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Does Cotton Stretch?

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Cotton fabric does not have a natural stretch on the straight grain (along the lengthwise direction, parallel to the selvage). 

On the crosswise grain, it is a little more stretchy. This grain is used for the width of the garment.

And on the bias grain, a lot more. When you want a drapey garment, this is the direction it is cut. 

And loosely woven cotton fabrics stretch more than the tightly woven cotton fabrics.

To answer the question “whether cotton stretch when it is wet”, yes, Cotton is more stretchy when wet than dry.

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This is why clothes are cut in the straight grain for the length; otherwise, you can expect it to sag a little over time.

Does 100% Cotton Stretch more than cotton blends?

Cotton is a part of our everyday life. We all love cotton for our own reasons. Some may love wearing cotton clothes as it is comfortable and breathable. Some may choose it because of its inexpensiveness, and some value its absorbency. Some love its availability in all types of colors and patterns than any other fabric.

But no one is heard saying that cotton is their favourite because of its stretch.

This is about 100% cotton.

When other fibers like spandex is added, it is a different matter. Unlike polyester or nylon, cotton doesn’t have natural elastic properties.

A cotton-polyester blend will stretch more than 100% cotton. A 5% spandex fiber added to cotton fabric will change the stretch game completely for cotton. Cotton blended with spandex will have more elasticity, allowing for good stretch. For sportswear requiring flexibility, cotton with spandex is a good choice due to its stretch.

Elasticity and stretchability

Stretchability can also be roughly translated to elasticity. The term elasticity can be defined as any fabric’s potential to return to its original shape after being stretched. The ones we label as elastic will regain their former shape when it is stretched and let go. The most elastic fibers that you commonly see in clothes are spandex.

Names of cotton fabrics with good stretch

Cotton Jersey and Cotton Terrycloth Knit have great stretch.The terrycloth knit has a loopy surface texture whereas jersey fabric is smooth. 

When does a cotton dress stretch?

It is not possible to expect cotton to stretch like the other materials like polyester and there is hardly any regain in shape after it gets stretched.  But this does not mean that cotton has zero stretch. There are some different conditions under which the cotton can be stretchy. Let us now explore these conditions and, thus, the various ways to increase the stretchiness of cotton.

1. When it is Cut on the bias grain

The straight grain of the fabric is parallel to the selvage of the fabric – the lengthwise direction. And it does not budge much as you try to stretch it in that direction. But that is not the case when it is cut in the diagonal direction- ie, in the bias grain.

2. With the Mixing of cotton with other fibers

When other fibers are mixed with cotton like spandex, the stretchability of cotton increases. Even a 3% addition of spandex fibers makes all the difference in the stretchability of cotton clothes. A lot of gym wear shorts, leggings which are considered breathable and stretchy are a blend of cotton and spandex.

In knitted clothes, the type of yarn used in knitting can also determine how much a cotton fabric will stretch.

3. Structure of the fabric

The stretchability of cotton fiber also depends on the way it is made.  The individual yarn fibers of 100% cotton are rigid and non-stretchable. But some amount of stretch can be introduced into the cotton fabric by the way the fabric is made.

The weave of the cotton can impact its stretch; a looser weave usually means more give.

Cotton knit fabrics are used to make comfortable clothes for daily wear, like pajamas or lingerie. The knit weave is used in cotton to induce stretchiness. It makes the cotton more durable and long-lasting. The knitting technique used can influence how much a cotton fabric stretches.

Does cotton stretch Overtime?

Loosely woven cotton can stretch and sag overtime. 

The stretchability of cotton fibers definitely increases over time. As you continue wearing any particular cotton cloth, the stretch increases and becomes slightly more elastic than what it was initially. You can easily observe this change in daily wear clothes you have been using for a long time. However, the stretch is not that significant.

The cotton cloth will never attain the stretchability of the spandex or rayon fiber cloth. There is one crucial factor in understanding this context.

The nature of the stretchability of the cotton fibers is distinct. Elasticity of the fabric doesnot increase.

After long-term usage, when a cotton fiber cloth gets stretchier, it will never return back to its original shape. 

So, what exactly do we mean when we say cotton stretches over time? It means the clothes become less tight. After a long time of usage, the cotton fabric becomes loose and does not hug your body anymore. This makes cotton clothes highly comfortable and loose. So you can quickly move around in the same clothes and won’t feel a trace of discomfort. The gradual loosening up of cotton makes it unique and comfortable. 

Why does Wet Cotton Clothes stretch?

Cotton clothes are more stretchable in wet conditions than in dry conditions. Cotton can absorb moisture, which may cause temporary stretching, but it generally returns to its original form when dry.

When you wash and then dry cotton clothes in the dryer or washer, they shrink, rather than stretch. High water temperatures in washing machines can cause cotton to shrink, reducing any initial stretch it may have had.

But when the cotton fabric is wet, they are more susceptible to stretchiness and also damage. Especially thin cotton fabrics like cotton lawn.

Related post: How to keep cotton from shrinking.

Cotton clothes stretch the most when in wet conditions due to a reason. There is pure science behind this phenomenon. Cotton fiber is completely a plant fiber. That means innumerable microscopic plant cells are embedded to form one fiber. Natural cells have the capacity to soak water or imbibe water and become turgid. The same happens in the case of cotton fibers. When the clothes are woven, the fiber is in dry form. That means the plant cells making up the fibers are in flaccid form. As soon as it imbibes water, the plant cells swell up, becoming turgid. Turgid plant cells lose their original shape and become loose and saggy. The same thing gets reflected in the clothes. They lose their integrity and shape when wet. Contrastingly, when the fibers lose their water content, they regain their original shape and dry form.

Also, when you lay out the wet clothes, they droop down because the heaviness of water pulls the clothes down as per the law of gravitation. That is why if you lay the clothes flat, the water will not pull the clothes down, and they will remain intact in shape and integrity.

How to add stretch to cotton?

Cotton fibers can be made to be more elastic by mercerization, a process that involves treating the fibers with a strong alkali solution. Mercerized cotton fibers are more resistant to shrinkage and have a greater ability to stretch and recover.

Related posts: Cotton fabric – varieties ; How is cotton made; How to sew Cotton fabric

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Author: Sarina Tariq
Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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