4 Things About Sewing Knits For Complete Beginners

Thanks so much for your lovely comments about my Red Stripe Tiramisu!  I think she’s my favorite Tira yet!

I’m switching focus in the Tiramisu Circus from the pattern itself to the more practical aspects of sewing with knits.  I know many of you are dab hands, and I salute you and your excellent work.  I have other posts in line for this week that may be useful to you but I wanted to kick off the tutorials with a “Complete Beginners” chat.

The other night, one of my first pre-orders came from my longtime best friend who lives in America.  She doesn’t even sew!  I wrote to ask her about that and she told me she’s always intended to learn, and decided to take the plunge with my patterns.  I love that!  This video is for her, and for those of you out there who haven’t sewn with knits before and don’t know where to start. I hope it’s helpful!

Notes:

Lightning Bolt Stitch- for construction seams.  It’s a zig zag stitch with a longish stitch length (around 2.5) and a narrow width setting (1 or so).

Triple Stitch Zig-Zag- This goes near the raw edge of the fabric, between the construction line and the raw edge.

Stabilizing Tape: I bought mine from Sunni because I couldn’t find anything locally.  It’s amazing, delicious, strong stuff.  It is positioned over the seamline, and you stitch through it and the fabric.

Practice Fabric: I mention this in the video, but you can also start off using cut up old t-shirts to practice stitching seams.

Further Reading:

Bygone Glamour’s Master List of Knit Links (she’s an academic, it’s extensive!)

Sewaholic’s Big List of Tips for Sewing With Knits

Aft Agley’s Sewing With Knits

Tips for Working With Knits and Mock Coverhem Tutorial

LLadybird Lauren writes Conquering Knits: A Self-Help Guide.  She’s funny and knowledgeable.

Rae Debriefs the Kniterviews- Sensible basics about knit sewing, and how others sew knits.

But Wait!  There’s More-

Next Up: Stabilizers for Every Season…

Then: Beginner’s Knit Sewing #2 (feet, foot pressure, thread choices, twin needles and other questions you all ask… The floor is open!)

Later: Sourcing Eco Knits (and other knit fabric sourcing.  But mostly green stuff.)

And later than that: Drape and Weight and Knit Type- What You Need to Know

And Stephen’s working on the knit hemming video… I throw everything at you I can think of!  I do love this “Circus” business, might have to have circuses more often!

What do you think?  If you’re a more advanced sewist reading this, what would you say to a knits newbie?  How do you react when a tutorial tells you their way of sewing is the only right way?

Click to visit the pre-sale! $11 pre-sale, $17 retail. Ends October 5th

The Tiramisu Pre-Sale blazes on over at Etsy!

Sign up for Cake Patterns updates here.

And don’t forget the red-striped jersey giveaway!  Enter to win the fabric to make a dress just like Penelope the Tiramisu covergirl!


63 comments

  1. Brilliant, brilliant! Have tried to sew with knits a few times as they look so good and are so comfortable – but with not a great deal of success so this is so usefl. Thank you!

  2. Love the video, Steph. I personally love sewing with knits, so the more people we can encourage to do this, the more fabric choices we’ll have! Thanks for your leadership on this.

    • Oh! Leadership? Alright.

      Yes, the more people sew, the better our fabric choices. It’s a very selfish conspiracy. ;) :D But really, I think there’s some petitioning of big chains we could do maybe to get them to carry better knits. I’m pretty alright for local shopping, but I wish everyone had access to good fabrics… Hmm…

  3. Lots of great information Steph. I would encourage a total newbie to save all scraps after cutting the fabric. Play with your machine, your chosen thread and these scraps. much can be learned with practice

    . Another of my favorite seam stabilizers for knit fabrics is the clear swimwear elastic. It has enough stretch to support the seam, yet “give” with wear. This also requires a little practice to get the amount of stretch and ratio correct but I use it for necklines quite a bit to keep the fabric hugging my bony upper chest that competes for attention with the ample girls who live directly below. I dislike that “gap” created by v necks etc.

    Take care to use the best weight of knit fabric for your project. Your pattern envelope provides suggestions and guidelines to help you. Be mindful of these. While medium weight fabrics work well for most tops and dresses they are only marginally appropriate for bottom weight skirts and trousers. I am thinking of a person I saw the other day with a poorly made knit skirt clinging and curving in all the wrong places. A heavier weight skirt for that semi-full skirt would have been lovely, this one not so much!

    • Thanks, Lucy.. You are Very Very right- lots can be learned through “playing.”

      Great tip! The clear elastic I can find here tends to split, but it’s definitely useful stuff if you can get it. :)

      Yes. Weight is very important, agreed.

  4. Good information. I still consider myself a beginner but I love sewing with knits. Love the end results that I get. I find them comfortable and easy to add to my wardrobe. I actually am planning on sewing up a knit top today using an interlock knit.
    I too encountered the knit myth but when I found Sunni and Lauren’s blog I decided to go for it and I’m glad I did. You’ll see more knit stuff on my blog and of course, the Tira :)
    I do agree with you, there is more than one way to do something “right”. Sometimes it’s just a matter of what works for you with the tools you have available.

      • Yes, exactly right- it’s a matter of what works for you and the tools you have. Exactly.

        Did Gertie write about knits? I thought she had guest posters come in for that. I’ll have to go look now! :) The threads article is good, I might go add it to my list even though it’s on several of the lists I link to…

  5. Aren’t you articulate and also adorable in video! What top are you wearing? I think I have made the same one…

    I just received my fusible knit and non-stretch stabilizing tape from Sunni. Love her shop.

    • Articulate? Me? Hehe. Thanks.

      I’m wearing the Pavlova top I made the other day from a linen jersey. Suuuuper comfy, I can’t wait til the linen softens up… Yum.

      Yeah, her stay tape is really good stuff. Not too stiff, not too fine, just right. Goldilocks stabilizer…

  6. Great video! I am one of those who has always been scared of sewing with knits but am trying to overcome the fear… lots of mistakes along the way but that’s ok… it’s a learning curve!

    Was wondering whether you can help me with a small dilemma I have… was going to buy the fusible tape from afashionablestitch last week and was confused re the difference between the Extremely Fine Fusible Straight Stay Tape and the Extremely Fine Fusible Knit Stay Tape. Is one of them specifically for knits? Since you mentioned that you also got yours from Sunni, was wondering whether you could help me.

    Thanks

    • The knit one stretches a bit, the woven one doesn’t. It’s up to you which one to use, I usually use a woven in the shoulder because I don’t like my shoulders to stretch at all (and they don’t need to, except when you’re pulling the garment over your head)… Either one or both would be fine. :) In sewing, there’s lots of tiny detail type things, but often whether to use one or the other comes down to personal preference and the only way to know which you prefer is to just try it.

      • Oh, I already placed my order and I only ordered the knit kind, oops. Well, I know you said either is okay but I wish now I’d ordered both kinds! Regrets…

        • You should be fine with either, like I said the difference really comes down to preferences/habit but both stabilizers will help keep your seam from stretching out and waving at you. ;)

          • Thanks for your reply… having also seen your new post today, I think I will go for the woven.

  7. Love your technical wording. Hehe
    I recently starting sewing with knits and realized it was so silly to avoid them. I use a narrow zigzag stitch for my seam and Seams Great on my shoulder seams. I look forward to more vids

    • Hahah. It works though.. Anywhere you need to keep that fabric stabilized…

      Awesome! I’m so pleased it’s been working well for you. :)

      I like videos. Some things are much simpler to convey that way, I think I need to do them more often.

      • Oops I meant stay tape not seams great, the packaging looks the same. :-/
        I have also used cotton twill tape in the shoulder seems.

  8. Will you also be providing sewing tips for sewing knits with an overlocker/serger? I’m always after all the hints & tips I can find to help make my sewing life easier!

    • Yeah for sure. The other topics have overlocker/serger stuff in it, maybe it would work to do a devoted overlocker/serger post… Hmmm. But yes, heaps of tricks and tips this week aimed at making your life easier.

  9. Wow, that’s the first I’ve heard of the lightning bolt stitch! I generally use a straight stitch with fine results, but I do find the odd time, especially with lighter, thinner knits, that a straight stitch hasn’t enough give and the seam will break on me. This tip would have been handy a couple months ago when I was working on a tencel top, for example (I normally avoid tencel like the plague, but the print got me). When at work in the wardrobe department, we usually use the industrial serger threaded up with wooly nylon, and it works like an absolute dream! Needless to say, though, such luxuries are unavailable to most of us at home.

    What is your take on using a serger to finish the seams? I don’t like using my serger at home for construction seams, it’s not up to the task (she’s old, the tension ain’t what it used to be), but I finish all my knits with it. I find serged edges counter that ‘droopiness’ you referred to quite nicely. Also, my serger uses regular domestic machine needles, would you recommend putting ballpoint needles in it for finishing knits? I’ve not noticed any problems with expanding holes in my serged knits, probably because there’s little stress on a seam finish, but maybe ‘ballpoint serging’ would be better?

    • Oooh! Go play with the l.b. stitch! I found it a revelation when I heard about it the first time… :) And no popped seams!

      I use my serger to finish most seams on knits, I have a Husq. 905 and she’s a very tough and solid old bird.

      In machine training classes (which have never steered me wrong), they hammered it into us that overlockers/sergers *need* ballpoints, even when stitching wovens. Sergers are intended to be used with ballpoint needles, the ballpoints give them optimal performance. Some overlockers/sergers just plain old won’t work at all if you put sharps in them, some will skip stitches, some will get screwy tension but often the simplest fix is to switch out the needles for ballpoints.

      But then, some older models are made differently, and I have much less training on vintage machines than modern ones. :)

      • *gasp* I never knew that about ballpoints in sergers! I’ve not noticed anything about it in my manual, but I’ll give the “needles” section another close read and see what I find. Man, no matter how many years I do this, there’s always something new to learn. Thanks for that!

        • Without looking at your machine, I can’t say for complete certainty what needles you *should* be using. Also, if you don’t ever ever have tension or stitch quality issues, then I probably wouldn’t worry about it. However, most modern sergers/overlockers are made to be used with ballpoints irrespective of what kind of fabric goes through the machine… And when I had to troubleshoot overlockers in my old job, 80% of the time a change of needles would fix stitch quality issues….

  10. Hi Steph, awesome info but it’s BS that you need to use the same brand needles as your machine. Schmetz makes amazing needles that fit all machines just fine.
    The reason you can buy branded needles (which probably come from Schmetz) is so they get to make more money out of their customers!

    • You sure about that, Mrs C? Machines have their own various quirks from brand to brand, I haven’t tried every different type of needle with every machine… But needles cost $5/pack… I wouldn’t imagine it’s a racket. :)

      I have seen many times misbehaving machines that straighten up and fly right after a change of needles to the ones recommended by the manufacturer.

      • I have to agree with MrsC – there is probably no need to use branded needles, or ballpoints, in a serger. I have the ubiquitous Brother 1034D machine and I just use size 70 or 80 needles for everything. I occasionally change the stitch length, and the differential feed, but the needles stay in until they break. Never had the slightest problem – and I never use ballpoints because they cost more, and I can’t be bothered to change the needles in my serger unless I have to.

        It’s just a guess, but maybe the reason that the branded needles worked so well in the machines you referred to is because the original needles were knackered. Other new needles may have worked just as well.

        This is one of my petty annoyances – the change of needles. I’ve seen some bloggers state that needles (in sewing machines) have to be changed after every garment, or after X hours of sewing, and it annoys the hell out of me. I change my needles when I need a different one for the fabric I’m using (and I keep the ones I’ve removed in a marked pincushion), or when one breaks. On very rare occasions I’ve thrown a needle away because it has come to the end of its life without breaking and that is because I can either feel or hear that it is just “off”.

        Only $5 per pack, which is £5 per pack here, is a lot of money when extrapolated around the world.

        • That’s quite alright, but I’m afraid I’m immovable on the topic. :) I have handled and worked on literally hundreds if not thousands of sewing machines and I am presenting the information that I know from practice and experience will yield the most consistent results for sewists. I do not advocate waste or unnecessary gee-gaws for sewing, I really don’t, but sometimes it’s important to look after the equipment. I’ve just seen too many machines that barely limp along because the needles are not appropriate for the machine, or they haven’t snapped yet but they’re fish-hooked on the end, or they’re put in backwards, or they’re too long for the machine, or they’re too short for the machine, etc.

          A sewing machine is like a car in a lot of ways. Maintenance and correct parts are important and with respect, I’m not changing my mind. :) But I’m happy to agree to disagree.

          • And also, I wouldn’t play Russian Roulette with snapping machine needles. For one, there’s the eye-protection issue, though it’s a fairly slim chance the needle will bounce up and hit you in the eye. But it’s possible.

            The other one is that snapping needles will lead to throwing off the timing on the sewing machine. That’s when the top thread won’t completely pick up the bottom thread (if at all) and it’s often caused by snapping a needle and giving the mechanisms inside the machine a bit of a shock. Correcting the timing on a sewing machine can be costly (abut $150 here) and it’s avoidable. :) I just felt like I should mention that, it absolutely happens quite often even if it’s never happened to you.

            There’s an interesting thread on PR about changing needles: http://sewing.patternreview.com/cgi-bin/sewingclasses/board.pl

    • Been thinking about it, Mrs C- Schmetz work for a variety of machines, but I just can’t “safely” say they work for everything. You’re in a little bit of a different seat than me because you’re a very knowledgeable indie sewing shop owner. If you give needles to someone for their machine and they needles have an issue, they can come back and get sorted. If necessary. :) I’m sure you do a great job of looking after your customers’ sewing machine needle needs.

      If only everyone had MrsC to help them out! :)

      • Bless you. Steph and everyone, I am sorry for saying it was BS, that was so rude and I didn’t mean to be, I typed something in a hurry to get out the door and didn’t think it through. It’s the first time I’ve ever read something Steph has said that I disagree with and that was quite startling! But gosh if we’ve got through this far without disagreeing, it’s got to be a good thing! And the key message here is that putting the right kind of needle at the right time and putting it in correctly are essential.
        Steph you know and I want everyone to know how much I respect and admire you and what a difference your articulate, analytical approach has made for me – putting words to things that I have never had to put words to, You have improved my approach to teaching and to explaining what I do, and I am SO excited about the progress you’ve made and Cake and I’ve ordered two Tiramisu! For once, it’s ok to have two desserts!

  11. I sew almost exclusively w/knits. Once I had the basics down the hardest thing for me was learning how the stretch factor of knits affected fit on TNT’s. Less stretch-tighter fit. More stretch-looser fit. Until I learned which type of knit required a bit more in the side seam so they weren’t too tight I ALWAYS used 1″ side seams and basted to fit.
    Saved me from having many wadders!

    • That’s true, but at least with the more stretchy ones you have the option of taking in the side seams a bit more. :) Great tip. There’s a side-seam basted fit check built into the Tira pattern.

  12. I really enjoyed your video. My tip for getting started with knits is to just do it. As you say, you need to be fearless; it’s only fabric after all! The more you sew, the more you discover what works for you. There seem to be as many ways as sewing knits as there are people sewing them. Like you, I prefer to sew with a stretch stitch. I like to be able to press the seams open, which you can’t do with a garment constructed on the overlocker. That’s just my preference, I see many wonderful garments constructed fully by overlocker. My sewing has changed over the years. When I first got my overlocker I would stitch up a garment and then overlock the seam allowances together. Now I overlock the edges before I sew and keep the seams open. I like it better. Interesting about needles. I’ve never even seen needles labelled Janome, so I will definitely be looking into that! I use Schmetz because that’s all I ever see in the shops. I always buy Janome bobbins because the one time I tried generic ones was a disaster, so I can see how the needles would make a difference. You see, I learn something new from you every time. Thanks:)

    • Thanks, Carol! That’s so interesting that you prefer to press them open, I might have to try that sometime and see how it compares. :) I think it’s normal for the sewing to change with time…

      If schmetz works for you, go for it… Of course.

      Oh dear me the bobbin issue makes me insane… I know I say there’s not “right” and “wrong” ways to sew, but there are definitely “right” and “wrong” ways to operate mechanical devices… It’s prudent to use bobbins designed for your sewing machine. When you look carefully at all the different brands of bobbins next to each other, you can very clearly see a big difference… :)

  13. I used to sew with knits a lot when my kids were young and rarely had problems with them. Your advice and information is pretty much what I figured out, too.
    My favorite line in this video: ” IT is not the boss of YOU, You area the boss of the fabric”. Good to remember, even if once in a while I run in to a length of knit that is pretty sure it is king of the world. (Three or four hours balled up into the corner of a closet usually teaches it.)

    • Hahaha! I almost always use that line in beginner’s classes. :) And I love your approach to dealing with King of the World fabrics! Perfect! hahah.

  14. Great video, Steph, I am sure many people will gain valuable insight into sewing with knits. I did a TAFE course on this about 20 years ago and you pretty much repeated the intro to that. BTW, you have mastered the Aussie way of talking, especially noted on your pronunciation of Brisbane! :)

    • Oh! Well that’s good to know. I’ve had TAFE fashion students crop up in classes before, it’s interesting…

      Have I just? I also pronounce “Moscow” as “Mosco” like Russians do, say “Barthelona” because the Spaniards I knew pronounced it that way…”Tok-yo” instead of “Toke-e-yo”.. the list goes on… Seems like common courtesy… :) “Parie” is another one though people just assume I’m being some sort of twit when I pronounce Paris properly. You can’t win them all!

  15. Thanks for the video, I’m really looking forward to the rest! To a complete beginner sewing with knits, I’d say that there’s nothing to be scared of! Don’t listen to people who say it is hard or that you need loads of new equipment to sew. Apart from a correct needle, a zigzag stitch and an old t-shirt, you don’t need to buy antyhing new. But as for everything, you might need a little patience ;-)

  16. Well done Steph! I watched the video thinking I knew all about knits and still got a tip I could use, thanks! I enjoyed seeing an animated version of you after all these years reading your blog. So much fun to see more of your sweet personality.

    • What did you pick up? I try to always slip in at least one “super advanced” thing… ;)

      Yes… I do get accused of being animated.. It’s fun, really, I think I’ll do a weekly chat from now on… :) You’re so sweet!

  17. Thanks Steph, been sewing with knits for a while now but I never knew about ballpoints in the overlocker – had wondered from time to time but never investigated the matter.

    Will wait impatiently for the post on stabilisers as that is one area I’ll less comfortable with – shoulder seams fine but other seams etc less so…

    • I’ll update the ballpoints in the overlocker info… Been digging around to double check everything… You’ll always do best going for what the manual says, and when in doubt use ballpoints. But if you’re using sharps and they’re working for you, great. :)

  18. I’m not exactly a knit newbie, but I’ll check out the video after work–there’s always something new to learn!

    Are you going to do a post about constructing this with a serger? My experience with knit patterns has been that sometimes the order of construction or the process have to be changed a bit to use a serger, so I’m just curious!

    • I like your attitude! :)

      Yeah, I could, but I put a lot of thought into the order of sewing for the instructions and I think you’ll like it. :)

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  20. What an awesome resource! Thank you so much – I’ve finally decided to tackle the half-dozen pieces of knit that have been sitting in my stash forever, and the links are going to be so useful!

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  26. Hi Steph, I am jumping into the deep end of the knit pool, fearless, mistress of my own destiny, and Renfrew and Tiramisu patterns in my hot little hands, but I do have a question about stitches. I own a Brother sewing machine with several “stretch stitches” (elastic overlock, elastic stitch, triple zig zag stretch, and triple stretch), and I just purchased a serger/overlocker (HALLELUJAH!). My question is if I am going to use the sewing machine for my construction stitches and my serger for seam finishing what stitches should I use?

  27. I also have three zig zag stitches (1.5 mm, 3,5 mm, and 5 mm), can I “make” my own lighting stitch by using the 1.5 mm width zig zag and set my stitch length to 2.5? Sorry for the newbie questions? I sew, but I don’t do much fiddling with the settings, so I don’t really know what they do.

    • Yes, do that. Make the lightning bolt stitch. Take note of the settings on the lightning bolt stitch space on the pattern. :)

      You may find that fiddling with the settings (don’t touch the tension) using some scrap fabric will give you a LOT of confidence.

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