Up until pretty recently I had a Love/Hate relationship with knits. I love wearing them, hate sewing them. Well, “hate” is a strong word, and I certainly don’t dislike sewing with knits anymore, but I used to. I didn’t even have any good reasons to dislike knits other than thinking they were too fussy to deal with compared to wovens, or took a lot of specialized equipment in order to look well-made. I had a moment last year where I realized I needed to start sewing basics if I was ever going to have a me-made wardrobe I actually wore and loved. Since then I’ve been
trying to change changing my attitude (don’t try, do!), and my approach, when it comes to sewing with stretchy fabrics.
Everyone has their own method and “right way” to do any given thing, but here are some things I’ve learned so far on my personal journey sewing with knits.
1.) Cut Knits On A Single Layer – Before I saw the light, one of my biggest pet peeves when working with knits was cutting them out. I know, it’s kind of a bratty thing to get annoyed with, but when you’re used to working with stable wovens, trying to line up grainlines with stretchy fabrics can be a pain. I would meticulously try to smooth out all the wrinkles without stretching or distorting my fold, and I would end up frustrated with how long it took me to do it. By taking a little extra time to trace my front and back pattern pieces as one open piece, it saved me so much time in the long run! I now skip the folding and lay my pattern out on a single layer of fabric. This allows me to find the grain more accurately, plus I end up conserving a lot of yardage.
2.) Get A Clean Finish With Fabric Bands – I don’t own a twin needle or a coverstitch machine, so finishing sleeves in a way I was happy with was challenging at first. Ultimately I fell in love with the look of fabric bands/cuffs as a method to hem sleeves. They’re a really easy modification to add and they help use up extra scraps. Plus, the addition of bands can add an extra design element or visual interest to your garment. I sew my sleeve bands on with my serger so it saves me an extra step on my regular sewing machine, too.
3.) Hide Neckband Joins At The Shoulder – Using a serger to stitch in the round (like when sewing on neckbands and sleeve cuffs) still feels a little foreign to me. It’s something I haven’t mastered yet and when I don’t get it quite right, it can be a massive eyesore for me. I used to start my seam right at the center back of the neck, but after a few epic fails, I decided to move my starting point to the shoulder seam instead. Sometimes The Force is strong with me and sometimes I think Lucille could do a better job sewing my neckbands, but when I lay my t-shirts out and see a smooth, continuous line of stitching at the back neck, it doesn’t matter what’s hiding at the shoulder!
4.) Keep A Darning Needle Handy – When reaching the end of a seam, I used to cut my serger threads like I would on my normal sewing machine. That’s okay to do if that seam is going to get hemmed or enclosed in another seam, but since there isn’t a backstitch option on a serger, I was stumped on how to keep my threads from unraveling on seams that just end (like on square pockets). I tried tacking the threads down, or tying knots in the thread chain, but then I read that you can feed your thread tail back into your seam with a darning needle, then cut off the extra. This is one of those simple things that becomes best practice and second nature, but I was totally clueless about it for longer than I’d like to admit!
5.) Wear That Zig-Zag Stitch With Pride – Many people equate the zig-zag stitch with unprofessional, homemade knits. I say rock what you’ve got. I don’t plan on investing in a coverstitch machine any time soon, or maybe even ever, so I’m still using that trusty zig-zag stitch as the best method for me to hem my t-shirts and not compromise any stretch where I need it. Do my store bought t-shirts have a zig-zagged hem? No. But if you’ll allow me to be very smug here for a moment, my off-the-rack tee’s don’t have matched stripes like the shirt I just made either 😉 😉 #yesimadethis #yesimproudofit #teamzigzag
6.) Straight Stitch For Stability (…and to prevent ironing) – I know I just got done amping up the ziggy stitches, but on seams where I want a smooth look and some extra stability, I like a plain ol’ straight stitch. On a wider neckline where I don’t need any stretch to get the fabric over my head, where maybe I want the fabric to do the opposite of that, i.e. not stretch out (my brother calls this “bacon neck”), I set my stitch length to slighty longer than what I would on a woven and go around once to hold the seam in place. I started doing this when the neckbands of my earlier knits would flip the wrong way after going through the wash, and since ironing my t-shirts is not something I want to spend time doing, I decided to start stitching my neckbands down.
7.) Get A Serger, Fall In Love – I invested in a serger pretty early on in my sewing career, but I always treated it as a secondary accomplice to my regular sewing machine. It wasn’t until I started sewing with knits that I really started to appreciate my serger as a magical piece of sewing wizardry. Yes, they take longer to set up and yes, the tension tends to be fussier and yes, you kinda feel like you’re learning to sew for the first time all over again as you get used to it, but I definitely would not enjoy sewing with knits as much as I do now without one. I seriously love my serger! I made two t-shirts in one afternoon and even when I take my time, I still whip through stretchy projects in no time at all.
You don’t need a serger to sew with knits, but if you’re really in love with sewing and have been thinking about investing in one for finishing your woven projects, you’ll be so happy you have it, especially when you start that first t-shirt or pair of leggings. I have an inexpensive serger (the Brother 1034D that I bought on Amazon over 2 years ago) and it’s perfect for my purposes. I’m super in love with it! …though I will mention that after two years of constant use, my light is finally on the fritz and will probably need to be replaced soon. I’m not in the habit of sewing in the dark though so it’s not a huge deal.
Looking back, it’s funny how much I used to avoid sewing with knits. I love them now! Though I’ve been sewing for several years, I just started getting really interested in sewing stretchy things last year. If you’re right there with me on the forefront of a whole new chapter of sewing, I hope you found some of these tips helpful. I’m sure as I continue to sew with knits more frequently, I’ll uncover more “Ah-ha!” moments to share. I love eureka moments in sewing!
Do you have any tips or tricks for sewing with knits that you’ve learned? If you do have a tip you’d like to share, I’d certainly love to read it!