The Internet has seen many strange questions, but one question that keeps popping up every sewing season is: what is spandex? If you're reading this, you've probably asked this question too. Although it is one of the most popular fabrics on the market, a lot of mystery still shrouds this stretchy material. What is it made from? Can you use it to create bespoke bags? How stretchy is it really? If these questions have been running through your mind, this tell-all guide is here to tell you everything you need to know about what is spandex and why tight spandex is the official costume for superheroes who want to fight crime.
What Is Spandex?
Spandex is a lightweight, synthetic fabric known and touted for its high elasticity. It basically refers to polyether-polyurea copolymer fabrics crafted through a wide range of processes. This material is also known as elastane in some countries.
Spandex can easily stretch up to 7 times its size and this makes it a popular choice among athletes and brands that produce form-fitting apparel. It is also one of the most popular fabrics across the globe, as about 8 in 10 consumers own at least one clothing that contains spandex.
In some cases, this fabric may be used in combination with other synthetic or semi-synthetic fibers.
What is Spandex in History
The story of spandex is a really interesting one. It all started during World War II when chemical engineers began to develop synthetic replacements for rubber. Of course, this may seem strange to the modern man. Why would anyone want to replace rubber with synthetic alternatives?
Well, the engineers had their reasons. For starters, the war was sucking up most of the available rubber, leaving an inadequate amount for industrial companies to fight over. Consequently, the price of rubber became very unstable and began to fluctuate. As such, they were vigorously hunting for suitable replacements for rubber.
One company at the forefront of this scientific hunt was Dupont. Its first breakthrough came in the early 1950s when one of its textile scientists, Joseph Shiver, invented a way of transforming an intermediate fiber, known as Dacron, into an immensely stretchy fiber that could withstand high temperatures and still keep its shape.
Subsequently, it was perfected in 1958 and began to boom in the early 1960s. The next two decades saw a surge in the use of comfortable intimate apparel, as well as swimwear made from spandex.
Today, this fabric is used for just about any type of apparel, including rights, leggings and even suits.
What Is Spandex Made of?
Wondering what spandex is made of? It's simple. it is made from a synthetic polymer known as polyurethane. This polymer has mind-blowing stretch ability and is responsible for spandex's unique elastic property.
It can be produced using a wide range of methods such as: solution dry spinning, reaction spinning, solution wet spinning and melt extrusion.
However, in today's world, the most popular method of producing this material is the solution dry spinning method. In fact, close to 90% of spandex materials all over the world are produced using this efficient method.
What is Spandex Used For?
This fabric is as versatile as a paper clip - it can be used for just about everything. Well, almost everything. It is used for anything that may require a certain amount of elasticity. In today's world, it is majorly used to produce different types of garments and apparels. Here are some of the most popular uses of this material:
For form-fitting garments
In some cases, many clothing brands and companies use pure spandex to produce fully form-fitting clothes for their consumers. If you've ever owned or come across an incredibly stretchy outfit, it was most likely made from pure spandex. However, pure spandex is quite expensive and as such, clothes made from this material may be too costly for average consumers to afford. This brings us to another popular use of spandex: as an additional fabric.
Woven into other fabrics
Since pure spandex is relatively expensive, most manufacturers and consumers go for a more economical option: weaving it into other textiles. Sometimes, it may be added to cotton to make it more elastic. In other cases, it can also be added to extremely rigid fabrics such as polyester to increase elasticity.
It is usually included in different kinds of underwear - both for male and female. Most underwear waistbands are made with this material in order to ensure a firm grip on the wearer's waist.
Athletic activities typically require clothes that ride close to the skin. As such, it is used to produce swimwear, bicycling apparel and different kinds of clothes used for sporting activities. This also explains why most superheroes in movies wear embarrassingly tight spandex outfits to fight crime.
Spandex also has a couple of uses outside the clothing industry. In some cases, the film industry uses this fabric to create motion capture suits, which are then used to produce realistic 3D characters for movies.
PurChasing Spandex - Factors to Consider
Ready to purchase some spandex? Here are some factors you'd need to consider when picking out this fabric:
What is Spandex Stretch Factor
Just before you purchase any spandex fabric, it's important to check its stretch factor. The stretch factor basically refers to the percentage that the fabric will stretch. You can test for this by stretching the material to see how far it would stretch. Remember that high-quality spandex fabrics can stretch up to 7 times their size. If you mark off 4 inches and that stretches to 8 inches then your stretch factor is 100%. If it only stretched to 7 inches, it would be 75%.
Check Fabric Recovery
If you're looking to sew a swimsuit or anything similar, you definitely don't want it to get saggy after the first few wears. As such, you should check the fabric's recovery rate before you make any purchase. Simply stretch it well and see if it would return to its original position. If it wrinkles or sags, you might want to pass on the fabric.
When purchasing spandex, hold it up to the light and give it a good stretch to see if it will become transparent. Some fabrics turn transparent when stretched or put in contact with water and may require a lining.
If you're a newbie to sewing with spandex, you might need to play it safe. Go for the cheaper options and practice your sewing skills on them. Once you've perfected your skills, you can then go on to purchase fancy spandex fabrics.
What is Spandex Sewn With?
I have a full tutorial on sewing Spandex that you can read for exact instructions.
In a nutshell, sewing spandex requires
- Stretch needles help prevent skipped stitches. You can also use ballpoint or jersey needles but stretch is usually the best for really stretchy spandex.
- Use a strong polyester thread. Cotton threads can rot especially if you are sewing swim or activewear which will be subjected to sweat or chlorine.
- If you don't have a serger, use a zig-zag stitch to sew seams. Straight stitches will pop under pressure while a zig-zag will retain the elasticity of the seam.
- Sticky spandex fabrics should be sewn with a Teflon foot or walking foot.
Is It the Same as Lycra?
If you've ever wondered whether spandex is the same as Lycra, we've got some news for you. Technically, there are no differences between Lycra and spandex. They are the same. However, spandex is the generic name of the elastic fiber while Lycra is the branded spandex product of the famous DuPont company.
How to Wash and Care for Spandex
Contrary to popular opinion, caring for Spandex isn't hard or delicate. However, there are certain precautions you would need to take to ensure that your fabric stays in tip-top shape.
Here are some useful tips for washing your spandex fabrics:
What is Spandex Hand washing
When it comes to spandex, it is advisable to wash by hand, instead of using a washing machine. This is because hand washing lowers the chances of your fabric getting over-stretched. When hand washing this fabric, make sure you:
- Never use chlorine bleach: Bleach is a harsh chemical that can permanently destroy the structure of your spandex. As such, never use washing detergent that either contains chlorine bleach or fabric softener.
- Always use lukewarm water: You should always use lukewarm water for the washing and rinsing processes as it is mild and won't stretch the fabric excessively.
- Gently squeeze any excess water out: After washing or rinsing your fabric, squeeze the excess water out gently. Do not wring it aggressively.
- Lightly rub out any stains: Rub out any stains mildly until they disappear. Do not scrub your spandex or the fabric may stretch.
What is Spandex Machine Washing
If you're trying to wash your spandex using a washing machine, you would need to be extra careful as the slightest mistake could ruin your fabric. Here are some tips to help you:
- Use a mesh washing bag: Before you place your spandex garments in the washing machine, wrap them in a mesh washing bag first. This will protect them from any damage.
- Use mild detergent: As stated earlier, use only mild detergents. Avoid detergents that contain chlorine bleach or any form of harsh chemicals.
- Use 'gentle' settings: Place your washing machine on 'gentle' or 'delicate' wash. Ensure that you don't leave your fabric in the washing machine for too long.
Should You Iron Your Spandex?
Generally, most spandex fabrics do not wrinkle or crease after washing or wearing them. As such, there's really no need to iron your fabric.
However, if you feel it's absolutely necessary, use the lowest possible heat to avoid burning or ruining your fabric.
What is Spandex? - IN CONCLUSION
At this point, your key question - "what is spandex" - has probably been answered. If you're looking to create amazing form-fitting outfits, you should definitely incorporate this fabric into your sewing arsenal. Good luck!
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