Most garment-makers begin their sewing journeys with woven fabrics – cotton, linen, and poly-cotton, to name a few. These fabrics are stable, dependable, and easy to work with. However, wardrobes are made up of a mix of fabrics, and to make stretchy, comfy, and active clothes you will likely have to venture into the world of knits. With a few tips and tools sewing with knits can be simple and fun, even for absolute beginners!
What is knit fabric?
Knitted fabric is knitted – created by interlocking loops of thread. Due to this process, knit fabrics are stretchy by nature, unlike woven fabrics which need a stretch material (e.g.: spandex) added to create stretch.
Examples of knit fabrics:
include jersey, French terry, spandex/Lycra, scuba, ribbing, and velvet. Common projects you might make with knits include t-shirts, jumpers, loungewear, activewear, and swimwear.
You can identify knit fabric by looking closely at the fabric to see how the threads are intertwined – if you see loops, it’s knit; if you see crisscrossed squares, it’s woven.
Haberdashery for sewing with knits
Here are some tools that will help you sew with knits:
Sewing with knits requires stretch/ballpoint needles, with a rounded end (rather than a point). This pushes fibers to either side of the needle instead of making a hole in the fabric. Needles suitable for knits include:
Stretch needles – for spandex or elastane fabric such as swimsuit fabric.
Jersey ballpoint needles – for jersey knits.
Stretch twin needles – a double needle, used to create two lines of stitching on the top of a fabric and a zig-zag stitch on the bottom.
You can use the following thread types when sewing knits:
Polyester thread – polyester thread is strong and has a slight stretch, making it the best option for sewing with knits (cotton is more likely to snap when seams are stretched).
Woolly nylon thread – a stretchy thread that allows you to sew knit fabrics with a standard straight stitch.
The PFAFF IDT system (inbuilt walking foot) will make sewing with knits easier by preventing the stretching of the fabric while sewing.
When sewing with knit fabrics, you need a stitch that will stretch with the fabric to prevent your thread snapping, these include:
Zig zag stitch – a simple and effective stretch stitch.
Three-step zig-zag stitch – a zig-zag stitch made up of three stitches on each side of the zig-zag, ideal for sewing swimwear or lingerie.
Twin needle stitch – a setting rather that a stitch – with a twin needle and a twin needle stitch setting you can get a professional-look hem finish. A twin needle creates two lines of straight stitching on the top layer (using two spools of thread) and one zig-zag stitch at the bottom from the bobbin, allowing the fabric to stretch.
Overcast stitches – sew and finish a seam in one step using a blindhem foot; PFAFF overcast stitches for stretch fabrics include a closed overlock, elastic overcast, and stretch knit overlock.
More Tips for sewing with Knits
Seam finishes – unlike woven fabrics, knits don’t fray, so you don’t have to finish your seams (hooray!). If you do choose to finish seams you can overlock them, use a zig-zag stitch, or use an overcast stitch (see some options above).
Stretch percentage – when sewing with stretchy knits you must ensure your fabric has the stretch percentage the pattern asks for. To do this measure a 10cm (100mm) piece of fabric and stretch it along a ruler – the number of millimetres the piece stretches is its stretch percentage – e.g.: if your fabric stretches 20mm (growing from 100mm to 120mm) it has 20% stretch percentage.
When cutting, ensure your fabric doesn’t hang over the edge of the table as this will stretch the fabric while it’s being cut.
Presser foot pressure – when sewing with thick knits you may need to lossen your presser foot pressure to prevent stretching – you can adjust this on the side of your PFAFF.
Start simple – if you haven’t sewn with knits before start by making a t-shirt or jumper, something loose-fitting with few pieces. While you will be learning new skills working with knits the construction and fit will be relatively easy, making the project enjoyable.
We hope these tips help you dip your toe (or dive) into the sewing with knits pool… perhaps in me-made swimwear?
Nicole McKenzie is a sewist and writer based in Adelaide, Australia. Nicole has been sewing her own garments for over a decade and especially loves to make fancy frocks.
Her proudest make so far is her stunning wedding dress, made from layers of silk and colourful floral embroidered tulle.
Nicole combines her passions by writing about sewing for Peppermint Magazine and PFAFF.
You can read Nicole's top tips on the PFAFF blog and see more of Nicole's creations on her Instagram @NikoletaSews
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