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What is Stretch?

What is stretch in knit fabric?

This article has been kindly written by Mark Creasey and is a guide as to what is stretch in knit fabrics. 

Why do fabrics stretch? 

Stretch fabrics (knit fabrics) are made using interlaced looped fibres rather than woven fibres. The ‘knit’ or loops give the fabric some of its stretch, alongside elastic fibres which have stretchy properties themselves; for example lycra/spandex/elastane (three names for the same fibre), rayon/viscose (two names for the same fibre) or polyester. 

Woven and knit fabrics

What is stretch and how is it calculated? 

The stretch of fabrics is expressed either as ‘2-way’ or ‘4-way’. 2-way stretch is horizontal, running across the fabric from selvedge to selvedge. 4-way stretch is both horizontal AND vertical, running across the fabric and up/down the fabric.

2-way stretch fabric
Measure stretch in knit fabrics

Stretch is expressed as a percentage and is quite simply calculated –  

 Stretched fabric width – Original fabric width 

                                                       ———————————————     x 100  =  Stretch percentage 

                  Original fabric width 


For example: If you have a 10cm square piece of fabric, stretch it across it’s width until you feel resistance.  This fabric stretches to 15cm so the horizontal stretch is 50% (15 – 10 = 5, divided by 10 = 0.5, multiplied by 100 = 50%).  

Supplier of knit fabrics

Now repeat this process from top to bottom of the fabric.  This piece of fabric stretches to 13cm, so the vertical stretch is 30% (13 – 10 = 3, divided by 10 = 0.3, multiplied by 100 = 30%). 

Test for stretch in knit fabric

So this fabric has 4-way stretch, written as 50%/30%. If there is no vertical stretch then the fabric has 2-way stretch, written as 50%. Simple! 


What can I use different stretch fabrics for? 

 Knit fabrics can vary greatly in stretch, even within a specific category of knit fabric, but in general the following is a good guide: 

Type of Fabric 

Type of Stretch 

Typical Stretch 

Used for 

Cotton Jersey 

2-way or 4-way 


Dresses, Skirts, Tops, Pyjamas, Shorts 

Cotton Lycra 



Dresses, Pencil Skirts, Leggings, Baby Clothes, Tops, Pyjamas 




Swimwear, Sportswear 

Ponte De Roma 



Dresses, Skirts, Jackets, Cardigans 

Hacci Sweater 



Cardigans, Jumpers, Dresses 

French Terry 



Cardigans, Jumpers, Dresses 

Sweatshirt Fleece 



Sweaters, Hoodies 

The type of fabric you use for your project will depend on the requirements of the garment. Your pattern will normally specify which types of fabric you can use and any required stretch. As you get more confident sewing with stretch fabrics you can also use them for patterns designed for woven fabrics. Take a look at the following articles for some great hints and tips for converting patterns from woven to stretch fabric: 


For tighter fitting clothes like leggings/sportswear, 4-way stretch is essential as the fabric will need to stretch both ways (e.g. around the legs and up and down the knee joint). 

For looser fitting items or for fitted items which don’t need to give, 2-way stretch will usually suffice, but you can still use 4-way stretch fabrics. 

The advantage of 4-way stretch is that you can use the stretch/pattern in either direction.  2-way stretch will offer more stability for fitted clothing, similar to a woven fabric, but will also give you some room to breathe! 

Now you know more about stretch in knit fabrics, read our guide to sewing with knit/jersey fabrics.