I love these pieces from Alyson's current collection. Plus: puppeh!
Alyson Clair of Clair Vintage Inspired is taking it away again with a super hot topic on knits. Enjoy! - Gertie
Hello again lovely readers! I hope you are working on all kinds of fun projects. This post is to address a burning question: how to sew knits on a home sewing machine without a serger.
Can it be done? Yes. Do I recommend it? No, but I do understand that sergers are not cheap and it is a major investment to buy one.
I wish I had a magical unicorn answer about how to sew knits on a home machine and achieve the same results as using a serger. To me, the point of sewing with knits is to get stretch and comfort in a garment. One of the reasons I got so personally interested in sewing these fabrics was my own body. I know throughout the month I fluctuate in body weight and size, no matter what my current weight is. I feel like knits are my friend - if I'm a little bit more robust around the middle they can grow with me.
Which is all to say: when you sew on knits, you want the stitching to stretch as much as the fabric. This is key, or your garment will literally fall apart at the seams! Hearing the noise of stitches popping is almost like nails on a chalkboard, knowing that I'll have to mend the damage. So to avoid this, I'll give you the best tips I have and hopefully the below photos will help you with what I'm talking about.
(Warning: I'm also a stickler for finished edges, raw edges make my eye twitch and can be the demise of a regularly worn garment.)
First let's start off with the fabric. If you are just starting in on knits, my advice would be to stay away from fabrics that are powermeshes, 4-way stretch, and high lycra contents. They all have the tendency to be slippery and really stretchy. Try something of a t-shirt weight, or that doesn't stretch in more than one direction. (Tip: if you are looking for a good quality knit, try a smaller store in town. Sometimes the large mega stores don't have the best quality goods. In buying fabric, I like to shop around.)
Some of you had mentioned the fabric was rolling when trying to sew with knits. A lot of lighter weight knits (and the kinds mentioned above have a tendency to do so). Before you buy, tug on the end of the fabric and see what it does. If it rolls at the raw edge, put it down and slowly walk away, no matter how pretty. My next post will be what to look for when fabric shopping.
I know there are methods of setting your machine's tension to have a straight stitch with some stretch. I personally still wouldn't ever trust a straight stitch to sew and last in a knit garment. (Then again, I beat up my clothes a bit, so I try to make the pieces in my line stand up to my own wear and tear.) For anything with stretch, your zig zag function is going to be your best friend. This stitch is designed to stretch. In your own closet look for it on decorative lingerie elastics around bust cups or leg openings, contrast topstitchings, bra straps if they have a stretch lace on the elastic strap, and one reader has even seen this stitch on hems. This stitch is also relied on for garments used in the medical and sports wear industry: two places where garments really have to stand up to wear and tear.
I wanted to demonstrate what happens to stitches when fabrics stretch: Straight Stitch vs. Zig Zag. So I sewed some examples up to better show what I am talking about.
For this example I picked a heavier weight knit (without any lycra) that does not roll when stretched. I cut out 2 rectangles and sewed them together with a straight stitch at regular tension settings. Finished, the seam is about 5" long. I also bartacked at both ends. I did this because I knew when I stretched the fabric the thread would come loose from an end.
I then took the fabric and stretched it. I only got about 1 1/2" stretch before the thread broke.
Just think: this seam could be representative of a shoulder seam. If you have a garment with no zippers or buttons, you have to rely open the knit fabrics stretch to get it on your body.
Next, I did the same example with a zig zag stitch.
Then I stretched it as far as I could make the fabric go, which was 8".
Now that we've established the zigzag stitch as the winner in this round, let's move on to machine settings. I don't have one exact setting that does the trick, since everyone's machines are different. My advice would be to use the widest stitch that your machine does. I would estimate this is 1/4" due to the opening on your presserfoot for the needle to sew. On patterns with knits the seam allowance should be 1/4"-3/8" wide, since this is what the majority of sergers sew at. With the zig zag stitch you are essentially trying to mock a serger, so you don't need to worry about pressing any seams open. The zig zag stitch should cover most of your seam allowance. If your patterns seam allowance is larger, go ahead and trim it down.
As always, test your fabrics first on your machine to make sure the machine settings, thread, needles, feed dogs, and fabric are all happy together. One of the hardest things for me to get the hang of was the feed dog settings. I would try sewing things and the top fabric would end up longer than the bottom that was against the feed dogs. You may want to pin your fabrics to make sure this doesn't happen to you. I know I had a lot of quality time with my seam ripper the first few months I was learning!
Another thing I wanted to address that a few readers commented on was stay tape. Personally, I have never used this product. I was actually at the fabric store today and I looked at it to gather some more info on what exactly it is. It looks pretty interesting and I may play with it in the future. If you are going to use it on knits, make sure you get the kind made specifically for knits, that stretches.
The only seam stabilizer that I use with knit garments is clear elastic.
I like this product because it has great stretch and return. (Don't worry, you don't have a to buy a whole spool! Most stores will cut you what you need.) You may commonly see it in shoulders, waists, and under bust areas in commercially made knit garments. My only complaint is that it can be a bit tricky to get the hang of using since it can be grippy on feed dogs and presser feet. I love it though, because I can pull as hard as I can and not break it, and it always goes back to shape. (I like to try to "break" things to see how my clothes will hold up). If you have a serger with a lot of attachments, there is a foot that feeds this into your garment much like a binding foot. (I don't have one, since apparently I like to torture myself when I put it into garments).
A good way to get familiar with handling clear elastic would be to install it in a shoulder seam. For easier handling, I don't cut the elastic down to the size of the seam I am sewing. I just cut it after I am finished sewing it in. You may sew it in at the same time you are sewing the seam. I would recommend putting it on top of your top piece of fabric that goes against the presser foot. If you have a variety of feet with your machine see if you have one with a special coating that allows the elastic to glide against it better (sometimes called a Teflon foot or non-stick foot). If not (I don't have one of those either), try tissue paper. I know it sounds odd, but it works. Then you can just tear it off when you are done with the seam.
Let me know if you have more questions about sewing knits with a regular machine. My background is more in industrial manufacturing, so please share tips or things that work for you guys at home. I love playing with new things on my machines.
Back to sampling sundresses!