Don’t panic, take a deep breathe, read the notes below from start to finish (before you start sewing!) and dive in!
Knitted fabrics are not all equal
There are number of different types of knitted fabric:
Single Knit These look different on the front and back (often there is a printed pattern on one side, but the fabric is plain on the reverse), when cut the sides curl. Knitted fabrics in this category include jersey, terry and fleece.
Double Knit These usually look the same on both sides and don’t curl, they stretch more than single knits.
Rib Knit With a ribbed pattern, these fabrics can look the same or different on each side, they don’t usually curl and can stretch to double their size. These are usually used for the cuffs on sweatshirts, so dig one out the wardrobe to see what the rib looks like.
Choosing a pattern
We recommend using patterns designed for knitted fabrics, like those for t-shirts from Make It Perfect. They are designed with the stretch of the fabric in mind, and give detailed instructions about the direction to lay your pattern pieces out in.
NOTE: Because the pattern designer will have taken account of the stretch of the fabric, you should not use regular cottons with the same patterns, they won’t stretch where the designer thought they would, or not to the same extent, so you could end up with a very peculiarly shaped item!
Preparing your fabric
With all new fabrics we recommend you pre-wash, this is even more important with knitted fabrics (except rib knits) because the shrinkage rate can be higher than with regular cottons.
If you pull on your fabric you will notice that it has a minimal amount of stretch in one direction, and a lot of stretch in the other, making the direction of the fabric when placing your pattern pieces and cutting out very important! As a general guide, when the pattern pieces are laid out, you want the stretch to be going across the body of the garment, not up and down it. If you are using a pattern created for knitted fabric, it will include detailed instructions.
Once your pattern pieces are facing the right way you need to cut out your pieces. We recommend that you place heavy weights on top of the fabric and pattern pieces – such as tins from the food cupboard, then use a rotary cutter to cut out the pattern, this will ensure that the fabric does not move or become stretched when cutting.
The reason we don’t recommend pinning and cutting, is that the act of pinning can cause you to inadvertently stretch the fabric, as can raising the fabric to insert your scissors, this will distort your pattern pieces.
Moving to the Sewing Machine
You can use a serger (over-locker) or regular sewing machine to sew with knits. Use the same techniques for hems and seams.
Choosing your needle
The first thing to do is make sure you are using the right type of needle. You need to use a Ball Point needle as these don’t snag the knitted fabric, or a Stretch Knit needle (recommended for ribbed knits, and for where you find you are skipping stitches with a Ball Point needle).
Choosing your cotton
We do not recommend using a pure cotton as it does not have a lot of natural stretch in it, we prefer a poly or poly blend.
Sewing machine foot
You can use your regular foot, or if you sew a lot of knits it may be worth investing in a Walking foot. A Walking foot helps to move the fabric through the machine from the top, in the same way as the feed dogs do under the fabric. Helping to prevent puckering and a produce a consistent stitch.
You can use a regular stitch, but you will need to slightly pull on the fabric from your side of the sewing machine as it feeds through (to stretch the fabric). Making the sewing machine stitch the fabric at its stretched size prevents the cotton snapping as soon as the fabric is stretched in use.
We recommend using a zig zag stitch, as you don’t have to stretch the fabric as it feeds through.
Alternatively your machine may have one or more special stitches built in for stretch fabrics.
TOP TIP: Spray or paint water soluble stabilizer onto the seam/hem areas before sewing. Allow the stabilizer to dry before putting the fabric through the sewing machine. The risk of accidently stretching the fabric will be practically eliminated, helpful when pinning pieces together too!
If you are using a regular stitch we recommend a length of 3mm. For a zig zag stitch you can use a width of 0.5 to 2mm, the wider the stitch the stretchy the finished item will be.
Finishing your Edges
If your pattern calls for a seam of over 0.25” you are probably going to want to cut this down once sewn, or to overlock/serger the edge, as some knitted fabrics can fray easily. Test the edge of the fabric with your nail, if the fabric frays you could fix the problem by:
- Applying fray stop liquid,
- Overlocking/serging the edge,
- or by sewing another seam as close to the edge as you feel comfortable.
Press your seams open as usual.
Great websites for free knitted fabric patterns…
www.badlandsquilts.com – for an easy knitted fabric blanket.
www.knittybitties.blogspot.co.uk – for a knitted skirt pattern.
www.figgyspatterns.com – patterns that you buy, but can download – uber contemporary.
www.danamadeit.com/tutorials – if this site doesn’t make you want to rush out and buy a cupboard full of knits, nothing will.
www.tiedyedivadesigns.blogspot.co.uk – arm warmers and a very cute baby hat – plus lots of other free non knit patterns.
Click here to download a copy of this guide sewing with knits.