From time to time we hear this comment: “Oh I don’t sew knit fabrics….that is too hard to do”. We find the array of knit fabrics available for garment sewing is huge and very tempting. And provided we “obey” certain rules, knit fabrics are, in our opinion, actually easier to sew than woven fabrics.
HINTS & TIPS:
- As always, buy the best quality knit fabrics you can afford. Disasters or disappointments are usually due to cheap or poor quality fabric. There is an old proverb: You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear! True too for our fabric purchases.
- Slightly thicker and more stable knits – like sweat shirt fabric – is probably a good place to start. If knit fabric sewing is new to you, I would not suggest starting with a thin, flimsy ITY fashion knit. Leave those for later once you have mastered the basics.
- Knit fabrics do stretch – that is their nature and beauty. So you do need to be sure you allow for this. If a fabric is super stretchy, you might be wise to make a smaller size than you would otherwise have made. This way you won’t end up with a garment which is too loose.
- Cutting out knit fabric: Have a large cutting surface like a rotary cutting table. Do not fuss around with a small surface to cut out – you need SPACE so that the fabric can lie flat & unwrinkled & NOT be dragging off the table to the floor…..this is KNIT fabric which stretches so this tip is crucial. You cannot cut out a piece which is stretched as it will spring back once cut and your garment will be too small & not fit. It must lay 100% flat & unstretched for the cutting.
- As knit fabric is soft and often thin, it will tunnel when sewn if you do not reinforce or stabilizer the areas where you will sew: STAY TAPE is essential. My preference is fusible knit stay tape when sewing with soft fashion knits. Apply this to all applicable fabric edges: Shoulders; Neck edges; Hems; Side & back seams etc. I do not always fuse to both pieces of fabric for, let’s say, a side seam. I might only have stay tape on one piece of the fabric as that is often enough stabilizing to ensure the stitching is flat and not puckered or “tunneled”. Press well to have it adhere properly without damaging/burning the fabric. You do not want the stay tape to lift later so do fuse it properly. We do all this immediately after cutting out the pattern pieces and marking all the notches etc >>then comes stay tape before we even sit down at the serger.
- After serging, notice how the stay tape gives a lovely flat seam without puckers, twists & waves. If you serge or sew many of our fashion knits (which are soft & thin), the seams tend to curl, pucker & “tunnel”…..just like doing a zig-zag on soft fabric without a stabilizer. Stay tape prevents this and gives your garment a professional finish.
- And on that topic: would I sew knit garments without a serger and coverhem program or coverhem machine? Probably never! Yes, knit fabric can, of course, be sewed using stretch stitches on a regular sewing machine but it is simply not the same thing at all. A serger is faster, gives a professional, totally sealed seam finish; does not stretch the knit fabric due to the differential feed setting on most sergers. Yes, some Janome sewing machines have a knob on the side of the machine similar to the differential feed on a serger , and this certainly helps feed knit fabrics without stretching the fabric. This knob’s offical name is Dual Feed Balancing dial.
- And don’t even get me started on using a twin needle to simulate coverhem…….that is just not the same thing as a coverhem at all! It is, in my opinion, a very poor imitation and does not stretch much for knit fabrics.
- I actually own a great 5 thread serger. I would not wish to switch it out for another oner ….I love my serger. However, every time I need to switch from a regular 4 thread seam finish to a coverhem for my hems, sleeve & neck edges etc, I have to switch over a bunch of settings on my 5 thread serger. And then switch back to 4 thread serging again when I am done. I eventually got tired of doing this and purchased the Janome Coverpro. My 2 sergers now sit side by side on my table – very practical and my garments get finished SEW much quicker.
- I actually seldom if ever use the coverhem & chain stitch function on my 5 thread serger anymore as my Janome Coverpro does it beautifully for me. And because I have this slick multi-function set up, I can whip up multiple garments on a weekend. Seriously…..I can make 12- 15 garments over a long weekend – No kidding. But it helps that he who cooks feeds me so I don’t have that distraction!
- Test serge a piece of the SAME fabric you are using to check the stitch settings. Trust me – this is time well spent. Make adjustments if necessary. Remember to test sew with a stay tape scrap applied to the fabric to get the true conditions of what you are about to sew.
- Use good quality serger thread in a colour closely matching your fabric. If you do not have 3 or 4 cones of a close match, ensure the 2 needles have the colour closest to the fabric as that might show through. The looper threads won’t be seen on the outside of the garment. But high contrast thread does not look professional if your unlined jacket hangs open….so bare that in mind and use a colour of thread close to the fabric in the loopers!
- Poly sewing thread works great for small projects where you need a specific colour ……most of us don’t have serger thread in as many colours as our sewing threads.
- Use thread nets for spools & large cones that require it…..it will prevent frustration. Same for spool caps on top of smaller spools as they will bounce & may even jump off the serger spool pins.
- Use pins with extreme caution. STOP and remove them before they reach the blade. If you chop a pin with the blade, pieces may fly up into your eye and you will almost certainly damage the blade(s). HINT: Possibly try Clover clips as they are much bulkier than a pin and will force you to stop before the blades reach the clips. I have recenly bought another 2 packages of these clips – funky purple ones to join my red ones …….I figure I can’t have enough of them!
- Hems on sleeves; tops, skirts, pants.…..I very rarely sew hems with a sewing machine. Nor do I hand stitch these either. Knit fabric garments look SO much more professional & “store bought” with proper coverhems. Actually, truth be told, they probably look way better than store bought as we tend to make things properly the first time around, correct? I am very disappointed in a garment I bought recently….it is falling apart. When I make my own, I do it properly the first time …..I hate mending!
- As already mentioned, Stay tape is essential to prevent puckering and waves. I sometimes use the stay tape as my guide for where to sew with the coverhem serger. Press onto the wrong side of the hem, fold over. You will easily feel the stay tape through the thinner knit fabrics. Then line up the fold and the foot of the coverhem machine & stitch from the right or outside of the hem: the 2 lines of stitching on the right side and the interlock on the fold over/wrong side.
- The Coverhem guide (accessory for Janome Coverpro) is also a VERY useful tool which saves time & guesswork. Depending on the fabric, select 2 thread coverhem narrow or wide. Use thread colours in the needle which blend in with/match the fabric – unless you want the stitching to be a design element. Test sew first to prefer frustration.