Sewing Knits Without a Serger
Good morning, WeAllSew! Today, we’re going to discuss one of my favorite areas of fashion sewing: using knit fabrics. While these stretchy, draping fabrics can seem intimidating, sewing with knits is one of the most satisfying skills to conquer. Once you have the hang of working with them, you’ll be amazed by how quickly projects come together. A whole new dress in two hours? Absolutely possible.
Even better, you can sew knits with a traditional sewing machine. In fact, sewing stretch fabrics with my BERNINA 350 PE is my favorite method of construction, above and beyond a serger or overlocker. Using a traditional machine gives you more control with slippery fabrics, especially on details like hems and neckbands. There are just a few tips to keep in mind, when sewing knits with your favorite sewing machine.
Use a Ballpoint Needle
Stitch settings and needle choice make all the difference when sewing with knits. A regular needle isn’t shaped correctly for the looping fabric of a knit. It can cause skipped stitches, wavy seams, and even holes in your fabric. Yikes! To avoid such dreadful fates, choose a ballpoint needle for stretch fabrics. A ballpoint’s blunted tip dives into knits better than a traditional needle, scooting past and through the fabric’s tiny loops.
Loosen Up That Tension
As always, try out a few different tension strengths on a scrap of your garment fabric, before beginning the project. With most knit fabrics, you’ll find that you need to dial back the tension more than you would with wovens. Often, I sew knits somewhere between a one and a two on my B 350 PE.
This may sound too gentle, but knit fabrics cling well to one another and normally don’t shift around once pinned together. Sewing them with too taut a tension, however, will cause waving along your seamline. You can hope that a good pressing will sort you out, or…you can sew with the proper tension from the beginning and eliminate the problem altogether.
Befriend the Lightning Bolt
When sewing with knit fabrics, you (almost) never want to use a straight stitch. As the fabric stretches to accommodate the body, as it was meant to, those straight stitches won’t stretch along with it. Pop. Rip. There goes all your beautiful work! To prevent this, most people recommend sewing with a stitch that allows the fabric to retain its stretch, such as the classic Zig Zag stitch.
If you’re sewing with a BERNINA machine, you have an even better option: the Lightning Bolt stitch. This slanted, smaller version of the Zig Zag gives you the appearance of a straight stitch with the stretch capabilities of a Zig Zag. It won’t show from the right side of your fabric, as some Zig Zag stitches do, but won’t pop the first time you try that garment on.
Stabilize your Hems
One of the most frustrating parts of sewing with knits can be hemming them. Knit fabrics don’t crease well, making getting that exact press difficult, and tend to wave along hemlines. Luckily, there’s an easy fix for this: stabilize your hems! In all of my knit hems, especially dresses, I use a fusible knit webbing to turn up and stabilize the hem before sewing. This gives it more structure going into the machine and makes turning them hem a breeze. These webbings can be found on any notions aisle and come in a variety of weights, for everything from tissue knits to heavy pontes.
Use a Twin Needle for Top Stitching
If you look at most ready-to-wear knit garments, you’ll notice a double line of stitching on the hems and bands. In an industrial setting, this stitch is made with a special kind of stretch fabric machine called a coverstitch. However, it’s easy to mimic this finish with your traditional machine.
Sub out your regular needle for a twin needle, flip up your BERNINA’s handy second vertical spool pin, thread your needle, then start sewing. A regular straight stitch, when sewing with a twin needle, turns into a clean looking stretch stitch. You’ll have two beautiful top stitching lines on the front of your garment, with a Zig Zag of bobbin thread along the bottom. This gives a beautiful finish and allows the stitching to stretch with the fabric.
While I love my overlocker, I’d be happy to sew knits on a regular machine forever. These few simple changes make even the slipperiest fabrics a breeze to work with. Do you have any favorite tips for sewing knits with a traditional machine?