Tips and Techniques for Sewing with Knits

Posted by Julia Garza

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Sewing knits can strike fear into the heart of even the bravest sewist. But it's actually not so scary-- even if you don't have a fancy serger (although they do make the job a bit easier). Here are a few sewing knits tips:

sewing with knits

Sewing knits is much easier when you have the proper tools. You'll want to pick up some ballpoint needles and pins. Ballpoint needles and pins have a slightly rounded tip, so they push between the loops in the knit, rather than piercing holes through it like a regular needle. (You might also see them labeled as "stretch" or "jersey" needles.)

A twin needle (two needles side-by-side) will give you professional looking topstitching. Most machines can work with a twin needle, but check your manual for specific threading instructions. Twin needles will sometimes require tension and presser foot adjustment. Make sure your settings are perfect by practicing a bit on scrap fabric before diving into your topstitching.

Set-up your machine for the zig-zag stitch. A straight stitch is a no-go because your stitches need to stretch with the fabric. Some machines have a mock overlock stitch, which mimics the look of serged seams, so try that setting out as well. Consult your manual for guidance on adjusting your tension and pressure foot to avoid wavy seams from stretching the fabric too much while sewing.

After washing and drying (pre-shrinking your knits is a must), let your fabric rest before cutting. Cutting pattern pieces when the fabric is stretched out will result in major fit issues.

Double-check (and triple-check) the direction of the stretch. Most knits are a two-way stretch, which means they stretch width-wise. There's also four-way stretch (mostly used for swimwear and active wear). You'll want to cut your pattern pieces so they stretch width-wise.

Use a rotary cutter and self-healing cutting mat instead of scissors to minimize stretching the fabric out during the cutting process.

Seam-allowances on knit patterns are smaller than for woven fabric, so if you're in the habit of cutting notches into the fabric, try a different method (cut a diamond shape instead, and use a pin or mark with chalk), so you don't end up with tiny holes in your seams.

Use stay tape on seams you don't want to stretch, like shoulder seams. If the stay tape is sticking to your presser foot, try layering a piece of tissue paper on top (you can rip it out later) or a Teflon-coated presser foot.

Working with knit fabric does have a couple of advantages over woven fabric. For one, you can put your iron away. The nice thing about knits is that the seams will stay flat on their own, unlike woven fabrics, which usually need a good wrangling with the iron. And knits don't unravel, so you can skip finishing your seams, too. Once you get started, who knows, you might even end up preferring to work with knits!

For more great tips for sewing with knits be sure to check out Craftsy's online sewing classes Sewing with Knits and Sewing Fashion Knits Beyond the Basics.

Do you have any tips for sewing with knits?

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