Rayon is not stretchy. The fabric does not contain any elastic fibers that make it stretch on any side, whether horizontally or vertically. However, rayon is very sensitive to heat and moisture, and when exposed to these elements, rayon can either shrink or stretch.
What is Rayon?
Before we delve deeper into rayon’s ability to stretch, let’s discuss what rayon is. To be able to understand the properties of this versatile fabric, we need to talk about what it’s made of, and how it performs.
Rayon is considered a semi-synthetic fabric. This is because rayon is both a natural and man-made fiber. Rayon is made out of chemically produced cellulose and is a lightweight and airy drape.
Typically, rayon is made from wood pulp, which is a sustainable material, right? So this must mean that rain is a natural fiber. However, rayon can’t be made out of wood pulp alone, or other leftover cellulose usually from pine, hemlock trees, or spruce. A chemical process is needed to turn all the cellulose into rayon or its plastic-like fibers. And thus the label, semi-synthetic or semi-manmade fiber since it’s both natural and synthetic.
Rayon is a popular alternative to silk because it features a similar drape and feel. It is very soft to the touch, extremely absorbent and breathable, and drapes very well. In fact, rayon was made and produced because manufacturers were looking for a cheaper alternative to natural silk, and thus, rayon was born.
Rayon was also known as the very first manufactured fiber and today, you can find a wide range of rayon blends, particular rayon, and spandex that make the fabric stretchable.
Three Main Types of Rayon
Because rayon is so easy to blend with other fibers, there are so many blends available in the market today. However, there are three main types that are the most popular and most used, and these are: Viscose rayon, Lyocell, and Modal rayon. Let’s discuss each one.
1. Viscose Rayon
Viscose rayon is the type of rayon that resembles most closely to silk. Its sheen and drape are highly similar to silk and it’s mostly used on dresses, women’s blouses, and silky coordinates like pajamas. Viscose rayon is also the type of rayon that easily shrinks and stretches. If you want rayon that can be manipulated, Viscose rayon is for you.
Lyocell is typically made from beech trees but unlike regular rayon, which undergoes a rigorous chemical process, Lyocell goes through a more environmentally friendly procedure. In terms of features and characteristics, Lyocell often feels and looks like cotton. It is also the more absorbent type of rayon.
Modal rayon is the most expensive type of rayon to make. However, it has a unique softness that makes it popular in garments, such as underwear. It also comes from beechwood pulp and is often blended with spandex to make it stretchy, or cotton to make it sturdier.
Rayon knit is a popular type of rayon wherein its fibers are interlocked and not woven in a crisscross weave, to give it a stretch on all sides. It is mostly used on sweaters. It features 100% rayon fibers but the type of weave makes it stretchable.
When Does Rayon Stretch?
Rayon is not a stretchable fabric but it will shrink or expand when exposed to heat or moisture. Unlike many synthetic fibers, rayon is very absorbent. And when it gets wet, it can expand and stretch. If you want to stretch out your rayon garments, or if it has stretched out and you want to shrink it back to its original shape, there are things that you can do at home. The rules to shrinking or expanding rayon are to involve heat and/or moisture.
If you want to shrink your rayon garments, expose them to heat. If you want to stretch it, expose it to moisture. But, if you don’t want to have to go through the burden of customizing your rayon garments, you can opt to buy rayon spandex blended clothes that offer both softness, breathability, and stretchability.
Rayon spandex fabrics are mostly used in athletic wear, such as leggings, bralettes, and any fabric that wearers can put on as they move and bend a lot. Rayon spandex blends usually contain 95% rayon and 5% spandex, which is enough elasticity to stretch the fabric on all sides.
How to Stretch Rayon
If you’ve bought rayon and want to stretch it to your desired fit or size, there are simple tricks at home that you can do. With these simple tips, you can manipulate rayon fabric.
1. Soak and Wear
This may be uncomfortable but it’s an effective way to stretch out a rayon garment to fit your body. Remember that rayon expands when wet, so soak your garment in a tub of water just enough to make it completely wet. Once it’s soaked in water, remove it from the tub and hang dry to let the water drop to the bottom. Wear the wet garment as it’s still fully wet and wait till it’s damp or a little dry while still on your body.
As soon as it’s a little dry, take it off and place it over a towel on the floor or over an iron board. Make sure you lay your garment flat and place some weights on the sides and corners of the garment to maintain the shape. Wait till the garment fully dries before wearing.
The soak and wear method allows the rayon garment to sculpt into your body, creating a custom fit through the manipulation of the fibers by expanding them with water and keeping their shape as it dries.
2. Baby Shampoo
You can also try the baby shampoo method wherein your garment is submerged in warm water with baby shampoo. The gentle ingredients in baby shampoo can help to expand the fibers better.
In this method, prepare warm water in a bucket and add 1 tablespoon baby shampoo to every quart of water. Pour water just enough to completely submerge your garment. Soak your garment inside the bucket for at least 5 minutes. Remove the garment and rinse in cool, running water until all the shampoo is removed.
Prepare a towel and lay it flat on a floor or iron board. Place your garment flat on the towel, then roll up the towel to squeeze out the water from the garment. Do not wring the garment or towel, otherwise, the rayon garment will be damaged. It if gets too wrinkled, you’d need to iron it, which will shrink the fabric.
Gently pull out the garment from the towel and spread it out on a clean floor or sink area. Gently pull on the parts of the garment that you want to stretch out.
You can also use a hair conditioner instead of baby shampoo. Hair conditioner contains special oils and humectants to relax and smoothen the hair, and it will do the same to the fibers of rayon fabric.
If soaking your garment in water is too messy, you can opt to use a steamer. While a steamer releases heat, it also brings moisture to fabrics, making rayon garments stretch. As you steam your garment, gently pull the parts of the clothing you want to stretch or expand.
If you’ve stretched out your rayon garment too much, you can shrink it back by using an iron. Remember that rayon is sensitive to heat, which shrinks the fibers. You can also use a blow dryer set to high heat settings for the same purpose.
Dos and Don’ts of Stretching Rayon
- Do remember that rayon is highly sensitive to heat and moisture. You can expand or stretch your rayon garments according to this rule.
- Do make sure your garment is made of 100% rayon if you opt to shrink or expand it.
- Do buy rayon spandex blended fabrics if you want to use stretchable rayon.
- Do read laundering and care instructions on garments before experimenting.
- Don’t use a hanger to air dry rayon clothing as you can stretch out the fabric.
- Don’t use a washing machine if you wash 100% rayon, as this can stretch out your garments. Handwashing is most ideal.
- Don’t use a dryer if you don’t want your rayon garments to shrink.
The Bottom Line
Rayon is a versatile semi-synthetic fabric made of cellulose from the leftovers of cotton production. It can also be made of wood pulp and though it comes from natural resources, goes through a tedious chemical process that makes it semi-manmade.
It is known as a popular alternative to silk, as it features similar characteristics, such as softness, breathability, and drapability. It is mostly used on blouses and dresses, as well as loungewear, and is ideal for warm climates.
Rayon is not stretchy because the fibers do not contain any elastic. But, it is highly sensitive to heat and moisture and can expand when soaked in water or exposed to moisture.
If you don’t want to get messy just to expand rayon garments, you can purchase rayons spandex blends which can stretch in all directions, making it a flexible and ideal fabric to use for loungewear and athletic wear.
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my kids however, that is typically a challenge with how limited their attention span can be and how messy it gets. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and creating fond memory for all of us.