How to Care for Stretch Garments

With Tilly’s new book ‘Stretch’ sliding through letterboxes all around the country (and probably the world too) this week, I thought that now would be the perfect time to give you some tips on looking after garments with a stretchy disposition.

Let’s start with a lowdown of what stretchy fabrics are and what makes them stretchy. For the most part, it’s the amount of elastane, a synthetic fibre, which determines how much a fabric can stretch and ‘recover’ – or bounce back to its original shape. The stretchiness also depends on whether it’s knitted or woven, but I won’t go into that today – if you want to find out more about it, I’ve included some links to great resources with clear explanations at the end of this post!

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Tilly’s new book!

Here are some things that you can do to help your stretchy garments (no matter how stretchy) live a longer life:


How you store stretchy garments is going to take a toll on their lifespan – the easiest way to think of it is like this: the more stretch something has, the more important it is that it’s folded away rather than hung up. No matter what kind of hanger you’re using, stretch garments will be affected by gravity – the pressure the hanger puts on the shoulders will mean that they’ll end up distorted and will start to fit you funny.

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Freya dress from Tilly’s new book ‘Stretch’

If you don’t have enough drawer space to hang up everything stretchy, I get it! You’ll just have to prioritise. These are the things you should consider when you’re figuring out what should get first dibs when it comes to folding:

  • How stretchy it is – the further it stretches, the more prone it’ll be to distortion when it’s hung up.
  • How heavy it is – This one goes hand-in-hand with the first factor. The heavier a garment is, the more it’ll be affected by gravity and therefore the more it’ll pull – if something with 40% stretch has elements (whether that’s metal hardware, a sequin skirt or is a really long dress) that make it quite heavy, you should fold that bad boy up.
  • How much you like it – I think this one’s pretty crucial! I’m a firm believer that you should totally throw the other two factors out of the window when it comes to what you really love. Go with your gut and prioritise something that you’d probably cry about if it ever got ruined.
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Coco top – Tilly and the Buttons


The majority of stretchy fabrics  are fine in the washing machine, but it’s always best to check the care label (if the garment is ready to wear), or snap a photo of the end of the bolt of fabric if it’s handmade. Here are some general tips that’ll help to keep them in good nick, and to try and keep pilling at bay!

  • Wash inside out – Friction is a really common cause of pilling (those little bobbles you get on your clothes), so try and avoid the right sides of your clothes from getting rubbed up against by turning them inside out to wash.
  • Try and wash on a cycle as cool as possible – It’s a well-known fact that heat often contributes to the shrinking of clothes. If an item of clothing isn’t particularly dirty, keep things cool.
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One of my personal favourite jersey patterns – the Rowan bodysuit and tee by Megan Nielsen


This is what seems to make or break stretchy clothes a lot of the time! Here are the cardinal rules:

  • Avoid the tumble dryer wherever possible. It’ll contribute to shrinkage and pilling – plus air-drying is totally free!
  • When something comes out of the washing machine, scrunch it up – don’t wring out! – to get rid of the excess water. That way, when you hang it out to dry, the weight of the water won’t be pulling it down.
  • To dry something with a lot of stretch, try and do it flat. This is probably going to be inconvenient, (it’ll get a bit in the way and you’ll have to step over it) but this is only necessary if your garment has over 50% stretch.
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Image from Tilly and the Buttons’  new book Stretch

Next week, I’ll dedicate a whole post on how to prevent pilling, so don’t fear. I hope this has helped – happy Stretch sewing!


Thread’s Magazine – Knits and Wovens, What’s the Difference?

Burda Style – The Difference Between Knit and Woven Fabrics


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