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What Is 4 Way Stretch Fabric?

When searching for fabrics for your sewing project, you may have come across the 4-way stretch fabric. Or, you may have come across a specific type of fabric and are wondering if it has a 4-way stretch since some 4-way stretch fabrics are often called something different. But what is a 4-way stretch fabric and how can you use it for your sewing project?

4-way stretch fabric is a fabric that stretches both lengthwise and widthwise instead of just stretching in one direction. But, 4-way stretch fabric also recovers from being stretched in both directions. It won’t become misshapen if stretched and will bounce back to its original shape.

In this article, I’ll explain what 4-way stretch fabric is in more detail and how it differs from other types of stretch fabric. I’ll also share some specific examples of 4-way stretch fabric so you know what to look for. Finally, I’ll explain how to sew a 4-way stretch fabric properly.

What Is 4 Way Stretch Fabric

What Is a 4-Way Stretch Fabric?

4-way stretch fabric is any fabric that stretches both lengthwise and widthwise and recovers in both directions. No matter how you stretch the fabric, it will bounce back to its original shape and size.

Fabrics have different levels of stretch. There is also 1-way stretch fabric and 2-way stretch fabric. The 1-way stretch fabric will stretch in one direction (from side to side) but won’t recover from being stretched. 2-way stretch fabric stretches in only one direction, usually from side to side, but will recover from being stretched. Neither of these fabrics offers a lot of freedom of movement to the wearer, although 2-way stretch fabric stretches more than 1-way stretch.

But, 4-way stretch fabric offers the most freedom of movement to the wearer since it stretches in all directions and recovers from being stretched. 4-way stretch fabrics are great fabrics for clothing that is designed to fit more tightly or for clothing such as athletic wear. Many knit fabrics have 4-way stretch, but not all of them do.

How Can You Tell If Fabric Has 4-Way Stretch?

Not all 4-way stretch fabrics are labeled as such or are labeled under a different name. Luckily, if you’re unsure whether a fabric has 4-way stretch, it’s pretty easy to tell. It’s easy to tell if a particular fabric has 4-way stretch.

All you have to do is take the fabric in your hands. Pull on opposite sides of the fabric to see if it stretches and then recovers after being stretched. Then, stretch the fabric from top to bottom to see if it stretches and recovers in that way. If the fabric stretches and recovers in both directions, then it is a 4-way stretch fabric.

What Is 4-Way Stretch Fabric Used For?

What Is 4 Way Stretch Fabric Used For

4-way stretch fabric is used for garments that offer more movement or that you want to move with you. One of the most common uses for 4-way stretch fabrics is for leggings, workouts, and athletic gear. These clothes are often tight-fitting to offer less resistance to the wearer while not hindering the wearer’s movement.

Although some people wear leggings to work out in, leggings can also be worn under dresses, skirts, or pants for extra warmth. Since they are more tight-fitting than the clothing being worn over them, you want them to be able to move with you as well. That’s why many leggings are made from 4-way stretch fabric.

Some skirts and dresses can be made with 4-way stretch fabric as well. These types of clothing can be tight or loose-fitting, but the goal is the same. Dresses and skirts made with 4-way stretch fabrics are designed to move with you and are often more comfortable for the wearer.

2 Way vs 4-Way Stretch Fabric: What’s the Difference?

I mentioned earlier that a lot of knit fabrics have 4-way stretch. But, there are also some knit fabrics that have 2-way stretch. What exactly is the difference between 2-way and 4-way stretch fabrics?

A 2-way stretch fabric is a fabric that only stretches (and recovers) in two directions. It can stretch from side to side or from top to bottom, but not both. The most common way for a 2-way fabric to stretch is from side to side. But, the direction that a 2-way fabric stretches depends on in what direction the fabric is woven.

On the other hand, 4-way stretch fabrics are knit fabrics stretching from side to side and from top to bottom. These fabrics are knit in such a way that allows them to stretch in all 4 directions. Clothing made with 4-way stretch fabrics tends to move with you and return to its original shape as you move and after taking them off.

Examples of 4-Way Stretch Fabric

4-way stretch fabrics aren’t often labeled as such, so it can be hard to know what you’re looking for and what you’re getting without testing the fabric to see how it stretches. That’s why it’s important to know some examples of 4-way stretch fabrics and their characteristics. That way, you can make sure you’re getting the right fabric for your project.

Remember that all 4-way stretch fabrics are knit fabrics, so any fabric that is typically woven won’t have 4-way stretch. Most knit fabrics that have 4-way will be made with or contain either nylon or elastic fibers such as spandex or Lycra (a specific spandex brand name). Additionally, 4-way stretch fabrics don’t have to be made with 100% nylon or spandex/Lycra. They need to have some percentage of nylon or spandex/Lycra blended in.

Jersey fabrics are also knit fabrics, and many of them have 4-way stretch. Jersey fabrics can be made of many different types of fibers, but they all have in common: you can expect them to stretch at least some. This is because they are stretchy due to the way that they are made, not because they contain elastic fibers. Jersey knits can contain elastic fibers, though, and jersey knits with spandex/Lycra are typically the ones that are the stretchiest.

Here are some specific examples of 4-way stretch fabrics. This is not an all-inclusive list but rather some of the most popular and commonly used stretch fabrics.

Stretch Cotton Poplin

Emma Stretch Cotton Poplin Stripe Red, Fabric by the YardPoplin is a type of woven fabric that is typically made from cotton. It usually isn’t very stretchy, but the fabric can be made stretchy by adding an elastic fiber.

Stretch cotton poplin fabrics are usually made with around 97% cotton and 3% spandex/Lycra. It is soft, lightweight, and great for making dresses and shirts. Note that some stretch cotton poplin may only have 2-way stretch depending on how it’s made, so this is a fabric that you still may want to test out the stretch before buying it.

Cotton Jersey Knit

Jersey fabrics used to be made with wool, but now they are mostly made with cotton. This is because cotton is more affordable and durable than wool. Cotton jersey knit is not only stretchy but soft as well. It’s a very low-maintenance fabric. It doesn’t wrinkle easily due to how it is made. Cotton jersey knit fabric is great for making t-shirts, dresses, and even household textiles like bed sheets.

Stretch Satin

Stretch Satin Fabric for Bridal Dress Decoration & Craft 47 Inches Width by The Yard Entelare(Green 1Yard)Satin is not typically a fabric that you think of as being stretchy, especially when made with synthetic fibers such as polyester. Satin made with silk is somewhat stretchy, but it won’t give you 4-way stretch.

What is important to remember about satin is that it refers to the texture of the fabric, not a specific fabric type. So satin can refer to any type of fabric made a certain way. Stretch satin fabric is typically made of a combination of nylon and spandex. It has a shiny appearance and is great for costumes, dresses, and other garments you want to have a shiny and luxurious appearance.

Polyester Spandex

Solid Polyester Spandex Velvet 2 Ways Stretch Medium Weight Fabric-by The Yard (Sand)Polyester fabrics are typically not stretchy at all. But, polyester can be turned into a fabric with 4-way stretch by blending in spandex (or Lycra) fibers with the polyester fibers.

Polyester spandex fabrics usually have around 90-92% polyester and 8-10% spandex fibers are what makes the clothing stretch. Polyester spandex is usually pretty affordable and is great for making leggings and other athletic wear or workout clothing.

Cotton Spandex

FabricLA Cotton Spandex Jersey Fabric - 10 oz, 4-Way Stretch, 60' Inch Wide by The Yard – Skirts, Tops, T-Shirts - Jade, 1 YardLike polyester, cotton is typically a woven fabric and does not have much natural stretch to it at all. It can also be blended with spandex to give it a 4-way stretch.

Cotton spandex fabrics usually consist of a blend of 95% cotton and 5% spandex fibers.

This type of fabric can be used for dresses and skirts, but it is more commonly used for soft cotton leggings to make them stretchy.

Rayon Spandex

Rayon Spandex Stretch Jersey Knit Solid White PFP, Fabric by the YardRayon fabric is typically lightweight, but rayon spandex is a bit heavier than typical rayon. Rayon is also not typically a stretchy fabric, but adding spandex to the fabric makes it stretchier.

Rayon spandex fabric is usually made from 95% rayon and 5% spandex. Spandex being blended in doesn’t make the rayon lose breathability either; the fabric is still very breathable. This type of stretch fabric is typically used for leggings, dresses, and skirts.

100% Spandex

MADEUNID 2 Yards Pre-cut Solid Color Double Brushed Jersey Fabric, 4-way Stretch Poly Spandex Fabric in 59' Wide for DIY Sewing, Skirt, head scarf and Home Decorative. (FLAME ORANGE)As I’ve mentioned, spandex is an elastic fiber that is created to be stretchy. It should be no surprise that clothing made with 100% spandex will have a 4-way stretch.

100% spandex fabric is not something that you use for everyday clothing. This type of fabric is mainly reserved for swimsuits, biking clothing, and any other sportswear that needs to be tight and stretchy but non-restrictive.

Nylon Spandex

Nylon Spandex Fabric - Matte Tricot Swimsuit Fabric by The Yard - 80% Nylon, 20% Spandex - 4-Way Stretch Fabric - 60' Wide - Swimwear, Sports, Dance, Lining Fabric - 1 Yard Beige Nylon FabricNylon spandex is a fabric made with a percentage of nylon and spandex. The percentage of nylon and spandex can sometimes be as much as 50% each.

Nylon is not normally stretchy on its own, but it is incredibly durable.

Adding spandex can make the fabric both durable and stretchy. Nylon spandex fabric is used for leotards, swimwear, dancewear, costumes, etc.

How Do You Sew 4-Way Stretch Fabric?

Stretchy fabrics of any kind can be tricky to sew, especially if you’ve never used them before. You will need to use certain tools and settings to sew with them effectively. Even using the right methods, it may take a few tries to learn how to do it correctly and make your projects look perfect. But, here are some tips to help you out.

Pre-Wash the Fabric

One of the first things you’ll want to do before sewing 4-way stretch fabric is wash and dry it. Knit fabrics can stretch after the first wash, especially if they are made with fabrics such as cotton or rayon. You don’t want your finished project to be a different size than you intended if you wait to wash it afterward. Even if the fabric is made from polyester and spandex that isn’t as prone to shrinking, you still want to wash it first to remove any chemicals that may be on the fabric.

Cut the Fabric

Knit fabrics can also be more tricky to cut than woven fabrics. You’ll still want to fold in it half by bringing the selvages together, but you’ll find that the fold doesn’t always line up straight with the grain of the fabric. Double-check this and adjust the fold if necessary to ensure that the grain and edges line up straight. Then, lay a cutting mat down and place the fabric on top. Use a tracing wheel to trace any cuts before actually cutting them. Make sure that you don’t stretch the fabric when cutting it.

Use a Ballpoint Needle

A ballpoint needle is a specialized type of needle designed for sewing knit fabrics, which is what most stretch fabrics are. A ballpoint needle has a rounded tip. The rounded tip allows the needle to pass through the knitted threads to separate them without causing damage. If you don’t use a ballpoint needle and use a needle with a regular point instead, it could cause damage to the fabric and cause it to curl.

Use Polyester Thread

You’ll want to use polyester thread instead of cotton when sewing knit and stretchy fabrics because it has more stretch and give to it than cotton does. That means that when the fabric of the finished project stretches, the thread will stretch some instead of breaking. The polyester thread also tends to have a waxy finish on it, which enables it to slip through the fabric more easily than cotton thread does.

Use a Zig Zag Stitch

When sewing stretchy fabric, you’ll also want to use a zig-zag stitch instead of a straight stitch. A zig-zag stitch is stronger and won’t come out as the fabric stretches the way that a straight stitch will. A narrow zig-zag stitch is the best to use, with the stitch length the same as the stitch width. Make sure that you don’t stretch the fabric when sewing it.

Make Sure the Edges Don’t Curl

Stretch fabrics of any kind have a tendency for the edges to curl when you sew them using a sewing machine. Pay attention as you’re sewing to make sure that the edges don’t curl, as this can affect your stitch. If you notice that the edges are curling, stop sewing and press the edges with an iron to get them to lay flat again. Make sure to use a warm iron setting so that you don’t damage the fabric.

4-Way Stretch Fabric By the Yard

Now that you know everything there is to know about 4-way stretch fabrics, you may be wondering where you can buy them and how much they cost per yard. 4-way stretch fabrics can be found anywhere that fabrics are sold, but you may find a larger selection online. The selection and types of stretch fabric will vary by retailer as well. It helps to know specifically what type of stretch fabric you’re looking for before purchasing to narrow down the options.

Regarding how much 4-way stretch fabrics cost, it depends on the type of fabric that you’re looking for. Most stretch fabrics cost between $5 and $15 per yard, but they can cost more or less based upon the manufacturer, the quality of the fabric, etc. Most 4-way stretch fabrics come in widths between 45 and 60 inches.


4-way stretch fabric refers to fabric that can stretch both lengthwise and widthwise and recover from being stretched. These fabrics are typically knit fabrics and many of them have spandex blended in to make them stretchy. 4-way stretch fabrics are typically used for athletic wear or clothing where you want more movement. If you found this article helpful, share it with others and leave a comment. Thanks for reading!