Knit fabric is really rewarding to sew. It stretches, so the fit doesn’t have to be perfect – and it’s so comfy. (That’s my favorite part.) It has a bit of a bad rep for being tricky to sew, but with a few tips you can conquer knits on any sewing machine that has a zigzag stitch – no serger needed!
I learned a lot about sewing knits and hacked my old basic Janome SUV1122 like crazy to do it. Today’s post covers 12 Tips and Tricks for Sewing Knits that I’ve learned along the way, and how some fun features on the Skyline S7 help the process. Plus I got to make my youngest a really cute spring dress without my serger, entirely on the sewing machine!
Yikes, this girl was hard to take photos of yesterday! Every photo is her dancing around – so much fun to look through, I should really make a collage for our hallway. I suppose that even though the weather co-operated by giving us a “lovely” 14°C – I think she was a bit chilly (and a little bribed with lollipops!)
Disclaimer: A Skyline S7 has been loaned to me for the purpose of writing this series. As with all products I write about, I will always tell you my own honest opinion. I purchased and loved Janome machines long before they contacted me. Janome has not asked me to qualify my opinions in any way. Also, the fabric for this dress was given to me for this post by my sponsor Fabric Please! Thank you for supporting my sponsors.
This week’s project was sponsored by Fabric Please!, a lovely online Canadian fabric shop with a growing selection of knits in both solids and prints. They were kind enough to indulge me when I asked to make a Soleil dress in blue for my youngest. I promised her one last fall and it’s finally getting (almost) warm enough to wear it outside.
The main dot fabric is 100% cotton Glow, Quarter Moon by Amy Butler (*oooooh!*) and the raindrops, cotton/spandex Abundance Monsoon from Bonnie Christine (*aaaaah!*). I love how the two prints play off each other, they’re so fun in this dress.
12 Tips and Tricks for Sewing Knit Fabrics
Tip #1: Ballpoint/Jersey Needle
Make sure to buy ballpoint or jersey needles for your knit projects. The tips on regular needles are sharp and will cut tiny holes in your knits. I know from experience! A couple of machine washes and there will be little holes all down your seam.
Tip #2: Sew with a Stretch Stitch
If your machine has them available, choose a stretch stitch to sew with. This will allow your sewn seam to stretch with the stretch of the knit you are sewing. They tend to look like a lightning bolt (no’s 6 and 7 in the photo below). If your machine doesn’t have a stretch stitch, use a thin, long zigzag stitch or a triple stitch (no. 5 below) instead to allow the seam to stretch. The Skyline S7 has quite a few stretch stitches, numbers 5 – 10 and a knit stitch, no. 14 below.
Be sure to double-check your seam allowance when choosing a wide stitch (2nd photo below). The markings on your machine are based on sewing straight down the middle of the machine foot, but a wider stitch will sew to the left of that. Use your seam gauge and mark or find a new line to guide your correct seam allowance.
Tip #3: Dual Feed Device – Janome AcuFeed Flex
The AcuFeed Flex is a super-cool machine foot, and it’s the first time I’ve used a dual feed device. It is similar to a walking/even foot (next tip below), but is physically attached to the machine’s upper feed drive instead of just resting on the needle clamp screw bar. This means it is mechanically moving the top layer of fabric forward at the same speed as the feed dogs move the bottom layer of fabric forward. The results are so good! It totally eliminates the stretching you would normally get when sewing knits.
This foot is also great for seams in leather and oil cloth – both of which tend to stick to a normal presser foot. Matching plaids, quilting and seaming other slippery specialty fabrics is much easier because the layers of fabric are moving together. The dual feed can also be balanced with the dial on the side of the machine for when you are seaming two different types of fabrics and one feeds faster than the other.
Tip #4: Walking/Even Foot
This foot does a similar job to the AcuFeed Flex in Tip #3. A Walking foot is really helpful when sewing knits, and it is what I have used previous to the S7. The bar on the walking foot rests on the needle clamp screw bar, which feeds the upper layer of fabric at the same time as the feed dogs move the lower layer along.
To comment on it in comparison to the AcuFeed Flex – I do notice more stretching with the walking foot. The AcuFeed Flex is more accurate – likely due to it being directly attached to the machine’s feed drive. The fabric moves through together more mechanically with almost no slippage on the top layer of fabric.
Tip #5: Use a Twin Needle
Twin needle sewing seems complicated, but it’s not as bad as it looks! Two spools are fed down from the top of the machine and one bobbin thread stitches the bottom of the seam together. The threading path can be found in your machine manual. You can also read this post about double/twin needles and how to thread your machine, where I sewed pyjamas using my basic Janome SUV1122 a few years ago.
The twin needle stitch is really stretchy and a great option for sewing knits. It also looks really professional when used for hems and topstitching. You can get different widths of double needles. I like the one with a 1/4″ space for hemming. The 1/8″ one would be better for sewing seams.
Tip #8 – Overedge Foot
First off, my apologies for the fuzzies in this photo, oops! Moving on… This foot is great for making a serger-like overcasting stitch on both woven and knit fabrics. I used it to seam the dress’ pockets using the Knit Stitch available on the Skyline S7. The fabric runs beside the black bar on the foot making it really easy to stitch right along the edge of the fabric. You can see how it turned out in Tip #10 below!
Tip #9: Top Stitching and Edge Stitching
Straight stitches are not really recommended for sewing knits, because they don’t stretch with the fabric. However, I’ve successfully used them for topstitching with a few tweaks. (Though I’d still recommend a twin needle if the fabric is really stretchy.)
Make sure to lengthen your stitch. Instead of sewing with my general length 3, I used a length 4 straight stitch to topstitch this project. Also, it is good to slightly stretch the fabric while stitching to allow the final seam to stretch just a bit more.
Tip #6: Use Tissue Paper
If your knits are not behaving, you can place strips of tissue paper underneath (and over top!) of your seam while sewing them. Then remove the tissue once the seam is finished. This prevents the knit from being stretched by the presser foot pressure. I’ve used it a lot on hems for really stretchy thin knits.
Tip #7: Start off with a “Thread Handle”
This tip comes straight from the lovely Linda Pidzamecky, educational consultant for Janome. She gave me a really helpful tour of the Skyline S7 before I brought it home.
Starting a seam on knits can be tricky since the needle likes to bury the edge of the fabric into the needle plate. To stop this: Pull a longish spool thread out to the back of the machine, insert the needle into the fabric, and hold the thread gently while starting the seam. This has totally changed how I begin knit seams and it would work great for thin wovens and specialty fabrics as well!
Tip #10: Press and Starch
Thinner knit fabrics can tend to roll up on the edges making them hard to cut out and seam. To reduce this, use spray starch and a good pressing to unroll them enough to be able to cut out and stitch them more easily. Pressing also helps to reduce stretched seams. I stitched these two pockets below, then pressed the upper one flat with a bit of steam to show you the difference.
Tip #11: Change the Pressure of the Presser Foot
If your machine allows it, reduce the presser foot pressure to allow the knit fabric to slide through the machine with less stretching. Check your manual for how to do this and do a test seam to make sure the change in pressure will still feed the fabric through properly.
Tip #12: Use Clear Elastic
This elastic is genius! Zigzag baste it onto a seam in your knit project to reduce stretching while sewing and during wear. It is great on heavy seams like the Soleil dress waistline – where the heaviness of the gathered skirt might pull the waist seam down. It’s also great for shoulder seams in drop shoulder and dolman sleeves – again, to reduce the pull from the heavy sleeve.
Next week is going to be so much fun, I can’t wait! I’ve been collecting ideas about how to embellish your projects and I finally get to share them with you. See you then!