Sewing with Spandex and other stretchy fabrics can be troublesome if you’ve never sewn with them before. Rhonda offers up great tips and tricks for sewing with this fabric. If you haven’t gotten your pattern you can do so now. Next week we’ll begin construction of the suit so there’s still time to grab one.
This post will begin with a story, the story behind the project.
The suit that you see in the magazine is not the suit that I intended to make. I purchased a flashy piece of Lycra spandex swimsuit fabric that sparkles like the ocean. When I sat down to work on the suit, I was in a very small town in the mountains of Colorado where the only place to shop is the grocery store, a hardware store, and a resale shop.
I put aside a morning to work on the suit thinking that was about all the time I needed. Once the suit was cut, I sat down to sew and that’s where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The machine would not sew the fabric! The thread ended up tangling inside the machine so much so that I had to take the machine apart in order to untangle it. Frustration lead to tears. What was I doing wrong? I was using a needle made specifically for stretch knits and yet, the stitches were skipping and the thread continued to knot up inside the machine. What was I going to do?
Since I was only about a 1 1/2 hour drive away from the Sew News headquarters, I called and asked if I could come the next day and use one of their machines. They were more than happy to help out. As I thought about my issue, I began to wonder if their machine would sew the fabric and if not, what then? With my mind racing, I came up with a possible solution…go to the resale shop and see if I could find a suit that had enough fabric to cut and use for the new suit. So off I went with my pattern in my bag. When I arrived, I found just what I was looking for, but I didn’t want to take a chance, so there in the resale shop, I took my pattern out of my bag, laid the suit on the floor and then laid out my pattern. There was enough fabric for the bodice of the suit. Fabulous!!! But what about the bottom of the suit?
As luck would have it, there’s a quilt shop in a town about 30 miles west. Praying all the way, I drove like a mad woman to the quilt shop. Once I arrived, I quickly walked through the store and there I found a piece of black Lycra spandex that was EXACTLY the width I needed to make the bottom of the suit. And even better, it was black. It was the only piece of spandex in the store and it was exactly what I needed. Prayers answered!!!
With fabric in hand, all I needed to complete the suit were the 2 rings. For some unknown reason, I had brought black foldover elastic with me. On my way back, I popped into the hardware store where I found silver rings that would work beautifully. I was set! All I needed to do now was wash my fabric and I was good to go.
Back in front of the machine, I wondered if I would still have the same issue I had earlier. I cautiously took my fabric and placed it under the pressure foot and to my delight…no problem whatsoever. The fabric slide through the machine like butter. By midnight, the suit was finished. The next morning I got up, drove to Denver and delivered the suit with great relief.
So why didn’t the machine want to sew the fabric? It has a metallic finish. Rather than give up on the fabric, I decided to find an answer to my issue and I found it in the needle aisle of my local fabric store. Metallic needles!!!! The needles were formulated for metallic thread, but they work beautifully with metallic fabric. My fabric now glides through my machine. If you are a little unsure about what needle to use for what fabric, Schmetz Needles now has an app, so no more guessing and the answers to all your needle questions are just a click away. Here’s a link to all you need to know about the Schmetz Needle App.
Now, the reveal of my fabric. Shiny and my favorite color! It’s a little difficult to see, but there are 2 coordinating pieces.
Remember that you will need lining for your suit. Be sure that it stretches just as your fashion fabric stretches. Spandex has stretch in all 4 directions, so your lining fabric must also stretch in all 4 directions.
Tips for sewing with spandex:
1. From the story I told, you now see how important the needle is. Typically, you want to use a needle formulated for stretch fabrics. But in the case of a metallic fabric, opt for a metallic needle.
2. Always begin with a new needle. Needles can easily get a small burr along the edge, so rather than take a chance of snagging your fabric, begin with a new needle.
3. As you see in the picture below, the selvedge edge of the fabric can be puckered. It’s best to cut the selvedge off prior to cutting out your pattern.
4. A serger works beautifully when making a swimsuit, but it is not necessary. Some machines have a stretch stitch option, but all do not. What I like to do is use the straight stitch, but dial in just a bit of a zigzag. As you see below, the stitch has just the slightest zigzag.
Many suggest keeping the fabric slightly stretched as you sew to alleviate puckering. In the test sample I did below, I did not stretch the fabric and there is no puckering. I have found that if you use the slight zigzag stitch, stretching the fabric is not necessary. If you do have some puckering, be sure to test the tension and stitch length as well.
5. If you find that your fabric is pulling into the feed dog of the machine, changing to a straight stitch plate will usually alleviate the problem.
6. When cutting your fabric, be sure to cut the garment so that the greatest stretch will be around the body.
7. If using a serger, use wooly nylon in the upper and lower loopers. You can also use wooly nylon in the bobbin of your sewing machine. The wooly nylon will add to the stretch of your stitches.
8. I always like to wash my fabrics prior to cutting. In the case of a spandex fabric, or any fabric with any type of elastic, it’s best not to put them in the dryer. Allow them to air dry. The heat of the dryer will diminish the stretch aspect of the elastic.
If you have never sewn with spandex fabric, by all means, give it a try. I think you’ll be so happy that you did. It may seem a little daunting initially, but you’ll see that it’s a wonderful fabric to sew with.
In our next post, we will begin putting our suits together. I think you are going to love the process. The suit is designed so that the lining and fabric are sewn together at the same time, which results in a suit that looks as great on the inside as it does on the outside.
I will also walk you through the process of adding cups to the suit.
If you have not purchased the Soma swimsuit pattern, but would like to give it a try, you can find it HERE at Shop Sew It All. With all the options that are included in the pattern, you are sure to find style that you will love!
Until next time…