Updated on September 20, 2022 by Sarina

Stretchy materials refer to fabrics which can stretch without breaking the fibers and return to its original length when the stretch is released. This stretch of the fibers provides clothes /accessories made with them the much-needed ease, drape, comfort and fitting.

There are two types of stretch materials according to the way they stretch.

2 way stretch materials

These fabrics stretch in one direction either lengthwise or crosswise. Eg. Stretch Satin has only lengthwise stretch.

4 way stretch materials

These fabrics stretch in two directions – crosswise as well as lengthwise ie They can be stretched sideways as well as along the selvedges. Eg. Nylon Spandex has a 4 way stretch.

Ref : wikipedia

stretchy materialBelow are the materials I have seen which have some or lots of stretch.  The elasticity of these fabrics is a result of the yarns of which they are made of or the way they are made into fabric. The most popular stretchy yarn is spandex, then there is a rubber core yarn, and there are specially made stretchy yarns made of polyester, nylon and natural fibers.

To ascertain the stretch you will have to go by the percentage of spandex/ elastane/stretchy yarn in the fabric or try it yourself to see whether the stretch of the fabric suits your purpose. For example some fabrics with a 4 way stretch will stretch more in one direction than the other.

A good method is to take a 4 inch square piece of the fabric and stretch it; Keep it against a tape measure and see how it much stretches out. You can compare the stretch against the percentage given.

stretch percentage - checking scale

The method to determine the stretchiness of a fabric

This is important to do before you make things with the fabric because the different fabric stretches differently.

Fold the fabric on the crosswise grain, some distance from the cut edge
Mark a 4-inch section on this fold
Keep a long ruler along the folded edge.
Keep one edge of the ruler at the start of the marking you have made.
Gently but firmly stretch this fabric.
see how much it stretches –

If it stretches less than 4 1/2 inches it is a stable not so stretchable fabric
If it stretched about 5 1/4 inches it has a moderate stretch
If it stretches more than 6 inches it is a true blue stretchable fabric

Real stretchy fabrics


1. Knits

Most of the knit fabrics have some stretch, because of its construction. Usually, it is a 2 way stretch. The stretch in the knit fabric makes it one of the most suitable fabric for sewing clothes. Most knits stretch about 30-50% extra.

Jersey Knits

Jersey is a light to medium weight knit fabric with good stretch used to make sports and casual wear. Cotton jersey is the lightweight drapey, smooth surfaced knit fabric used to make t-shirts. Cotton fibers in this cloth make this very comfortable to wear.

Read more on jersey fabrics here.

Woollen Jersey fabric may be made by machine or hand knitted with wool yarns.The disadvantage of this fabric is that it unravels where it is cut.

Other knit fabrics for dressmaking with stretch are 3×3 Rib Knit, Bamboo Jersey, Doubleknit Rayon Blend, Interlock twist jersey
Double knit, 
Silk Mesh Knits, Silk Jersey

Check out the post on different types of knit fabrics for more details on this fabric. And on jersey fabric.

knit fabric names

2. Spandex 

This synthetic fabric has revolutionized the textile industry with its ability to stretch to almost 300-400 percentage on its own. The stretchiness of spandex depends on its elastane content. 1-5% is common in comfort wear whereas sports wear usually has elastane content of about 12-15%.

Are Spandex and Lycra the same?. No. Spandex is a generic name for super stretchy fabrics with elastic content – the base could be cotton, nylon or wool. Lycra is a spandex  fabric which is trademarked by Dupont  Company. Learn more about spandex here

3. Spandex blends

When blended with other fibers spandex can lend about  2-20 % of its elasticity to the new fibers. When spandex is added fabric start to stretch over 60% extra.

Cotton – spandex blend  – Very smooth fabric with a 4 way stretch . The percentage of spandex usually is 3- 5% . It is used to make t-shirts, skirts, dresses

When synthetic fibers are combined with elastane(lycra) and made into fabric with a knitted construction the fabric is termed as Slinky Knits. They may be further classified according to their main fiber.

Polyester – spandex Blend – This is very lightweight stretchy material with stretch.  This is perfect for sewing leggings. It is also popularly bought for making leather-look apparel and accessories. You can also make dancewear and costumes with this material.

Stretch satin -This is a polyester -spandex blend in a satin finish; it can look very lustrous. It usually has a lengthwise stretch. 

Stretch velvet – This fabric with a napped surface can have about 15% stretch ; You can make beautiful garments with this. The lustrous look makes it a favourite to make costumes / dancewear

Polyester spandex fabric with foam backing – this is mostly used for home furnishings

Nylon Spandex Fabric  – This is a super stretchy material is usually used to make swimwear , lingerie (sports bras) active wear – those super stretchy cycle shorts worn by cycling champions are made in this fabric. It has a very nice 4 way stretch (15% spandex mostly). Tricot ( Italian Tricot etc) is a Nylon Spandex which has 25-50% stretch. There is a sheer nylon spandex material which is popular as a lingerie making fabric.

Rayon knit /Spandex – this has a good stretch and it is a very silk like smooth. This combination make it ideal for making very fitting and comfortable garments . Bamboo rayon  is specially smooth.

Acetate/Spandex ; Modal/Spandex ; Tencel/Spandex ; Linen/ Spandex  are other blends which are available

Stretch Denim

This is a lightweight denim with a stretch for comfort and ease. It is a mix of cotton, polyester and spandex. You can use this denim to sew fitting jeans, skirts and dresses.

Cotton poplin stretch

This stretchy fabric is a blend of  Poplin, cotton and spandex  – this fabric usually has a slight (10 % ) stretch and is very comfortable . This is ideal for making shirts

Faux Leather/ Vinyl Fabric with stretch

This is ideal for making accessories like belts and also for sewing home furnishing

Stretch lace

This is the best of lace fabrics as it has a stretch/ ease added to the beauty of lace. It is a combination of synthetic and elastic threads. This fabric is used to make mostly lingerie.

You can also use this fabric for making garments like evening wear, fitting blouses, dresses, skirts. You can also sew leggings with this material

Powernet

This net fabric has a large proportion of elastane fibers in it and has a good 4 way stretch- best for making underwear.

4. Rubber/Latex

Latex is  made from the sap of the rubber tree. Rubber can be used to make clothes but mind you, not everyday clothes. It is very difficult to sew and very difficult to wear – no breathing and at times irritating to skin.  But the stretch of rubber (more than even spandex) and water resistance makes it desirable for certain items. One precautionary note on fabrics made with rubber core yarns – do not dry clean. Dry cleaning fluid can damage the fabric.

Neoprene Rubber

Neoprene rubber is a synthetic polymer resembling rubber. Wet suits used in scuba diving is usually made of Neoprene rubber. Neoprene rubber is available in many thicknesses and is increasingly used to make fashion garments and accessories as well.

And finally woven fabric also stretch – when it is cut on the bias. So if you want the advantages of a woven fabric but is about to discard it because of not being stretchy, cut the fabric on the bias grain ie along a line drawn 45 degrees to the lengthwise and crosswise grain of the fabric. A bias cut dress stretches on the body and the cut of the fabric gives the dress a fitting that almost equals that of any other stretchy fabric given above.

Check out the related post on other different names of all kinds of fabrics

5. Wool fabrics

Wool fibers are naturally elastic. They can be stretched a great deal before they break; they also go back and retain its shape, when let go. Wet wool fibers stretches more than dry wool fibers. The natural stretch of wool combined with knit construction makes it a very good stretchy fabric. 

 More questions 

Is linen fabric stretchy? What about other woven natural fabrics?

Most woven fabrics have limited range and recovery from stretching. Linen and other natural fabrics do not stretch much in the lengthwise direction. They stretch a little more in the crosswise direction of the fabrics. All these fabrics are stretchy when stretched on the diagonal direction.

What stitch is best for stretch fabric?

The best stitch for sewing a stretch fabric is a zig zag stitch. A straight stitch may break when these fabrics stretch on the body, if the clothing is fitting. This results in open seams which is something we all want to avoid at all costs. Imaging the dress stitching coming open in the middle of something! If the stitch accomodates the stretch of the fabric, very well; and zig zag stitching does that.

Which stretchy fabrics are soft and suitable for sewing clothes?

Stretch velvets,stretch satins, Natural fabrics with some spandex fibers (Blended fabrics), Jersey knits are all soft and suitable for making comfortable clothes. Shirred cottons, and other novelty knits are also used for making clothes.

Which fabric is breathable and stretchy?

Cotton jersey fabric is a knit fabric made of 100% cotton fibers – it is stretchy and breathable. It stretches because of the knit construction.

Which is the most stretchy fabric?

Spandex fibers, introdcued in the twenty-first century makes the most stretchy fabric. Lycra, spandex, and other four-way stretch fabrics because of the presence of elastance fibers stretches the most.

How do you define stretch of fibers?

A fiber is called stretchy when it is stretched it bounces back to the same shape and position it was before it was stretched. Stretchiness of a fiber translares to its resilience and recovery properties. The clothes made of fabrics made with stretchy fibers would stretch with the wearer and still retain its shape when not stretched.

Does polyester stretch?

Polyester fabric has high resistance to stretching. If spandex fibers are added to a blend of polyester fabric, it can stretch.

How to make non-stretchy fabrics stretch?

This is achievable by using elastic thread – by making shirred fabric. In a shirred fabric, rows and rows of stitching lines are made by using elastic thread in the bobbin of the sewing machine. This naturally makes a non-stretchy fabric stretchable.

Related posts : How to sew with knit fabrics; List of fabrics that shines

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  1. How would I go about ordering different spandex samples, for a clothing project I am working on, to know which is the best fit

    1. Depending on where you are,and availability in the shop you can order samples from online shops like nickoftimefabric.com, fabricdepot.com, Sew So English, Kwik Knits, Knitpop, Sly Fox, Peekaboo Fabrics etc. Fabricdepot’s sample policy states “You may order as little as the fabrics minimum quantity (in most cases 1/8 yard, others 1 yard) for samples.We cannot send more than 5 samples per order”. Hope you will check it out for yourself.

  2. Please I want a fabric for making fitted casual wear for ladies and sometimes suitable for office water too which fabric should I buy,I like the surface to be smooth and beautiful and streachy but not too light for dresses.tnks

  3. I have a business coming for Shape wear and so forth, however I do not know which fabric to use, as I have different types of styles for different types of shape wear. Please help!