Knits, you hear about them, you see them, feel them, but probably avoid using them when sewing. Im not going to lie, they have a bad wrap (see what I did there?). Too stretchy they say, impossible without a serger they scream. Im here to help you learn the tips and tricks so you can cannon ball into the cold pool that is knits, or at least dip your toes in. This post is meant to be a reference guide; to the point and helpful is what I’m going for. Now, this post won’t cover everything you need to know about knits because that would be an awfully wordy post! We will, however, cover some basics to get you started and who knows maybe there will be another post for some more in depth techniques! Lets get things started!
Why bother using knits?
For one, knits are stretchy. While this is scary to think of in your sewing machine (don’t worry we’ll ease those fears), it also means comfort and a relaxed mind when working on a perfect fit. So now you have the dream of a perfect fit in your horizon, add to that softness! Typically knits are softer than woven fabrics and more breathable. Your body will thank you for both of those aspects!
What types of knits are there? What is each type good for?
Again these are some basic knits, There really are a ton of different types, all varying in weight and stretch.
Lets start with jersey. This is the super soft T-shirt like fabric good for so many clothing options, but has minimal stretch and a right and wrong side. Another way to recognize jersey is by its curl at the edge. This type almost always curls toward the right side of the fabric.
Double knit is a knit that has minimal stretch (for a knit anyway) and holds its shape pretty well.
Interlock is something you would use when you need more thickness than jersey. It flows pretty well and is a good option to use for a knit-using beginner.
Rib knit, you’ll most likely recognize this from T-shirt neck bands. So you know it can hold its shape but that it can also stretch quite a bit at the same time.
Knit Content~something to keep in mind
It matters what percentage of what fiber your knit is made of! Im sure you were aware of that, but how does it matter? In short, the more lycra or spandex (lycra/spandex are the same thing, just different names) you have, the more stretch you will have. Generally, the amount of spandex added to gain enough comfort is around 2%- 5%. Larger percentages of spandex are reserved for things like undies, bras, athletic wear and swimwear. Spandex also has great memory as to not get baggy with wear.
This is extremely important! You need to know the amount of stretch the specific pattern you are using requires. This can make a huge size difference in fit. I know as well as you, you don’t want to sew a whole garment just to find its not way too small. It turns out this can vary an extreme amount based on incorrect stretch requirements. So how do you measure stretch? First you need a “stretch ruler”, some pattern’s like SUAT have a pattern specific one included within your pdf. There are a lot of variations of “stretch rulers”, basically it’s a little print out piece of paper with a start point of where to place your fabric edge and a stretch spectrum. The best way to use this is folding the fabric along the grainline (which runs parallel to the selvage) and placing the fold at the left start point. Now you want to grab both layers of fabric about four inches to the right and pull as far as you can. Depending on the stretch ruler you are using, you will either come to a color coded zone that’s basically a “yes this works for this pattern” or a percentage of stretch marker.
2 Way or 4 Way and Why?
2-way stretch fabric stretches in one direction. Which direction depends on the knit. It can stretch crosswise (from selvage to selvage), or lengthwise (parallel to the selvages). However, most knits with 2-way stretch will stretch from selvage to selvage.
4-way stretch fabric stretches in both directions, crosswise and lengthwise. Sometimes the stretch is the same in both directions, sometimes it’s more stretchy one way and less stretchy the other way. You should pay attention to which direction the fabric stretches most and be sure that is the direction of the stretch arrows on the pattern when you lay them on the fabric. The only time you wouldn’t use the direction of greatest stretch as your “stretch direction” for pattern layout is when that would result in your fabric print being sideways.
Types of Feet You Can Use for Knits
A Standard or basic foot will work but be patient and start an inch or so into the fabric and backstitch to the edge.
An Even feed or Walking foot, this foot will help feed the fabric without stretching it.
A Rotary Even foot this foot has tread like a bulldozer and it will help keep the layers even.
A Roller Foot looks like a steam roller and works similarly to the rotary even foot.
A Teflon foot appears like a standard foot but has a teflon coating to help prevent sticking on the fabric surface.
Do’s and Don’ts of Knits
DO NOT use a sharp needle as it can damage the weave of the knit, causing it to unravel. DO use a ball point needle, stretch needle, or twin needle.
DO NOT use sharp pins, DO use ballpoint pins or clips.
DO NOT use dull or nicked scissors or rotary blades as this can also cause a run in fabric. DO use a very sharp fabric specific scissors or rotary cutters.
DO use a polyester covered cotton thread, the polyester allows for some extra stretch.
Finishing with Knits
Now to finish with knits, you have a few stitch options:
Zigzag Stitch or other stretch stitch. Consult your sewing machine manual for a list of which stitches on your machine are good for stretch fabrics. Make sure to test the stitch on some scrap first and do a quick stretch test after, to be sure the stretch-ability isn’t compromised.
Double Needle aka Twin Needle. This needle creates a beautiful double stitch line on the top of the fabric with a zig zag on the underside for stretch. Consider hand-wrapping a bobbin full of wooly nylon thread to use with this needle for maximum stretch.
Coverstitch machine. A overstitch is what is used to make commercial clothing. It creates an amazing finish but comes with a decent price tag.
Here is the hem I usually use with my sewing machine and knits. Just fold the raw edge in and stitch down using a stretch stitch (I use a zigzag).
Some Tips and Tricks for Sewing with knits
Different weighted materials can benefit you taking the time to find the right adjustment for things like needle, machine, and thread. While a knit does not need to be finished, leaving it unfinished can increase chance of a run in the material (think similar to pantyhose).
Knits benefit from being cut on a large flat table or surface. (So they don’t pull and stretch while being cut.)
Preshrinking is another must for knits, you’ll thank me when that knee length skirt doesn’t turn into a micro mini!
When sewing knits, it helps to test on scraps from the same fabric before actually sewing together your pattern pieces and afterwards testing the stitch by pulling the seam.
Wax paper, tissue paper and tearaway stabilizer can be used to help feed the knit through evenly and to prevent the feed dogs from getting hungry.
Plastic zippers are your friend with knits as the weight of a metal zipper can really weigh down and stretch out the knit.
Stress spots in garment can really benefit from the use of some clear elastic or interfacing sewed in to maintain shape and durability.
So there you guys have it, a pretty basic knits 101 to help you gain some courage into trying out knits! If you guys have any tips or tricks to add please feel free to add them into the comments below! Also if there are any techniques within this post that you would like to see a tutorial for let us know that as well! Thanks for reading, Stitch Junkies!
P.S.- Did you like the fabric prints in this post? The fabrics in the collage are from Fabric Stache (Floral Hot Air Balloons and Hipster Cat), MK*Designs (Gradient Feathers) and Opulent Monsters (Cupcake Time). They are all custom knits and may not currently be available but there are many other beautiful prints to taste with your eyes!