Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sewing with Knits Part 1

This is the first of a few posts on knits. I have recently ventured into the world of knits and I've discovered I like sewing with them. I am currently sewing a few versions of the Renfrew pattern and I'll post them when I'm finished.

Knits are easy to wear, and don't hold wrinkles, so I like them. Knits are an important part of every
wardrobe because they are comfortable to wear and easy to care for. Because of their elasticity, knit garments do not require a lot of fitting and they shed wrinkles well. Most knits do not ravel, making them quick and easy to sew. (Although, I like to finish the seam allowances.) Knits are versatile and can be seen in everything from the most casual wear to the dressiest of clothing attire.

Why sew knits
We all wear t-shirts. T-shirts and leggings can be cheap, but the price can, and does, add up. In terms of quality, home sewn is definitely better value, and you decide the colour, fit and length too. With all the choices in fabrics, you can mix and match and make your own unique t-shirts, leggings, etc., Best of all: knits are a quick sew. They are very forgiving compared to other fabrics. That is, you can fudge and cut corners easier. Knits often don't fray and so require less finishing . They stretch when you are wearing them so there's a lot less pressure to get a precise fit for your body. Once you find a pattern or patterns you like, you can run up a bunch of T-shirts or leggings really quickly.

What are knits:
Knits are made of interlocking looped stitches. They do not have lengthwise and crosswise yarns like woven fabrics. Instead, the interlocking loops of yarn create lengthwise ribs called wales and crosswise lines called courses. The stretch, both lengthwise and crosswise determines the type of knit.

Notions You'll need:

Use pattern weights or pins that are designed for knits
Thread (For lightweight knit use extra fine polyester or polyester/cotton thread; for medium weight knits use an all-purpose polyester or polyester/cotton thread)
Zippers (are generally more suitable than buttons)
Interfacing for knits (to stabilize collars, zippers and buttons)
Ballpoint or Stretch Needles

Sewing Knits:

You must preshrink your fabric because knits tend to shrink. In fact, I find it is best to launder them twice, just to be sure. Most knits have a right and wrong side, so be sure to mark the fabric pieces as you cut them out! (And while this isn't a scientific fact, I find that knits curl toward the right side.)

Patterns designed for knits generally have fewer pieces and less shaping details, making them quick to sew. There is less ease built in due to the stretch of the fabric. (I size down two sizes when using a knit on a pattern not made for knits.) Patterns designed for knits have a stretch gauge printed on the envelope to guide in fabric selection.

A Variety of Knits:

Knit fabrics are typically classified by their amount of stretch.
Firm, stable knits have very little stretch and are handled much like woven
fabrics. These may include double knit, sweatshirt knit, boiled wool, and raschel knit.
Moderate stretch knits are those that stretch about 25 percent in the crosswise direction. Moderate stretch knits allow enough stretch for comfort but are not intended to conform to body

Quick Reference Table

Type Definition Uses Notes
Single stretch knits Moderate (less than 50%) stretch Examples: jersey, tricot and interlock knits as well as some fleece Thinner single stretch knits such as jersey curl at the edge
Two -Way Stretch Knits Stretch 50 -75% in both crosswise and lengthwise directions Typically used for leotards, bodysuits and formfitting garments

Super stretch Knits Stretch roughly 100% in both directions Sportswear and ski wear (spandex or Lycra is typically added to enhance stretch)

Different types
Bacially, the more stretch and slip, the more attention you have to pay. Standard cotton jersey - T-shirt material - without any lycra or spandex in a medium weight behaves fairly similarly to a woven a fabric. It doesn't stretch that much and it only stretches across the length of fabric (selvage to selvage). On the other end of the scale is shiny lightweight nylon lycra - stretches in both directions, slips around and stretches a lot so sewing seams can require a lot of attention to make sure they stay aligned while you sew.

  • Use smaller seam allowances on knits – they don't fray and I find that the stability that larger seam allowances provide in woven fabrics actually act against the drape of the knit fabric
  • Using a zigzag stitch allows the knit to stretch when worn. (assuming you don't have a serger)
  • Try the stretch stitch on your sewing machine also
  • There is no need to stretch the fabric as part of sewing or hemming.
  • I use interfacing for knits on t-shirt collars because it helps – especially with v necks- to get the “V” right
  • A friend told me to try this trick: use tissue paper over and under the fabric to decrease the drag while you are sewing (I find this too much work)
  • I've looked at about 6 t shirts and two or three other knits in my closet and they all have a double needle hem. This makes the garment look professional and so I'm going to do it on my hems too.

    See My Post: Sewing With Knits Part 2


  1. Very informative. Thanks.

  2. Ball Point Needles are specially designed for knit fabrics, jerseys and interlocks.
    The rounded tip separates the fibers to prevent laddering or running.

    Ball point needles come in the same strengths as universal needles. If you are sewing different knits (very fine wt to very heavy weight, you need to consider that. Otherwise, just get a universal strength ballpoint needle - probably a 90/14))

    Ballpoint needles
    69/9 fine wt (knits)
    75/11 light wt
    90/14 medium
    100/16 heavy
    110/18 very heavy

  3. One of the tools many people swear by when sewing knits is even feed foot and dual feed options. These options feed both layers of fabric through the machine evenly, eliminating one layer stretching out of proportion with another layer. If you do not have these options available and experience a problem, it is advisable to take the time to baste your pieces together before sewing on the machine. If you are shopping for a sewing machine be sure to ask the dealer about these options. An even feed foot may be available for the machine that you have.



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