May 13, 2014

Sewing Indie Month: Working with knits

Want to know my everyday casual secret?



When I first started sewing clothes I thought “easy peasy! I’ll just make lots of wrap dresses.” Then I discovered what knit fabrics were, and that they were a “thing”. It took me a little while to get my head around that, but once I did, I’ve never looked back. Seriously, wovens people, how do you do it? I am wearing secret pyjamas almost every day and yet folks think I’m stylish (apparently)… away with your stiff waistbands!

Knits really are the perfect fabric for every day casual outfits, because:

  • They’re ridonkulously comfy
  • They rarely need ironing
  • They don’t crease when you throw them in your bag to go on holiday
  • They come in all weights so you can wear them all year long
  • You can sew them *super fast*
  • There’s minimal fitting – they stretch to fit! Perfect for we curvy ladies.
  • Did I mention they’re comfy? (my personal priorities are becoming abundantly clear)
The good news is that there’s lots of guidance out there for knit newbies and knitaholics who want a few more tips. To help you along with your everyday casual capsule wardrobe, I thought I’d gather together some resources for you here.
1. Buying knit fabrics
Here are some observations you’ll make quickly when shopping for knits. Why is everything stripy? Why does so much of it feel like plastic? Where are all the prints?! Yeah, it’s hard to get cool, modern printed jersey, and a lot of the solid stuff feels pretty horrid. Also, bear in mind that there’s a lot of variety in the types of knit – a lightweight tissue jersey might be practically transparent, while a heavy ponte will behave like a woven.
So, you have two options
  • Go to an actual fabric store and feel them all up. Stroking knit fabrics is a nice way to spend an afternoon, trust me.
  • Carefully online shop. My first secret (not really) tip is Emma One Sock. Linda buys up the ends of rolls of designer fabric from factories and sells them on – that means you’ll be getting bona fide J.Crew knit or Millie in RTW prints. That’s where I get most of my jersey for wrap dresses from. You can also get super high quality knits from Britex Fabrics. However, if you want a more economical store, Girl Charlee has some bold prints (which I used for my recent Colette Moneta maxi), DryGoods Design has carefully curated but very cool offerings, and Mood Fabrics is as always a treasure trove. I would recommend getting swatches in advance though from all of these – unfortunately it’s very common that the knit is a very different weight than you were expecting.

2. Getting ready to sew
Yes, you need to pre-wash knit fabrics. Get it over and done with folks! You may notice that the selvedges are wavy when the rest of the fabric is flat – quite often the selvedges are either tighter or looser than the rest of the weave (anyone technical know why?). Anyhow, you can cut those pesky selvedges right off to make it much easier to cut the pattern. I highly recommend a rotary cutter and self-healing mat for this – so much easier than fussing about with scissors. *Theoretically* you should relax the fabric on a table for 24 hours before cutting. But. Does anyone actually do that? Or is just me who’s far, far too impatient? All I can say is: hasn’t caused me trouble so far.
3.  Sewing knits on a sewing machine
It can be done! Tilly has a great post with tips, and Dixie DIY has a whole series. The zig zag stitch and double needles are your friends, as are working with slightly heavier knits like interlock (ITY) or ponte. As always, practice on scraps first, and think carefully about which of your seams are more likely to stretch than others, and plan accordingly.
4. Sewing knits on a serger
If you can overcome your fear of the crazy multiple needles, buying and mastering a serger is a very worthwhile investment! I’ll admit it took me 6 months before I figured out all the kinks (Mary on the other hand seemed to master it in about a day, so make of that what you will).
 There are a wealth of books and blogposts out there to help you – rest assured, you’re going to need some kind of troubleshooting guide with you to begin with. I have The Ultimate Serger Answer Guide which is my trusty guide. I can also recommend Colette’s new Guide to Sewing Knits, which is about as comprehensive and clear a book on sewing knits I’ve seen (plus, it has lots of guidance on sewing knits with a sewing machine). If you’re more of a visual learner, Craftsy also has some great serger online courses for beginners and more experienced serger-ists (?!).
Once you’ve managed to source fabric you love and figured out these techniques, the magical thing about making knit projects is they’re done in no time. Like, you can make a t-shirt in less than an hour, a skirt in less than 2 and a wrap dress in an evening! Speed + comfort + stylist = happy Cashmerettes.How are your competition entries coming along, dear readers? Getting excited about the prizes yet?! You should be…ENTER THE CONTEST!
You can enter the Sew Indie Month everyday casual contest by submitting a link to your blog, Pattern Review or Kollabora on this page.

8 thoughts on “Sewing Indie Month: Working with knits

  1. Judi C says:

    I agree…knits are so comfy! I need to make some wrap dresses. I just got some knit at Greys Fabric to make the Mabel so now I just need that little matter of time!

    1. Jenny says:

      Ooh can’t wait to see your Mabel Judi!

  2. Liz says:

    A couple of comments…don’t forget Fabric Mart Fabrics as a good economical source. Their selection is limited and ever changing, but often they have the best prices on really nice quality knits and other fabrics. And frequent sales!

    Also, I try to avoid knits with a lot of polyester or (shudder) nylon in them, in order to avoid the “plastic” feel and keep things breathable. One exception for polyester is the ITY knits, which tend to be softer than other polyester knits due to the distinct construction process. Cotton, rayon, or even linen or silk will be cooler in the summer since those fibers all “breathe.”

    1. Jenny says:

      Great tips Liz! I’m always wary of buying online because of those sneaky polyesters creeping in… I will have to check out Fabric Mart

    2. Mari Miller says:

      Hi Liz,

      I used to never touch polyester with a ten-foot pole, but I’ve actually grown to like it in certain knits! When manufactured a specific way, polyester can be moisture wicking, which is really great for casual sports wear and even underwear. I dream of making a moisture-wicking bra! Give those poly blends a try, especially if they’re made by Nike, because I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  3. Nancy says:

    I have a question – is there any way to tell which knits are going to pill? I’ve had problems with everything from double knits to ITY and I can’t ever seem to predict which ones will go bad.

    1. Jenny says:

      It’s hard! I’ve definitely had some I love go all pill-y. One option is to get a sample and do a pill test – put it through the wash and rub it against itself for a while and see what happens

  4. Sara A. says:

    Knitting produces fabric by creating a series of interlocking loops going back and forth across the width of the fabric. The selvages get distorted as the loops change orientation back and forth creating stitches that are longer or shorter than the others. Knit fabric curls because the right side of the stitch is narrower than the wrong side. This is also why ribbing lays flat: it’s a combination of knits and purls which creates a fabric that is equally wide on the front and the back.

Let me know what you think!