There, I’ve said it.
Over the last 26 years I’ve sewn a lot of clothing, done lots of quilting, lots of home furnishings, but somehow never made anything out of knit fabic.
I own an overlocker (much as I currently live in North Carolina, I’m British, so that’s what I call a serger). I’ve bought knit fabric. I’ve read lots about sewing with knits/stretch, watched YouTube videos, and googled helpful tips. I’ve had a pack of ballpoint needles sitting in my sewing machine drawer for years, and yet somehow I’ve never got them out.
I decided to take the plunge, but to start simply when sewing with knit fabric for the first time. Much as I have some serious envy of all the amazing new Noord Sweatshirts being made, I decided to start with the Playtime Dress for one of my daughters before taking on making something for myself.
I have accumulated many different knit fabrics over the years, and decided on a French terry I’d picked up last season from Joann’s with bright towelling spots.
Sewing with knit fabric for the first time: Cutting pattern pieces
I alternate between scissors and a cutting wheel and mat when cutting woven fabrics, but a wheel and mat was definitely the way to go with knit fabric. This fabric didn’t have too much stretch, but I can imagine trying to use scissors would have been a bit tricky with a thinner or stretchier fabric.
I was aware of the raised spot pattern on this particular fabric and how it could add extra bulk. So to minimize that problem, I tried to cut pieces so they didn’t have dots close to the seams. I also cut the facings from the selvage pieces which had a greater area without dots, as I didn’t want the dots from the facing show through on the front.
I have super-skinny 7- and 10-year-olds, so I started by making the size 8 to see who it would fit better. It’s a comfy fit on the 10-year-old and she loves the softness of the fabric. After assembling the bodice, I checked pocket heights before placing them slightly lower, and added an extra 2″ to the skirt length.
I made a size 6 with extra length for my 7-year-old.
I’ve used my overlocker a lot with wovens for finishing seams, but this was its first go with actual construction.
I always do a lot of trial and error with my tensions, and this was no exception. I also had some experimenting with seam allowances and where to align the fabric edge to get the 1/2″ seam allowance right. I was very aware of the “one go only” nature of construction with the overlocker and was filled with dread at the idea of messing anything up. As it was, I had one slight moment early on which required some stitch ripping, and that took some time!
I find starting and feeding the initial fabric into an overlocker slightly fiddly. I used a few basting stitches at the start of a seam to prevent the top layer from being pushed slightly further back and misaligning the seam.
Sewing knits with a standard machine
I found (and this might just be me?) that I couldn’t do all construction with the overlocker. One failed attempt at pockets ended with me having to bring in the seam a bit to cover a small nick with the overlocker blade. I also had to make a repair with my standard machine.
Using the standard machine meant another round of experimenting with zig zag and lightning bolt stitches in all their different widths. I ended up using the lightning stitch for the faux Peter Pan collar in a contrast magenta stitch.
I wasn’t sure whether my 10-year-old would appreciate the Peter Pan collar look (being a lover of the Fairy Tale Dress, I thought it was a gorgeous detail), but both girls love it! The lightning stitch came out really smooth and tidy, although I’m still toying with the idea of a hand stitched collar on future versions.
I’d been worrying about sewing buttonholes on French terry with interfacing and multiple layers, but they worked perfectly despite the bulk (although I’m going to have to find a magenta button so they match the spot colors correctly).
Things I’ve learned as a knit newbie:
- The edges of knit fabric curling up are annoying. I need a few proper pattern weights as opposed to just using whatever I have around to use as weights for cutting (often a few cans of soup from the kitchen cupboards).
- Overlockers aren’t scary. Any threading issues can be solved with a YouTube video, and a super-helpful diagram showing you which one of the threads is which. Also angled tweezers and some decent lighting are a must.
- Knit dresses are super cozy. I love crisp cottons and structured pieces like the Fairy Tale and Jump Rope Dresses. But I can definitely see the appeal of soft and warm knits, as can my very happy 10-year-old, who wore the dress on a New Year camping trip.
- The fit of garments sewn with knit fabrics is forgiving.
- Just as woven and knit fabrics differ, so does interfacing! I had to make a quick trip out to get knit interfacing.
- This knit garment really did sew up quicker than a similar project with woven fabric. The speed of construction with an overlocker, not just finishing seams with it, made this a speedy project, and one that will be repeated this weekend for the 7-year-old and the toddler niece!
Finally getting over my initial trepidation about knit fabrics has opened up a load more patterns to sew for my girls. It might even finally get me sewing for myself. I’m still enviously eyeing up those Noord Sweatshirts …