This article I’ll be talking about something a lot of superhero cosplayers can relate to – sewing stretch.
Now I’m by no means a sewing guru or even a sewing veteran, and my sewing skills are admittedly lacking (especially with sewing machines, I didn’t get a machine until fairly recently), so I’m very much learning myself and many of these nifty ideas have been passed to me by my far superior (and extremely helpful) friends.
Have any other tips and tricks you’d like to share? Please let me know!
General Advice Before Sewing
- Don’t be afraid to pre-wash the fabric before you start sewing, expect some shrinkage.
- Overlockers and sergers are a godsend for seams and hemming – doublestitching will give you extra stretch and better reinforcement, as well as letting you minimise your seam allowance so you don’t get unsightly bulges at your seams. Some normal machines can do dual needle sewing as well.
- Make sure your machine is oiled so the thread comes through smoothly.
- Read your machine’s manual – it’ll probably tell you which feet it comes with and what settings is has specifically for your machine.
- You’ll probably need to loosen the tension, especially if you’re sewing with cotton thread.
Lessons learned / common problems
- What thread should I use?
You can buy stretch threads but they’re hit and miss. Going for a lightweight thread will limit bunching, and I personally prefer using nylon to cotton for sewing stretch.
- I don’t know what stitch to use
If you’re using a normal sewing machine (not a serger/overlocker), you will want to use either a stretch stitch or a zigzag stitch. It will allow the fabric to move and stretch when worn, without you stretching the fabric as you sew it. I usually make it the narrowest setting (0.5mm on my machine) with a stitch length of 2.5mm/3mm. If you’re using a really thick knit you’ll probably want a longer stitch length.
- My machine only has straight stitch!
Try setting your stitch length to 2.5mm/3mm. You’ll need to gently and evenly stretch the fabric from both ends as the fabric goes under the presser foot while you sew. Be kind to it and don’t pull too hard or you could break your needle.
- My fabric keeps stretching and warping while I sew
A little trick I use to stop the fabric warping when sewing is to use stay tape or masking tape – just apply it to your seams before sewing and it should help support it as you sew. I’ve been told spraying ironing starch on the seams can help, too!
- My fabric is gripping to my machine/foot/feed while sew and/or puckering
Use tape again (put it on whichever face of the material is having issues), or sew with a piece of paper under the fabric. This has saved me a few times when the feed dogs (those little spikes on the drop feed plate of sewing machines, which “feed” the fabric through while you sew) got a little handsy with my material. Some machines you can change the feed on, too, so check your manual to see if you can change the pressure. This is also true for sergers – a lot of them seem to have differential feed knobs that you can use to loosen or tighten.
- I’m trying to sew a railroad zipper and it keeps moving
Tape tape tape tape tape. It’ll support your pins without adding the bulk of even more pins.
- My pins are in the way/doing weird things/making my fabric bulky, etc
More tape – use it to hold your seams together like book binding while you sew – and good ole clothes pegs, the kind you use to hang your washing/laundry to dry, or bulldog clips work really well as a way of holding your pieces of fabric together without stabbing into them.
- My fabric keeps getting cut while sewing
Check your needle! You can buy stretch needles (for stretch fabrics) and ballpoint/jersey needles (for lightweight knits), which are designed to have a rounded point so that when they penetrate the fabric they won’t catch or cut the weave.
- My fabric is making weird loops instead of stitches
The tension’s probably too loose – you’ll need to tighten it.
- I want to sew different fabric together as an element (e.g., Ms Marvel’s gold lightning bolt)
I’ve had success with double-sided iron on interfacing and double-sided tear-away, which you can use for stretch applique. It’ll help hold your fabrics together and keep them strong and reinforced while you sew. Just be very careful with your iron’s heat!
Got a Question? Want me to cover a certain topic? Feel free to let me know.
Until next time, SEW SAY WE ALL!
Additional photos from CrashCult on how the interfacing/tear-away can be used for different geometric designs on hero costumes like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. Click the link for some amazing tutorials!