What Tension Should I Use For Stretchy Fabric?

Your sewing machine allows you to use different tension settings for various types of fabric. This setting also helps in stitching materials such as elastane, lycra, etc. We will elaborate on the correct tension setting for stretchy materials.

What Tension Should I Use For Stretchy Fabric?

For materials such as elastane, lycra, and many others, a higher tension level of 2-3 should do the trick for you.

The tension setting for stretchy fabric on your sewing machine can vary depending on the specific fabric and the machine itself. However, as a general rule, you’ll want to use a lower tension setting for stretchy fabrics than you would for non-stretchy fabrics.

Here’s a general guideline:

  1. Start with a Standard Tension Setting: Most sewing machines have a standard tension setting around 4 or 5. This is a good starting point.
  2. Test and Adjust: Sew a test seam on a scrap piece of your stretchy fabric. Examine the stitches. If they’re tight and causing the fabric to pucker, the tension is too high. If the stitches are loose and loopy, the tension is too low.
  3. Lower Tension for Stretchy Fabrics: If you’re seeing puckering, try lowering the tension setting. For very stretchy fabrics like spandex or lycra, you might need to go down to a 2 or 3.
  4. Fine-Tune: Keep testing and adjusting until you find the perfect setting for your fabric. The goal is to have flat, even stitches that stretch with the fabric without breaking or puckering.

The tension isn’t the only setting you’ll need to adjust for stretchy fabrics. You’ll also want to use a ballpoint or stretch needle, a stretch or narrow zigzag stitch, and possibly a walking foot or a roller foot. And test your settings on a scrap piece of fabric before you start your project.

Sewing Machine Settings For Stretchy Fabric

Stretchy Fabric

Sewing stretchy fabric can be a bit tricky, but with the right settings and techniques, you can achieve a professional-looking result. Here are some tips:

  1. Needle: Use a ballpoint or stretch needle. These needles have a rounded tip that separates the fibers instead of piercing them, which helps prevent skipped stitches and fabric damage.
  2. Thread: Polyester thread is a good choice because it has a bit of stretch to it. Avoid cotton thread as it can break when stretched.
  3. Stitch Type: Use a stretch stitch or a narrow zigzag stitch. These stitches allow the seam to stretch with the fabric without breaking. Some machines also have a specific stitch for knits.
  4. Stitch Length: Set your stitch length to around 2.5 to 3.0. If you’re using a zigzag stitch, you’ll also need to adjust the stitch width. A width of 0.5 to 1.0 usually works well.
  5. Tension: You might need to adjust the tension settings on your machine. If the stitches are skipping, try loosening the tension. If the seam is puckering, try tightening the tension.
  6. Presser Foot: A walking foot or a roller foot can help feed the fabric evenly and prevent stretching and puckering. If you don’t have one of these, a general-purpose foot can also work.
  7. Sewing Technique: Don’t stretch the fabric as you sew. Let the feed dogs move the fabric, and only use your hands to guide it.
  8. Testing: Always test your settings on a scrap piece of the same fabric before you start sewing your project. This will help you make sure you have the right settings and avoid damaging your fabric.

Every sewing machine and fabric is a bit different, so you might need to experiment a bit to find the perfect settings for your project.

How To Adjust Tension For Stretchy Fabric?

Stretchy Fabric

By now, you might have realized how delicately you have to handle a stretchy material. And setting the right tension level is one of the steps in the process. We have rounded up a step-by-step process to help you understand how you can adjust tension for such a fabric. Let us take a look at them below.

Step 1: The first thing to do is to replace your regular needle because there are chances that it may affect your fabric. It would help if you used ballpoint sewing needles. However, you also have to consider the types of needles you can use for your sewing machine. Going through your machine’s guide will be a wise choice.

Step 2: Test your stitches on another fabric before actually trying out on the final material. It is another practice that will prevent you from ruining the stretchy fabric.

Step 3: In this step, you have to adjust the stitch settings on your sewing machine. Every stitch type does not go well with all the types of fabric. You have to change the settings according to the materials you are using. It would be best for a stretchy fabric if you used a long stretch stitch or a zigzag stitch.

Step 4: In this step, it is time to adjust your thread tension setting. Different materials require different levels of it. For a stretchy fabric, it would be best if you set the upper tension level between 3-4. This adjustment is also a neutral level of tension setting.

Stretchy Fabric

Step 5: Now, after you have attached the correct needle, stitch type, and tension setting, it is time to test the final stitch on your fabric. It would help if you first tried it on one edge of the material.

Step 6: What you need to do in this step is to check whether all the stitches are even and look the same on both sides of the material. You have to be cautious while checking them, as there should not be any gathering or puckering of stitches. Also, keep in mind to give a gentle stretch to the material once. It will help you to see if the stitches stretch along with it without any breakage.

Step 7: If you did not find any issue mentioned in the previous step, you could go ahead with your stitching. However, if you come across any disruption in your test seam, you have to adjust your tension settings.

Step 8: To achieve the right seam of stitches, you have to readjust your tension setting. This time try level 4 and test another stitch line. If you achieve your desired results, you can continue with the adjustment. If not, then you should carry on with adjusting your tension settings until you reach your expected product. However, if you do not find the correct setting moving a level higher, it would be best to check one or two levels downward.

Step 9: Finally, you have to adjust the tension setting of the lower bobbin. To do so, you have to turn the screw that you will find below the bobbin case and towards a little right. Follow the same pattern of trying and testing. Keep on turning a little to the right until you get the results. Still, if you do not achieve your expected results, start turning the screw towards the left, a little at a time. Only with the right lower tension adjustment will you get a straight and stretchy line of stitches.

Do You Need A Special Thread For Stretchy fabric?

Stretchy Fabric

There is no specific thread requirement for a piece of stretchy fabric. Threads impact the stitches on the material. Any thread with elasticity can be used to sew such a material. You can use a regular polyester thread, which is stretchable to quite an extent. However, it would be best to keep in mind not to use a cotton thread because it has no stretchability.

What Is A Stretchy Fabric?

Stretchy Fabric

It is any piece of fabric that can be stretched more than other types of cloth materials. Such a cloth has a fair amount of elasticity due to its partial make of elastic fibers. This type of textile is also known as woven or knitted. Single knits, stretch-woven fabrics, a few of the double knits fall under this category.

A feature that distinguishes these fabrics from other materials is its 4-way stretch. You can stretch it vertically as well as horizontally, thus the 4-way bit. However, there are some types of stretch fabrics that only have a 2-way stretch, and these are comparatively heavier materials.

People prefer wearing garments made with these stretchy materials because they are comfortable, soft and these materials present the perfect fit. It flaunts the body’s shape of the person wearing it. An elastic material garment is the first choice for buyers looking for activewear.

Why Tension Setting Is Important in Sewing?

Tension setting allows you to loosen or tighten the top thread that makes the stitching easy according to the available fabric. Each fabric has a different tension setting that you need to ascertain before starting to stitch. Make sure you have adjusted the tension rightly before you feed in the fabric.

For instance, a stretchy fabric must have 2-3 level tension setting which is just enough to stitch away. It is best to read the sewing machine’s user manual that gives you a clear idea regarding the tension setting. Wrong tension setting can ruin your fabric and result in a bad stitch.



I'm Jessica Flores, a professional fashion designer and an expert seamstress. Crafting has always been a deep-seated passion of mine, one that has flourished and evolved over the years. I've dedicated considerable time to both studying and practicing in the realm of fashion and sewing, amassing a wealth of experience and skills. It brings me great joy to share these insights and experiences with you all, hoping to inspire and foster a similar passion for the art of sewing.

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