Quick Tips on Sewing Knits

Knits - featured

Hi, Bay Area Sewists had a fun meetup in September at Sips N Sews to talk about sewing knit fabrics. Members brought (or wore) things they made from knits and shared their tips on sewing knits. Sorry the photos aren’t very good! I was listening to what people said, nearly forgot about taking photos – and took these on my phone at the last minute. Here’s a recap of that discussion, which I moderated:

Selecting knit fabrics
If you’re making a knit skirt or pants you’ll want to select a knit fabric with a little lycra in it so it’ll have nice recovery and won’t get easily stretched out. How do you know if there’s lycra in it? Check the fabric content or stretch it out a little and see how it bounces back. If it goes quickly back to its original shape, it’s got some lycra in it. A 100% cotton knit can get stretched out. Rayon knits can sometimes pill or get worn out easily. So take care when you wash them. Avoid the dryer to get more longevity from your garment.

Ali really liked this Art Gallery knit she got from Hawthorne Threads to make a knit top, which she brought to show members. She’s also wearing a top she made. (You can see more of the things she sews on her Instagram account @sewsmboncha.)

Art Gallery knit - Bay Area Sewists

Ali says this knit fabric was very easy to sew. It’s 95% cotton, 5% spandex and was designed by Maureen Cracknell from her Wild and Free Knit collection. You can order it here. This is a photo I took of the fabric.

Art Gallery knit fabric - Bay Area Sewists - csews.com

Preparing knit fabrics 
Before you cut your fabric, you should prewash it to avoid shrinking your completed garment after you wash it. One member said that when she didn’t prewash her knit fabric the bust darts moved up a few inches so they were above her bust. Cotton knits will shrink so definitely prewash them.

Erin - Bay Area Sewists
Erin of Dress a Day
Cutting knit fabrics
If you’re having trouble cutting a fabric because it’s slippery or lightweight, Erin of Dress a Day recommends Sullivans 120 Fabric Stabilizer spray, which you can get on Amazon. “It makes fabric cut like paper,” says Erin, who wore a dress she made. But she recommends spraying it outside, not indoors, because of the fumes. Also, she notes that it can’t be shipped via Amazon Prime because it must be shipped by ground, not air. Erin says it washes out and she hasn’t had any problems with it.

Use pattern weights to hold down your pattern pieces to the fabric – or you can use pins. If you use pins, before you cut your fabric, flip over each pattern piece to make sure the bottom piece of fabric is laying flat and you don’t have any extra fabric caught under the pin.

I usually cut knits with scissors because I’m not so confident with my rotary cutting skills. If you do use a rotary cutter, members recommended using the smaller size blade (28 mm) as well as a straight edge and a french curve to help you cut. And don’t forget to use a self-healing cutting mat under your fabric!

If you have any other tips for cutting knits, please let me know!

Sewing knits
On a sewing machines, use a zig zag stitch or the lightening bolt stitch. (Note: it isn’t easy to unpick the lightening bolt stitch.) You can also experiment with trying a longer regular straight stitch and slightly stretching your fabric as  you sew. Then your stitches will stretch with the fabric and won’t pop. Always test the tension on knit fabric scraps before you start sewing your garment.

If you have a serger, you can just serge your seams.

You can also hand sew knits – just look at the some of the hand sewn knit garments designed by Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin or check out her books. Romy is wearing a navy dress she made with some Alabama Chanin hand sewn embellishments on the bodice.

Romy - Alabama Chanin blue dress - Bay Area Sewists
Romy wearing her Alabama Chanin dress

She also brought the Alabama Chanin dress she’s working on. This is one panel of the dress.

Romy's Alabama Chanin dress

One member asked: How do you prevent a lightweight knit from getting eaten by your sewing machine? Jill suggested putting a piece of painter’s tape on the throat place where the needle goes. Then only the needle will go through this small area and nothing else.

Making adjustments to a knit pattern
Beth, who blogs at SunnyGal Studio and for Craftsy, wore a knit top she made from a Jalie pattern. I think  she’s wearing the Jalie Women’s T-Shirt pattern. Jalie has many patterns for knit tops, which you can see here.

Beth wearing Jalie top

Beth discussed fitting and adjusting patterns for knits. For example, if you wanted to change the neckline, what do you do about the neck binding? Beth mentioned that Threads has a really good video by Sarah Veblen about a neckline binding for knits. You can see the video here. Beth mentioned that there are certain points where you want to stretch the binding a little more to get it to fit right. I watched the video and it’s really helpful, showing you exactly how to sew a binding on a curved neckline. I’m sure I’ll be watching it again and again.

To check pattern fit, Beth recommends measuring the circumference of the pattern. For example, measure the front and back pattern pieces of a top around the bust area. Compare that measurement to your measurement to give yourself an idea of how much ease there is. Also, if you know that it will be too tight around the armhole, Beth suggests adding a little more ease to the back pattern piece around the armhole. And don’t forget to add that same amount to the sleeve.

At this meetup, we held a pattern giveaway for two indie patterns – the Blueprints for Sewing A-Frame skirt and the Rose Hip Tights by Seamster Patterns. Thanks to Taylor and Mari for donating their patterns for our giveaway! (I bought the A-Frame pattern in June and finished it just in time to enter it in the Everyday Casual Sewalong Contest – and won! You can read about it here.)

Bay Area Sewists at Sips N Sews

The meetup was a lot of fun, plus we learned a lot! If you have any knit tips to share, please let me know! And if you live in the Bay Area, please visit our meetup page and consider joining the group.

Happy sewing!


Author: Chuleenan

Chuleenan sews, collects hats and shoes, and is a fabric addict. She is also the organizer for the Bay Area Sewists Meetup group.

6 thoughts on “Quick Tips on Sewing Knits”

  1. I do all my knits with a double needle and a knit foot on my sewing machine. It has grippers underneath that hold the fabric still as your needle goes down then lifts up as the needle goes up so there is no friction to stretch the material.

    1. Oh, a knit foot, eh? I didn’t know there was such a thing. People always mention a walking foot when sewing knits, not a knit foot. I’ll have to look into that. Thanks!

  2. Knit tip 1.

    Hang your fabric so it stretches for a day or two before cutting it. This will help your piece of clothing be the length and shape you want as you wear it throughout the day. Knit dresses can get heavy and will stretch as you wear it, so pre-stretching it helps!

    Knit tip 2:
    Stabilize your knit at beginning and ending stitches or even entire seams! Use a small piece (2″) of interfacing/stabilizer (woven is fine, fusible is fine) along the seamine to keep the knit fabric from getting pushed down into your needle plate. Also fuse interfacing for zippers, buttonholes, and pocket openings in knits.

    I love sewing knits!

    1. Oh, I didn’t think about hanging your fabric! That’s really important for dresses.

      Stabilizing at the beginning and ending is a great tip, too. Thanks MaLora!

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