Introducing Stretch Thread, my new BFF.

Whenever I do the KNITerviews, I get really geeked about sewing with knits which makes me want to add a few extra posts to help get people started sewing with knits. I throw these posts into a side series called “KNITS: Stretch Yourself” which you can find on my knits page along with the KNITerviews. There’s a few pretty good posts in that series, including a post on hemming, a video on using a walking foot on knits, and a tutorial for a cute knit hat from my friend Shannon, among other things. This year I thought I’d include a few more of these posts again, adding a few new “tricks” that I’ve learned since the last series! Last week I talked about my favorite knit fabrics, and today I want to introduce you to…

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Stretch Thread

Stretch thread was mentioned last series by Sascha in her KNITerview, and while I had sewn with wooly nylon thread before (when making this swimsuit for E), I hadn’t ever tried stretch thread. I’ve since discovered that it. is. AWESOME. It allows you to sew a straight seam with your sewing machine without the thread breaking when stretched. I know many people say they don’t have any problem with this, but I have found that I just can’t use a straight stitch with standard polyester thread on knits (even when I use a longer stitch length, or pair it with a double needle, see the hemming post linked above for more info on that); eventually those seams pop out and I have to resew them. Annoying!

For those of you with less experience sewing with knits, let me bring you up to speed: the Big Issue here is that because knit fabrics stretch, the stitches you sew the seams with need to be able to stretch too. In fact, the stretchier the knit fabric you are working with, the more this is true. The usual workarounds include sewing your seams with a narrow zig-zag stitch, which is fine, but in my opinion doesn’t look quite as profesh. Another thing that helps is using polyester thread instead of 100% cotton thread, which has less stretch and tends to break more easily when stretched. A double needle helps because the lower bobbin thread has to go back and forth between the two needles, creating a zig zag on the lower side of the fabric which is more stretchy than a straight stitch. Another option of course is to use a serger, but even sergers have some limitations; for instance, you can’t hem or add knit bindings to necklines with a basic serger. Enter, STRETCH THREAD:

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See how it’s a bit fuzzy? It behaves a bit like a teeny tiny piece of yarn, so it’s got a bit of stretch. Stretch thread is similar to wooly nylon thread, which is another alternative to stretch thread that is even MORE stretchy. Here’s wooly nylon, just for contrast:

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Maybe you can see that it’s even more stretchy? OK let me zoom in:

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You can find wooly nylon at your neighborhood craft superstore, but it’s a bit pricey ($10-$15 for 1000 yards), so I prefer to buy stretch thread for the majority of my knit sewing because it’s cheaper ($10 for 2000 yards). By the way, I’ve been buying mine from WAWAK, which is a bulk sewing supply company that now also sells through Amazon as well, so it’s pretty easy to find. Wooly nylon can also be a bit more difficult to sew with because sometimes it’s SO stretchy it gets tangled in my machine, but I’ve found wooly nylon at J0Ann, so that’s nice. Not sure I’ve ever seen stretch thread there. Wooly nylon is also available in tons of colors at threadart.com.

I am a complete STRETCH THREAD CONVERT I tell you!! I use stretch thread for ALL THE KNITS and I’ve gotten some really fantastic, stretchy seams. Here’s couple recent examples:

The bias-bound neckline for this pink Flashback Tee I made for Clementine (I used a ballpoint needle for this knit jersey, along with a slightly longer straight stitch than normal):

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And the green stretchy maternity tee that I made for myself a few weeks ago (posted here) was really fun to make and hem, thanks to stretch thread and a double needle!

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Things to remember when using stretch thread:

  • I use stretch thread for both the top and bottom threads; for the bobbin, I wind it just as you would regular thread.
  • if you have a machine that doesn’t work with the large cone of thread that stretch thread comes on (like me), just place the cone on the table behind your machine and thread as usual. The weight of the cone will hold it on the table in place. You can see a picture of this here (there are two cones pictured here because I was using a double needle at the time).

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  • you still need to use a stretch or ballpoint needle on your sewing machine
  • I recommend using a slightly longer stitch length with stretch thread; in general, the farther the distance between each stitch, the more flexibility your seam will have to stretch, especially over necklines
  • stretch thread can be a bit harder to thread through the needle because it’s more fuzzy, but if you clip the end nice and clean with a sharp scissors and then wet the thread just a bit, it threads quite nicely
  • make sure to do plenty of stitching back and forth at the beginnings and ends of  your seams — the stretchy nature makes it more likely to pull out at the ends. I would even go so far as to suggest you thread your tails through a needle, pull them to the back side of the fabric, and tie them in a little knot before trimming them.
  • go slow. Stretch thread is a bit more fussy than regular thread, so start with your needle in the down position before beginning a seam, and stitch slowly so the thread won’t tangle.

Alright. Have I convinced you?? This stuff is awesome. Try it!!!

This post is part of the KNITS: Stretch Yourself Series

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62 thoughts on “Introducing Stretch Thread, my new BFF.

  1. Great info. Thanks for explaining the difference between this and the wooly nylon. I would have assumed they were the same but with different packaging. I have plans for some Oliver & S Raglan T’s, so I might try the stretch thread on those.

  2. I just ordered some, thanks for the tip! I have really high hopes for this stuff – I usually use just a stretch zig zag stitch but like you said, it’s not as nice looking. Would love something that allowed me to use a regular straight stitch and not pop seams over my kids heads!

  3. I am so excited to find out about this bc I also think that the zig zag stretch stitch doesn’t look as profesh and its always kinda bummed me it when topstitching. I have really appreciated all your knit series posts bc they have made my knit sewing so much easier!

  4. OMG…my life just got so much easier. I sew on a 60 year old Singer and this is going to make life so nice. I knew about wooly nylon, but could never get myself to spring for it based on price…thanks for the tip Rae!!!

    • Be grateful for that 60 year old Singer – I am so jealous! One crazy day some years ago I gave mine away (it even had its own table) and have been pining for it ever since. Stupidly, I thought a newer model would be better, but the newer ones I’ve bought have been junk and I haven’t been able to find one with the ease of bobbin insertion my old Singer had. I’m going to continue searching thrift stores to see if I can find an old Singer like I used to have. I’m not much of a seamstress and really a machine that is EASY!

      • I had the same problem too with the newer junky machines. I bought an old Singer Slant-o-matic , a heavy duty machine with durable metal gears like I learned on, on eBay for less than $100. I took it to a local sewing machine shop, got it tuned up and it works great. My sister had already done the same exact thing. What a relief!

        I copied my mom’s manual, but you can find most anything online these days.

        Good hunting!

  5. Kew-L. This is good news since I’m new to sewing knits (jumping off for the first time this week), and as a knitter, I have oodles of Wooly Nylon in my stash (for reinforcing socks in toes and heels). Will try it and also seek out some stretch thread as well. Many thanks!

  6. I spent an hour last week testing stitches on my machine to see which would actually stand up to a five year old putting clothes on. Some came close but no real winner. Ordering this thread right now to try!

    • oh good!! it’s great to hear that from someone with some experience — I’ve only just started using it in the past few months so it’s nice to hear others who have had success!!

      🙂

  7. I have NEVER come across this before – I wonder if we have it in England. Mastering Knits is something I really want to manage over the next 18 months or so – I shall definitely have a look for some of this!

  8. Thanks for sharing, Rae! I use a tripple straight stitch when I sew with knits and it works great. I guess most modern sewing machines sew a triple straight stitch – it is easy and durable. I’ll give that stretchy thread a try, though my sewing machine is very picky when it comes to threads 🙁 Love reading your blog and I am looking forward to see even more boy-ish stuff in future 🙂 Have a safe last leg of your pregnancy!

  9. woot woot! So glad you posted this. I was just ordering zippers from WAWAK and add some of that fancy schmancy stretch thread too!

  10. Thanks RAE for sharing this bit of info. looking at store bought tshirts i always wondered what type of thread they use and if i could get a hold of it.

  11. I am so intrigued!!! Thanks for this tip – I can usually get necklines and things to work with a double needle for me and the big kids…but my eyes are finally uncrossing after having twins six months ago and I’m realizing now that I’m starting to sew for them that giant baby heads and tiny bodies require stretchy necklines that polyester thread is no match for. Will definitely pick some of this up and give it a shot!! Thanks lovely!

  12. Wow, I never thought of using this kind of thread, since I never saw it in the store. Thanks for the tip! And for all the other posts I’ve enjoyed but not commented on. You’ve single-handedly furnished a lot of my knit-know-how, either yourself or through well-timed links. 🙂

  13. After scoring an awesome knit grab bag from Girl Charlee, I have tons of knits waiting to be sewed up, I read this when placing my first order from Wawak and was able to add some stretch thread to my order for 25% off. So excited to try it. Thank you!!

  14. I played with this forever last night. I can’t seem to get the threads to stay smooth. The only thing that seemed to work was using it in the bobbin only. Any tips?

    • I’m with you Courtney, I cannot get it to stitch smooth, I’ve played with tension and everything, the top stitch is nice but underneath it is all tangled and bunched and nothing I do will fix it, I see how this thread would work awesome, but I just cannot get it to work!

      • Do you have any way to adjust your bobbin tension? On my front-loading bobbin I can turn the little screw and tighten up the bobbin tension — it’s possible that you may need to play with this?

        The other thing I’ve noticed makes a difference is changing out the needle frequently, and try a ballpoint if you’re using stretch or vice versa! Good luck — I haven’t been doing this all that long so I’m not sure what else to tell you!!!

  15. sara & courtney…. when you solve the mystery, please share…. the straight stitching looks great on top….. but the bottom is awful….. would love a hint on fixing it….. will try to play more with the upper tension today…..

    thank you….

  16. I got some stretch thread and tried it out on a small project with scrap knit and it worked pretty well except for occasionally bunching up underneath, as other commenters have noted. I wonder if the fibers got a little frayed in the bobbin casing or something?? Where it wasn’t messy it looked great so I’m hesitant to mess with the tension. I refuse to be discouraged because even though my project was a super simple little baby hat it was the first thing I’ve made from knit fabric that didn’t utterly fail and I think the stretch thread had something to do with that!

    • If some stitches are coming out just fine, and others aren’t, I am finding that it helps just to sew REALLY slowly…because the thread is fuzzy I think it “sticks” sometimes, and slow stitching seems to help with this for me.

  17. I am also dealing with all the bunching and tangling with it. It’s frustrating. If you get it figured out let me know. I like the idea of it but it is hard to sew with.

  18. I’m just about to try this myself (and using woolly nylon, as I couldn’t easily source the Maxi-Lock thread in the UK), but for the people having problems with fabric / thread bunching up and tangling – other websites suggest using the stretch thread in the bobbin or loopers only (not the needles), winding the bobbin without tensioning the thread, and / or using a walking foot. Some of those options easier / cheaper to try than others! Hope mine works!

    • Yes it definitely takes some trial and error — I’m finding that stretch needles vs ballpoint needles can help depending on what fabric you are using. And yes, I have had to adjust my tension a bit for certain fabrics…always try it out on a sample of fabric first!!

    • I was also having trouble with the bobbin thread bunching. I can’t adjust the bobbin tension on my machine, but I was able to fix the problem by sewing with the walking foot.

  19. I was also having trouble with bunching. I can’t adjust the bobbin tension on my machine (I have a drop-in bobbin). I tried it all–adjusting the main tension, going super slow, walking foot. The only thing that helped me was lengthening my stitch a little and only using stretch thread on the bobbin. So far so good, though I’ll probably have to wear and wash the shirt a few times to know if it will hold/be stretchy enough.

  20. Just wanted to say thank you to the commentators. I too was having problems with the thread. It kept getting jammed in my machine, skipping stitches, looking sloppy on the right side and downright horrible on the wrong side. After looking through the comments, I put regular thread in the needle and kept stretch thread in the bobbin. Worked like a charm! I also lengthened my stitch from the regular 2.5 to a 3 (on a Bernina). Now my narrow hem looks perfect, and it still stretches plenty.Thank you! Hope this helps someone else. 🙂

  21. Wow! I love Maxi-Lock stretch but I use it for rolled hems on my serger all the time. I’ve had problems with straight stitches so I’ve usually done the serged binding. I’ll have to try the straight stitch with the Maxi-Lock stretch.

  22. This is great information Rae! I have one question: would wooly nylon be better for swimsuit material? Or could I get away using the stretch thread?

  23. Just getting back into (sort of ) garment sewing but still a quilter at heart! Found this thread at one of my suppliers so I’ll give it a try! THAnkS!

  24. I tried this for the first time today and had the same trouble as others. I used the walking foot and a longer stitch length, and the top stitches were lovely and the bottom were a MESS. I will try adjusting tension but wonder- if you’re only using this thread in the bobbin, will it have the same effect of adding more stretch to one’s seams?

  25. So, just a hint. You actually need to hand wind bobbins when you’re using a stretch or wooly nylon thread. If you machine wind the bobbin, then the tension pulls all of the stretch out of the thread. You’ll end up with bobbin thread that is already stretched all the way and top thread that is still stretchy. Thats probably why so many people are having issues with the bobbin thread bunching. Instead, snap your bobbin in the winder, but DONT loop the thread through the machine! Instead feed the bobbin with your hand as the bobbin turns from the spool, pulling only slightly. That should help.

    Also, you can get a single cone thread stand to adjust for a bigger spool. If you don’t have the thread being pulled evenly from above the spool and instead have it feeding from behind your machine like you have shown, then the thread often gets caught when its being pulled from around the back of the spool and your tension will vary depending on how hard the machine has to work to pull the thread and the spool will often fall over or your machine will get stuck. Its worth the $6 or $7 investment to get a thread stand. You’ll notice the difference.

    Happy sewing!

    • Hi there, I tried hand winding the bobbin and I still couldn’t get it to work out right.

  26. I just got my stretch thread and tried it on my sewing machine with a ballpoint needle. It keeps getting all tangled in the back—a HUGE mess to cut out and rip. I tried sewing with it on regular cotton fabric and it worked fine but as soon as I start on my cotton jersey knit it doesn’t wanna sew neatly! It’s frustrating!

    • Make sure you are using a ballpoint needle, the right size needle, and a fresh new one. If the eye of the needle is too small, like it is for smaller size needles, the thread won’t flow smoothly. If the needle has nicks, is bent, has a rust spot, has a tiny bit of a snag on the tip (especially if you’ve hit a pin, sewing over them), it will affect thread performance. Also, the thread tension for the two different types of fabric may vary. Usually when this won’t stop happening on my conventional machine, my bobbin casing is caked inside/underneath with some fabric dust (it doesn’t take much) and I must remove the bobbin case, clean everything thoroughly and try again. The fact that it is the bobbin thread that is bunching up tends to make me think that is the cause. It took me years of frustration to figure that one out! Also, some bobbins are adjustable. If all the above fails, check you manual to see if you can tighten the bobbin tension, but I wouldn’t go there first.

    • Oops! I see a lot of other people have already posted the solution to this, in answer to other questions. They use regular thread in the top, stretch in the bobbin. Some hand-wind the bobbin, so the bobbin thread does not get pulled too tight in winding.

  27. Love all of your tips for sewing with knits (and sewing in general). I have had the same problem with the hem of leggings-so I am bravely trying the stretch thread today! Just wanted you to know I gave you a shout out on my FB page for introducing this to me- didn’t want to use your name and blog without giving you credit! You do an amazing job and have really inspired me as I have gotten back into sewing the past couple of years-Thanks so much!
    Beth

  28. Dear Rae,
    super-interesting post, thank you! I will use all of your tips.
    We seem to have the same sewing machine.
    Did you know that there is the possibility to work with bigger cones of thread by placing a special upright arbor/bolt (I dont know the proper english word for that) on the right upper side of your machine? Its a white plastic thing and you find it in the box with machine accessoiries.
    Maybe you can find it. Works really great for me!
    Greetings from germany*
    Hanna

  29. so new at this but do I need stretch needles? I just got a Janome machine and they have those to purchase on amazon….

    • I am not the original poster, but yes. Use ballpoint (maybe named “jersey”) needles for sewing on all knits. they keep the needle from snagging the fabric, causing runs in the knit, and help keep you from having skipped stitches. I prefer Schmetz brand. walMart online has so,me great pirces. Look at all the lisings. just like Amazon, they may sell the same thing for several different prices. Check your machine manual for what number needle model you need. There are a great number of tutorials on Pinterst for “sewing with knits”. I am learning too!

  30. When you sew on the serger with the 4 thread overlock on knits, do you use the stretch thread in all 4 places or only the needles or vice versa? I don’t want to have to buy 4 spools if it’s not needed.
    Thanks!

  31. Thankful formall the helpful info in this post and in the comments! I think I’ll buy just white stretch thread and use it in my bobbin to try it out. Seems like matching thread colors to all my knits would be super pricey!

    • You can currently get each 2000 yard cone of Maxilock Stretch at Wawak for $4.29 per cone. Cheapest price on the internet. I’m starting with four cones each of white and black. Maybe I’ll add another color. I’m ordering today.

  32. Hi Rae!

    Im trying to serge the seam of a very fine stretch mesh and I’m getting very messy results. Have you serged with the stretch thread too? I’ve tried stabilising the fabric using tissue paper as when i sew silk but this has just made the seam worse. Any tips?
    Thanks! 🙂

  33. Thanks for posting this! I’d never heard of wawak and am so grateful for your mention of it. Quality cone thread is so expensive, but currentlyWawak is a bit more than half the price at Amazon and other sellers. Maxilock Stretch for $4.29 a cone with all the colors available? Wow!

  34. Thank you very much for this, I was sure stretchy thread existed, until I asked a rather snooty haberdashery shop woman, who looked at me as if I had two heads

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