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Tips for Sewing with Knit

Jane REuter

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Blogger: Jane Reuter

Tips for Sewing with Knits

It seems in the sewing world that most people favor either wovens or knits and are slightly intimidated by the other.  Well, today we are going to share some tips with you, for sewing with knit, in case there is anyone out there intimidated to try.  Sewing with knit is really quite simple and just requires a few adjustments.  

Here are a couple quick tips to get your started:

  1. Use ball point needles when working with knit. Ball point needles have a rounded tip to prevent damage to the fabric.  Universal needles will work as well, but are only slightly rounded and may not give as good of results as a ball point needle.
  2. Do not stretch or force the knit fabric through your machine.  This can cause stretching/waving of the fabric.  
  3. If your knit fabric looses shape while sewing you can recover the shape by hovering your iron approximately 1 inch over the fabric while using the steam button.  The steam will help pull the fabric back into shape. 
  4. Use a stretch stitch (discussed more later).
  5.  ALWAYS wash your knits prior to cutting your pattern pieces.  Knit fabric has greater potential to shrink and if not prewashed, the garment may be too short or too small after the first wash.
  6. For your first few knit sews, invest in a quality medium weight knit.  Lighter weight knits tend to curl at the edges making them slightly more difficult to sew with.  Although lighter weight knits are also easy to sew with, it will make your learning experience much better if you can eliminate little nuances like this.

These are the basic guidelines of sewing with knit.  We will go into a little more detail to get you well on your way to sewing up a knit wardrobe!

Lets begin by talking about different types of knit fabrics.  When working with knits, you will see terms like 2 way stretch, 4 way stretch, percent of stretch and recovery.  These are very simple terms once they have been explained.  Two way stretch means it stretches in one direction, width-wise.  Four way stretch fabrics will stretch BOTH width-wise and length-wise.  Both two way and four way will stretch diagonally, like a woven fabric does along the bias. Percentage of stretch is referring to how much a fabric can comfortably stretch before it starts to loose its shape.  For example, cut a piece of fabric that is 4" long by 10" in wide.  The 10" width will be cut with the stretch of the fabric.  Pull on the sides of the fabric to see how far it will stretch comfortably. As an example, it may stretch to 13 inches.  The fabric stretched 3 extra inches.  Three divided by the original cut width of 10 equals 30 percent stretch.  Recovery refers to how well the fabric recovers after being stretched.  Fabrics that recover to their original size, or close to it. are great fabrics for tight fitting garments.  If tight fitting garments, such as leggings, are made from knit fabrics without good recovery they will stretch out with wear and look loose and baggy.  

As mentioned above, ballpoint needles are best for knit sewing.  Ball point needles may also be referred to as jersey needles.  Just like other needles they will be offered in a variety of sizes.  If your knit is lighter weight you will want to use a smaller needle.  If your knit has more stability and is heavier, you will want to use a slightly larger needle.  There is a third type of needle which is referred to as a stretch needle.  Stretch needles should be used when working with fabrics that have a lot of stretch and include materials such as spandex and lycra.  Regardless of what type of knit and needle you are working with, you will want to change your needle regularly for best results.  On average, it is recommended to change your needle after 8 to 10 hours of sewing. 

As you sew with knit fabrics on your machine you may learn that you need to adjust your tension slightly.  As the feed dogs pull the knit through your machine it may slightly stretch the fabric or pull the top and bottom fabric unevenly.  There are two things you can do to correct this if it becomes an issue.  First, you can simply decrease the tension or, you can purchase/use a walking foot.  The walking foot is also sometime referred to as the "even feed foot".  The walking foot helps to pull the fabric through more evenly.  When purchasing a walking foot make sure to purchase one that is compatible with your machine.  Using the instructions included, use scrap fabrics to play with it and figure it out. 

Different machines will have different stretch stitches.  Some machines will include a stretch stitch that looks like a lightning bolt.  If your machine has this stitch, it is a great one to use.  If not you may also use your regular zig zag stitch.  A shorter length medium width zig zag will give your garment more stretch.  There will be times that you may not like the look of the zig zag stitch and may choose to use a long straight stitch,  For example, when a knit pattern includes neck binding, there are usually directions for topstitching the seam. In a situation like this, where the topstitching will be seen on the main part of a finished garment, you may choose to use a longer straight stitch.  This will give it some stretch but with a nice straight line.  This however, would not be suffice for sewing a seam that will experience lots of stretch.  If you have a serger, you can always forgo any sewing with your machine and just serge the seam for a nice stretchy finish.  

One of the difficulties, I personally experienced, regarding sewing with knit is that lighter weight knits tend to get eaten by the machine.  However, the more experience I accumulated, I realized that it mainly happened when I was starting to sew at the edge of the piece.  One of the things I have found helpful to eliminate this is to start my stitches a little further in from the raw edge, back stitch back closer to the raw edge and then move forward again.  This is typically only a problem when sewing with lighter weight knits, which is why I will repeat that it is best to choose medium weight quality knit when beginning!  Once you have the hang of it you will be unstoppable and will be sewing with all kinds of knits!

Check Little Lizard King´s patterns for knit fabrics here.