Sunday, 28 September 2014

Thoughts on Stretch and size

A while back, I made Pattern Review's Winter Street Dress.  I adjusted the pattern to account for my long front bodice, in particular; however, when I made the dress the bodice was still too short (I should say that on looking at these photos the length of bodice being too long in my opinion at that time is less obvious). This, by the way, was my first real experience of a stretch fabric.

Next, I further altered the pattern - bodice length needed to be greater to bring the waist into line with my waist. I like any waistline to be at my natural waist - in this dress, I felt the original pattern as modelled  had a waist almost like an empire line. This was not a feature I liked. I made up this dress in a fabric very similar to the first, both plain coloured fabrics with some but not much stretch. I felt the final dress I made from this fabric was a good fit. Since then, I have worn the dress a few times and washed it a few times and it's possible it has shrunk a little. I'm not sure - in the same time scale, I was putting on weight, regrettably!

So, I thought I had a pattern adjusted perfectly to my body (I hoped I had one of those TNTs that people talk about!) and went ahead and made another dress with a floral stretch fabric. This fabric was much more difficult to work with. It was thinner, stretchier and altogether 'flimsier' than the previous fabric. I had difficulty sewing on the neckband and was unable to do it the same way I had in the previous dress, where I stitched in the ditch to make the stitching invisible; this time, I had to end up with stitches that showed; I also had 3 tries at the neckband before I was successful. However, I was pleased with the final version, and wore it a couple of times.

For me to wear any of my makes was quite remarkable - these were the first two I ever wore outside the house.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I went to put on both dresses, on different days. The teal blue dress felt tight but not overly so and I was happy to wear it. I felt pretty good in it. Then, a few days later, I went to put on the floral dress. It felt bigger than the teal and looked long. I wore it, but didn't feel altogether comfortable. I realised that the waistline was sitting too low, by about 1 inch. After some measuring, I realised that the fabric had stretched. I don't have a photo of me wearing it - I thought I had but can't find it.
Floral dress held up against me while wearing blue dress
I took this dress to my sewing class on the following Thursday. What I wanted to do was to reduce the bodice length by about 1 inch and also reduce skirt length by at least the same amount. I tacked the skirt and bodice to each other, taking up 1 inch on each, for a total reduction of 2 inches and tried it on. It looked much better. I'm in the process of unpicking the previous stitching, which was over clear elastic. Then, I'll sew the two together, using my new overlocker and feeding the clear elastic at the same time. At least, I understand I can do that but I haven't tried it yet. I'll post a picture of the dress on this post as an edit when I've finished my alterations.

My question, though, is how do you know how much a fabric is going to stretch? I had prewashed and prepared the fabric. The pattern, by the way, didn't specify a degree of stretch. My tutor has advised sewing in fabric loops when I sew the bodice and skirt together again - she said this would minimise stretching when the dress is hung up.
I'd like to make the pattern again, but I'm completely unsure whether my alteration is now too much. I do, however, have a third fabric similar in characteristics to the first two I used. I'm less keen on the colour, which is rather too green for my liking. Maybe that would be successful.

I notice on some Pattern envelopes, there is a required degree of stretch, and I would like that to help me see if my fabric is suitable for the pattern.

Also, I understand there is some differing terminology. 'Two way stretch' can apparently mean the same as 'four way stretch'. This means that if I see pattern recommending 'two way stretch' I don't know if they mean both horizontal and vertical stretch (which some people call four way stretch) or a fabric that stretches in one direction only, horizontal or vertical.

Two other things - I'm testing a pattern just now, more on that later, but as do many others, the pattern maker suggest it's best to cut out stretch fabric with a rotary cutter. I must say, I find a rotary cutter easier, in any case. However, I have read on some of my (many) books that it is best to cut with shears, especially on stretch fabric. I find the rotary cutter easier and I will continue with that but wonder what the opposing arguments are.
The second is, I only recently learned that garment manufacturers cut out numerous layers of garments at the same time and that to conserve fabric, sometimes different sizes will be adjacent to each other. Firstly, I'm amazed that they can cut multiple layers - I find it so difficult. Then of course, they're not cutting fabric on the fold - It's so much easier to cut single layer. I wonder, however, whether their habit of cutting different sizes together accounts for a recent near purchase. This was a top I liked, in a sale so at a good price but one sleeve was significantly different from the other both in length and in width. I didn't buy the top.




  1. Hi! I love your dresses and am so glad you are wearing them in public:) There is something very satisfying about making (and wearing) your own clothes. I THINK that in the US at least two-way stretch means the fabric stretches either parallel to the selvage or perpendicular to the selvage, and four-way stretch means it stretches both parallel and perpendicular. (If I'm wrong, will someone please correct me?) Although I love working with and wearing knits, I do think it is somewhat of a guessing game how each one will behave. As for cutting, do whichever one you prefer.

    1. Thank you, Angela. I think I realised that each knit was going to be a guessing game, unfortunately. It means that you can't really have a TNT pattern as each knit behaves differently and you can't really do a toile - or at least it would have to be in the same not just similar material. I'm using the floral knit to make a top and boy is it difficult to work with - I had forgotten just how difficult. I cut it out using my rotary cutter and it behaved perfectly.

  2. Manufacturers do not use rotary cutters or scissors,but an electric cutting blade. The whole process is entirely different from that used by home dressmakers. Laying out and cutting is a huge operation in production of manufactured garments,so the fabric use has to be maximised - a cm saved with one garment runs into metres over a large number. With regards to stretch, all fabrics, stretch or woven, cut and sew up differently - and each garment cut is never quite the same size anyway. I tend to just work with what happens, and let the garment tell me what to do! With stretch, I just pull the fabric in two directions and see what it does. It's the feel of the fabric that is more important, not what someone has labelled it. And if the fabric seems stretchy lengthwise, fold the garment up and don't hang it - easy to do with knits.

    1. Yes, I've seen the industrial process - and of course their fabrics are not (cannot be) cut 'on the fold' like our fabrics often are. I can understand that fabrics behave very differently from each other, which, I know, is why a toile should be made in as similar fabric as possible to the fashion fabric. Not always possible. However, many patterns for garments to be made in stretch fabrics specify a degree of stretch for which the pattern sizes are optimum (presumably for all those I see who never seem to alter the pattern). I made these garments earlier in my sewing experience and would have (still would) benefitted from clear in person advice. Trouble is, I didn't know I needed it! As I become more experienced, I am hearing the fabric's voice much more than I did. Thank you, Sarah Liz, for taking the time to comment. I hope your assignments are going well and to schedule. Anne Edited because I realised I hadn't actually replied directly to you, Sarah Liz.

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  4. Your dresses are lovely ! I'm puzzled that the third one" grew" though. I It must have been an unstable knit. I remember when I started working with knits and thought I'd never get the hang of it but my advice is to keep at it. It will come with practice. I agree with you about where the waist falls on most patterns today. Like you I like my waistline to fall at my waist not way up there.

    1. Thank you, Diana. I've just made a top from the same floral knit so it's wait and see!


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