Tips and Tricks for Sewing with Knits

ETA 6/23/12 Great News! I recently started doing videos to help you with your sewing, and the first one is on Sewing with Knits!

Click Here to see the Video!

I did a post a couple of years back for SewStylish about this, and since I get lots of questions about sewing with knits, I figured it was time to bring it back to the top. So here you go!

Some Helpful Hints for Sewing with Knits

Knits are a fabric mainstay of our lives. Fashionistas of all ages and sizes embrace the comfort, ease and wearability that knits afford. But for the beginning (and even not-so-beginning) sewing enthusiast, there are some techniques that make sewing with knits easier and more enjoyable. Here are a few to get you started.

Use the right needle – The needle you use in a project with knits can make or break the results. Generally speaking, you need a specialized needle to sew knits. There are two types that I use for knits: Ballpoint (also called Jersey)  and Stretch. Ballpoint needles are best used for sweater-type and loosely woven knits. They have a rounded point that penetrates the fabric without catching or cutting through the yarns. Stretch needles are perfect for sewing through tightly knitted jersey fabrics with high Lycra content. I use them on all my wool, polyester and rayon jersey garments.  For more on choosing the right needle for your project, check out This Article from Threads.

Stitch type and length – If you have a straight-stitch-only machine, set your stitch length to a medium (2.5mm-3mm) setting. When sewing knits with a straight stitch, you need to stretch the fabric very slightly (and very gently) as it goes under the presser foot. To do this, apply equal pressure on both sides of the needle by slightly pulling the fabric as shown.

Stretch very slightly on both sides of the needle

Do not pull the fabric as it goes through the feed dogs; you may risk breaking your needle and damaging your machine if you do.

If you have a zigzag machine, set your stitch length to the narrowest zigzag setting (.5mm on many machines), and your stitch length to between 2.5mm and 3mm. If you have a very thick knit, you may need a longer stitch length. You do not need to stretch the fabric as you sew. The slight zigzag will give you the stretch you need.

Seam Finishes – Knit fabrics, especially jerseys, don’t generally ravel, so you can get away without finishing the seams in many cases. If you are fortunate to have a serger or overlock machine, you can use that to stitch and finish your seams in one fell swoop. You can also use your serger to finish the raw edges of hems before sewing them in place. I like to do this when working with sweater knits, terrycloth, or any knit that might have a tendency to ‘shed’ slightly at the edges.

About Face – Many patterns for knits call for using a facing for necklines and other exposed edges. With most knits, especially very stretchy jerseys, you can often skip the facing entirely. Simply fold under the seam allowance and stitch in place. I have been able to eliminate the facings on most necklines this way. If you have a very curved edge (like an armhole), you should test on a scrap of fabric cut to about the same curvature to see how you like the results.

Shouldering the Burden – When making a knit top or dress, I stabilize the shoulder seams to prevent stretching. To do this, fuse a piece of interfacing to the back shoulder piece or pieces. I prefer to use a ¾ inch wide piece of fusible tricot, which I have even with the cut edge of the fabric, and which extends slightly beyond the seamline. This adds stability, but is light enough and has enough give to work with most knits. For heavier knits or sweater knits, I center a selvage of silk organza in the seamline and stitch through all layers. The organza provides a lot of strength to the seam, but adds no bulk.

Hemming – If you examine knit Ready-to-Wear, you’ll notice that most hems are sewn with a double row of stitches on the outside. Manufacturers use a specialized machine, called a coverstitch, to achieve this finish. If you don’t have a coverstitch, you can still achieve this look. Most zigzag sewing machines can accommodate a double needle. This needle sews a perfectly spaced double row of stitches on the needle side of the fabric, with a zigzag on the bottom.

A double needle adds a professional finish to your knit hems

This stitch has more stretch than a regular straight stitch, and is perfect for giving you a professional-looking finish.  Before stitching your garment, make a test on a scrap of fabric. Double needles may require some adjustments to your needle and bobbin tension to achieve a smooth, flat hem. Mark your hem on the right side of your garment. I like to use tailors chalk that can easily brush or wash away. Then sew along this marking so your double row of stitches is on the right side.

I hope these hints will help you get started with sewing knits. With a little practice, I think you will find sewing with knits addicting!

Happy sewing!

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Gorgeous Fabrics

I own an online fabric store, www.GorgeousFabrics.com. The name says it all!

28 thoughts on “Tips and Tricks for Sewing with Knits”

  1. Thanks for this succinct discussion. The question I’ve always had with knits is what one does for things like ribbing and edging for necklines. Can they be made by a home sewer? Do they have to be purchased? Say I want to make a merino or cashmere cardigan. Are there places I can go and buy coordinating fabric and ribbing?

  2. Great tips! I will refer people this way when I get questions about sewing knits, as I am a wovens-girl mostly!
    We have the same sewing machine – except where yours is grey, mine is pink! 🙂

  3. Wow — I stumbled across your blog somehow through the blogvine, spent some time poking around looking at the fabric in your online store (and drooling all over my keyboard). I am forbidden to buy any more fabric until I sew up some of my stash, so I was thrilled to discover all of this great information about sewing knits. I’ve done mostly drapery and quilting, so the Stretchy Beast is new and intimidating.

    I read your post from last year on your previous blog about the supercute “sunshine Jalie sweetheart” top you did in a citrusy stretch mesh. I bought a similar fabric online in a gorgeous print a couple of years ago, and then when it arrived and I discovered it was SEE-THROUGH I didn’t know what to do with it so I stuck it on the shelf. I don’t have enough of it to self-line like you did yours, but I’m thinking of using a nude color for the lining layer instead for opacity without changing the color of the fashion fabric. I don’t want to leave the edges raw because nude lining will look like I’m molting, though. Can I turn up a hem and coverstitch through two layers as if they were one, or is that just asking for trouble?

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge & experience!

    1. Rebecca, you can turn up the hem and coverstitch. I would baste it first, though, to be sure it turns out the way you want it.

  4. Thanks so much for your timely posting. I’ve never sewn a knit before and am just about to start (am totally intimidated but courageous 🙂 my 1st – for a bathing suit (with the 1 and only stretch fabric I have) and will hopefully be buying the ‘right machine needle’ soon. Being of a ‘certain age’, I’m also hoping this will just be the beginning of my sewing more knits, as I need to avoid ironing.

  5. As a novice sewer I found your information very helpful. Thank you. I was especially interested in the double needle technique and am going to try this.

    What is your technique for getting a true cut edge that is 90 degrees from selvage? I find some knits have a cut edge very out of true.

    Many thanks, Chris

  6. Thanks, Anne, for the knit tutorial. Years ago, I worked for a chain of fabric stores named “Stretch ‘n Sew.” All they sold were knit fabrics. One trick I learned from those days is how to avoid tiny ‘runners’ that might appear at the neckline while you are working on your garment. The trick was to check both cut edges of knit fabric before you laid out the pattern. You do this by stretching the cut edge and if the runners appear, lay out the pattern so that edge of fabric is your hem edge. Then if you are ambitious or have a collar or v-neck trim, you won’t find the runners appearing at the collar edge, front and center.

  7. Thank you for all the helpful information. I just got a serger and have taken a class on how to use it. I can’t wait to get started. Have to finish Halloween costumes first.

  8. GorgeousThings, thank you so much for this perfectly timed tutorial! Tackling knits with trepidation for the first time in about 40 years, these tips will really help. One question – which of your muslins do you prefer to use to bake a muslin for a knit dress? Thanks!

  9. Hey there! Thanks for these great tips! I just finished my first real knit experiment (http://capital-sew-and-sew.blogspot.com/2010/09/sewing-accomplished.html) – it turned out fine but the issues you identified here are the very issues with which I struggled! That said – I would not have appreciated the post as much if I had not “lived through” some of this frustrations first hand! Thanks much! One last question though – what is everyone’s most tried and true preventive measure against the dreaded GAP-O-SUS on wrap (or faux wrap) dresses????

  10. Thank you so much for these tips. Your blog and Gigi’s are so inspiring to me. I love seeing your incredible finished products and reading the reviews of the patterns.

    If you do have time, more of these tips/tutorials are appreciated by an advanced beginner like me. I especially would love to see how to prepare fabric for placing the pattern, if you pin or weight the pattern pieces, and finally the best way to cut a pattern.

    Thanks from a huge fan!
    Rose

  11. Thanks for this great post. I have just made a couple of knit tops for myself, very simple and so cheap to buy RTW, but I enjoy the challenge and wearing stuff that I’ve made. 🙂 So far the hemming and facings are my biggest problems, but your suggestions here will help!

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