Sewing Knit Fabrics: A Complete Guide

Updated: Dec 6, 2021


It may be an unpopular sewing opinion, but knits are my favorite fabric to sew! Many sewists are very nervous to sew with knits. They’re always curling and hard to keep in place with pins; I always get skipped stitches; my hems are always wavy are some common complaints about sewing knit fabrics. Because of this, sewists often tend to only make clothes with woven fabrics – which is great, but super limiting. Knits are soft and comfortable to wear, which is why they usually make up a good chunk of our wardrobes. So why not give sewing knits a try? It’s not as difficult as it seems – in fact, I might go so far as to say it’s easy… once you have the right tools and techniques at your disposal. But first, let’s talk about knits. What are they?

 

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What is a Knit Fabric?

Knit Fabrics

The basic difference between knit and woven fabrics is simply this: knit fabrics are knitted and woven fabrics are constructed by weaving. But of course, there’s more to it than that. Just like if you were to knit a hat or scarf – knit fabrics are formed by knitting one (or more) yarns together. For fabric, this is done on a knitting machine rather than with knitting needles so that lots of fabric can be produced quickly. Because the yarns are looped together, knit fabrics have intrinsic stretch built-in. Depending on the type of knitting process used, the fabric can have very different amounts of stretch – from a sweater knit with minimal stretch to a jersey knit with lots of stretch. Also, many knits will have elastane (also known as Spandex or Lycra) added in to give it even more stretch – as is the case in swimwear and activewear fabrics.

Woven fabrics on the other hand are weaved on a loom. During this process, the yarns or threads are crossed over at right angles to each other – which creates a more stable fabric with very little (if any) stretch. Some woven fabrics may be advertised as “stretch” fabrics, but these usually don’t have much stretch when compared to knits and the stretch is achieved by including elastane, not by the weaving process itself. Knits can be made from virtually any fiber – just like wovens. Some common fibers for knit fabrics are cotton, bamboo, polyester, and nylon. There is also a wide range of different weights of knit fabrics available that are good for different applications.

 

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What Can You Make with Knit Fabrics?

Knit fabrics can be used to make a variety of different garments – they’re more common than woven fabrics in many people’s wardrobes! T-shirts, sweaters, leggings, and swimsuits are all almost always made out of knit fabrics. Also, if you have little ones you sew for – knits, especially jersey knits, are perfect for children’s clothing because they are so soft on the skin. For a beginner to sewing knits, I would recommend starting with something simple like a t-shirt or leggings.



Tips for Sewing Knit Fabrics

Because of the intrinsic stretch of knit fabrics, they do require different methods than wovens when it comes to sewing.


What type of needle should be used with knit fabrics?

If you’re only used to sewing woven fabrics – you’re probably used to using universal sewing machine needles. However, while universal needles are technically marketed as usable for both wovens and knits – they rarely work well for knits. For knit fabrics, you’ll want to use either a ballpoint needle or a stretch needle. Both types of needles have a ballpoint tip that will push the knitted yarns aside as they go through the fabric rather than punching holes in your fabric. Also, I just find that the way these types of needles are shaped just works better with knit fabrics. Universal needles tend to skip stitches and just generally create issues with knits. In addition, ballpoint needles usually work better for jersey knits and other knits with very little to no elastane content. Stretch needles are great for knit fabrics with elastane and lots of stretch! They are specially shaped to prevent skipped stitches in super stretchy fabrics, like swimwear fabrics.


What are the best stitches for knit fabrics?