Many retailers are making clothing in Knit fabrics because it allows for more flexibility with sizing – but they offer a challenge to the home sewer that is easy to overcome.
Stretch fabrics have a life of their own – Jersey is a very finely knitted fabric which can be made from many different fibres from cotton to polyester. Some might shy away from Polyester, but recent developments have produced blends that are warm, soft and fluid, like the fabric I chose for my project.
So here are my top tips for successful sewing with Knits:
Cut your fabric in one layer
Most patterns are made to be cut on the fold, but with stretch fabrics the lower part of the fabric can shift. It is best to draft a new patten piece and cut a single layer. If you don’t have any pattern paper, you can lay the pattern out on one side, then turn it over to cut the second side making sure you don’t disturb the fabric.
Notice how the left hand square has grown
Left hand square cut on fold
Right hand square cut in single layer
The left hand square was cut on the fold, the right and square cut in a single layer. Notice how much the left hand square has grown on the left side almost 5cm! The left hand side was the underside of the fabric when it was being cut.
Don’t cut out your fabric all at once – cut each piece as you sew – the less time the fabric has to move the better the stability and the more likely the piece will retain its shape.
Use a rotary cutter and self healing mat
The fabric shifts and moves easily! Take care not to shift the fabric around while cutting – I caught the bottom of my fabric pulled it slightly during cutting, I thought I had rectified it but when I compared the pattern to the fabric, I had cut the bottom edge 1/2 inch smaller!
The act of cutting with scissors lifts the fabric – causing it to stretch and move. A rotary cutter puts downward pressure on the fabric and anchors it in place while cutting. Accuracy will improve and it is easier to follow the sharp armhole curves.
Use a stretch needle
These are different to ball point needles – they are coated with anti-static, which prevents the fabric from sticking to your needle, causing skipped or missing stitches. They also have ball points that move the needle between the knit rather than piercing the threads and causing a ‘run’ (it looks like a ladder that you see in tights!).
If you don’t have an overlocker – use a Walking Foot.
Overlockers are made for stretch fabrics – they have what is called a differential feed – that means two sets of feed dogs, one on the bottom that feeds the fabric through, and one on the top that pushes the fabric out.
An overlocker can push more fabric though the bottom than is being pushed out at the top and visa versa – hence the term ‘differential’. The seam created has a little stretch of its own.
If you plan on making lots of stretch fabrics it is worth the investment of an overlocker, it speeds up the making process by neatening the edges as the garment is sewn.
A walking foot – creates an upper fabric feed system to work with the feed dogs so that your sewing machine can create a similar seam – it works very effectively and allows a little more control when stitching.
Use the right stitch
If you are using your sewing machine – ensure that you use a knit stitch or if not set your width just above zero so that each stitch is a tiny zigzag, this will give your stitching the flexibility to move with your fabric as it expands and contracts.
Use the right thread
Let there be a harmonious marriage between fabric and thread. Natural fabrics need natural threads, synthetic fabrics need synthetic thread – polyester knits are best stitched with polyester thread, cotton with cotton – save your sanity and seam ripper!
Stabilise necklines with twill tape or ribbon
Necklines will grow – more so with stretch fabrics. Stabilise them by stitching a narrow twill tape or ribbon just inside the seam allowance. Do this immediately after cutting this piece and you will reduce the opportunity for growth!
You can use the iron on hemming tape for speed but it is not as durable.
Use more stable fabrics for facings
Facings are often used around necklines and armholes – because they lay inside the garment you can use more stable fabrics such as cotton or fleece. Or in this sample above I placed the facing on the outside using black wool.
Try to ensure that the facing fabric matches the weight of your knit so that they are balanced.
If you want to use the same fabric stitch a layer of organza on the inside edge of the facing, this will give the neckline more stability without adding bulk.
Here is my finished Kate Jersey Dress