The Stretch Denim Torture Test

I bought the stretch denim on the far right the other day.  It stretches along the selvedge.  I knew if I posted that, someone would tell me their experience with it.  Thank you! ClaireEmily mentioned picking up selvedge stretch denim and showed me her finished Linda pantsSherry said warp stretch is great if you like selvedge hems- neat.

I took some time to play with the fabric before I washed it, so I could better understand how the finished garment might behave.  I call it “torture tests,” and it’s great for allaying fears about working with a “new” or different fabric.  It’s fun, too.

I laid out the denim on my worktable and looked closely at the weave on both sides.  It seemed two-sided.  I wanted a closer look at the warp threads (the ones along the selvedge) so I pulled a few of them:

They’re like wooly nylon thread, which is often used in sportswear.  The tag said lycra, so I think it must be a similar type of thread.

Then I checked out the hand.  It’s a “bouncy” fabric, not a “flat” one-

I like the way it drapes, but I won’t be draping it.  I’m making 7/8 length stretch jeans- I might make them flare slightly from the knee to show the bounce in the fabric, but maybe not.

This denim bears an uncanny resemblance to shantung, though it’s cotton and lycra rather than silk.  I wondered- would have a nap, too?  To check, I cut a corner of the denim along the selvedge and turned it 180 degrees.  In silk, the corner would look markedly darker or lighter and I would know to cut with a directional layout.  This fabric has no obvious nap, which will allow for economical cutting.  (Lila may get some new jeans out of this, too!)

I pulled more threads from the swatch, thinking about drawn-thread work for the jeans.  Then I noticed the weft threads.  I assumed the non-stretchy weft threads were just the white slubby cotton, but it seems the white threads are paired with dark blue ones.  So it’s a twill:

But there’s a problem (geeking out here)- Wikipedia says the paired threads should be the warp threads, and that’s what it looks like in the diagram.  That means the single threads in the diagram would be the cotton ones on my fabric.  So did they turn the twill weave on its side along with the stretch?  Seems likely.

I folded the fabric along the selvedges to test the stretch.  This is not stretching, 3″.

It stretches to 6″ with not-so-great recovery.  It goes to 5″ with best recovery.  How do I calculate the stretch?  Is it 3/5= .6 which means 60% stretch?

Then I set the swatch on fire.  I do this more often than strictly necessary, I tell myself it’s to better test unknown fabrics in the future.  Burn charts are a handy resource, but I like building experience with the fabric.

I occasionally drape lengths of new fabric around me shawl-style while I potter around the house to feel its weight, elasticity and drape.  Every blue moon I pin a piece of troublesome fabric over the curtains, so I see it every day and ponder what it should become.

I don’t examine every piece of fabric this closely, but do more often than not because it’s interesting and I get ideas about the final garment- how it will behave, what I can make it do.  I’ll wash it next, then do a little sample sewing.

What do you do when you have a new or different fabric to play with?

If you haven’t yet, feel free to enter the Testers for Pants Blocks Giveaway.  It ends on Wednesday.

I haven’t done a pattern alteration post lately, what would you like to see?


  1. I’d like to see how to make something double-breasted! I have a pattern that looks like the blue dress in the picture, and I want to make it into the grey dress…

  2. It looks really nice! I like your fabric-torturing methods… I should do more of that, I think. 3 inches stretching to 6 is 100% stretch; 3 inches stretching to 5 is 66.6(etc.)% stretch. The formula is something like: (Stretched length – original length)/original length x 100. So if 4″ stretches to 6″, that’s 50% stretch—half again the original length. I tend to stretch 10cm/4″ chunks as it’s a bit easier to do the math in my head—10cm stretching to 12 cm is 20% stretch etc. In any case, that’s a very, very stretchy stretch denim you’ve got there. As for nap, I’ve been told to treat denim (twill) as if it were napped because the uneven weave can make the legs twist if it’s not running in the same direction (I think the idea is that the twist of the front cancels the twist of the back if they’re both running the same way?). I’ve completely ignored this in the past, and sometimes it was fine, but there’s a couple of pairs that twist like crazy and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t my cutting…

    Here’s my thoughts, derived entirely from my own personl bias—I think short flares look odd, unless it’s just a teeny flare on capris that end a few inches below the knee. If you want flares, they need to be at least long enough to touch the top of your foot, preferably long enough that the back just brushes the ground in flat feet (this may be based on my traumatic history with too-short pants, however). Skinnies and other straight/tapering shapes look ok at ankle and near-ankle lengths.

    Can’t wait to see what you do with them! :)

    • Thank you, thank you for the tip on twill. I never knew that. :) Will keep it in mind. And the stretchiness equation! I like the pants I’m wearing in these photos… They’re the Cherry Blossom blues, which fit great but I was experimenting a LOT when I made them, with the result that the waistband is ugly and that severely limits their wearability… They’re more “straight” from the knee than flare I suppose, but I simply won’t wear tight calves on my jeans.

      I knew when I said “flare” you’d be alarmed. hehehe.

      • Put me on the ‘alarmed at the thought of flares’ bench too!

        And I was going to say what Tantis said about denim being twill and directionality, but you’ve already got that.

        I am learning so much about stretch from this. I don’t know when I will use it because I don’t think I have a single piece of stretch fabric in all the vast swathes of stash, but it’s good to know.

        And I would love an alteration post on sway back alterations. That’s something I always have problems with in myself.

      • Yeah, I’d classify those as straight legged, not flares ;). Although if 7/8 flares is what’s in your heart, don’t let me stop you ;). Honestly it’s taken me almost 5 years at this point to adjust to ankle-length skinnies. I have psychological issues with not-quite-full-length pants.

        Personally, I like jeans that are close-fitting down through my calves and then flare subtly, making a nice drape around my shoes… That or perfectly straight below the knee. But it does get boring after a while…

      • Oh leimomi… I can’t possibly add anything to Sherry’s swayback alterations discussion- I make the backs of my knit tops sit smoothly by raising the back hem about 1/2″ and tapering to the side seams. It works. You know the Parthenon doesn’t have a single straight line in the whole place? Similar idea…

        No no, Taran… I knew when I wrote 7/8 flares I’d cause a few palpitations… hehehe. Straight legs it is. Boring indeed. I might have to do some interesting seam treatments or something, kick them up a notch from “mommy’s useful and sensible stretch jeans” to “OMG is that Angelina Jolie over there by the sandpit??” heh heh heh…

  3. Torture that fabric! This is all really good information. I have several pieces of stretch denim and twill I’ve been hoarding for my pants making adventure. I’ve been examining all of them trying to decide which to pair with certain patterns and ideas. I may have to try some torturing myself– mwahahaha!

    I like the idea of 7/8 length pants. Would look good with fun shoes.

    • I highly recommend jotting down your notes. Then it’s easier to remember what you did when… :) I hate when I forget stuff.

      Thanks! I see more fun shoes in my future…

  4. I love your curiosity; thanks so much for sharing your textile knowledge. I learn so much! This is timely because I just bought some very clearanced spongey stretchy denim over the weekend to make some trial jeans and really need to understand its capacity. And now I’m curious, what is a selvedge hem?

    • I believe it would be where the hems are on the selvedge… Either showing or not. I could be wrong, but that’s what it seemed like to me.

  5. Very interesting. I particularly like the idea of draping the fabric over yourself and wearing it around the house. I’m going to try that.

  6. I really enjoyed learning what you do to your fabric when you bring them home. I’m not nearly as inquisitive, although I should be. Have so much to learn about fabric. I only tried a burn test once, on a lining fabric, because I didn’t know if it was synthetic or natural fibres. Of course, I didn’t know how to interpret the ash, so it was a bit of a waste (although YAY BURNING THINGS! – I grew up in the country making bonfires most weekends, leave my slight pyro tenancies alone).

    Anywho, the fabric looks pretty, and I can’t wait to see what you do with it!

    • I’m pleased you liked it. :) I like to burn stuff, too. I was raised in the country but never thought to blame it on that… Good rule of thumb for burning fabric- if it smells like hair its a protein fiber. If it smells like leaves or wood, probably a bast fiber or cotton. If it smells like DEATH and headaches, it’s synthetic. Also, naturals will ash and synthetics will bead or melt.

    • Heh heh heh… I told my husband before we married- “Love me, love my crazy.” So there’s plenty that doesn’t raise an eyebrow with him… ;)

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  8. Very interesting. I wait with interest to see what happens after all the torture and thinking and ruminating and and. Good things certainly do come with time I reckon.

    • Yes, definitely. I might not get to these jeans until March, but I like to keep records of the random little things like this I do so I can look back on them later when I’m actually working on the project! :)

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