Welcome to the Jungle, We Have Spandex!

So you've decided to join the world of knits!  Or maybe you're just weighing the idea, trying it on and wearing it around for a while.  Lucky for you, we're going to talk about sewing with knits and some things to get your prepared.  Sewing with knits can be intimidating for those of us who learned how to sew using woven's from someone's basement (come on, raise those hands high, there's no judgment here).  So let's jump in and talk about some things that may be holding you back from this wild world.

What is a knit fabric?

No better place to start than that, am I right?  A knit fabric is going to be just that, a knitted fabric.  It is constructed from a single thread knitted into interlocking loops rather than woven fabric, which is constructed on a loom and consists of vertical and horizontal threads woven together.  All of that to say, a knit fabric has some stretch to it, different knits come in varying degrees of stretch.  Remember, not all knit is created the same.  They can come in various weights, contents, and quality.  Content is something you may hear a lot of commotion about.  But something to keep in mind is that content doesn't equal fabrication. While Liverpool is 96/4 poly/spandex... so is double brushed poly! If you've ever felt both of those you'll realize right away how very different they are and are constructed in a slightly different way which makes them totally unique fabrics with their own uses. When you're looking at fabric online, fiber content is not as important as what the actual fabric is called, its weight, and the listed uses. On our site we will list the content and percentages if we have them but we will always recommend uses on each listing to better help give you an idea.  You may see a fabric described as a 2-way knit or a 4-way knit.  Think if it like an intersection with a stop sign.  If something has a 2-way stretch, it's like a 2 way stop.  It only stretches 2 ways, most of the time this is horizontal, but sometimes can be vertical).  Same idea with the 4-way stretch, it will stretch 4 ways (vertical and horizontal).  The amount the stretch will be what we call your "stretch percentage".  We will cover that later.

Prepping your fabric

Ahhhh the age old question.  If you ever want to start a debate on a sewing page, go ask if you should prewash your fabrics.  For some reason the question sparks all kinds of arguments.  I'm not here to fight you, just give you the general ups and downs to both.  Depending on the fiber contents, your knit probably won't have much shrinkage.  But again, that can change if the fabric contains fibers that tend to shrink (like cotton).  Personally I always prewash my fabrics regardless of shrinkage or not.  It helps to remove any residue that has accumulated through the manufacturing process.  Think about how many hands that fabric went through to get to you...think about it....that's a lot of hands.  You also want to get any sort of color bleeding out of your fabric.  There may be a large deposit of color in your fabrics that need to be prewashed out.  You'll want to wash them with like colors the first time as a precaution.  

Essential Tools 

Now is the time to gather some tools for working with knits.  You may think that you need  special machine to sew with knits (you're probably thinking of a serger), but you don't!  Your regular machine should have all the right stitches to help you start on this journey.  Having a serger can help sewing with knits, but no need to buy an entire new machine right now.  You are going to want to change out those needles depending on what project you are working on.  You want to look out for either a ball point, jersey, or stretch needle. Ball point and jersey needles work for the majority of knit projects and have a dull tip that slides between the fibers rather than piercing them like a sharp universal needle is designed to do. Ball point and jersey needles come in sizes 75/11 to 90/14. Did you know those numbers actually mean something?  Use a smaller size needle for lighter weight fabrics. For most SSE medium weight fabrics, use an 80/12. Stretch needles are very similar but are recommended for fabrics with a very high stretch percentage, such as swim or performance. If you have trouble with skipped stitches you may want to experiment with a different needle and settings on your machine. You may also wish to pick up a twin needle. A twin needle is a funky needle that will become helpful when hemming, to mimic the look of a coverstitch. I also would recommend getting a walking foot.  A walking foot is an a separate foot that provides you with another set of feed dogs.  It makes fabrics that seem more challenging, much less threatening.  It helps fabrics not 'grow' as they flow through your machine.

What's the stitch?

Have you wondered what all those other stitches on your machine are good for?  Well some of them are in fact great for sewing with stretchy fabrics!  As the fabric stretches you're going to want a stitch that moves and accommodates for that.  Let's go over some of those stitches using this graphic of some standard stitches most machines have. 

3.) This is a basic straight stitch.  It has no stretch to it, so using it with knits isn't the best idea.  You can use this as a top stitch but you will need to lengthen the stitch.  
4.) The lightning bolt stitch is a universally popular stitch because it looks closer to
a professional store-bought finish than the following zig zag stitches.
5.) The wide zig zag stitch is standard on all sewing machines and provides a high degree of stretch.
6.) The three-step zig-zag is similar to the wide zig-zag, but allows for an even greater degree of stretch and lends additional strength.
7.) The Faux overlock stitch produces both a zig-zag and a straight stitch together. When the seam allowance is trimmed close to the edge of this stitch it can
provide a finish that mimics that of a serger.

It is always a good idea to test out your stitches on fabric before you start sewing your garment.  It will save you time, tears, heartache, and a date with a seam ripper.    Test it on a scrap of fabric that is similar to the fabric you are using.  So don't use a scrap of quilting cotton if your using double brushed poly.  Experiment with different lengths and tensions till you have exactly what you want.  

Taking that first step into knits can feel overwhelming and scary, but hopefully after reading this you can feel a little more prepared and excited to dive in!

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Tina Walker

Tina Walker

I’m a beginner and I love knits. When I began sewing a few months ago, I had no clue there would be a difference, so I purchased some and jumped right in. Boy did I learn ALOT from that experience! Lol
I was glad to read your explanation about fabric content because I had recently tried to link the content to type and was completely overwhelmed trying to do so. Thank you!

Leela D Mitchell

Leela D Mitchell

I love sewing learning new patterns

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