Sewing with Knits
Knits have scared away plenty of sewists, but the truth is that with the right tools and a little practice, you can get great results with your domestic sewing machine. No serger required!
Knit garments are great because they require less fitting and finish work. Knits don’t unravel, so you can leave the edges raw (or use an overlock stitch). There are no darts to fuss with or zippers to install. They are so simple and with the wide range of prints and colors available in knits now, your options are nearly endless.
Start with the right needle
For most sewing, you probably use a universal needle. They are great for most patchwork and sewing with an array of fabrics, but knits require a gentler needle. The point of the universal can put holes in your knits, so pick up some ballpoint needles or stretch needles (especially if you are working with four-way stretch fabrics).
The universal needle (top in photo) has a sharper point, but the jersey (center) and stretch needles have a ballpoint, or rounded end, designed to slide through the fabric rather that stab through it. You can see the smoother ends in the close-up. If you poke your finger on the end, you can tell a difference in the sharpness, but the easiest way to recognize a ballpoint is by the color-coding from Schmetz (top yellow stripe=stretch, top orange stripe=jersey knit).
Take a closer look to see the difference in the ends as well as the shape of the needle eye and surrounding scarf.
You might also want to pick up a knit double- or twin-needle. With two perfectly even lines of stitches, the twin-needles gives a professional look to your top-stitching. Simply wind a bobbin or use an extra spool of thread to feed two pieces of thread through the machine and thread each needle. Available in the standard width and extra-wide.
Helpful tools and tips
Knits are a bit wobbly at a times, so use a rotary cutter to cut out your pattern instead of scissors for the nicest results. You can also zig zag the edges or use an overcast stitch to finish your seams, if you prefer.
Set your machine to a slight zig zag (we used 1.5 width and 2.5 length) to give your seams a little stretch. Straight seams are more likely to pop with a good tug, so prevent having to repair seams by zigzagging first. The seam will appear just as nice on the outside.
To give stability to shoulder seams, pick up some stay-tape. Lightweight and flexible, it gives stability to the seam without adding bulk. You can also use it on the hem, if you'd prefer less stretch at the bottom.
If you have a walking foot, knits are a great place to use it!
Using the twin-needle, we stitched down either side of the fabric--on the left with the walking foot, on the right with a standard foot. The walking foot helps avoid the rippling and stretching that can happen with knits.
Sewing with knits doesn't need to be scary and with a few extra tools (ballpoint needles, stay-tape, and walking foot), you'll be sewing up garments that look and fit great!
For more in-depth instruction, tips, and information on fitting and sewing fashion knits, check out Palmer/Pletsch's new Knits for Real People, released earlier this year. Full of great information for all skill levels, the book is a great addition to your sewing library.