2.02.2010

Sewing with knits


I am all set to sew up some new t-shirts and hoodies for the kids this spring. Stripes are the theme for the year. Well, stripes are the theme for every year, really. I really like stripes :) Which helps since all of my fabric is recycled knits from a thrift store, and most of the unloved garments hanging forlornly, since nobody really needs another striped shirt in the closet. Well, except me and my kids, of course.

Getting set to sew, I remembered some recent comments from readers about being unable to sew knits. There seems to be an idea that knits are difficult to sew. Let me tell you, knits are not hard. Knits are easy! Knits are fun and forgiving and fast!

Okay, but sewing knits is not the same as sewing something woven. First up, a ball point needle in the smallest size you can get away with is essential. Sharp tip needles are great for woven (non-stretch) fabric but they will just rip holes in your knits. Very bad to have your garment rip along the seams after the first wash.

Second, the usual problem with knits is the stretched out seams, easily taken care of by using a slightly longer stitch and steaming your seam. To steam, hover your iron over top the seam, with the steam going full blast, and the seam will shrink back into place (with knits, always press straight down with the iron, do not rub it side to side). It also helps to use quality thread and to not overly stretch your seam while sewing.

That being said, a gentle stretch while stitching is helpful to prevent bunching up of the knit. The two layers go through the sewing machine, past the feed dogs, at different rates of speed. Usually the feed dogs will carry the bottom layer through just fine, so a slight pull will keep the top inline.

Using a serger is in no way necessary for knits. Actually, I hardly ever use my serger with knits, because there is no need to finish the edges - knits do not fray - and the sewing machine usually creates more stable seams. I do know that many people like to use the serger for knits and the main reason for that is the differential feed, turned up just a bit, prevents seam stretching as well as feed the fabrics through evenly. For difficult spots like setting in sleeves, a serger can be a god-send. But the difference between the regular machine vs. a serger for knits is like the difference between driving an automatic vs. a standard transmission on an icy road. The level of control the driver has makes helps prevent slipping, but generally both types will make it through just fine if they go slow.

One last point about cutting knits: a rotary cutter is your best friend. Use your rotary if you have one. Many problems with knit garments start with wonky cuts. Just digging those scissors underneath and lifting the fabric up to cut causes misalignment. Still, if you do use scissors, keep them sharp.

If you are going to try knits for the first time or try again after a bad experience, I suggest heading down to your local thrift store or raiding your closet for some sturdy, slightly thick, t-shirts. It helps to learn with the firmer stuff and not the slinky, slippery Lycras (which are headaches, no matter how competent you are at sewing knits). Start with a raglan style t-shirt pattern, a ball point needle, and some extra time. Or, if you like, try out this tutorial for using your old tee shirts.

Hope this encourages somebody to give knits a go. Sewing is all about confidence. Natural talent is great, but better than that is the willingness to try new and scary things. In the end, the more mistakes you make the better; redoing the bungle ups is when true skill and knowledge is earned.

15 comments:

Isabel said...

Thank you! This is exactly the post I've been wanting. Now I'm feeling confident enough to tackle the old t-shirts I've been saving.

Poe Lane said...

I just made a dress for my daughter for the first time with stretch knit. I am new to sewing but had no idea about the ball point needle. I will be heartbroken if the seams rip after it's washed. If you want to see the dress it is on my blog.

KristenMary said...

Great post, I'm terrified of knits!!

julie said...

Loooove sewing knits. Was telling my husband the other day that I'd like to have another baby just sew I could sew it an entire wardrobe from rock band T-shirts.

Carolyn said...

HI, there is actually a tutorial on my blog with some pointers about knits, and a Feb challenge if your interested.

Stephanie said...

Hi,

I just wanted to say that I LOVE LOVE LOVE your blog. I only started looking at blogs a little while ago and I'm hooked! I check yours every day (sometimes twice :S)

You have inspired me to do my own blog... I started it today and so far I'm pretty pleased... so far I have no friends, but I'm happy anyway.

Thanks for your wonderful tutorials and interesting topics and insights... love it!

Steph xxx

Skooks said...

I totally agree! I only recently started tackling working with knits and I love it!

The Cottage Mama said...

Such a great post - thank you! Going to be working with some knits today - wish me luck!!

Lindsay

jessica said...

thank you so very much. i have a bin full of vintage knits i'm going to whip out after a long time in storage.

Arlyna's Blog said...

Thank you for the tips. I will go in search of ball-tip needles... I did some jammies (PJ bottoms) with knits and was okay until I got to the hem. Since then I've been very reluctant to try again. With your tips, I will most certainly try my hand again at this. Thanks!

Karen said...

I love to sew with Knits. I even love them more when I got my serger a few years ago. I don't have to hem them anymore. Just a rolled hem!

Amber said...

Great tutes, love your blog and devouring all your articles since I discovered it. Can I ask some questions please? What size rotary cutter do you use? And are 10/70 ball point needles fine enough? I've got to go and buy some before I can start on my projects...

Vegbee said...

Amber, I have different sizes of rotary cutters. Little ones for tight curves and big ones for cutting out mutliple layers.

Your needle size sounds just fine, though there is actually quite a bit I don't know about needles. I would purchase the needles at a quality notions store and ask the staff if they have any recommendations based upon the weight of knit you are sewing if you have concerns.

Regina said...

WoW! This was incredibly helpful too! I've sewn on knits before but it has been a long time. Thanks for reminding me that it's not so scary after all.

BeckySues BowandSews said...

Hi! I found you on pinterest (I'm a pinterestaholic) and thank you for the great tips! I'm working on leggings for the whole family (well, not my husband) and I bought some lovely knit fabrics. The first pair came out a bit weird and I now know I was using the wrong stitch and needle. Thanks again! Can,t wait to restart my leggings project!