Basics + Techniques | Sewing

Intro to Sewing with Knits

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Update: Scroll to the bottom of this post for links to the entire series.

Who wants to talk about Sewing with Knits. It seems for many of you sewing with knits is a bit of a mystery and a few of you are afraid to even try. Pish Tosh!

There is nothing mysterious about Sewing with Knits and I am going to dispel all fears regarding knit fabrics.

t-shirt and scissors

Into to Sewing With Knits

First of all ~ who doesn’t love wearing knits. They are one of the most comfortable fabrics around. They move easily, drape beautifully, and feel wonderful next to your body. Where sewing is concerned, knits are about as forgiving as a fabric can be. A garment sewn from knit fabric doesn’t have to have as exact a fit as something made from woven fabric. {can I hear an Amen from the choir, please}

The key to sewing with knits is to understand that the fabric has stretch and requires patterns suitable for stretchy fabric. And, unlike wovens, there isn’t as much of an ease requirement compared to sewing with a woven fabric.

Let’s look at the fabric differences to understand how the fabric is made.


1. Wovens vs. Knits:

This diagram shows a woven fabric and illustrates how the edges tend to ravel. There is also a grain to the fabric which must be respected. If you don’t layout your fabric correctly on the grain your finished product will never lay correctly. For more on this, read my tutorial on understanding fabric grain.

Woven cotton fabric

{photo source}

On the other hand, knits are not woven at all; instead, they are knitted together by needles that connect loops. If you’ve ever knitted a scarf you will understand this. The manufacturing process of making knits creates these loops and ridges (or wales) – except they are really tiny. Look closely at a knit garment and you will see this. It’s the process of creating the knits that gives it this loopy nature and that, in turn, gives it stretch and keeps most knits from unraveling. These two features are what make sewing with knits so delightful.

There is a grain to knits that also must be respected. I will discuss this further when I demonstrate different garments throughout the month.

How to Sew on Knit Fabric

{photo source}

There are lots and lots and lots of different knit fabrics. Rather than go into exhaustive detail about the details and properties of every type of knit available, I am going to talk about the ones that you are more likely to sew.


2. The Two Main Knits 

There are two knit fabrics that you are going to likely encounter when you start to sew with knits. They are Jersey and Interlock.

Jersey is a single knit and Interlock is a double knit. In the photo you can see there is a great difference in the weight of these fabrics.

Learn How to Sew with Knits

Jersey:

How to Sew with Knits

Jersey is light and has a beautiful drape. It has a right side and a wrong side. The right side is very smooth with tiny wales. Turn it over and you will notice that it looks different. Rather than a smooth finish, the wrong side has purl stitches that look like something that was hand-knitted, except on a minuscule scale.

Jersey’s most noteworthy aspect is this: the edges curl. That’s right, once it is cut the wrong side will curl towards the right side. In the side-by-side picture above notice how the purple fabric is curled on the edges but the yellow fabric isn’t. There are ways to deal with the curl which I will show later in the series.

Jersey knits can be made in a variety of fabric, but knit-sewing novices will want to look for cotton jersey because it is the least expensive and easiest to sew. Stick with cotton Jersey which is ideal for making t-shirts, leggings, pants, kids clothes, skirts, and dresses.


Interlock:

Learn How to Sew with Knits

Interlock is a double-sided knit that doesn’t have a wrong side. Instead it has two right sides. Because of this it is a little heavier than Jersey but still the most common knit fabric and the one most people like to sew.

Interlocking stitches are what create the double-sided fabric. That is why it has no wrong side. Because it is double-sided, Interlock will lay flat after being cut.

Like Jersey, Interlock can come in a variety of fabrics such as cotton, wool, silk, and polyester. I suggest that you stick with cotton Interlock. It’s reasonably priced and easy to find.

If you’ve never sewn on knit fabric before you will want to start with Interlock because it is the easiest to work with. It is ideal for t-shirts, cardigans, leggings, sleepwear, kids clothes, dresses, skirts, and tunics.


3. A Few Other Noteworthy Knits:

There are a few other noteworthy knits that you may encounter. They are Ribbing, Fleece, and Ponte De Roma.

Learn How to Sew with Knits

Ribbing is very stretchy with ribs across the cross grain which causes it to bounce back to shape. It is the fabric commonly used for tank tops, sleeve cuffs and t-shirt collars. Like Jersey, Ribbing curls to the right side even though both sides look the same. It’s a very stretchy knit and that is why it is ideal around collars and cuffs. Stick with cotton ribbing for these applications.

Fleece is this generic word that describes a variety of fabrics. Here are a few: Polar Fleece, Micro Fleece, Minky or Cuddle Fleece, Cotton Fleece. So, which fleece is what?

  • Polar Fleece is a medium weight fleece and what you will commonly see in stores. It makes great blankets and jackets. This is usually 100% polyester.
  • Micro Fleece is better suited for jackets, vests, and outerwear. With both Polar and Micro fleece it is recommended to spend a little extra and get the no-pill variety.
  • Minky (or Cuddle) is used in a lot of baby products because of its soft, mink-like texture. It is very difficult to sew and requires tons of pins and patience. I wouldn’t recommend Minky or Cuddle for a first project.
  • Cotton Fleece or sweatshirt fleece is smooth on one side and fuzzy on the inside. Sometimes it is found in all cotton or cotton/poly blends. It’s ideal for sweatshirts or hoodies. One of the great things about cotton fleece is the price. It usually comes in 70″ widths and is priced under $10  per yard. With one yard you could make kids’s sweatshirts all day long.

Ponte De Roma is something you may not have heard of but you will want to know about it. This knit is very stable and has it all. It’s got a smooth surface, soft hand, and a gorgeous drape. It’s not too stretchy and it doesn’t seem to lose it shape. It’s fairly wrinkle resistant and is ideal for jackets, dresses, skirts, and stretch pants/leggings. It does have some fabric care requirements which will preserve it’s best features. I would say this fabric falls into the intermediate knit sewist category because it is a little more pricey. But, you will love it.


4. An Excellent Source:

This site contains affiliate links which won't change your price. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

There is a Craftsy class that I highly recommend called The Ultimate Guide to Sewing with Knit Fabric. Much of what I know about knits I learned from this class. Before any sewing takes place, Meg explains about all of the different types of knits and how to sew them. I refer back all the time.

Craftsy image

You may want to purchase a couple of knits and give sewing with knits a try. I promise, you’ll love it.

Read the rest of the series:

Sewing with Knits: The Details

Sewing with Knits: Making a T-Shirt


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29 Comments

  1. Two words: Thank you! I’ve sewn 6 prom dresses and 2 wedding dresses without a problem, but knits scare me to death. I will conquer this fear in 2015!

  2. Count me as one who has been afraid of knits. I am eager to learn and just ordered some knit fabric from Girl Charlie. I am looking forward to this series …. Day 1 was excellent. Thanks

  3. I enjoyed your straightforward explanation. I use ribbing a great deal to make collars. I have a hard time finding different colors. Can you recommend a good source for this?

  4. So glad to see something on knits. During a recent mega pattern sale I bought a pattern for a knit top, as my goal this year is to expand my sewing skill-set. I wandered around the store looking at fabric and felt very confused and defeated!! Leslie to the rescue — thank goodness. Like Lynette said – I’ve learned so much from your posts Leslie. Thank you!!

  5. Thank you for the resource for great knits! I am also looking forward to your Sewing With Knits info. Btw, sewed 2 pairs of PJ bottoms using the Cuddle fabric you spoke of and you are so right! It took tons of pins and even more patience. Most difficult fabric I have ever sewn but worth it…according to Lauren’s comfort scale!

    1. Thanks. I’ve found that using a Walking Foot really helps when sewing cuddle or minky. It doesn’t make it easy, it just makes it possible.

  6. I’m not afraid of knits but I learned recently you shouldn’t sew knit with cotton thread. I learned this when the dress I had made started to show popped seams….while I was wearing it!

  7. My mom sent me to a course when I was little on knits, but I’ve only ever sewn fleece as an adult. These are posts I LOVE! Going to check out those fabrics now, but i think I have quite a few in my stash with which to start.

  8. This is such great timing ! I just told someone last week that I wanted to see my own tee shirts because I can never find ones with a sleeve length I like !!!

  9. I have been sewing for the better part of 40 years. Your tutorials are wonderful! I have yet to meet a fabric I’m afraid of however, I have met some I’m not fond of working with. Your lessons are easy to follow and make sense! Thank you!
    I have a bernina 1080 and would love a few classes on programming for different stitches. Thank you again!

  10. I appreciate this post so much! Thanks for not assuming that I know anything about knits when writing it! I learned so much. Well done.

  11. Thank you for explaining what are knits and happy to have bumped on your blog. I have been working with a few knits, without realising there actually ‘woven’-‘knitted’ differently, hum . Looking forward to more of your posts surrounding knits, hoping it will make the sewing easier .

  12. Great tutorial. I shall pin it for future reference. Sewing with knits is something I haven’t done ,well expect for a phone pouch out of a sock. I struggled with the right thread tension etc. I will have to check out the rest of the series.

    Thanks for sharing, over from SITS

  13. Holy cow, you really covered a lot! Now I’m off to sign up for the newsletter and read the other posts in the series!

  14. I can’t say thank you enough. I’ve only just started sewing and knits is what I want to sew. This series has been great. I’ve learned so much to get started on my knit sewing adventure! Thank you!

  15. What a great and detailed post! I sew with knits regularly, but there were a few things here that I didn’t know. Now I’m off to read the rest of the series! Thanks! 🙂 Lisa

  16. I love to sew with knits and have given my granddaughters sewing machines for christmas this past year. I think they will love some of the projects here.

  17. Hi Leslie,

    I have been sewing with knits for a while and when I serge the crotch seam in my daughters pants the fabric looks like it’s ripping. I use ball point needles and am using organic cotton knit. Any suggestions to avoid this problem? Thanks!

    Regards,
    Barbara Harris

    1. I can’t really diagnose without first seeing the problem. However, if I had to guess I’d say it is a knife issue. You may need to have your serger serviced.

  18. Enjoyed your whole series on knits.
    My experiences with knits have always been WHEw!! I am so glad its done.
    But now I will try it again.
    In fact right now trying it with doll clothes. Must admit
    not the best start trying to sew the tiny 1/4 inch seams. Walking foot on Brother Se400
    not getting the full use of the walking foot since it is so wide.
    Trying to figure that out. Also trying not to use too bulky knits that especially with
    collars are hard to maneuver into a 1/4 inch seam.
    Thank you again

  19. Once again a wonderful article thanks for explaining the differences in knits. I sew a lot with knits and now have a good understanding of their actual differences.

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