Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tips & Tricks for Sewing with Lycra Knit

 Race Car design is TRN019 from

Several years ago, I (Amelia) set out in search of a swimsuit for my son. I've never cared for the look of modern swimsuits for baby boys, so I had my eyes peeled for an old-fashioned, one-piece suit. I found a few online that I liked, but they were upwards of $50. I couldn't justify paying that much for something he'd wear one summer and probably snag the seat of during the first wearing! So, I decided to fashion my own vintage swimsuit for baby Ellis. I made one suit the first summer, then three more the next summer.

The biggest challenge in making these swimsuits was machine embroidering on Lycra knit without causing puckers. The key, as in all machine embroidery, is in the stabilizing process. Below, I've shared several general tips for working with, and machine embroidering on, the stretchy material. Full vintage boy's swimsuit construction details can be found on our website.

Sand Pail appliqué is SIG37018 from Cactus Punch

Working with Lycra:
• Wash and dry yardage before cutting out pattern. Lycra fabrics will shrink. Swimwear fabrics should be hand washed or machine washed in the gentle cycle in cool temperatures and hung to dry.

• Determine the stretch of the fabric and lay the fabric with the most stretch going around the body.

• Use very sharp pins to secure pattern and cut out with sharp scissors or special scissors with a serrated blade (reduces slipping).

• Use a 75/11 or 70/10 ball point needle.

• Sewing Machine: Stitch length needs to be a 2 to 2.5, width a slight zigzag of 1 to 1.5. If your machine has stretch setting options, choose medium stretch. Finish seams with a zigzag or a three- or four-thread serger with wooly nylon in both loopers. Double needle topstitching with a stretch stitch option lends a nice look around arm, neck and leg openings, but does limit the Lycra from stretching some in those areas.

• Serger: The best finish for hems around neck, arm and leg openings is a cover stitch option on a serger with good-quality polyester serger thread or wooly nylon.

Snoopy Surfing is design #8 from Peanuts® Summertime Fun Husqvarna Viking Multi Format CD-ROM

Embroidering on Lycra:
1. Determine where you want to place embroidery. On suits shown with single embroidery motif, design center was placed approximately 5-1/2 inches from traced neckline edge. On race car suit, top race car center was positioned 4 inches from traced neckline edge, and there are approximately 3-1/4 inches between race car centers. NOTE: If you have excess fabric, it's much easier to simply stitch out the motif on a larger rectangle, then worry about positioning the pattern over the embroidery afterward.

2. Securely hoop a piece of adhesive tear-away stabilizer. Score with a pin to expose sticky surface.

3. Cut two sheets of Solvy™ (or similar water soluble stabilizer) larger than the embroidery design. Spray right side of bathing suit fabric in area to be embroidered with temporary spray adhesive and attach a sheet of Solvy, lightly spray again and attach the second sheet.

4. Adhere bathing suit fabric with Solvy to hooped stabilizer. You should have a sandwich of two layers of Solvy, a layer of fabric, and a layer of hooped stabilizer. If you've traced the neckline off before this step, it is necessary to align fabric so that the embroidery center will stitch according to the placement suggested in step 1. If you are tracing off the pattern after the embroidery process, be sure to leave enough fabric around the embroidery to be able to position the pattern properly.

5. Take hoop to machine, which has been set up for chosen embroidery. Before beginning to embroider, choose the FIX function (if available) to baste an outline around the embroidery area. This will further keep the stretchy fabric from puckering during the embroidery process.

6. Stitch out design. NOTE: The bucket design is a machine embroidered appliqué. If chosen, you will need to use temporary spray adhesive to position and stitch contrasting appliqué fabric (red Lycra) into place. Once the outline stitch has been stitched, carefully trim around the shape and proceed with embroidery.

7. Remove adhesive stabilizer from back of design, using a pin to lift up edges of stabilizer and being careful not to snag fabric or distort stitches. Cut away excess Solvy from front, and soak embroidered fabric to remove remaining stabilizer. Trace or retrace pattern front onto embroidered fabric.

For more sewing tips and techniques, check out Martha Pullen TV, where those who love heirloom sewing, embroidery, smocking, quilting and all things beautiful will find plenty to learn and be inspired by. There are more than 350 sewing workshops and classic Martha's Sewing Room episodes to choose from, with new content going up regularly! 

Sew On, Sew Well, Sew Beautiful,
Cyndi and Amelia


  1. Good post............

  2. This is a really informative article for readers and you have provided an excellent details in your post APPRECIATED!!!.

  3. Great job done dear Cyndi and Amelia...! All the tips and tricks are helpful for sewing with lycra Knit and you are great designer, artist and embroidery digitizing expert. Thanks.