Monday, 16 March 2009


Sewing with knits

When I first started sewing I didn't know anything, including which fabrics are hard to sew and which are easier. So all of the first things I sewed were made out of knit material. How those knowledgeable sewers amongst you will laugh! It's a wonder I persisted, because knits can be hard to sew (although not in the same league as satin or organza mind you...). But I didn't know that, and it retrospect it was fortunate in a 'baptism by fire' type way.

One of my Craftster pals recently tried my kimono dress tute and laughingly titled her post 'I tried KitschyCoo's knit kimono (aka I picked the wrong day to stop drinking.)' Although I had a knot of fear in my gut that my tute drove people to drink, it turns out that it's the sewing with knits bit that caused so much angst. I'm no expert, but I thought I would share some of the things I learned about sewing with knits.

I have to admit, my sewing life became much easier when I bought a serger. It does make sewing knits easier by more effectively keeping the layers together, sorting out curled edges by trimming and binding them and the differential feed dial minimises the 'waving' effect so common with knits. But it is possible to get good results with a normal sewing machine.

If you're new to knits, I would start with a more straightforward project. The first things I made were trousers with matching appliqued onesies like the one above. Trousers are really easy, quick to make and more forgiving to mistakes. You don't even need to have side seams, just cut each leg on the fold!

And then I moved on to little dresses like the one above. Again... easy. Rather than stressing about binding or hemming the neckline and armholes (which I find the hardest part of sewing knits), I used two front and back bodice pieces and just turned them inside out. So my point is... if there is a specific reason you don't like sewing knits (like binding neck or arm holes), be a bit creative with your patterns to avoid the issue.

But if it's just generally that you struggle with knits, here are some other tips:

  • Choose your fabrics well. The thinner the fabric, the harder it is to sew. If it curls up when you cut it, it will most likely do your nut. Good fabrics to start with are fleece, sweatshirting or french terry. Ribbed or waffled knits are especially tricky when you first start out.

  • Stabilise. You can try to stabilise knit fabric with spray starch, or you can include a layer of tear-away paper (even tissue paper or coffee filters work) while you are sewing and then just rip away later. This might help your layers from shifting away from each other. Press, press, press and pin, pin, pin. Hemming giving you ulcers? Try ironing it up first with one of those fusible wonder hem tapes, it will add some stability and keep your hem straight.

  • Use an appropriate needle. Definitely get yourself some needles that are designed specifically for stretch fabrics. I don't know what's so special about them, maybe they're magic, but they will make your life much easier.

  • Test different stitches to see what works best for each fabric. If your stitches are too close together or tight, the fibers are pushed apart and that's one of the reasons the fabric will become wavy. Your sewing machine will probably have at least one 'stretch stitch' (it looks like a little lightening bolt). Some people exclusively use zig zag stitches for knits. If you are sewing something quite close fitting like a t-shirt, a hem will need some stretch in it or the thread will snap when you're putting it on. So a zig-zag or stretch stitch should be used here.

  • Raise your pressure foot. Check your sewing machine manual about how to do this, but mine is just a turn of a dial. The less pressure your foot places on the fabric, the better the results. If your foot is pushing down hard on your fabric it causes that pesky waviness as the fibers are forced apart. It's also responsible for the little folds you can sometimes get, because the feed dog causes the bottom and top layers to move at different speeds and the top layer shifts out of the way or folds over itself.

  • Finishing. A wavy seam can often be improved (or even fixed) by more pressing and steaming.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, feel free to add your own hints and tips to the comment section!


  1. Sorry to give you the wrong idea with my post title! :) It was all me and my lack of experience.

    Thanks for the tips! I have my MIL's serger, but no instruction manual... so I probably just need to get some cheap knit and mess around with it.

    I do feel silly having so much trouble... I really can sew quite well most of the time (I've even made a lovely wedding gown for my SIL...). So I want to conquer knits. Plus my 8 year old wants a kimono dress now too!

  2. Oooh, very useful, thanks! My first experience of sewing to a pattern was making pyjamas in a stretchy jersey for GCSE Design and Technology. I have been mentally scarred ever since :) I love the little pinapple dress btw.

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