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Knit Knowledge – Introduction & Overview

Welcome to Knit Knowledge Week! I’m asked questions about working with knit fabrics really often, so I thought I’d spend a week sharing some of my knowledge with you. I’m quite certain that I don’t know everything there is to know about working with knits, and I still occasionally discover a new technique that works better than what I was doing before. Everything I’ll share is what I’ve learned through my own hands-on experience.

My plan is to spend the week sharing a bit each day. Here’s the lineup that I have planned: Monday: Knit Overview, Tuesday: Interlock Knits & Jerseys, Wednesday: Ribbed Knits & Ribbing, Thursday: Hemming & Simple Applique, Friday: Questions & Answers and the Giveaway.

This week will require some participation from you, too. In order for me to have a Q&A on Friday, I need you to post any questions that you have in the comments section Monday through Thursday. Then, I’ll choose as many questions as I can and answer them on Friday (if I haven’t already answered them during the week).

Friday’s post will also include an exciting giveaway! Caroline at The Fabric Fairy has generously donated a $20 gift certificate that you can use in her store to purchase some knit fabrics from her incredible selection to try out for yourself. Just comment on my posts Monday through Thursday (one comment per post, please), and I’ll hold a random drawing on Friday morning.

Alrighty, let’s get started with a quick overview.
First off, don’t be afraid of knits! Knit fabrics, primarily cotton and cotton-blend knit fabrics, are what most of us live in! Once you become comfortable sewing them, you’ll be ready to sew up whole wardrobes of comfortable clothing that you and your loved ones will love to wear.

ThinkQuest explains, “Knitted fabrics are made from a single yarn or a set of yarns. In making cloth, a knitting machine forms loops in the yarn and links them to one another by means of needles. The finished fabric consists of crosswise rows of loops, called courses, and lengthwise rows of loops, called wales. This looped structure makes knitted fabrics more elastic than woven cloth. Garment manufacturers use knitted fabrics in producing comfortable, lightweight clothing that resists wrinkling.”

Simply put, knit fabrics have stretch. Some, like sweatshirt fleece, have only a little stretch. Others, like cotton ribbed knits, have a whole lot of stretch.

The stretch in most knit fabrics runs across from selvage to selvage. When you place your pattern pieces on knit fabrics that show grainlines rather than direction of stretch, you generally want the grainline to run perpendicular to the stretch.

The right tools:

Before working with knit fabrics, you’ll want to switch out the regular foot on your machine for the walking foot. Your sewing machine has “teeth” that guide the bottom of the fabric under the foot while the needle sews. A walking foot has similar teeth that grip the top of fabric so top and bottom pass through under the needle evenly. This feature helps a great deal in cutting down on the amount of puckering that you’ll see in your knit fabric seams.

It’s also a good idea to switch out your sharp sewing machine needle for a ballpoint needle. Sharp needles cut through the knit loops on your fabrics and leave the fabric with small holes which tend to grow larger as the garment is pulled on and off. Ballpoint needles are designed to glide through the loops instead without causing harm to the fibers. Knit garments sewn with ballpoint needles will hold up much better over time.

The third tool that I think is worth mentioning is a serger. It’s a bit of an investment, and you definitely don’t needone to sew knit garments. (All of my patterns include instructions for sewing with a regular sewing machine, as well as a serger.) However, if you’re planning to sew a lot of knit garments, a serger will give you a nice finish to the inside, as well as a sturdier finished item. Once you get the hang of using a serger, you’ll also find that serging together a piece of clothing is much faster than sewing!

So those are few basics to get you started. To get your giveaway entry today, you’ll need to leave a comment. You can either leave a comment with a question that you’d like me to answer about sewing with knit fabrics, or you can answer my question for today, “What’s your favorite thing about wearing clothing made with knit fabrics?”

Oh, one more thing! As a thank-you for joining me this week, I’ve added a 20% discount code that you can use on any of my patterns through Friday: KnowKnits.

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52 Responses to Knit Knowledge – Introduction & Overview

  • LauraB says:

    Great overview! I second the serger and ballpoint needles, but so far haven’t invested in a walking foot (one day).

    I have a question: Recently I sewed a maternity top for myself out of a lightweight jersey knit. It came out beautifully, except for the shirt hem and sleeve hems, which always flip up. Is there any way I can remedy this? I just serged the edge, turned it up 1/2″, and topstitched it, as per the pattern.

  • Jada says:

    What a great topic! I never considered using my walking foot for knits. I just may have to try mine next time I sew up some knits. That is, if I can find time between study sessions!

    I like wearing knits because they are comfortable and stretch to my body better without irritation.

  • Alisa says:

    I’m looking forward to learning more about sewing with knits. Your clothing always looks so good. My favorite thing about wearing knits is comfort. Nothing like a comfortable t-shirt or my knit pj pants. I also like wearing and dressing my kids in knits is because they look good right out of the dryer or off the line. No ironing needed.

  • Bekah says:

    I love how forgiving knits are. If I’m sitting all day, they don’t get wrinkles, and if I over indulge one night, my clothes (usually) still fit the next day. Knit fabrics are so versatile.

  • Samantha says:

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve got tons of knits, but I’m always scared to make anything with them! Maybe these posts will give me the ‘push’ I need to break out the ball points and walking foot 🙂

  • Leigh says:

    Thanks for this series! I’ll be reading each day!

    I have a tip though! If you don’t have a walking foot, but your machine has manually adjustable presser foot tension control and a teflon foot, you can still sew knits easily! I adjust my presser foot tension to 0 (so very little force down onto the fabric), adjust my stitch length to 3 or 3.5 (out of 4 on my machine) and use my teflon foot. Hold the thread at the back as you get started to help it start moving along and you have nice neat topstitching on knits! Hope that helps someone!

    Oh and my reason for loving clothing from knits: Simple… they’re comfortable and forgiving! Doesn’t matter if it’s my regular shirts or pants, maternity tops, or clothing for rambunctious toddlers, it’s just so comfortable and forgiving!

  • Shalini says:

    I’ve been hoping to make a few knit dresses for my little one. So glad to see this series!
    I have a question – Is cotton Velour a knit as well? I made a shrug for my daughter and the ends were rolling like anything. I remedied that by adding a pleated woven trim all around the shrug. It gave it some weight and stopped the rolling. I am wondering if cutting it a different way might prevent so much rolling. Thanks!

  • Monica says:

    I am very new to sewing with knits and I’m wondering, how do you serge around corners without stretching them out of shape?

  • Rachel says:

    Thanks for the tips. Even though I have tons of experience sewing, I have very little experience sewing knits. I think your series will help me get over the fear I have of knits.

  • Kimberly says:

    I love wearing knits but finding good knit fabric is not always easy. I’d love to learn how to do a blind hem on the serger. I’ve tried but I just can’t seem to get the tensions right even with using my manual as a guideline. I’d love a picture heavy tutorial on this!

  • Barbara says:

    I was so scared of knits when I first started to sew. Now I prefer them over all other fabrics. My question is this- Do you find it neccesary to use your sewing machine to sew over a serged edge to reinforce the threads? Thanks Barbara

  • Sara says:

    I love how comfortable knits are to wear and I LOVE that they don’t wrinkle! Thank you so much for doing a week of teaching about knits!!!!

  • Jill says:

    I love knits because they’re so comfortable and don’t require ironing. I don’t buy clothes that need to be ironed. 😉

    I have a question too. Can you explain how to use woolly nylon in a bobbin of a sewing machine? I’ve heard it helps with keeping hems from popping but I’m not sure if I have to hand wind it or if I can wind it using my machine. Also, I’ve heard that it’s good to topstitch using a narrow zigzag, but my machine can’t adjust the stitch width. It’s a very basic machine and can only do straight stitch, zigzag and 3step zigzag. What would be the best way to topstitch with these options?

  • Valarie says:

    Great information! I don’t have a walking foot and wondered if I could use a roller foot instead. I like Leigh’s idea of using a teflon foot since I have a machine with adjustable presser foot. I’ll be following along closely so I can learn more ;-).

  • Sarah B says:

    I am so excited to read your blog all week! I am trying to choose my first serger, and I have a lovely pile of knits all ready to go. I would love to hear your advice on how to go around curves without stretching out the fabric. Curves and corners are scary!

  • Morgan says:

    Thanks for the walking foot advice! I’ve been on the fence about getting one but this is a push in the right direction. 🙂 I love how comfy and “bouncy” knits are to wear.

  • Colleen says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us! I’m looking forward to learning new tips, and tricks, and the things that people learn the hard way.

    I love sewing with knits because they seem to be very forgiving.

    My question is how do you get good results with a swimsuit type fabric? Or 4 way stretch? I have such a hard time getting the seams to line up and stay put when I’m serging. They seem to get pushed out of the way by the pressure foot, and then either the top or the bottom fabric gets stretched out compared to the other one. Any tips???

  • Lisa says:

    I have a question about hemming also. I use spray starch but it doesn’t always work. I’ll wait and see if it’s answered!

  • Christy says:

    I love knits because they are so comfortable! My children love when I make them clothing with knits because they are so soft against their skin. Your patterns are so great to work with too, Bonnie!

  • Casey says:

    I’m really excited about this series. I have knit fabric, but haven’t sewn with it very much.

    I have some knit fabric I got from the thrift store (where I get most of my knits). The fabric comes in “tubes” not sure how else to describe it (it doesn’t have a noticeable seam where the tube is connected). Is there a specific reason it comes and tubes and is it a certain kind of knit? I’ve never seen knit fabric come like that.

  • Michelle Smith says:

    I love knits since they fit so well and last much longer than a woven counterpart. Plus, they feel so soft on the skin. My boys love to go to the fabric store and pick out knits for me to sew clothes for them!

  • Kris C. says:

    My boys love wearing shirts that I make, but they will rarely wear button-up shirts from woven fabic. So I use knits out of self-defense so that they will wear what I make them! (And they are so comfortable, too!)

  • Alison says:

    Knits are what really got me into sewing. I love wearing soft, comfy knit garments and that is what I enjoy sewing most. Usually, I sew stuff for my kids, once in a while for my husband and rarely for myself. I love that my family loves the stuff I make (for the most part). So, I guess in answer to your question, I like to feel comfortable and am a casual dresser so that is what I love about knits. I’ve never ordered from Fabric Fairy before but I do go and drool over there from time to time. If I won that gift certificate I guess I’d have too! What a treat!

  • Michelle says:

    I love knits! I had worked with them LOTS when my oldest was little (17ish years ago) and found the love again with my new crop of littles. I look forward to your series to see some of the finer details I may have forgotten over the years!

  • Laurie says:

    My favorite thing about wearing knits is that they are much more comfortable to wear with movement…wovens just don’t have any give and aren’t as comfortable!

  • April L says:

    EXcited to read all this. Thanks! I bought a universal walking foot for my sewing machine and had to return it as it didn’t fit. Sadly, I’ve been unable to get one for my Brother sewing machine. 🙁 Anyone have any hints where to find one? I’m also saving my pennies for a serger – someday! 🙂

  • Allyson says:

    Great overview! There’s so much to learn, your pictures and descriptions make it very clear. I wish I had this info when I popped into joann’s recently! I’ve never had a lot of options I usually up cycle knits, and Fabricland has terrible selection. I know my boys would love some shirts of the go with the flow polar bears, or some of the cars.

  • Ann says:

    I love knits, especially for young children. They are so comfy. I never would have thought of using my walking foot to sew regular knits.

  • Monique says:

    I love the softness of knits (I have sensitive skin and am picky about what fabrics I choose to wear). Plus knits have the added benefit of not needing ironing (most of the time). My favorite knit type is sueded cotton. I’ve never actually found a place to buy such a fabric, but both my husband and I have some shirts that say that on the tag and they are so, so soft.

  • sabrina says:

    Hi Bonnie! I found you here from one pretty thing! You, as always, rock! Congrats! – Sabrina, from DSD

    • Binz says:

      I inherited a Juki srgeer late ’80s model. I enjoyed the class I took. The instructor could adjust the srgeer for any application, but.when I got home, I simply couldn’t make it work. I have never been so frustrated!! I got rid of it and didn’t replaced it. I still think about it, though . . . And I, too, have several good books. What kind is yours?

  • Amy says:

    so i tried to just use my serger for a t-shirt and it seems to be pulling apart at the seem…could my tension be wrong?
    before now i just used my sewing machine. I was hoping to switch.


  • Linda says:

    Thanks for the tip about changing to a walking foot and ball point needle to sew knits. I’m trying to gather as much information as I can about knits so I can get started on making a Waldorf Mermaid Doll for my nieces. The instructions say to use an interlock knit and was wondering if a cotton knit would serve just as well. Can I use a cotton knit??

    • Bonnie says:

      Hi, Linda! I think you’ll want to use a cotton or a cotton/polyester blend interlock knit. I would avoid jerseys or ribbed knits for making a Waldorf doll.

  • Michele says:

    What adjustments, if any, do you make if the pattern calls for knit fabric and you want to sew it out of woven fabrics and visa vera (sew pattern met for woven fabric but you want to use a knit fabric.? I often find the result is that my garment ends up the wrong size. Is there an adjustment to the pattern depending on the fabric you plan to use or is this a no-no? Knits are expensive…what is the best ones for a child’s garment? Stretch varies, can you address how much stretch is a must for children’s garments?

    Where can you find knits for children? My fabric store has knits but mostly solids or those prints that are more appropriate for adults. The cute character prints or children prints always seem to be in cottons or flannel

    Sometimes it is hard to know what side of the fabric is the right side…what side is the wrong side. Is there a trick to
    determining which side is which?

    How do you keep knits from rolling.???? ….it drives me crazy

    Thank you!!!

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