment conditioner in the final rinse water to remove the wrinkles that set in when the fabric inevitably shrinks in the wash

Using Iron and stretch method

The cotton clothing has to be slightly damp for the stretching and ironing to work properly to remove all the wrinkles.

Related posts: Cotton fabric – varieties ; How is cotton made; How to sew Cotton fabric

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