Yesterday, I covered a few simple basics for beginners to encourage newbie knits sewists to sit down and play. I mentioned stabilizing tape for shoulder seams and in this post I’m expanding on that topic to include every type of stabilization for knits I’ve ever tried.
If you use another method not listed, I invite you to link or leave a nice detailed comment. It’s important to know many ways to do the same thing, because some methods are suitable for some applications and simply don’t work for others. It’s good to have a nice full “toolbox” of skills as a sewist.
When it applies, I note my preferred method that works for me in my sewing. I like to try all kinds of ways of doing things, and I tend to settle on the simplest/easiest/lightest/most versatile/easily washable method I find but I’m always delighted to discover a new technique. I take my blogging pretty seriously, and I don’t post techniques I haven’t tried and tortured myself. Please try these things yourself, too. It’s really fun. Let me know how it goes.
For knit sewing, you could say there’s three basic types of stabilization: Taping, Handling, and Stitching.
Taping- Fusibles, Elastic and Self-Fabric
The purpose of taping is to stabilize a seam that may be under stress during wear. It prevents the seam stretching out and rippling over time, prolonging the life of your garment. This includes but isn’t limited to shoulders, some necklines, the area around a zipper, and pockets. Basically, it’s great anywhere you want the fabric to stay put and not move.
There’s three basic types of “tape” for a knit garment:
This is fusible stay tape. I use black and white woven, and I also use knit. It is light, and soft, and the knit version will also go around curves! I use them interchangeably on knit and woven fabrics, I don’t see much of a difference in practical use. The knit has more stretch.
For any interfacing, I tend to use one that is slightly lighter weight than my fashion fabric. It’s so fun and tempting to use the stiff stuff because it changes the nature of the fabric- but that’s just it- it changes the fabric. A slightly-lighter-than-fashion-fabric interfacing won’t interfere with drape or design, but enhance it.
Sometimes I cut my own strips from scraps of interfacing. This is perfectly fine, and a great way to use scraps! I usually fold the interfacing neatly and cut it about 1/2″ (1.2cm) wide.
Using a presscloth and a heat setting suitable for your fabric type, fuse the tape to the wrong side of the fashion fabric, along the seam to be stabilized. The tape will have two sides- a shiny or slightly rough side and a smooth side. The rough side goes against the fabric.
This is why I use a presscloth. Small strips of fusible interfacing will stick to your bare iron very easily. Not to mention the presscloth protects the fashion fabric from any ickies your iron might have picked up. (I should wash my iron!)
When stitching and interfaced edge to an un-interfaced edge, to avoid puckers put the interfacing on top. Where you can see it. Stitch through the tape. I bought my tapes online at A Fashionable Stitch, Sunni was so sweet and also threw in a knit fusible tape. It’s perfect, completely perfect.
Clear elastic and self-fabric are also commonly used to stabilize seams. Now, my apologies, but I don’t have any clear elastic for my samples. Terrible. No where in my sewing room, and today is the Queen’s Birthday so everything is closed. Instead, I used regular elastic to stitch these samples:
For either elastic or self-fabric stays, you want to stitch through the center of the elastic/self-fabric strip on the seamline. Don’t stretch it. Use a lightning bolt stitch.
I stitched four sample seams to see how they stack up against each other:
The top seam has no tape of any kind, just a seam. The second has a fusible knit stay tape, the third has elastic and the fourth has self-fabric. Then I stretched each sample and released it 10 times and smoothed it out for the photos. Have a look, see what you think. To me, it seems that the seam with the knit fusible tape distorted the least.
I don’t use clear elastic because I can’t find any here that doesn’t split. It’s common in RTW and many people love that method.
I’m not sure I love the self-fabric tape, it does help prevent stretching but it’s the bulkiest option.
Handling- Tame That Demon Knit!
Some knit fabrics think they’re the king of the world. They wiggle, they squirm, they roll, they think they have a mind of their own. But they don’t. You’re the boss.
When I’m working with an exasperating knit, I drench that sucker with Best Press. It’s a sizing spray, kind of like starch. It settles into the fabric and prevents curling, though some fabrics will still curl anyway. Before you use a product like this, test it to be sure it won’t damage your fabric. Also- I tend to halve a new bottle of Best Press and top it off with water. It works fine for me, and I go through it half as quickly. I’m sure other brands work quite well, this is not a Best Press commercial. I just happen to know it works.
I also work around this issue by working mostly with well-behaved knits. I find (in general!) that polyester knits and some organic cottons (?) are prone to curling, as are many lighter weight knits. You just have to evaluate how much you love the fabric vs. how much you’ll hate sewing it.
Stitching- No more rippling!
Whether or not you care if a seam ripples is entirely up to you. For most seams, it doesn’t matter much because once you put on the garment, it will settle around you and you probably won’t see the ripple because the seam stretched.
However, sometimes skirt seams or hems or darts will ripple when you’d prefer they not. The simplest fix is to use some kind of stabilizer underneath the stitching. I like to use strips of scrap computer paper.
Just slip it under the fabric and stitch through all layers. This is exceptionally helpful when working with fabrics that want to bunch and stick into the needle plate and other mischief. The paper helps!
This is important- crease the paper along the seamline and gently tear it, without pulling on the stitches. Often most of the paper will come out of the stitching. The rest will wash out. If you absolutely need to, then by all means pick out the little remnants of paper from between the stitches.
Many other stabilizers exist, washaway and heat-away and tearaway stabilizers. If you like them, great. Please feel free to comment and share the brand you use. I never liked them much, and they’re expensive. Scrap paper works fine.
Before I close, I want to mention fusible webbing. It is amazing for taming knit hems. I’m working on a nice comprehensive post on that topic, but I thought I should also mention fusible webbing here. You can find it under the names Vliesofix, Wonder Under or Steam a Seam. Steam a Seam makes both strips and sheets.
I will go into much more detail about the application, but you basically stick it to the wrong side of a hem, turn up the hem, press it and stitch.
Despite my slap-dash sample sewing, I think the fusible webbing makes a massive difference. I simply turned up the hems, stitched, and took photos. No other manipulation.
What do you think? Do you have any details or wisdom to share with up-and-coming knit sewists? Do you ever sew samples? I highly recommend it, it’s the best way to build “fingertip knowledge.”
The Tiramisu Pre-Sale ends this Friday! My time, at midnight going into Saturday. Don’t miss out! It’s the first of many pattern offerings from Cake Patterns! You all have been so awesome with your support for Cake Patterns, thank you for 268 pre-sales so far! I never expected this, and I’m so delighted to think of all the lovely Tiras that will be popping up come November!
Also, if you haven’t yet, please enter the Red Stripe Tiramisu Fabric Giveaway! I think I’ll add a second prize, a 3m length of red and while polka dot cotton jersey. Go go go! I want to send you a present!