Sewing With Knits: Tips For Getting Started

Besides sewing, I have another love. And that love is running. In fact, my sewing room has a big treadmill in it.

Yesterday was great because it was filled with running and sewing. First I ran a fabulous 10k race. I had a wonderful time and the weather couldn’t have been more beautiful.

My husband and kids stayed home, but my husband took a picture of me before I left since he wouldn’t be there to take one at the finish line.

After I got home, the boys watched a show while I did some sewing. It worked out nicely because I was tired from my race, and they were tired because we’ve spent so much time playing outside this past week.

While I was sewing, I thought of some tips I want to share for sewing with knits. You might have guessed from all the knit items I display, but I love sewing with knits more than with woven fabric.

I think they’re more forgiving because they stretch and that compensates for a mistake here and there. You usually don’t have to worry about buttonholes and zippers when you sew with knits. And I don’t know about you, but most of my closet is made up of knit clothing. So when I decided I wanted to learn how to sew clothes for my family and myself, I knew I’d have to learn how to sew with knits.

I’m going to be honest and admit that I like to sew them with my serger the best. I think a serger makes garments look more professional. And I love my coverstitch machine too. But, I learned how to sew knits on my regular sewing machine first, before I ever owned a serger or a coverstitch machine.

I’m going to assume that most people who are learning to sew with knits only have access to a regular sewing machine, and I will share a few tips for sewing them with a sewing machine.

So let’s talk about the solution to three things that can cause a little bit of trouble when sewing with knits.

First, knit fabric can slide around a bit and sometimes it can be fed into the machine a little bit unevenly. Using a walking foot on you sewing machine can help a lot since it keeps the fabric fed evenly because it adds mini feed dogs to the top to help out the lower feed dogs on your sewing machine. My foot was about $13 from Amazon and has served me well.

My walking foot.

Second, finding a stitch that will stretch with your knit fabric can be tricky because if you use a regular straight stitch, most likely the stitches will pop when the fabric stretches to fit over your body.

But this is an easy fix. Many machines come with a stretch stitch that will give your stitches the stretch they need. Look in your manual to see what your machine offers. My machine has a triple stretch stitch, and that is what I use. It takes two stitches forward then one stitch back, so it lays in three times as much thread as the seam is long. It’s very stretchy but it also takes three times as long to sew as a straight stitch does.

If your machine doesn’t have a stretch stitch, you can also use a zigzag stitch. Just make sure you use a long, narrow zigzag stitch so that your seam doesn’t end up looking wavy. You can play around with your stitch width settings and stitch length settings to figure out what stretches the best for the particular fabric you are using.

If you have a stretch stitch, it’s a better option than the zigzag stitch.

Also, using a stretch needle in your machine is a great idea. Stretch needles have a blunt point instead of a sharp point like universal needles, and a shape that makes it less likely your machine will skip stitches.

And finally, hemming knit garments can cause trouble sometimes because when you hem, you are usually sewing parallel to the direction of most stretch in your fabric. This can stretch the fabric out and make it look a little distorted.

Hems on ready to wear garments are sewn with a coverstitch machine, but you can get pretty good results on a sewing machine if you use a twin stretch needle. The twin needle gives you that double row of stitching like you will find on something hemmed with a coverstitch machine. You can use a regular straight stitch when using a twin stretch needle.

While I found that on some types of knits I still got some distortion when hemming with my regular sewing machine even using all the tips from above, most of the time it looked pretty good.

Here’s something I hemmed on my sewing machine:

vs something hemmed with my coverstitch machine:

Or, you can skip the traditional hemming altogether and use bands (cuffs) to hem your clothes.

Hopefully this is helpful and can get you started.

Your turn:

What questions do you have about sewing with knits? Do you have any tips to share about how you sew with knits?

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