Sewing Blog

5 Common Problems When Sewing With Knit Fabric (& How to Avoid Them!)

Sewing with knit fabric can be really rewarding, but when you’re just getting started, it can be a big challenge. If you’re having trouble sewing kits, one of these common problems might be the problem!  Read on for some tips for tackling some of the most frequent troubles.

5 Common Problems When Sewing With Knit Fabric

5 common problems when sewing with knit fabric

The Problem: Telling the right side from the wrong side on solids

This is tricky! I was just sewing with double-brushed poly legging fabric the other day and having such a hard time. Generally you can look closely at the fabric and the right side will have small Vs on it, while the back will have more loops.

Here’s a little secret: If the right and wrong sides are so similar… it doesn’t really matter! Just choose a side to be out and go with it. 

If you really have a hard time, the best solution is to stick with prints!

The problem: Getting ribbing on necklines to lay nicely

This problem really stems from using ribbing that’s either too long or too short for the neckline you’re sewing it on.

A good general rule is to cut the ribbing 80 to 90 percent of the length of the neckline. So if the neckline measure 20″ around, you would cut the ribbing 16-18″.

This does not work with all fabrics all the time, but it seems to work with more fabrics most of the time. The stretchier the ribbing fabric, the shorter you will want to cut it.

The problem: Your machine “eats” the fabric when you start sewing

There are a couple common solutions for this:

  • Make sure you’re using the correct needle (stretch, jersey, etc.). Also a new needle will help.
  • You can also use a “leader” cloth, like tissue paper or a fabric scrap, to start the seam.
  • I often just start sewing ½” from the fabric edge so that the edge doesn’t get caught under when I start. You can come back and sew that edge from other other direction if needed.

The problem: Hemming!

black and white thread with twin needles

If you don’t have a serger, hemming can cause a serious headache.

My personal favorite solution is to use a twin needle with bulky nylon (or wooly nylon) thread in the bobbin.Thread two “regular” threads through the top of the machine and wind the bulky nylon on the bobbin (I recommend hand-winding the tread to maintain the stretch.) If you machine has a button for the twin needle, you can use that when sewing.

I also like to lengthen the stitch to around 3/3.5 when hemming. This gives a beautiful double stitch hem. It has great stretch and will not pop threads when pulled.

Also, remember that proper pressing will help give your hems a more professional finish.

The problem: Choosing appropriate stitches without a serger or overlocker

zig zag stitches on sewing machine display

I sewed for years without a serger. I just used a zig-zag for everything. For seams, I would make it narrow; for topstitching and hemming, I would make it wider.  The look isn’t as professional, but my kids’ clothes held up really well and the threads didn’t break.

knit stitch on sewing machine display

A slightly better option is the “knit” stitch that most machines have (it looks like a lightening bolt). Similar to a narrow zig-zag, this will give your stitch some stretch to prevent breaking, but it looks like a straight stitch, giving you a nice look for topstitching.

Of course my first pick for top-stitching is the twin needle, but this works too. It’s also great for all the inside seams to give a nice stretch.

What are your biggest issues when sewing with knit fabric? Leave a comment!

10 Comments

Pauline Munton

Thank you, this is very helpful.

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Bonny

My main problem with sewing cotton knits is how much they curl. Any suggestions for eliminating or reducing the curling?

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Sarah B Christie

I took one of the Craftsy sewing classes and the instructor said to cut off the curl then cut out your pattern pieces. Also, the curl always curls to the right side of the fabric. I found that to be extremely helpful!

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Cynthia Gilbreth

Hi Emily,
These are great tips, but I do have a question. Why do you put wooly nylon in the bobbin for the twin needle? What is the benefit from that?

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JeL

Perhaps the author meant coverstitch rather than serger in regard to hemming. This is often confused. But generally, standard sergers do NOT do standard hems or 2-thread hemming. However, it is helpful to finish the fabric edge with a serger, and some sergers have options for blind hemming or a rolled hem. Other than a coverstitch machine, the twin needle option is the best method for hemming knits. It is helpful to put stabilizer or even gift-tissue paper under the fabric to prevent stretching of the edge when using the twin needle process. You don’t need an electronic machine with a special setting. I have 30 yr old manual machine that works great for this. Usually if your sewing machine has a needle slot wide enough to do zig zag, you can use a twin needle. You just need to use 2 spools of thread on top, carefully threaded as usual.

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Barb White

I hem knits with a double needle, but the fabric does not lay flat between the rows of stitching. I use a stretch double needle and all purpose thread. Any tips??

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Fabric Tragic

Reducing the tension of the bobbin and fusing the hem in place with something like steam a seam lite can help reduce chanelling with a twin needle.

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Debbie

To tell the right side from wrong side on a solid knit. Cross wise stretch will roll to the right side. Lengthwise stretch and it will roll to the back side.

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Paula Vessels

another trick for telling the wrong side from the right side, or whichever you decide is which, is to put a piece of painter’s tape on the wrong side of the fabric as you cut out the pieces.

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Karen

Instead of the lightning bolt stitch I like to use the triple stretch stitch especially when stitching sleeves to a knit garment or the crotch line in pants. In other words wherever the knit garment needs that extra strength. Sometimes I use it to sew a neckband on (after first basting the neckband on to check the fit). I will also cut 2 neckbands just in case the first one doesn’t work. Then proceed to any finishing technique for the band (top stitch, twin needle, etc).
For hemming knits with my twin needle I first stabilize the area with knit stay tape or steam a seam tape. I always test on a piece of the scrap fabric to see what method works best for the knit fabric I am using.

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