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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.

{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

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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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