The Stretch & Sew Guide to Sewing on Knits

Sewing support: beginner with knits

[ed. updated 9/2015] 

In late August a reader writes, Hi Kelly, I’ve been following your blog for a couple of months now at the recommendation of a friend (June 2010, to be exact) and I thought it was time to reach out. Firstly, I love your blog. It’s one of the few that I jump to read when I see a new post in my reader. Thanks for providing such an intimate look into your family, great perspective on your kids and lovely cooking and sewing projects. I am absolutely astonished by the amount and quality of sewing you’re able to accomplish. It’s really quite stunning.

A bit about me & my family. We’re a family of 5. We have three kids, two dogs and two cats [Ed. – some information removed for reader privacy]. I love to sew, craft, cook, bake, garden, the list goes on & on. I do still work, part time at home, part time at work. It’s a good mix so I can be available for the kids before & after school. (BTW, I think your kids sound amazing – have I mentioned that yet?) I thought you might want to know who’s reading your blog, since you share so much of yourself on it! I do have a question for you though. I am planning to sew my daughter some gymnastic leotards. I’ve selected a pattern and some spandex fabric from Joann’s. I had hoped to order a Jalie pattern and some nicer fabric (which I may still do), but wanted to try it with the cheap/easily available stuff first. I read your recent-ish tip about painting the seams of knits [Ed. – this one] with water soluable interfacing, but I was wondering if you have any other suggestions/tips/resources about sewing on this. I do not have a serger, and I’m thinking that I should zig zag the edges before sewing, to prevent fraying?? What do you think? I appreciate you taking the time to read this. I imagine that you’re swamped with emails. Thanks for having such a great blog, and I can’t wait until the next post comes out!

Thank you for your email! Nice to “meet” you and your family. I am always so happy to hear of someone taking up a sewing challenge. One of my missions in my life is to help people reclaim this wonderful artisan craft!

You sound like a beginning sewist and certainly a beginner to knits as you were asking about finishing the edges of a knit to prevent fraying. Most every knit will not fray (there are exceptions) which is one wonderful thing about them.

Also: you don’t need a serger and unless you are sewing rather regularly I don’t suggest buying one BEFORE becoming familiar with knits. They are a big investment – in time, in resources (and funds) – and they take up space. If you sew your knits on a machine using good technique you will soon start to know whether you want a serger or not and whether it’s worth it to you to buy one.

I perform 80% of my sewing on a a lock-stitch machine (meaning: regular sewing machine), 15% by hand, and the remainder on my old serger. As for sewing with knits on a machine, my best advice is as follows:

1. Use the correct needle (have many ballpoint or stretch needles of a few different sizes on hand)
2. Use a strong poly thread or cotton-wrapped poly
3. Use a narrow zig zag and check carefully for skipped stitches or ones that “pop” upon pulling
4. Practice with each fabric for a bit to get the feel of sewing with it – many knits behave rather differently!

Personally I think a leotard is a bit advanced as it’s close-fitting and your sewing will have to live up to the strain. However, a leotard is something a beginning sewist can do provided he/she has a mentor and/or good resources. If as you go along in this project you need help, please don’t hesitate to write me, especially with photos (I’m available for video chat as well).

Also, I have some resources for you: One is a book, the Stretch & Sew one (R.I.P. Ann Persons!). I checked mine from the library first. It was so handy I then bought it:

The Stretch & Sew Guide to Sewing on Knits
Despite the very late-80s stylings on the front, the technique is solid gold.

One of my favorite resources for tips with sewing on knits is Timmel Fabrics.  They have a series of sewing “lessons” for knits. When their site went down, I archived these lessons with their permission.

In addition, the forums at are pretty active and full of VERY experienced stitchers.

Best of luck! Don’t hesitate to email or find me on Facebook at Bespoke / Hogaboom

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