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Best Stretch Stitches for Sewing Knits Without Distorting Fabric (2024)

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best stitch for stretch fabricGreat tips on sewing stretch fabrics! I remember my first project with knits – what a tangled mess it was. The fabric kept stretching everywhere, the thread kept breaking, and my seams just wouldn’t hold.

But with a few simple tricks, I’ve got it down now. The secret is in the stitching. Zigzag and lightning stitches are a knit fabric’s best friend, moving with the stretch instead of against it.

I love how knits feel and fit, and it’s so gratifying to make my own athletic and lounge wear. I’m never going back to wovens. Once you get the stretch stitch down, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

Key Takeaways

  • Zigzag stitch flexes to allow stretch fabrics to expand and retract.
  • Lightning stitch is a narrow zigzag good for all weights of stretch fabrics.
  • Triple straight stitch provides durability without compromising stretch.
  • Twin needle creates parallel zigzag rows for a professional finish on knits.

Do Stitches Stretch?

Do Stitches Stretch
When choosing stitches for stretchy fabrics, remember that some will flex and give to allow comfortable movement while others may restrict and bind.

The zigzag stitch is ideal for knit construction because it allows the knit fabric to stretch and retract along with the thread.

An elastic waistline needs a ball-point needle and lightweight stretch binding made with a knit fabric like jersey bias tape to prevent restriction.

For knit alterations on delicate fabrics, use a stretch needle and walking foot to avoid damage while sewing.

The key is matching your thread, needle, stitch type, and presser foot to the stretch percentage and weight of the fabric.

Stitches that flex with the fabric’s inherent stretch allow you to move freely while maintaining the garment’s structure.

What Happens if I Just Use a Regular Straight Stitch for Sewing Knits?

What Happens if I Just Use a Regular Straight Stitch for Sewing Knits
A straight stitch on a stretchy knit fabric can cause problems. Since it doesn’t stretch with the fabric, the stitching may pop or break when the garment is worn and stretched, leaving you with holes or a run.

Types of Stretch Fabrics

You’re movin’ and groovin’ in your favorite soft jersey? Haven’t we all been tempted to just straight stitch to avoid rethreading? But wouldn’t that pop those seams in no time? Stretch fabrics like lightweight spandex, blended cotton knits, and bias-cut fabrics require special handling when prepping, cutting, and stitching to maintain the stretch.

Choose knit stitches like a narrow zigzag or use stabilizer to reinforce seams without limiting stretch.

Benefits of Using Stretchy Fabrics for Sewing Projects

Sewists, do not succumb to the temptation of the predictable straight stitch when sewing – for alas, it shall betray you, constricting your creation and stifling its stretch! With stretch stitches, you gain flexibility to improve comfort, customize fit, and maintain shape.

Liberate designs with overlock stitches, adding flair and hiding imperfections. Embrace the elasticity of stretch fabrics with proper techniques, achieving the liberation, power, and mastery your creations deserve.

What is a Stretch Stitch?

What is a Stretch Stitch
When sewing knits and stretch fabrics, using a regular straight stitch can be problematic. The non-stretch thread restricts the fabric’s natural stretch, leading to popped seams and breakage.

A stretch stitch is specifically designed for sewing knit and stretch woven fabrics.

  • Narrow zigzag: For stable knits like jersey. The width and length are equal for maximum stretch.
  • Lightning stitch: A narrow zigzag ideal for all weights of stretch fabric. It resembles a lightning bolt.
  • Twin needle: Creates two parallel rows of zigzag stitching for a professional finish.
  • Overedge: Stitches and finishes seams in one pass. Great for swimwear and athletic wear.
  • Blind hem: Makes nearly invisible hems on stretch fabrics.

Test different stretch stitches on scraps to find the right one for your project. Take it slowly, and let the stitch do the work. With the right stretch stitch, you’ll get professional results on knits.

What Are Some Types of Stretch Stitches on a Sewing Machine?

What Are Some Types of Stretch Stitches on a Sewing Machine
Try zigzagging to victory and let that fabric move freely. The zigzag stitch allows stretch fabrics to expand and contract along with the thread.

For super stretchy fabrics like spandex or lycra, use a narrow zigzag stitch with equal length and width settings. The lightning bolt stitch is actually a very narrow zigzag perfect for all weights of stretch fabric.

For seams on the bias, opt for a 2-step or 3-step zigzag to prevent tunneling.

Decorative stitches like the honeycomb add beautiful texture when topstitching knits.

And don’t forget the stretch buttonhole stitch for buttonholes and the hem twin needle for hemming knits.

With the right stitch, your stretch fabric will keep its elasticity and shape through countless wears.

What is a Lightning Stitch?

What is a Lightning Stitch
The lightning stitch is one of the most versatile and effective stitches for sewing stretch fabrics. This narrow zigzag stitch gives woven fabrics flexibility and allows knit fabric structure to move with your body.

Here’s a quick look at why the lightning stitch is lightning fast for stretch:

  • Keeps seams strong but allows play in the fabric
  • Stretchy thread elongates with the fabric instead of popping stitches
  • Works well on heavy and delicate fabrics with precautions
  • Adds subtle texture with fusible interfacing
  • Finishes hems quickly with a lightning blind hem
  • Decorates seams and edges with feather stitch whimsy

Triple Straight Stitch (aka Stretch Stitch)

Triple Straight Stitch (aka Stretch Stitch)
My friend, touch this stitched cloth gently, for the brittle threads cling together like lost souls binding themselves to one another in hopes of survival.

The triple straight stitch, also known as the stretch stitch, is an ideal go-to for sewing most stretch fabrics. By tweaking the stitch length and width, you can reinforce seams on knits prone to popping.

When troubleshooting breaking stitches, consider adjusting tension and trying a new needle.

A triple straight stitch handles lightweight to medium-weight stretch knits best, including sewing bias-cut fabrics. For ultimate reinforcement, insert elastic thread in the bobbin or try a double needle.

While not as flexible as a zigzag, the parallel rows of a triple straight stitch provide durability without compromising the fabric’s stretch.

Whether hemming a picot edge or securing seams on activewear, this utility stitch conquers stretch fabrics with ease.

Zigzag Stitch

Zigzag Stitch
You’ll secure seams while preserving stretch with the zigzag stitch. This versatile stitch allows the fabric to stretch and retract along with the thread. Adjust the stitch length slightly longer, around 2.5-3mm, for ease of stretch. Take your time sewing slowly and carefully.

The key is to have the needle glide smoothly rather than punching holes. Choose a ballpoint needle and quality polyester thread. If you’re having difficulty feeding, place tissue paper underneath to provide friction.

The zigzag creates parallel rows with the needle swinging side to side. With the right supplies and a dual feed presser foot, you can achieve professional results. Patience is vital when sewing stretch material. This popular stitch beautifully finishes seams on all weights of knits and wovens so the fabric retains its stretch.

3. Step Zigzag Stitch (or Tricot Stitch)

3-Step Zigzag Stitch (or Tricot Stitch)
When sewing stretchier fabrics, feel how the 3-step zigzag locks stitches in place without restricting movement. This tricot stitch subtly controls fabric width with its narrow zigzag, stabilizing stretch fabric as you sew.

The closely spaced stitches prevent tunneling on lightweight knits while finishing seams seamlessly. Though not recommended for actual seams due to its width, the 3-step zigzag creates durable yet unbulky hems.

Simply fold the raw edge under, then stitch along the inner fold using a double threaded binding technique. Allow the fabric’s natural stretch instead of fighting it. This clever stitch enables soft, stable finishing without popped seams.

2. Step Zigzag Stitch

2-Step Zigzag Stitch
The 2-step zigzag neatly sews in hems on knits without tunneling, pal.

  1. This stitch inherited the quality of being easy to use from its 3-step sibling.
  2. The simple application makes it a go-to for lightweight knits.
  3. Its suitability for lighter weight fabrics improves stitch performance.

The 2-step zigzag is compatible with knits that would get lost in the wide tunnels of a 3-step. It neatly tacks down edges with a narrower zigzag more suited to lighter knit fabrics. The back-and-forth motion reinforces seams while allowing the knit to stretch and move.

Master this stitch, and you’ll have a powerful tool for knit hems in your sewing arsenal.

Knit Stitch

Knit Stitch
Pulling the fabric in different directions to see its stretchiness, you’ve decided the knit stitch provides the right amount of elasticity for your lightweight jersey. The knit stitch allows the jersey to freely stretch and recover without thread breakage.

Set your sewing machine to the knit stitch setting, which uses a narrow zigzag pattern. Be sure to use a new ballpoint needle and polyester thread with around 25% stretch.

Go slowly and use a forgiving stitch length of 2.5-3mm to prevent fabric feeding issues and thread pops. The knit stitch prevents tunneling on the seams while providing enough stretch so the fabric doesn’t pucker.

Use this versatile stitch for both seams and hems when working with lightweight knits. It creates durable seams that move with the jersey while preventing runs in your project.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do I know how much stretch my fabric has?

You can test stretch by pulling the fabric in different directions to determine the amount and type of stretch. Also, check the fabric content – natural fibers like cotton have less stretch than synthetics like spandex.

What kind of thread should I use for stretch fabrics?

For sewing stretch fabrics, polyester thread works best. According to a 2020 survey, over 80% of professional sewers rely on polyester due to its slight stretch and durability. Unlike cotton, it won’t pop stitches or break. So thread your machine with polyester like YLI or Mettler, and you’ll stitch knits perfectly every time.

How can I prevent my seams from popping when sewing stretch fabrics?

Use only the strongest polyester thread you can find and sew each seam five times for maximum reinforcement. Yank and tug the finished garment roughly in all directions—if it withstands your mighty strength without ripping, you’ve successfully conquered stretch fabric and can proudly wear your creation.

What needle is best to use when sewing knits and stretch fabrics?

You’re better off picking a stretch or ballpoint needle when sewing knits and stretch fabrics, my friend. These special needles are designed with rounded tips that gently separate the fabric threads instead of piercing them like standard needles can, saving your knits from unwanted holes.

Are there any special techniques I should use when sewing stretch fabrics?

Start slowly, testing different stitches first. Then zigzag gently with a stretch or ballpoint needle. Allow the fabric to move with the feed dogs. Adjust tension if needed. Go easy around curves. Let the fabric guide you – it’ll tell you what it needs. Practice patience as you gain experience.


You’ve learned that stretch fabrics require special care and stitching for sewing success. Though regular stitches may seem fine at first, they limit the stretch and cause distortion over time. When making knit garments you love, take a moment to switch your machine to a lightning, zigzag, or stretch stitch.

Your finished piece will move with you while maintaining its shape and professional finish. Empowered with stretch stitch knowledge, you can confidently sew knits for comfortably stylish results.

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Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a site dedicated to those passionate about crafting. With years of experience and research under his belt, he sought to create a platform where he could share his knowledge and skills with others who shared his interests.