What is Spandex aka Elastane aka LYCRA®? How to use it without pulling your hair out.

What is Spandex?  Is there a Lycra Vz Spandex competition going on or is this a misnomer? if this is your dilemma here is the answer.

Elastane and  Spandex are synonyms of the synthetic fiber made of at least 85% of the polymer polyurethane; The fabric made with these fibers is very very elastic. The threads are lighter, durable and more supple than any other elastic thread and hence widely used to make form-fitting garments

And LYCRA® is a trademarked brand of elastane or spandex belonging to the company Invista (formerly DuPont). There are other brands of elastane similar to lycra from other companies like Linel, ESPA, Roica, Creora. But the Lycra brand name is so popular that it is used in place for spandex/elastane, by many end consumers; Sort of like we ask for a xerox instead of a photocopy.

DuPont scientist Joseph C. Shivers invented DuPont’s spandex fiber in 1959 and this spandex fiber was given the trade name Lycra.

Spandex fiber is usually blended with other natural and man-made fibers like cotton, linen, silk and wool when making garments. Take out a fitting dress from your cupboard and read its clothing label – most probably it will list spandex as a component.

Characteristic features of Spandex

Stretchiness is the number one attribute, of course. The fiber of this fabric can be stretched up to seven times its initial length before springing back to the original position once the tension is released. Sounds like the best of all stretchy fabrics, right? And this excellent stretch and recovery quality add all the other advantages that spandex has- like a very good range of motion,  close shape fit, shape retention, flexibility and freedom of movement.

Other advantages are that it has a smooth hand, it is durable with good tensile strength, lightweight, wrinkle resistant, wicks moisture and very easy to maintain. It is somewhat breathable and has no static or pilling problem.  When the fabric is used to make athletic wear it can make the wearer feel less muscle fatigue and causes less muscle strain. It is also not damaged by body oils, perspiration, lotions, or detergents.

These characteristics will vary depending on the amount of spandex fiber in the clothing. Because most of the garments you see are made with a blend of spandex fibers with other fibers like cotton silk and nylon etc. As, on its own, the spandex fiber can stretch a lot ( like 600% its original length), when blended with other fibers the stretchability is enough for most of the purposes

Uses of lycra/spandex

The spandex fabric (like Lycra) is used to make women’s and men’s underwear, innerwear, outerwear, and active wear. They make figure fitting clothes – swimwear, ski wear, athletic wear, lingerie

How to wash spandex clothes

Spandex clothes are easy to maintain if you adhere to some easy to follow principles – like never using hot water, never using fabric softener, or chlorine bleach etc.

Cold water wash in a gentle wash cycle is the best setting to clean these clothes in a washing machine, together with low-temperature drying. In fact It is better if you do not dry spandex clothes in a dryer and instead chooses to air dry on a clothesline if you want to retain its shape.

If hand washing (this is preferable) Do not wring the spandex fabric – you will damage the fiber.

Some things to be wary of

Anyways not everything is hunky dory with Spandex. Spandex manufacturing companies have to adhere to strict quality control stipulations so that the carcinogenic properties of the product is controlled when made into garments. But even then spandex allergies are not unheard of. Rashes, itchiness etc seems to be the most talked about consequences of spandex, especially by those with sensitive skin

But luckily most of the garments you wear made with spandex are never made exclusively with spandex fibers. Spandex is almost always blended with other fibers before being made to garments. And the cloth will take on the qualities of those fibers.

Sometimes they come mixed with rubber/latex as it is cheaper, which is horrible. Latex is not as durable and latex allergies are more prevalent. A layman may not know the difference. Latex is heavy which is one way to know but difficult for common people to gauge. One easy way is to buy good brands. Never buy cheap- that is a sure way to get an inferior quality product

Different types of spandex fabrics

Cotton Spandex Knit Fabric – This is a blend of cotton and spandex – great fabric for making clothes as it gives all the comfort of cotton as well as the stretch of spandex.  This fabric is used to make a lot of garments like skirts, shirts, jackets pants etc

RPL (Rayon/Poly/Lycra) 

These fabrics are a staple fabric for the sewing room; they are incredibly versatile! They are easy-care, come in beautiful weaves, have fabulous drape….could they be more perfect? The stretch factor from the lycra is a true bonus, as well.Rayon Spandex is also called Modal

Denim lycra

This is denim mixed with lycra – the kind used to make skin tight jeans

Rayon Spandex jersey ( Modal)

This very high stretch ( 4 way) knit fabric which is lightweight soft very drapey is very good for making garments of all kinds. Very stretchy spandex rayon jersey is used to make athletic/exercise wear

How to sew Spandex fabric

Before using the spandex fabric to sew, prewash it like you would any fabric – in cold water and then line dry. As you sew one thing to remember is that high heat can damage spandex fibers – so when pressing etc use caution.

As most of the spandex are blended you will have to follow the weave of the fabric when you select the needle and thread.Depending on the weight of the fabric change the needle to a heavier one (90/14)  or a lighter one. If the fabric is a cotton spandex blend sew it like you would a woven fabric; if it is a thicker fabric like a denim lycra use a heavy needle meant for denim sewing. Use polyester or cotton/polyester thread to sew these fabrics.

Though it is a stretchy fabric most fabrics will have only 10% etc of spandex so you can sew regular seams – no need of zigzag stitching but if it is very stretchy use a close and small zigzag stitch to sew the seams – this will ensure that seam stitching do not break afterward

Related post : Stretchy Fabrics.

Reference: Invista, the developers of LYCRA®: www.invista.com; More info on spandex here.