Fabric Tips | Basics of Stretchy Fabrics

Let's talk about stretch, baby.

  1. Stretch fabric refers to Knit Fabric.
  2. Knit fabrics are fabric that have been knitted.
  3. Knit fabrics can stretch from 1-way to 4-ways.
  4. Knit fabrics often include elastane (aka spandex and Lycra®) which is what gives the fabric the ability to spring back to its original shape after being stretched. But you can find fabric that doesn't include elastane, these fabrics usually only stretch 1-way...out...because the elastane isn't there to cause it to stretch back.

Jersey Knit (single jersey**) - You may also see this type of material called CL. CL refers to cotton/Lycra® jersey knit. If you're jersey knit has 4-way stretch it's great for leggings. 

Rib Knit (double jersey***) - When this fabric includes elastane it is perfect for neckbands. Rib knit is also great for waistbands and wristbands.

Interlock Jersey (double jersey***) - Eh, I'm not a huge fan of regular old interlock. Most of the shit I've found is 100% cotton and it's a big let down. I'm sure it's great for tee shirts though so maybe I should revisit it?


  1. *Lycra® is a registered trademarked name so you may also see the generic version "Spandex" or "Elastane" used instead.
  2. **Single Jersey: plain knit on one side and purl on the other (there is a right side and wrong side to single jersey).
  3. ***Double Jersey: plain on both sides (both sides are the same).


  1. Your pattern will tell you - Rain City's patterns tell you in one of the back appendixes and you can also find this information on the technical sheet in the listing (the technical sheet has the line drawings and the yardage chart).
  2. You're sewing a garment that doesn't have closures (like buttons, snaps, zipper or Velcro®). #1 should be where you get the information about fabric from BUT if you're venturing out and doing hacks or mods remember if it doesn't have closures you're going to need a way to get that bitch on, and a stretch fabric gives you a better shot. 

Rain City's patterns have a stretch guide and directions in the Instruction File. Here is a modified excerpt of that guide.

1. Cut a 4" X 4" square of the fabric you're testing.

2. Position it over a ruler or cutting mat with measurements.

3. Position one corner at 0" and the other at 4".

4. Gently stretch the fabric and see how far it goes.

  • 1" = 25%
  • 2" = 50%
  • 3" = 75%
  • 4" = 100%

5. Now, let go. Did the one corner return to the 4" mark?

  • Yes - Awesome, you have a 2-way stretch. We're going to check to see if it's 4-way next! Move to the next step.
  • No - Well, that's okay, right now you only have 1-way stretch. Move to the next step.

6. Turn the fabric 90 degrees onto its side. Put the fabric so one side is at 0" and the other at 4"....and gently stretch.

Did it stretch?

  • No - If it didn't stretch then game over. Whatever you found to have in step 5 is what you have (either 1-way or 2-way).
  • Yes - Cool, you may have 3-way or 4-way. Let's check. Let go of the fabric. Did it return to 4"? 
    • Yes - It's 4-way
    • No - It's 3-way

There's no doubt that buying fabric online can be...frustrating and sometimes we just do the best we can and hope for the best. Here are my tips for buying online.

  1. If they have a section for Knit (or knitted) go there
  2. Look for the fiber content. Remember 2-way or 4-way fabrics typically have elastane (also called spandex or Lycra®). If you don't see this in the fiber content it probably won't stretch back (so avoid it for leggings!).
  3. Read the description. Sometimes the seller will say what they think it works best for but take their recommendations with a grain of salt if they say it's good for leggings but missing elastane.
  4. Request a swatch. I wish I would do this more often as I've been burned before but if a company offers it and you have time, get a swatch. 
  5. Read the Return/Refund Policy! Don't buy a shit load of fabric from a seller you're not familiar, or are familiar, with without knowing if they'll take the shit back if for instance you ordered burnt orange and they sent you sunset red (idk if those are real colors but it sounds cool, you get my gist though, yes?)


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