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Category Archives: Sewing With Knits
Have you ever found yourself mid-project, in need of some elastic of a specific width and only able to find something too wide in your stash?
If you already follow me, you’ll know what a fan I am of sewing with knits; they make easy to fit, quick, comfortable garments that even beginners can successfully make and a lot of my MIY Collection sewing patterns are designed specifically for knitted fabrics.
So it was only a matter of time before I wrote a book on the subject wasn’t it?! Over the last few months I’ve been slowly beavering away on “Sewing With Knits – Everything You Ever Needed to Know” and it’s tantalisingly close to completion!! I’m publishing this one myself and to start with it will just be available as a PDF e-book.
Here’s just a bit of what it will cover:
- how to get a great finish on knits without an overlocker
- how to choose the right knit for your pattern
- hot to identify different knits
- understanding the effect fibre content has on your fabric choice
- washing and shrinkage
- how to cut out and prepare knits
- tips and tricks for identifying right & wrong sides and grainlines
- professional finishing techniques.
I’m hoping to have the book available in a couple of months, but in the meantime, in celebration of “Sewing With Knits” day in MIY March you can download a copy of my Shopping Checklist from the book and make sure that from now on, you always buy the best fabric for your pattern. What’s better, as it’s a download, you can print one out every time you start a new project!
To get your copy of the Sewing With Knits Shopping Checklist subscribe to my newsletter and follow the instructions, it will only take a few minutes and will only require your name and email address.
In return you’ll be able to download the checklist and will occasionally receive the MIY Collection newsletter packed with sewing related goodness; news, links to interesting and useful things I’ve found online, subscriber-only special offers and the occasional competition.
What are you waiting for? I imagine you might be shopping for fabric over the easter holidays…..?!
If you’re a fan of online fabric shopping, have you seen my post on Where to Buy Stretch Knit Fabrics?
NOTE – loyal existing subscribers will be getting a copy of the checklist delivered straight to your inbox in the next few days.
Students often ask me if it really is necessary to pre-wash their fabric before cutting into it for a new project.
Most of the time the answer is yes! But, if you can’t or you forget and your fabric is natural fibre, you will have to hand wash your finished garment in cool water to avoid it shrinking.
Here are some things to remember about shrinkage in fabrics:
- natural fibres can shrink up to 10%, allow for this when buying fabric as the fabric requirements in pattern instructions don’t allow for shrinkage
- shrinkage tends to occur most along the length – especially on knits
- knits tend to shrink more than wovens as there’s more movement in the structure of the fabric
- ideally dry your fabrics flat – wovens can be hung on a line, but never knits as they will stretch, knits must be dried flat and not draped over anything that will poke into the fabric and distort it ie. chair back, banister.
When pre-washing your fabric, put it on a cycle appropriate to the fabric (check the washing instructions in the shop when you’re buying the fabric) and one that you’d like to be able to use on the finished garment.
Happy washing and sewing!
As promised in my post on sewing seams in knits using a domestic sewing machine, here’s some tips on getting nice neat hems on your knits, all with the use of your sewing machine!
As with seams in knits, you need to choose a way of hemming your knit garment that will stretch. I’m going to show you my two favourite ways to hem knit fabrics on a sewing machine.
One of the stretchiest stitches to use on your sewing machine is the 3-step zig-zag (a stitch which even the most basic of sewing machines usually has):
The second way of hemming a knit fabric, is one that most looks like the hems on shop bought knit garments that are finished with a coverstitch (a completely separate machine a bit like an overlocker). Rather than rush out and buy a coverstitch machine try a bit of twin-needling on your sewing machine!
Twin needles are easily available and you can even get ballpoint twin needles – perfect for sewing knit fabrics without causing snags. Most good sewing shops will sell twin needles and there is even a choice of what size gap you have between the needles.
Replace your normal needle with the twin needle which inserts into your machine in exactly the same way, then set up your machine like this:
Then, sew as normal, but you must sew your hem from the right side of your garment so it’s a good idea to have your hem tacked first, then you can use your tacking stitches as a guide for your twin-needling to ensure you catch the hem on the wrong side.
And on the wrong side, the bobbin thread forms a sort of neat little zig-zag stitch. If you position your stitching accurately, the stitches should just cover the cut edge of your hem on the inside of the garment as shown above. It takes a bit of practice to get it that precise, but tacking your hem first helps!
As with seams, the tension needs to be correct for the type of knit you’re sewing, but most lighter weight knit fabrics eg. t-shirt jersey and lighter need a looser tension of around 3.
Depending on your fabric and your machine, you might find your hemmed edge going a bit wavy. First make sure you’re not stretching the fabric as you’re sewing! If you’re being good and not stretching your fabric (well done!), then if your sewing machine has the facility to, adjust the presser foot pressure and this should solve the problem. Read more about adjusting the preset foot pressurehere.
So, there you go, you now know how to sew seams and hems on your sewing machine so that they look neat and professional without the aid of an overlocker or coverstitch machine.
Enjoy sewing those lovely knit fabrics, you’ll wonder why you ever avoided them, I promise. If you need some help finding nice knitted fabrics have a read of my guide here and my range of sewing patterns (most of which are designed for knit fabrics and are very easy to use!) are available to buy online here.
Many sewers both new and experienced are unnecessarily scared of sewing stretch knit fabrics.
Most knit-phobes believe these popular myths about sewing knits:
- I need to use an overlocker to sew knit fabrics
- I can’t sew knit fabrics on my sewing machine
- knit fabrics are harder to sew than delicate silk fabrics
- knit fabrics have to be stretched when I sew them
- it’s hard to cut out knit fabrics accurately
- I won’t be able to get seams to match accurately using knit fabrics
- it’s difficult to buy nice knit fabrics
- I don’t want to make really tight figure hugging clothes.
None of these statements are true! Let’s go through them again and tell you the truth:
- No, you don’t need to have an overlocker to sew knit fabrics. You can and an overlocker will make the job quicker, easier and neater, but if you’ve never used an overlocker before, definitely don’t start on one with a knit fabric!
- All reasonably modern sewing machines have a selection of stitches specifically designed for stretch knit fabrics. I’m going to show you the best ones for joining seams in this article. Even if your machine only does straight stitch and zig-zag a narrow zig-zag stitch will do the job.
- Some knit fabrics can be a bit more difficult to handle than a standard woven fabric, especially the lighter weight ones, but even a lightweight jersey isn’t going to be as difficult as a slippery lightweight silk. A few more pins when cutting out and a bit of tacking when you might just have pinned are the only extra steps you’ll need.
- I’ve actually seen this recommended in some of the bigger commercial pattern brand’s pattern instructions. This is absolutely the last thing to do unless you’re after stretched wavy seams!
- When cutting stretch knits you need to make sure the fabric isn’t hanging off your table because it will stretch the fabric, resulting in pattern pieces that ping up a lot shorter once you’ve cut them out! If you don’t have room for the whole length of fabric on your table, pile it up over the back of a chair beside the table. Also use a few more pins than you might do normally to hold your pattern pieces accurately in place. Using a few weights (or tins of beans!) to hold your pattern in place while you pin it will also help.
- To match seams accurately pin them first and if necessary tack them. Also use the nature of the fabric to your advantage…..it stretches, which means it’s very forgiving if something doesn’t quite match perfectly and you can get away with a bit of stretching to fit (as long as that bit of stretch is spread out along the whole of the seam).
- Have a read of my previous blog post about where to buy stretch knit fabrics, the different types of stretch knit fabrics available and their uses – knit fabric is a broad category.
- You can make some really flattering, draped styles using stretch knits. They’re not just for leotards and leggings! Think about the clothes you own that you enjoy wearing…..I’ll bet a lot of them are made from knit fabrics.
So, hopefully I’ve made a start at converting you and you’re willing to have a try. The first thing I’ll show you is some stitches to use for seams. I’ll go through hems and finishing edges in separate posts.
The first thing you need for any machine is:
a pack of jersey or ballpoint needles. They’re a bit more blunt on the end than a regular sewing needle meaning that they won’t ladder the knitted structure of the fabric. You can see they also come in different sizes like regular sewing needles.
Here’s a guide for which size will best suit which fabric:
70 – very lightweight silk or viscose jersey
80 – light t-shirt weight cotton jersey
90 – interlock, ponte roma, some cut and sew knits.
MACHINE SETTINGS FOR SEAMS
The first and easiest stitch to use for seams is the stretch straight stitch:
A stitch we use a lot for sewing knit fabrics in my classes is the overlock stitch:
This stitch mimics an overlock stitch and can join the seam and neaten the edges in one go. You can trim off the excess seam allowance close to the stitching as shown in the second picture. The seam then has to be pressed flat to one side rather than open, so it’s not suitable for more bulky fabrics. It works well on most t-shirt weight jerseys.
The final stitch for seams is the narrow overlock stitch used with an overcasting or overlock foot. (See this blog post for more about what an overcasting foot is and how to use it).
This stitch again joins the seam and neatens the edge of the seam allowance in one go. By also using the overcasting foot it means you don’t need to then trim off the excess seam allowance after sewing. It also means though that you can only use it on narrow seam allowances (the overall width of the stitch). It’s another stitch that results in a seam that has to be pressed to one side and gives a nice neat finish to lightweight jersey fabrics. It’s not suited to heavier and thicker knits.
PRESSER FOOT PRESSURE
If your sewing machine has the ability to adjust the presser foot pressure, this can be helpful when sewing some knit fabrics to stop them being stretched by the machine as you sew. You can read more about how to adjust the presser foot pressure in this blog post.
As with all sewing, make sure the tension on your machine is set at the right level for the fabric you’re sewing. If your machine’s tension dial goes up to 9, 4 should be fine for joining two layers of most medium weight woven fabrics. A lower number means a looser stitch which you need for lighter weight fabric or fewer layers. A higher number means a tighter stitch which you need for thicker fabrics or more layers. You shouldn’t need to adjust the tension up or down by more than one number, meaning you will usually stay within the range of 3-5.
Most lighter weight knit fabrics eg. t-shirt jersey and lighter need a looser tension of around 3.
So there you are – how to sew seams in a range of knitted fabrics on your sewing machine. I hope you’re turning from a knit-phobe into a knit-fan! In my next article I’ll show you how to get nice hem finishes on knit fabrics using a sewing machine.