2/28 | How to Sew with Knit Fabric

Sewing with knit fabric isn’t difficult as long as you understand the differences between it and a basic non-stretch type fabric. Making sure you have the correct techniques and accessories on hand is the first step in simplifying sewing with knits. That’s why I am excited to bring you this post all about how to sew with knit fabric!

Your needles and pins should be those specifically designed for working with knits. Stretch or ball point needles are your best choice. Instead of poking holes in the fabric that can then spread – much like a run in pantyhose would – they simply move the fibers of the fabric aside to allow the needle through.

Stretch needles work best with 4-way stretch fabric such as the kind used in making swimwear and active wear. Stretch twin needles are used when hemming knit garments and will help give them a professional finish. Ball point pins function similarly to the needles.

Along with using the correct needles and pins, thread is extremely important when it comes to sewing knits properly. Your fabric is stretchy; so, your thread needs to have some give to it as well. Otherwise, the stitches will simply break with the movement of the garment.

Stretch thread is used in the same way as any standard sewing thread. You will want a slightly longer stitch length (about 3mm) and an increased tension (about 4 to 4.5).

Is it impossible to sew knits successfully without stretch thread? No. But a straight stitch isn’t going to work. You’ll need to sew with the zigzag stitch setting so that the stitches don’t pop open with movement of the garment.

Even with the stretch thread, the right choice of stitch settings is important. A zigzag stitch is a good choice but your machine may also have options for triple (also known as tricot) stitch and super stretch stitch settings. The super stretch setting is your best choice for sewing items like bathing suits.

All these stitch settings will feel a bit different from standard straight stitching and require some practice before using. You’ll need to adjust the stitch size (and in the case of the zigzag stitch, the stitch width) as well as tension to suit the fabric, thread, needle, and stitch setting. Use some scraps of the fabric you’ll be using for your sewing project and experiment.

Another thing you might want to consider using when sewing with knits is a walking foot. With the stretch of knit fabrics, as you sew, the two layers of fabric will have a tendency to separate. This presser foot is made to hold the fabric in place and feed both layers of fabric through your machine evenly and smoothly.

When sewing, remember to let the feed dogs do their job. Your hands are there to guide the fabric and keep it lined up with the seam allowance. Any pushing or pulling through of the fabric can cause it to stretch.

As with all sewing, it’s important to pre-wash your fabric. This is even more important with knits which can shrink significantly and in unpredictable ways. Ignore those labels that say the fabric has been pre-shrunk. It’s not always enough and this one simple step can save you a lot of frustration.

You may find it easier to use a rotary cutter and cutting mat instead of scissors. Because of the increased movement of the fabric that comes with using scissors, it can lead to stretching of the fabric and errors in cutting.

Sewing with knit fabric opens up a whole new world of possibilities for projects you can make, especially when it comes to garment making. With the right materials, techniques, and practice, you can easily master sewing with knits and start creating.