Five Tips: Sewing With Knits

sumertimestripeswirl Five Tips: Sewing With Knits

Knit Fabric Image from The Fabric Fairy

Afraid to sew with knits? Once you sew with knits you’ll be surprised at how easy and versatile knits are. I love sewing with knits because you don’t have to be as precise as when sewing with wovens. Fitting isn’t nearly as big of deal as it is with wovens and inserting sleeves is a breeze. If you’re like me and can’t wait to wear your new knit creation you can always get by without a hem for a wearing or two. Just be sure to hem it at some point! Don’t be lazy. Here are four (really five) tips that will get you on your way to sewing with knits.

1. Chose the right needle. When sewing with knits it’s important to use the right needle in the sewing machine. A jersery or ball point needle is the needle to use for knits. There are various sizes with 70/10 being used for finer knits and a 110/120 for heavier knits. The jersey or ball point needles are made especially for knit fabrics, the tip of the needle is shaped so that it will not damage or break knit fibers.

2. Placement of pattern. Be sure to place your pattern pieces for knit garments so that the greatest stretch runs horizontally NOT vertically. Think of the garment going around your body. If new to knits consult your pattern directions and layout guide for proper placement of knits.

3. Sergers are perfect for creating knit garments. However, when I didn’t oil my serger for 10 years (what was I thinking!) and subsequently had to take it to the repair shop because, well you know, I got along quite well without it when sewing with knits. If using a sewing machine use a zig-zag stitch and gently stretch the fabric as you go. Set the width to 0.5 and the length to 2.5 and you are good to go.

4. Some knits are more stable and easier to sew with. T-shirt knits I’ve found are wonderful to work with. Others like jersey, super fine knits and tissue knits curl like crazy. For first timer’s skip the tissue and super fine knits until you have some experience under you belt. If you do have knit fabric that curls try using spray starch to control the curling.  One option I used is fabric glue within the seam allowances. Some knits preform better if you don’t have to pre-wash but if the knit has any natural fiber in it or a rayon blend it should be pre-washed for shrinkage.

5. Pick an easy pattern for knits. The easiest out there is a elastic waist skirt. Check out the tutorial from Ellen March on making a quick maxi skirt. If you don’t like the length just adjust the length to suit your needs.

Here are a five easy knit patterns to choose from. All are perfect for the beginner.

One Seam Maxi Skirt

Darling Knit Dress

Easy Knit Hat

Lounge Around Pants

Knit Head Band Pattern

 Five Tips: Sewing With Knits

About Jill

I write for the Sew News and Creative Machine Embroidery blogs. I love sewing, vintage and would love to get a comment from you!
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6 Responses to Five Tips: Sewing With Knits

  1. Pingback: Maternity Sewing | Sew News

  2. Laura McFall says:

    These are GREAT tips and information!!! But the next question: Where do you purchase knit fabric? I am not happy with the selection at either JoAnn or Hancock, so that leaves mail order. I have purchased a couple pieces but are surprised that they are completely different weight or texture when they arrive than what I was expecting. Is there a guideline for descriptive terms regarding knit fabrics? Thanks!!! L

  3. Jill says:

    Thank you so much Debbie for this amazing comment. The tips here are incredible and I am so glad that you took the time out to make them for all the readers. I am actually going to be making a dress out of knit jersey so I am excited to use your tips here!

  4. Debbie says:

    After sewing nearly 47 years for myself, family and now grandchildren, I finally have an overlock and a coverstitch machines. There was a Labor Day sale on refurbished models and I jumped on them! My ever faithful heavy duty Janome is still my favorite and has had many yards of knit fabrics run through it.

    I remember when knits started being available for regular people and not just runway designers. We had to alter all of the patterns as they were made for woven fabrics. Pattern makers finally started producing designs for knits.

    The tips and techniques for working with knits are great and Nancy’s book is the best I have seen on sewing. Washing and drying knits first is a must but do not use fabric softener or dryer sheets the first time. Since most knits are machine folded and wrapped around cardboard sleeves in the stores, they tend to be stretched and off grain. I don’t know why, but something in using softners on the fabric retards the needed shrinkage and prevents the true grain line from snapping back into place.

    If you have static when you take the fabric out of your dryer, just spritz it lightly with water in a spray bottle. Or mix up some liquid starch in a spray bottle and spritz with it. You’ll probably be using the starch spray as you press the fabric while sewing anyway. Let the fabric air dry before you lay your pattern on it.

    Using spray starch and pressing (not ironing) to tame the curling edges of cut pattern pieces works great for most fabrics. It seems that knit fabric with a higher cotton content or percentage works better with the spray starch than other fabric. I always use a pressing cloth so I don’t accidentally burn any synthetic fibers or leave an iron imprint. A silk organza pressing cloth might be pricey but is worth it the first time you see a melted edge on your unfinished hem as you lift your iron. It also helps to hold those curling edges flatter as you press them. And you won’t be accidentally stretching out the edge as you press it.

    A see-through fabric-like water soluble stabilizer like Sulky Fabri-Solvy Stabilizer is great for knits. It’s recommended for machine embroidery and is durable enough to handle sewing with a regular presser foot and feed dogs. You can’t press the seam until you rinse it out but an inch wide strip on the top and underneath the seam tames the curliest edges.

    This stabilizer makes it easier to feed slippery knits under the presser foot. It also lets you use your machine’s stretch stitches without stretching your fabric as you sew. Plus, I use it when I baste or stay stitch the neckline before sewing on the neck band. Then the only thing that stretches is the neck band and not the neckline as you sew.

    If you use a stretch twin needle for a mock coverstitch, this stabilizer and two other tricks I use will have you satisfied with the results. Use wooly nylon or stretch serger thread in your bobbin. You can use regular polyester thread as it does have some stretch and give, but the other ones give better results. You can wind wooly nylon or stretch serger thread onto your bobbin by hand or use your machine’s bobbin winder if you don’t run the thread through your bobbin tension knob. Run your thread from the spool to the bobbin on the winder and use a slower speed to wind the bobbin.

    I also bought an extra bobbin holder case for my Janome. I use it ONLY with a twin needle for the mock coverstitch on knits. When I first tried this, it took me about 40 minutes to make the adjustments on my stitch length, thread and bobbin tensions to get the effect I wanted – a flat mock coverstitch with stretch and no ‘tunneling’. I made my straight stitch length 2 millimeters longer. It’s between my regular straight stitch and my regular basting stitch. Then I backed off, or lessened, my thread tension at 1/2 a turn between the numbers on my tension dial. My normal thread tension is at #5. Next, I turned the bobbin holder’s tension screw 1/8 to the left to lessen the bobbin tension.

    I tested the adjustments on a piece of cotton ribbed knit that I had folded as I would for a hem on a t-shirt. Be careful to sew at a slower speed than you normally would and to feed the hem’s underneath edge so that both needles are catching two layers of fabric. I kept making the small adjustments and testing them. By the time I reached #3 on my thread tension and had turned the bobbin tension screw to the opposite from where I started, I had no tunneling on the top side stitching. On the underneath side stitching, there was 1/3 top thread on the left side, 1/3 zig-zagged bobbin thread in the middle, and 1/3 top thread on the right side. The hem stretched to almost 1/2 it’s length and returned to it’s original length with no loose stitches or puckering.

    I know every machine is different and these are the adjustments on my Janome. But since I took my time to find the right adjustments, it now only takes a few minutes to switch the bobbin cases, change the threads, adjust the tension to 3, put in a twin needle and thread them.

  5. Jill says:

    Hi Tish! Figured you’d have a tip or two. And, it just so happens I made a blouse from a Tessuti pattern out of a metallic knit and I need a place to wear it, so I’ll be there!

  6. Tish says:

    All great tips Jill!! Also, if you are looking for that “store bought” look on a knit using a classic machine, a double needle that is ball point for knits works great, and makes a good “fake” serged edge on the back of your work. Newer machines have some great stitches for use with knits, so getting to know your machine and testing the different stitch patterns before starting can help you achieve beautiful results without a serger. Looking forward to seeing you at Sew n Sudz tomorrow for our Knit Wit meeting, Jill!