Now, this is by no means an exhaustive list of the do’s and dont’s of working with knits. These are just some things that I learned along the way as well as tips I’ve found in all the books, magazines, and websites that I consulted before losing my knit-sewing virginity.
1. Here’s how to determine how much stretch is in a knit:
up to 5″: 25%
up to 6″: 50%
up to 7″: 75%
up to 8″: 100%
2. Use a chair to support any fabric that might be hanging off your cutting table while you’re cutting out your pattern, since gravity could stretch and pull the excess out of shape. Instead of a tasteful knee length dress, you could end up with a scanty mini!
3. Placing tissue or newspaper under slippery knits makes it easier to cut out since it prevents it from moving around. I also used fabric weights to keep the fabric stable.
4. Don’t use the edges of the fabric as a grainline reference since it may not be straight. Instead, trace a rib of the knit as a reference and use this guideline to lay out pieces that need to be laid out on the straight of the grain.
5. Cutting in carrots weakens the seams as well. Instead, mark with a chalk or pencil, or cut the carrots pointing out instead of in.
6. You don’t need a serger! When sewing with a straight stitch (like I did for my top), make sure to sew the seam twice, then trim the excess. This gives the seam more stability. And of course, stretch from the front and back evenly as you sew with a straight stitch, and stretch the second seam equally.
7. Steam from an iron can make the fabric stretch; you should wait until the fabric has cooled until moving it. The fabric should also be properly supported while ironing, just like how it’s supported when cutting or sewing. It’s got stretch and it wants to!
8. Press in an up and down motion instead of setting the iron down on the fabric and moving it back and forth. This will prevent the knit from getting out of shape and pulling.
9. The most wonderful thing about knits: no seam finishing! If you decide to serge the edges, it will weaken the seams as well as prevent the knit from stretching correctly.
10. A twin needle finish provides a nice double row of stitching on the right side of the hem and a zig zag stitch underneath. This creates some built-in stretch, so stretching while sewing is not necessary.
If you’re still anxious about working with knits, there are some great books out there. I’ve looked through the Sew U Home Stretch: Built By Wendy Guide to Sewing Knit Fabrics and it seems like a solid guide for anyone unsure about venturing into the wonderful world of knits. I haven’t looked at it, but the book Sewing with Knits, published by Taunton Press (who also publishes the fabulous Threads Magazine and Sew Stylish) has received some rave reviews as well.