How To Sew Knit Fabric with a Standard Machine
20 Tips For The Beginner Sewist
Our last post discussed five tips in choosing both fabric and pattern, and some best practices. Today we are moving ahead with conquering this favorite fabric. With a bit of practice and a few techniques, you will be sewing knit fabrics confidently.
One thing to keep in mind is that depending on the fiber content, knits shrink and sometimes the shrinkage is significant. So, if you don't already, make it a practice to perform a test prewash on a small fabric swatch. If you notice a difference in the size of the swatch, do another prewash to test it further. You will be amazed at how much you will learn about fabric by doing tests like these and also taking the time to practice working with different fabrics.
Ok, let's get started with part two in a series of four to help you sew knit fabrics on a standard sewing machine. See the next 5 tips to keep you going!
Part 2 – Sewing Knit Fabric - Tools and Practices For Success!
Pattern Placement - It is helpful to place your pattern pieces on your fabric following the nap. You will see recommendations in your pattern instructions along with a layout diagram. Keep in mind that a solid color fabric does not necessarily mean that you don't have to follow the nap layout. Knit fabrics can sometimes be darker or lighter depending on which direction you are viewing the fabric. If you want your project to be unified in color, choose the nap layout.
Ok, let's talk about grainline. How do you find it in a knit fabric? When you look at your knit fabric you'll notice that it has rib lines. The lengthwise rib lines will be used with the grainline on your pattern. Some sewists will take tailors chalk and mark along one of the lengthwise rib lines, center to each edge, and use that as a marker to fold the fabric in half lengthwise. Your chalkline will be made on the wrong side of the fabric. Fold your fabric lengthwise, right sides together. Your chalkline should be at the fold. Use it as your guide to ensure your fold line is on grain. If you have pattern weights, now is a good time to use them to keep your fabric in place.
When placing your pattern pieces down, you can ensure they are on grain by measuring from the marked fold line on your fabric to your pattern grainline. The measurement should be equidistant along the grainline to the fold line.
As mentioned, when we prepare our fabric we fold it lengthwise right sides together. I like the following recommendation from the book Sewing with Knits, by Connie Long, when working with single knits. If your fabric does not have rib lines on the wrong side of the fabric, you may want to have the wrong sides together so that you can reference the rib lines on the right side of the fabric. This means you will be placing your pattern pieces on the right side of the fabric. Just be careful not to create any permanent marks on your fabric.
An alternative is to lay your pattern out single layer on the right side of the fabric. Just be sure to make the appropriate pattern changes to any pattern pieces that were to be cut on the fold (i.e., creating a full skirt pattern front, most patterns will just have the half pattern since you would be working on the fold line).
Cutting the fabric - A sharp rotary cutter is ideal in cutting out knit fabrics as it keeps the fabric from shifting too much. It’s always good to have a small and large one on hand. I find the smaller rotary cutter works great on tight curves like the armsyce and neckline. A see through quilting ruler is also a great notion to have on hand. Not only will this ruler help you see where you are cutting and hold your fabric in place, but it is a guide for accurate cutting with the rotary cutter. (Make sure you have a cutting mat on your table).
Mark pattern notches with a bit of tape (either masking or low tack painters tape work well) or a tailors tack. Some create outward notches too, I'm not a fan of that method as it can be awkward and can sometimes cause the fabric to shift.
After you have cut out your pattern save those scrap pieces of fabric; you will want to use them to practice your sewing stitches.
Sewing Needles - To avoid ruining your fabric, use a new sewing needle that is designed for knit fabrics. This will prevent putting holes or causing snags or runs in the fabric. It is good to have on hand an assortment of needles including Jersey, Ballpoint, Stretch, Universal and even a Double needle for hemming. You will want to test out your needle choice with your fabric type. If you are unsure which to start with for your particular knit fabric, refer to your sewing machine manual for recommendations, it's a great resource. For thinner knits it is recommended to start with the smallest size needle and if you get any skipped stitches go up a size.
Sewing Stitches - Use a shallow zigzag stitch. I find this easier to work with even if you have a knit stitch on your sewing machine as mine does. (Sometimes it can be a real challenge to use a seam ripper to undo the knit stitches on your machine). Either way, you will want to practice on a scrap piece of the same fabric you will be using in your project to see what length and width works best for your fabric.
I found more great advice in the book, Sewing for Knits, by Connie Long on stitch length, the following is recommended: "For stable knits such as a jersey use a 0.5mm stitch width and a 2.5mm stitch length, increase the width and shorten the length to increase elasticity. For an elastic seam on interlock or double knit try setting the stitch width to 1mm and 1.5 mm for length."
You will definitely want to "lengthen your stitch if you get a wavy or stretched seam, or shorten your stitch if the seam looks puckered or pops when pulled. If your stitch is too wide, it will crease or tunnel the fabric."
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! - There are many types and thicknesses of knit fabric. You will want to try different stitch lengths and widths and check for skipped stitches. You can also check your stitches by pulling the fabric where you have made your stitch line. If the stitches pop and break, you will want to make adjustments we talked about above.
Label your practice stitches. I like to write the stitch width and length along with the needles size directly on the scrap fabric piece. I save these as a reference for later projects or if I must step away from my project.
We hope you have found Part 2 of "How To Sew Knits" tips useful. We can't wait to share more. If you are looking for some designer knit fabric be sure to check our collection.
Here's a line up of what we will be posting next in this series:
Part 3: Sewing Knit Fabric: More Tools and Practices for Successful Sewing
Part 4: Sewing Knit Fabric- Sleeves, Hems and More!
Don't forget, if you ever have a question about one of our fabrics we will be more than happy to help! Just shoot us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org