Knit clothing is exceedingly popular these days and with good reason. They are easy to wear and exceptionally easy to care for. Most are machine washable and require little to no ironing. Sewing with knits can be an equally easy proposition. That is, if you know how they differ from sewing with woven fabrics and know a few secrets that make the task simple and fun.
Knits come in many fiber types and in a wide variety of fabric weights or thickness. The thicker or weighty the knit the more stable they become making them as easy to sew as their woven counterparts. It’s the lighter weight, jersey style knits that pose the most difficulty as they tend to be a bit more slippery and have raw edges that curl. The curling makes achieving straight seams a challenge and leaves rather messy looking seam allowances, but with the right techniques and equipment even these fabrics can be tamed.
Most think sewing with knits require one to have a serger. That’s not really the case. Knits can be sewn well with a regular sewing machine. Yes, a serger can make sewing knits fast, clean and easy, but they are not a must. Knowing the secrets to using a regular machine for knits and some tips on how to work with them can get the job done equally well.
Here are our top tips for sewing with knits
Tip #1: Invest in a walking foot.
Especially when working with jersey knits which are lightweight and a bit slippery, a walking foot will prevent the layers of fabric from shifting and stretching when sewing. A walking foot lessens the pressure on the fabric so the top and bottom fabrics move together and at the same rate when sewing. They don’t usually come with a machine so you have to buy them separately but they are well worth the investment. They are also great when sewing fleece or other bulky fabrics.
Tip #2: Use a lock cutter to finish seam edges.
This little known device is a great alternative to a serger. When attached to a regular sewing machine it can sew and trim simultaneously much like a serger machine will do. It can be used to sew and finish seams in one step. Or, it can be used to trim and finish an already stitched seam. The finish is not as refined as an overcast stitch done with a serger, but it will produce a cleanly finished seam – a godsend when sewing with those hard to handle jersey knits. If you don’t have a serger this is the next best thing.
Tip #3: Use pinking shears to clip curves.
Forget trimming and clipping curves with regular scissors. The cut of pinking shears will effectively do the same thing and is much faster and easier. Curves will be smoother and even. This is a great trick for woven fabrics as well.
Tip #4: Use ball point pins as well as ball point sewing machine needles.
Invest in a set of ball point pins that you use just for sewing with knits. We all know ball point needles in the sewing machine are a must but the same holds true for pins. The sharp points of regular pins and needles have the potential to break the interlocking loops that form the knit resulting into unsightly holes. The lightweight nature of jersey knits, in particular, makes them more vulnerable to tears and holes, so play safe rather than sorry.
Tip #5: Know when to stitch straight and when to stitch crooked!
Straight or zigzag stitches? Since the primary characteristic of knits is they stretch it is important the stitching used to assemble a knit garment stretches too. Straight stitches, if done improperly or on the wrong seams, will break the minute the fabric is stretched. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
Seams that will not be excessively stretched with wear, like side seams or shoulder seams, can be sewn with straight stitches. For areas that will get more wear like armholes, this is a good place to use zigzag stitches. When using a straight stitch on knits gently stretch the seam as you sew to embed a bit of stretch to the seam.
Stretch as you sew
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