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080: What is powernet and power mesh fabric?

Having recently finally finished my Willowdale bra, I thought it would be fun to talk about those fabrics that help shape and sculpt our bodies. They go by various names depending on which part of the world you live in. You may have heard of the terms stretch mesh, powermesh or powernet


I think learning more about these fabrics gives us more options to improve the fit and comfort of our garments, and allows us to get creative with our makes in terms of how we incorporate some of their unique features. So what exactly are they, what are the differences and when and how can you use them?


In this article:

  • What is powernet and stretch/power mesh?

  • How is it made?

  • What are the limitations?

  • What can you make with powernet and power mesh fabric?

  • Tips for sewing with powernet and power mesh fabrics

  • Patterns and resources




I first came across powernet when I bought my first pair of hold-me-in pants many years ago. I am partial to a bit of sculpting and shaping around my midriff and the fabrics in these garments have an amazing compression quality. 


But my first experience actually sewing with these fabrics, was sewing with powernet as part of a bra making project a few years ago and then again a couple of months ago, quite a big gap in between mainly because I didn’t really feel confident in buying or using powernet and so I decided I needed to find out more.


What is powernet & stretch/power mesh fabric?

Powernet fabric

Powernet is made from a blend of synthetic fibres, typically including nylon and elastane (or spandex). This combination creates a fabric that is both strong and elastic.


With an open mesh-like knit, powernet is denser and more tightly woven than many other stretch fabrics like power mesh. This tight, sturdy knit gives it a distinctive feel and appearance.


One of the key features of powernet is its ability to provide significant support and compression. The fabric's firmness and elasticity make it ideal for areas in garments where more control and shaping are required.


Powernet is frequently used in the construction of lingerie, shapewear, sports bras, and performance wear. It's especially useful in garments that demand a higher level of support or compression, like the bands of bras or the control panels in shapewear.


Despite its firmness, powernet is still breathable due to its mesh structure. This makes it comfortable to wear, even in snug-fitting garments.


The fabric is known for its durability and strength. It maintains its shape and support over time, even with regular wear and washing.


While providing support, powernet also allows for a degree of flexibility and movement, making it a practical choice for garments that are both functional and comfortable.


Powernet comes in various weights and levels of compression, allowing sewists and designers to choose the appropriate type for their specific project needs.


Stretch/power mesh fabric

Stretch/power mesh is often used as a lining and has a lighter structure than powernet. It is ideal for lighter support bras and bralettes.


Like powernet it is breathable and moisture-wicking but it tends to have better drape and is less structured.


It also has a looser knitted construction so has a greater amount of stretch than powernet. This means that it doesn't provide the compression of powernet but it is great for providing a smooth feel especially when used as a lining.


How is it made?

Weft knitting vs Warp knitting
Weft knitting vs Warp knitting

Powermesh fabric is created through a unique manufacturing process that involves both the fibres used and the way it's knitted.


Nylon provides strength and durability, while spandex offers the essential stretch and recovery properties that make these fabrics so versatile.


It's made using a warp knitting technique. In warp knitting, the yarns run lengthwise (or vertically) along the fabric. This is different from the more common weft knitting that you may know from hand knitting, where the yarns run across the width of the fabric and is done on a knitting machine.


Warp knitting results in a fabric that typically has less stretch horizontally but has more stretch vertically, which is perfect for applications where you want the fabric to provide support and shaping.


As the name suggests, they have a mesh-like structure. This is achieved through the specific arrangement of the yarns during the knitting process. The mesh structure is not only essential for the fabric's stretch and support qualities but also makes it breathable.


After knitting, powermesh goes through various finishing processes. This can include dyeing to add color, as well as treatments to enhance its properties, like making it softer, more resistant to chlorine (for swimwear), or adding moisture-wicking capabilities (for sportswear).


Finally, the fabric undergoes rigorous quality control to ensure it meets the necessary standards of stretch, recovery, and durability.


What are the limitations of powernet and power mesh?

  • There is such a variety of weights, compositions and structures out there it can be hard to find one with the properties that you want or need. I’ll share some tips on choosing and buying shortly. 

  • These fabrics are often semi transparent so if you want to use it in areas that need more coverage then that might limit its use without layering or lining it with other fabrics.

  • In the case of stretch or power mesh, it’s more drapey so not the best choice for garments where you are looking for more structure or rigidity. 

  • On the flip side powernet is more structured so not the best choice for garments where you require more drape. 


  • In terms of working with them, both of them are knitted fabrics with some stretch so if you haven’t worked with those types of fabrics before then that can take a bit of getting used to - see the tips on working with these fabrics below.


  • And in terms of caring for them they are both made from synthetic fabrics so need careful laundering to maintain their elasticity and shape over time. 


And one final point about sustainability.  Synthetic fibres are non-biodegradable and do require energy intensive production processes. As mentioned before they can also cause irritation for those with sensitive skin. 


To mitigate the impact of this be mindful when you buy and use them to minimise any waste. To help with that, be sure to order samples first before you end up with a fabric that isn’t what you expected.


Some manufacturers are also making fabrics using recycled polyester which helps reduce waste and energy consumption so look out for those too.


What can you make with powernet and power mesh fabric?


Orange Lingerie Marlborough Bra
My Marlborough Bra

These fabrics are best known for making lingerie and swimwear. You may also have seen them in sportswear. But they don't need to be limited to those garments.


They can be used in sports and dancewear, so if you have put ‘be more active’ on your new year’s resolution list then you could use them to add both breathable panels often seen in leggings and wickable linings


Did you know that they can also be used with dress patterns to create sheer panels


Or the stretch/powermesh can be used as a lightweight lining


It also works well for illusion necklines and sleeves where it looks like you can see your skin but actually it’s covered by the fabric. Or you could use it as a supportive underlayer in closer fitting bodycon dresses to give a smooth finish. 


And you can get creative and use them to add ruched panels, gathered sleeves or as an overlay on other fabrics for a textured effect.


Compression panel in swimsuit
Compression panel in swimsuit

There’s a great YouTube video by Cyber Sewing School on where in a swimsuit or bikini you can use the different fabrics. 


Mimi G has a great couple of videos explaining how she uses powernet and power mesh as linings in her close fitting dresses and pencil skirts so that you don’t have to wear any kind of shapewear under them. 


There’s also a great video by Adopt your clothes showing how to adapt a leggings pattern to add your own breathable mesh panels. You could use this technique on pretty much any pattern for a stretch garment I think, to add sheer panels wherever your design and creativity inspire you.


And a great article by Pamela Howard for Threads magazine on how to add a slimming mesh panel into a skirt or trousers where she demonstrates adding it to a ready to wear pair of yoga pants.

And if you are inspired to give making your own spanx a go then I love Beverley Johnson’s class Sewing Shapewear: Smooth Silhouettes on Craftsy.


Tips for sewing with powernet and power mesh fabrics

Because of the way they are constructed they can have different amounts of stretch across the fabric versus up and down the fabric. 


So when you are placing your pattern pieces be sure that the direction of greatest stretch goes around the body. This may mean that you line your pattern pieces up at 90 degrees to the selvedges rather than lining them up with the selvedges. 


Depending on the size and shape of your pattern pieces, I think personally that it is easier to cut this fabric with a rotary cutter to get the most accurate shape. 


Cashmerette Willowdale Bra
My finished Willowdale Bra

In terms of sewing it, when I made my bra we used jersey needles. This helps to avoid making holes in the knitted structure of the fabric as the needle is designed to slide past the fibres. We also used the Maraflex stretch thread, but I think if you are using a narrow zig zag stitch that’s not essential. 


You’ve heard me say it before but remember to test your stitching on a scrap of fabric before you start.


Be careful not to stretch it when you are sewing especially the stretch mesh. A walking foot can be really helpful to manage that but if you don’t have one, check to see if you can reduce the pressure of your presser foot on your machine as that can also help. 


When pressing use a pressing cloth and a lower heat setting. Nylon doesn’t like hot irons. 


When we were doing the bra making we used a relatively small stitch length of around 1.8 or 2. This can make it hard to unpick mistakes and if you aren’t careful with your seam ripper it can create holes in your fabric. So it’s a great idea to do machine basting first, which is to sew with a long stitch length of around 4. That way you can check you lined everything up OK first, it’s easier to unpick and then when you are happy, sew it with your smaller stitch length. 


If you are sewing powernet and you are planning for it to be compressing some part of your body then smaller stitch lengths are also a good idea to reduce the chance of it popping open. If you want to be doubly sure, add a second row of stitching very close to the first to reinforce the seam.


Patterns and Resources

And if you would like more help with any of the aspects mentioned in this article or this podcast episode then I would love to hear from you so do please email me at hello@sewmuchmorefun.co.uk.


Thanks for taking the time to read this article and I hope you find some useful tips that you can apply.


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