Fabric 101: Determining Stretch Direction & Stretch Percentage

Fabric 101: Determining Stretch Direction & Stretch Percentage

Directional stretch and stretch percentage are important features when choosing the right fabric for your project. Some patterns will call out specifically the stretch percentage needed for the pattern to fit the best. Stretch fabrics can have mechanical stretch, in that they have a natural stretch based on the way they are made and do not include Lycra Spandex. Fabrics made with Lycra Spandex often have a greater stretch, and better recovery.

Stretch Direction:

2 Way Stretch refers to fabric having one orientation of stretch. Most fabrics with 2 way stretch will have stretch horizontally, from selvedge to selvedge, with a few exceptions of fabrics designed to stretch only vertically along the selvedges.

The term “2 Way Stretch” seems like it should be called “1 Way Stretch” however, the origin of this term is based on stabilizing a portion of fabric, and being able to stretch two ways: to the right and and left. Or if it’s a fabric made to stretch vertically- that 2 way stretch would be referring to its ability to stretch up and down. Seems obvious that if fabric stretches one direction, it would also be able to stretch the opposing direction, but this is the basis for the terminology.

4 Way stretch refers to when the fabric can stretch both vertically and horizontally. Stabilizing a point of the fabric, it will be able to stretch four ways: up, down, right and left.

How to stretch the fabric:


To properly determine fabric stretch, you must gently stretch the fabric and observe the recovery, similar to the performance needed as if it were made into a garment, going to be going over your head to put on, or fitting on your body. You wouldn’t want fabric to be stretched beyond its capacity when wearing it, so likewise, yanking on the fabric will not give you the best percentage estimate, and it will likely warp the fabric, compromising its quality. If the fabric becomes warped after stretching it, that is a clear indicator that it was stretched beyond its intention.


Stretch Percentage:

Stretch percentage is estimated by stretching a fabric along a 4” - 8” ruler scale. Begin with fabric at ease on a 4” measurement, and stretch the fabric towards 8”. The measurement it comfortably reaches will indicate the percentage estimate. For example, this Art Gallery Skopelos Jersey Knit fabric can stretch to 6”. Since it stretched 2” past the 4” mark, and 2 is 50% of 4, then this fabric has 50% stretch.

*Tip: Fold the fabric and stretch along the fold. Stretching fabric along a cut edge will not give the best estimate. Test the fabric perpendicular and parallel to the selvage to determine proper stretch direction and percentage.



Choose Your Fabric!

Did you know that fabric.com offers stretch percentage estimates in our fabric descriptions, as well as a navigation option? We’ve narrowed down stretch characteristics in common groups to make online fabric shopping even easier:

Lycra Spandex Blends
5-10% stretch
10-25% stretch
30-50% stretch
75% stretch and above
4-Way Stretch

Happy sewing!

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