Fabrics 101: Embroidering on spandex
Fabrics 101: Embroidering
me, the word 'spandex' immediately conjures up
images of the outrageous outfits worn by
glam-metal bands of the 1980s. They needed
those stretchy pants in order to do their
high leg kicks on stage!
But truly, spandex has added a
wonderful level of comfort to everyday attire
and sportswear. Planning on bellying up to the
buffet, or over-loading at family and holiday
dinners? Spandex in shirts and pants is just
what the doctor ordered.
'spandex' (called elastane in other
parts of the world) is an anagram of
the word 'expands.' Of course,
that's the primary trait of the
fabric -- it 'expands.' You might
also know the fabric as 'Lycra,'
which is the most popular brand name
created by Du Pont scientist, Joseph
C. Shivers in 1959, is a highly
elastic synthetic fiber found to be
stronger and more durable than
Princess design was stitched
front of Jaidyn's swimsuit.
Always blended with other natural and man-made
fibers such as cotton, wool, silk, and linen,
Lycra and other brands of spandex are lighter in
weight than rubber thread and won't break down
with exposure to perspiration, lotions, or
consumers in the 1960's, spandex was first found
in soft-support pantyhose and intimate apparel.
Next, after being added to men's and women's
swimwear, it made it's Olympic debut in 1969,
when the French ski team wore it for hitting
the slopes. By the 1980s, spandex could be
found in sporting attire, dance wear, and jeans.
One of my favorite pop stars, Madonna, turned
spandex innerwear into outerwear, setting off an
enormous fashion trend.
increase in spandex usage can be
attributed to a variety of
characteristics. The pliant fabric
has the capability of stretching
more than 500% over and over again,
and never break or lose its shape. The
smooth, wrinkle-free fabric won't
pill, is abrasion-resistant, and is
comfortable, while also offering
continues to build on spandex
research and development. Their
efforts have been so impressive that
they were actually a target of an
internal extortion attempt.
Employees stole the documents
related to spandex, and demanded $10
million for its safe return. Spandex
truly has an exciting history.
While I appreciate spandex for its comfort,
embroidering on it can give even the most
seasoned stitcher a rip-roaring
headache. The following tips and
tricks will help your spandex
stitching become an instant success.
Adorable Jaidyn truly feels like
a princess in her snazzy new suit!
The biggest obstacle when planning to embroider
on spandex is how much to stretch it. Take a
piece of spandex and look at it in its relaxed
state; now stretch it taut. If you stitch the
design when the fabric is relaxed, then it'll be
misshapen when the spandex is stretched.
Conversely, if you stitch the design when the
spandex is stretched taut, the spandex is going
to pucker when the fabric is relaxed. Are you
already running to the medicine cabinet for
aspirin? No worries -- stick with me!
I've found that it's best to stretch the spandex
so it's midway between a relaxed and a taut
state. That, of course, can be adjusted
depending on where you'll be placing the design.
If you're placing the design in an area that
will be stretched a lot, then stretch your
spandex a little more before you stitch. If
you're placing it an area that will be stretched
a little, then stretch the spandex a little
Lisa's niece, Jaidyn, needed something special
to wear to a pool party this past Father's Day
weekend. Read on to see how I embroidered on her
fabrics containing spandex endure little to no
damage from "needle cutting," I used a
ball-point needle. Ball-point needles have
points that are more rounded than embroidery or
sewing needles, so they'll push the fibers to
the side when forming the stitches. When
selecting a design, choose one that has open
areas with simple fills. If you choose a complex
design with layering, shading, or highlighting,
chances are it'll be not only too heavy, but
also get misshapen.
Here's Jaidyn's swimming suite --
cute, but it needs a little
something extra. I chose the
perfect for a little girl.
Because spandex is such a slippery
fabric, I used a cutaway stabilizer.
Floriani's No Show Mesh cutaway
stabilizer (1.5 oz) is a great
choice, as it hides well behind the
sleek, form-fitting material. And,
it's also very soft against the
I turned the suit inside out, and
sprayed the stabilizer with
temporary adhesive. I like KK100,
but any temporary spray adhesive
will work fine. This helped to keep
the slippery spandex and stabilizer
together during the embroidery.
Hoop the fabric and stabilizer
together, tightly. Pull gently on
the fabric on the left and right
sides of the design, pulling the
fabric but not the stabilizer. The fabric will slide
over the stabilizer when you pull
it. Do your best to pull the fabric
equally on the left and right sides.
I did have to pull a little bit on
the top and bottom, too, to
straighten out the fabric.
Hand-tighten the screw on the hoop
to hold the stretched fabric in
place. Then, press down on the
spandex so that it re-bonds with the adhesive
and stabilizer again. Flatten out any puckered
or dimpled fabric that you see, too.
If you're cringing because you've always been
taught never, ever stretch or tweak the fabric
after it's hooped, I know what you're thinking.
When I was pulling the fabric in the hoop it
went against every fiber of my being. But trust
me -- it works for spandex.
And then, everything else is just
like normal. Roll the excess fabric
out of the way, and embroider the
After the design has finished
stitching, unhoop the garment and
trim away the extra
stabilizer on the back. Generally I
leave about 1/2 inch of stabilizer
around the back of the design, and
that seems to work well with
Here's the finished result. You can
see that the spandex is puckering
slightly around the design when its
in a relaxed state.
And that's fine, because when Jaidyn
is wearing her swimming suit
(right), the spandex stretches and
the puckers disappear. Lisa reports
that Jaidyn was the princess of the
party, and wouldn't take off her new
further comfort, I decided to add a
layer of stabilizer to the backside
of the embroidery to cover the
stitches and to make the garment
softer against the skin. I used
Floriani's No Show Mesh Fusible
(an iron-on cutaway stabilizer) and
ironed it onto the reverse side of
the design. Careful of the
temperature settings, as spandex has
a low melting point.
Spandex is relatively easy to care for. Either
machine wash in cool water, or hand wash in
lukewarm water and rinse. Line drying is the
preferred method, although if you want to machine dry, use a low temperature setting.
If you're ready for another tip,
check this Stitchers Showcase entry. LeAnn
was getting ready for a trip to Hawaii, and
decided to add flowers to her basic black
bathing suit. She did a fantastic job of
stretching and plotting, and added a bit of
prayer to make sure everything went okay.
A few more suggestions and techniques were
submitted by Jean, a veteran of Lycra stitching
who has made competitive figure skating dresses
for over 12 years. She uses
needle made by Schmetz that is exclusively for
stretch fabrics. It has a finer point than a
ballpoint needle to go through the tighter weave
of the Lycra. She
likes to use cut away stabilizer and trims it
fairly close to the material.
Also, to get an idea of exactly
how much stretch to put in before embroidering,
(especially when making skating dresses and swim
suits) Jean takes the person's measurements and
cuts the garment, taking out an 1/2 inch from the
circumference and 1 inch from the girth. And, it
is important to get the maximum stretch of the
fabric going around the body rather than
vertically so it drapes correctly. Even though
most Lycra has a 4-way stretch, it still
stretches more on the lengthwise grain.
If you are interested in
embroidering on a certain
type of fabric and would
like me to address that
fabric type in a future
Fabrics 101 article, please send me
an email, and I'll be happy
to do that. My address is
Stitching tips for spandex: