Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tuesdays Tutorial: Knits....Don't Be Afraid

For the longest time I stay away from knits; far, far away. I had always thought they were so hard to sew with. But, oh how wrong I was and how much fun I'd missed. Wovens make creating fun, but no one loves a set in sleeve. And even a sleeve set in the flat, with a woven, can be a bit more difficult than one done with a knit. Knits are also so comfy. Just think of the things you wear most often. Are they wovens, or knits. I venture to guess, other than undies and socks, you wear knits nearly everyday.
Today's tutorial is going to be more of a tips day in honor of knits. My hope is that by reading this your "knit fears" will be somewhat relieved. I'll divide our tips into sections: Must Do, Good to Know,
Must Do:
1. You must pre-launder knits. They shrink at varying degrees. Launder your piece in it's harshest possible laundering condition. For example, I normally wash in cold and dry cottons and knits a few minutes to release the wrinkles and then hang to finish. But, sometimes I miss and they dry the entire way. The harshest condition, for me, therefore is to wash and dry fully. For some of you it may be wash/dry fully in hot...
Before washing measure your fabric yardage and width. I know this sounds tedious. But, a dear online friend, Margaret, has been telling those on the Ottobre group for...a long, long time...to do just this to save themselves headaches later. Launder the fabric and measure again. If you have more than 2" of shrinkage, launder again. Repeat the measure/launder steps until the shrinkage is an 1" or 2". That way you know all of the shrinkage is removed and your completed garment will fit for a long while.
Why preshrink? I bought some knit at Hobby Lobby and made leggings. Within a season those lettings became capris (6"+) of shrinkage. No it wasn't all a growth spurt.
With the shrinkage issue in mind, you'll want to buy a bit extra fabric. How much you wonder? My guess would be 20% extra. I rarely buy based on the need for a pattern, but if you are buying based on a specific pattern you'll need to be certain you have enough after washing to cut the pattern. A side note to this: if you are using the Michael Miller Knits, some sewists are experiencing 30% shrinkage with these. I've not used them, nor have I heard about such shrinkage from other, non-mentioned, companies.
2. Use A Ball Point Needle. A regular needle will cut the fabric threads. After wearing your garment the seams will pull a part, making your garment completely useless.
3. Use a fabric with lycra (spandex) for leggings. Leggings must have both vertical and horizontal stretch. Why? Have you ever noticed pants that get baggy knees or bottoms...that's why.
Where do you find cotton/lycra? Take a look here for suggestions. This is not an exhaustive list as I'm always on the hunt for great cotton/lyra. Yes, they are more expensive, but they wear well, feel well, and when were making children's clothing and using less than a yard to make a pair of leggings, cost effective compared to Ready to Wear.
Good To Know:
1. Use knits for the intended purpose. I wrote about the kinds of knits and there purposes here (same link as above).
2. Some knit edges like to roll. Spray starching them sometimes helps straighten them out for sewing. Or just flatten them as you sew slowly. Yes, this can be a pain when you like to sew fast...me...but using a lovely knit and experiencing the comfort is worth it.
3. Leave the Edges Raw. What, raw edges on the outside of a garment. Yep! It's ok. They don't need a finish. Worst case scenario: you get a bit of a roll (see the picture above).
4. Don't want an edge to roll? I've heard, not yet tried, that cutting knits that are rolling on the bias eliminates the roll. (Bias=45% angle on your piece of fabric)
5. How to check for Breathability. For some of us breathability is important. There are certain areas of our bodies that are much more comfortable if air can come through. For others, you'd never notice. Fabrics made of natural fibers breathe. Fabrics with a higher content of man made fibers don't. (This is the simple way to explain it.) Cotton and Rayon fabrics breathe, polyesters don't. When it comes to knits, this is critical. While shopping the knit section at JoAnns or Hancocoks most of the knits are polyester content. If you don't know the content, you can check breatability by blowing through the fabric. Hold the fabric close to your face and blow. If the air comes back, it's not breathable. If it goes through the fabric it is breathable.
6. Knits needn't be purchased at the fabric store. What? Yes, you heard me. We get most of the knits for the children, and some for myself, at the thrift store. You can easily get a child's knit shirt out of an adult's knit shirt. Goodwill now has the occasional .99 day. Where else can you get nice knit yardage for .99. Even though used knits have likely be very well laundered, prewash for shrinkage. If you want to see some wonderful upcycles, search etsy.com for upcycled clothing. You'll surely want to make some for yourself/children. You've seen some from us, but there's much more to come. Especially after our .99 thrifting trip yesterday. lol I even got a really cool knit for Curly's leggings...yes, I checked it for 4 way stretch.
7. Save your scraps. It takes very little to make a really cute headband.
We certainly want to see your creations. Please post them in our flickr group and share the inspiration with all of us.
Happy Sewing!


  1. Your article inspires me to not only sew more with knits, but recycle old knit garments.

  2. Wow, I found this article on AllFreeSewing.com after I had just finished a skirt made out of a T-shirt knit. I wonder how much shrinkage I'll get? Thanks for the tips

  3. One thing that keeps me away from knits is thinking I need to used the stretch stitch on my machine, because it's so slow AND because it's hard to take out if you want or need to. Is the stretch stitch necessary?

    1. A 2 wide by 2 long zigzag will work quite well on knits. This is the stitch I use. Make sure you use a ball point needle.

  4. Tried tutorials/NOTHING worked. I tried releasing foot pressure to NEARLY ZERO. BIG difference. Found out by accident after being frustrated I couldn't sew knits without fabric stretching/tangled threads and fabric pulled into the needle hole. Sewing knits is easier now.

    1. Yes, releasing the presserfoot some can help the fabric to feed better. If you have trouble with the fabric getting down into the machine, use some tissue paper between the fabric and machine. Tear off the paper when you finish the seam.

  5. use a walking foot it keeps the fabric together and even.

  6. Hate to sound dumb, but are you using a machine that has a stretch stitch setting?

    1. You can use a stretch stitch setting, but don't need to. I use a narrow 2.2 zigzag when I sew knits. The narrow zigzag gives the seam a bit of a stretch. Some machines don't have the stretch stitch.

    2. Thanks, Debbie. I have sewn for years (about 40+) but I have always had a phobia about knits...I think you have inspired me to give it a try!

    3. Gerri, I'm here if you need help. Email me at squigglytwigs designs at yahoo dot com. No spaces. I help people all of the time. I love knits! My children sew w/them also. There are a couple of other knit tutorials in here. Just search knits in the search box at the left to find them.


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