Hi folks! I hope you had a wonderful weekend. Today I want to talk in depth about fabric choices for the Nettie Bodysuit & Dress. Since it's a lot of ground to cover, I will post tomorrow about additional materials you may want to gather. I won't be starting the sewalong for a few weeks so everyone has time to gather their materials.
Some of you may be unfamiliar with sewing with knits. They can seem intimidating at first, especially given the misconception that you need a serger. You don't! Knit garments can be easily made on a regular machine as long as you can do a zig zag stitch. Since knits make up so much of our daily wardrobe, its worthwhile to embrace sewing with them, a highly manageable goal once you understand a few basics.
The Nettie pattern is probably unique from a pattern making perspective if you haven't sewn with a lot of close-fitting knits before. It has negative ease, which means the final garment will be smaller than your body measurements. In order for this pattern to work, it has to cling to your body. If it is not tight enough, your shoulders will be constantly falling down, especially with the scoop neck, low back variation. The downside of this is if you don't choose a fabric with enough stretch, it will be too tight. This isn't often an issue with most patterns, since generous ease is usually included. I think it is important to mention now that if you are in-between sizes or are concerned that your fabric may not be stretchy enough, go up a size or 2! Technically I'm a size 10 on top and a 12 on bottom, but most of my samples were made with a straight 12 and fit fine. The forgiving nature of knits makes grading between sizes often irrelevant - it's better to err on the side of caution and take it in later if you need to!
There are five elements that you will need to consider when choosing your Nettie fabric: fabric composition & recovery, fabric weight, direction of stretch, and stretch percentage. This may seem a little overwhelming but I will break down what all this information means. Any decent online purveyer will include most of this information in the fabric description so it should not be difficult to find the perfect fabric for your Nettie!
Knit fabric differs from traditional fabric in that is actually "knitted" together as opposed to woven. Knit fabrics get their stretch from the physical construction of the fibers, and can be made from any material, such as silk, wool or cotton. That said, not all knit fabrics are created equal. For Nettie, you need a knit that has an elastic component blended with the base fiber.
My ideal fabric for the Nettie Bodysuit, and what I used as a basis to draft it, is a cotton-lycra blend (lycra and spandex are used interchangeably in fabric descriptions). The critical component is the lycra; my pattern testers and I had success with rayon-lycra, bamboo-lycra, and straight up lycra (otherwise known as swimsuit fabric).
The ratio of lycra to cotton/bamboo etc. will determine how well it stretches and "recovers". The more lyrca, the more it will want to return to its original size after being stretched. An ideal ratio is 5-10% lycra, although it can be made with less (my blue floral Nettie had 2% lycra - I let out the seams a little to compensate for any lack of stretch). You want a fabric that recovers from being stretched - if it doesn't, it will get stretched out and baggy over time.
For the Nettie dress, lycra is not a requirement since vertical stretch is not required. Ponte and other 2-way stretch fabrics work well, provided the stretch percentage is adequate (more on that below!)
The weight of your fabric will determine the way Nettie fits and clings. Medium to heavy weight knits will act almost like spanx, sucking everything in and molding to your curves. Lighter weight fabrics work as well, but if your fabric is very drapey, you will be more likely to see to see bra straps through the thinness of the material.
2-WAY vs. 4-WAY STRETCH
Of critical importance when choosing a fabric for Nettie, is determining whether or not it is a 2-way or 4-way stretch. 4-way stretches both horizontally and vertically, which is muy importante for the bodysuit. If your fabric doesn't stretch along both axis, your bodysuit may be uncomfortable or too short in the torso.
2-way stretch fabric, such as ponte or cotton jersey (what is traditionally used to make t-shirts) can be used for the dress, provided they stretch enough on the horizontal axis.
This is easy to determine when you are shopping in real life, as you can stretch the fabric in both directions. When shopping online, do not buy anything that does not explicitly state that the fabric is 4-way stretch if you are making the bodysuit!
Stretch percentage refers to the amount your fabric stretches in proportion to the fabric when laying flat. I specify a fabric with at least 50% horizontal stretch, which means the fabric should stretch by at least half its length.
To illustrate this concept, I cut 6 inch squares of the fabrics I used for some of my sample Netties to show you what kind of stretch percentage they had. Folding the swatch in half, I stretched it as far as it would go and measured it to see what it's percentage was.
In my experience, super-stretchy fabric (above 70%) tends to be lighter weight and looser fitting. The short sleeved striped Nettie I made is not tight at all - the fabric was almost drapey and very forgiving. The medium weight knits tended to be around 50-60% stretch and fit much tighter.
Not all online stores provide stretch percentage. When in doubt, look at the ratio of lycra. Anything over 5% is going to give you a good stretch percentage!
Now that we've gone over what you need to look for, here's the fun part.
My absolute favourite source for Nettie fabrics is Girl Charlee. I looked all around the web and they have the BEST prints out there and the prices are fantastic. If anyone ends up buying from there for the first time, please use this referral link. For every order I get a $5 credit, which I would like to use for giveaways & prizes in the future.
Here are some current finds:
Spandex World has a good range of prints and every solid colour you can imagine. This check print is particularly appealing:
Fabric.com has quite a lot as well. They have some nice stripes which can be hard to find.
In the UK/Europe:
Anyone else have any other resources? I'll add them to the list!
Hopefully this helps you understand how to make great fabric choices for your Nettie. It's more specific than you're probably used to, but picking the perfect knit will ensure your dress or bodysuit fits perfectly. I'll be back tomorrow with a post on other notions or tools you may need!