How many T-shirts do you own? How ’bout your kids?
I’m pretty sure 75% of my wardrobe consists of knit tops and comfy shirts (no surprise if you remember this post). We all LOVE knits! They’re not fussy, they stretch, they’re so comfortable and unpretentious!(Warhol Dress ensemble)
But when it comes to sewing with knits….why are so many of us afraid of them?
In the words of Ferris,
A: You can never go too far.
B: If I’m gonna get busted, it is *not* gonna be by a guy like *that*.
Okay that doesn’t work.
How about: sewing should never be scary. It’s an adventure. And what’s the worse that can happen? You ruin a $4 piece of fabric? Totally worth it since next time around you’ll be more armed and more skilled to create what you originally had in mind.
Now I will say it’s hard to justify sewing a knit shirt for myself when there are so many cute ones at my retail fingertips, for under $10. But I really love using thrifted men’s/women’s T-shirts to create new clothing for my kids. It’s cheap, easy, and fast (like the little green dress).
So….let’s talk about knits.(little yellow swimsuit).
A while back Made by Rae did a series called The KNITerviews, where various sewers shared their thought and tips on sewing with knits. If you haven’t checked them out, it’s really insightful to read through all of them to see where sewers agree and where they differ. I was lucky to join in the banter as well. And since I often receive emails asking about knit fabrics, sergers, etc….I thought I’d share the Q&A here.
So, here we go….
QUESTION: Did you ever fear knits?
ANSWER: You know, not really. I remember sewing with some stable knits (non-stretchy) back when I was a teenager to make simple tops. So I think I’ve always just lumped knits in with all the other fabrics. It wasn’t until I started blogging/sharing projects that I often heard readers say, “I’m so scared to sew with knits!! Do you have any pointers??!” And I was kind of surprised….maybe because my approach to sewing is to just jump in and try something. When a fabric catches my eye (especially if it’s a fiber I’ve never used before), I can’t wait to try it out and see what it does. What’s the worse than can happen? Your machine munches it up into a bazillion ruffles and you have to toss it in the can? Yea, that kind of sucks. But really it’s just fabric. So go for it! If you’re never sewn with knits, put aside any preconceived notions you’ve heard and try it! Play naive. Pretend no one’s told you “knits are scary” (cause they’re not). Toss it under your machine and start sewing.
Okay, sorry for the pep talk. I just think no one should be afraid of sewing. Think of it more as an adventure.
ANSWER: I love to use knits for kids’ shirts, lounging pants, blankets, small bags, bedding, leggings, dresses, blah, blah, blah. And I always keep the scraps on-hand to use for T-shirt appliques. You never know when you’ll need a smidgen of red for Ernie’s nose.
QUESTION: Do you prefer sewing with knits or sewing with wovens?
ANSWER: I love them both equally. But since I prefer simple patterns on fabric, I’m often drawn to the stripes, dots, and solids that knits typically come in. And sometimes I like to mix knits and wovens together. If I had to break it into percentages though, I probably sew with knits 1/3 of the time and wovens 2/3 of the time.(knee pad pants)
QUESTION: Do you have a preference for sewing with a particular type of knit? (Jersey, Interlock, Fleece, Rib knit, etc)
I really love all types of knits. And….there’s an entire section in my new book—Fabrics A to Z—dedicated to knit fabrics, their properties, and tips for sewing with them:But here’s the cliff notes version:
Jersey (the standard t-shirt fabric) is used for my kid’s shirts and pants
Jersey with spandex has fantastic stretch and can be a bit slinky. I used some for my beach cover-up last summer.(jersey beach dress)
Interlock is a bit thicker than Jersey and has less stretch but is great for blankets and lightweight jackets/cardigans
Fleece can be used for so many things…blankets, vests, jackets, pillows, scarves, hats, embellishments. I love fleece.
Ribbing is used for the cuffs and collars on my kids shirts. I always love to have a variety of colors on-hand so whenever it’s on sale at the store I buy a 1/2 yard of my favorite shades
Lycra/Spandex is wonderful for swimsuits. And though you might think it sounds scary…just go for it! The first time I made a swimsuit I sort of made it up as I went. And it was really fun!
QUESTION: Where do you buy knits?
ANSWER: I buy knits in a variety of places:
Thrift Shops and Clearance sections: T-shirts from the thrift shop are a fantastic place to find cool prints for kid’s projects. Also check the clearance rack at retail shops like Target, Old Navy, etc. Often size XXL T-shirts are left-over and give you plenty of fabric to work with.
Large fabric retail stores: Joanns, Hobby Lobby, etc often have a decent selection of solid interlocks and some jerseys (little by little they’re getting more)
Online stores: Harts fabric, fabric.com and other large shops carry some knits
LA fabric district: This is where I’ve found the most inexpensive place and interesting looking knits. The Michael Levine store and the FIDM scholarship shop have a good selection and I love being able to touch/see the fabrics before buying/ Check out my detailed post about fabric shopping and the LA fabric district here.
Swimsuit Fabric: Spandex World is an online shop with tons of options.
QUESTION:What brand/model machine do you use primarily when you sew with knits? Do you recommend it?
ANSWER: I use a Bernina sewing machine and serger. My machine is nothing fancy, in fact it’s not even digital! But it’s sturdy, all-metal, and a good workhorse. In my opinion all you really need when it comes to sewing (unless you’re into quilting and embroidery) is a standard stitch, zigzag stitch, and button hole options. Having a nice, sturdy machine also helps when sewing with knits and other fabrics which is why is why I love my heavy, all-metal Bernina.
QUESTION: Do you use a serger? Do you use it more/less/same as your machine when it comes to sewing knits?
ANSWER: Yes, but mostly to finish off the edges of my projects. I actually sew my knit projects with a standard machine. People often ask why I don’t sew exclusively with the serger and skip the machine step all together. The reasoning is this….
When you sew with a serger, the results are pretty final. There’s a small knife in the machine that cuts and trims the edge of the fabric as you go. So if you make a mistake, A) it’s much harder to pick out an overlock stitch (which uses 3-4 threads) and B) once the fabric edge is cut, there’s no going back or letting out the fabric. So I like to sew with my standard machine first–even for knits!–and when I have the project where I’d like it, I serge off the edges for a nice, polished look.
You see, you don’t even need a serger to get started with knits…especially since the edges of the fabric won’t fray or look messy. However….
QUESTION: Do you have a “default setting” that you use when you’re sewing with knits?
ANSWER: Not really. Again, I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants sewer. I’m supposed to tell you fancy things like use a ball needle or a walking foot but I don’t do either. I just sew with a normal needle, normal sewing machine, standard foot, and get going. And it works! MY BEST ADVICE though for sewing with knits is NOT to tug on the fabric as you go. Let the fabric feed itself through the machine. If you tug it, the fabric will stretch and pucker (unless that’s the look you’re going for). When using knits as appliqué (such as the ernie shirt or leaf pillows or knee pads), sew slowly and stop every so often to lift the presser foot and allow the fabric underneath to relax and bounce back in place. If you try to sew a circle of knit in one big swoop you’ll end up with a wonky looking project.
QUESTION: Do you use a walking foot?
ANSWER: Don’t have one, never used one. I hear good things about them. But I’m just simple….get a solid machine with the basics and start sewing.
QUESTION: Do you use a double needle?
ANSWER: I have one; I’ve never used it (because I hate taking extra steps to do stuff). But I do LOVE the look of a double needle stitch–it looks professional, like retail clothing. So, I just fake it. When finishing off hems on pants and shirts, I sew my first line of the hem then I line the presser foot up about 1/4 inch over from the first line and sew a second line. It’s fast; it works.
Most of all. Just have fun.
Now go tackle some knits!
Check out other ASK DANA questions HERE.