Tips for Sewing with Knits

This originally appeared on Keeping it Simple

Since we talked about sergers last time, today I want to talk about sewing with knits. 

A lot of sewers are scared of knits. I know I used to hate to work with them, but now I’d say more than 50% of my stash is knits. 

What changed? I learned how to sew them properly. And I learned where to get them. 

First, if you don’t know which type of knit is which, the main ones are jersey, interlock and rib knit. This post has an overview and pictures of the three types. If you’re a beginner, interlock is the easiest to sew with. It’s also the most readily available at stores like Joann. 

So, the most important tips for working with knits: 

If you stretch the fabric, it will end up wavy looking and you don’t want that. If your machine has a presser foot adjustment, adjust it to the lowest amount of pressure. This will help you not to stretch the fabric as you sew. This point is the one I used to mess up the most; I don’t know why I had it in my head that you were supposed to stretch, then I’d cry over ugly seams. Like this one:

I didn’t think I was stretching as I sewed it, but obviously I was. 

Use a zig-zag, stretch stitch or twin needle
Knit fabric stretches. Thread does not. In order to make the two play nice together you have to use something other than a straight stitch. Most machines have a zig-zag stitch (if yours does not, I am sorry to tell you that unless you use a twin needle you can’t sew knits on that machine). Most newer machines also have a stretch stitch, which looks kind of like a lightning bolt. Either one will work. I prefer a short stitch length and a medium zig-zag width for maximum stretch, like around necklines. I use a longer stitch and narrower zig-zag for seams where I want it to look almost like I straight stitched and stretch isn’t as important, like hems. 

Twin needles are a whole other beast, and I am going to give them their own post next time. 

Needles Matter
Use a ball point or jersey needle if you find your thread breaking or if your stitches keep pulling out. 

Sergers are awesome
Alternatively, you can use a serger to sew if you have one and are comfortable doing so. This is my preferred method, but I have sewed many t-shirts without one because I didn’t always have a serger, so like I said last time I was here, you don’t need one. But they sure are nice. 

Sources for knits
My knit stash as of last spring

Thrift store t-shirts are by far my favorite and cheapest way to get knits. The picture above was my stash last spring. I have to say it has not shrunk much. These are especially great if you don’t spend much on them, because then you don’t feel so bad if you mess up. 

Ready to sew with knits? I have a few patterns here, or you can check out my tutorials here for more knit projects. 

Thanks for having me!

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  1. says

    OK, here is the thing. I HAVE a serger and I STILL don’t know how to sew with knits on it. I can’t seem to find instructions ANYWHERE- only how to sew knits without one. Can you offer any help here? Pretty please with a cherry on top?

  2. Heather says

    Hello, everytime I sew knit I would serge the edges around the neckline. This would cause the neckline to stretch & be bigger than I wanted it. Any tips to keep that from happening?

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