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Aug 22, 2012

Sewing With Knits



Before we get started, readers, I must share this latest entry in the "Who Wore It Best?" muslin competition.  Michael was insistent he get a shot, and since his mom was visiting yesterday afternoon...  Aren't they adorable? 



The competition's stiff, however.  This may require a celebrity panel.



Moving right along, friends, one thing I very rarely sew with is knits.  I wear knit t-shirts and tank tops and even knit boxer briefs all the time, but making them myself doesn't excite me.  I buy most of my t-shirts at Goodwill for a couple of bucks and it doesn't seem worth the trouble to make them myself.

I've made a few knit shirts, and if you include polyfleece which, after all, is a knit, I do have some experience, but knits can be persnickety.



Anyway, I was in the Garment District on Monday and I picked up this striped knit at Chic Fabrics (225 West 39th St.).  I also have this thin solid blue knit in my stash waiting to be used.





I decided it's time to get over my knit issues.  I have many sewing books that address knits, particularly how to do the neckline in a professional way, including Couture Sewing Techniques and Serger Secrets.  Of course, there are many online tutorials too but I never know which one will yield the best results.







The big question always seems to be whether you attach the neckband with the neck open (i.e. with just one shoulder seam stitched) or with the neck closed (with both shoulder seams stitched and the band closed into a pre-measured ring).  While it's no doubt easier to add the neckband with the neckline open, this method doesn't stretch the neckband taut while it's being attached, which can result in a neckband that's a bit loose and/or doesn't sit flat.  Or am I missing something?

Yesterday I cut up an old t-shirt and experimented.  One method has you make the "v" in the neckband before attaching the band, another has you apply the band flat and then stitch the "v" afterward.  I experimented with the latter method.  What method do you generally use?





I made the band by cutting a strip of cotton from the shirt itself (width-wise, where it's stretchiest), folding it in half, and serging the raw edge.  I added a second needle to my serger so I can use it for all my seams.  Very strong.



Anyway, readers, this is my project for today.

Do you enjoy sewing with knits?  Do you generally stitch your seams with a sewing machine first and then serge, or do you go directly to the serger?

Re the t-shirt, would you stabilize the entire neckline with knit interfacing first (this is suggested in Couture Sewing Techniques) or just staystitch the "v"? 

Knit advice greatly appreciated!

43 comments:

  1. ooooh! Good topic...I've not tackled knits yet either, so thanks for getting this topic started!

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  2. Re photos: both Mom's win.

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  3. I don't think it matters from a tension perspective whether the neck is closed or not (I've done it both ways many times). I think it's more about how the garment looks on the inside. It's slightly neater to close the neck first. But it's also slightly more difficult, IMO. I have serged right of the bat (with t shirts) and stitched first / then serged (when I was feeling nervous or using a challenging fabric). I do enjoy sewing with knits - they're no more complicated than sewing with wovens. Sometimes you get a tricky knit, sometimes you get a tricky woven. A walking foot might help on a really tricky fabric but I rarely use one. I do use a ballpoint needle and gently stretch the fabric as I sew. What I find is that, any challenge in sewing a knit is more than mitigated by the relative ease of fitting a knitted garment (vs woven).

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  4. I have a 1950's Singer (straight stitch only) and a 1971 Kenmore (multiple stiches and cams). I have done jersey pants on the Singer. You have to stretch fabric and stitch at the same time. It can be done but make sure no one is within "screaming" distance cause you will be a tad frustrated at times.
    I did a couple of knit items on the Kenmore with a zigzag stitch. First I zigzagged the seams then I folded over the edges and zigzagged them.
    A very unprofessional way of doing both items, but it worked.
    What I would like to know is how to do a professional looking garment without resorting to buying a new sewing machine.

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  5. *runs away screaming in knit fabric fear*

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  6. I have to vote for Michael. I love those locks peeking out from under the feathers. It adds that special air of insouciance.

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    1. My vocabulary word of the day. I had to look that one up!

      SueC56

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  7. I've successfully sewn with knits in the far past and am trying to revitalize my knit wardrobe. But so far I haven't had much luck with creating garments I feel comfortable wearing in public. (Don't ask). I will continue in my quest, but in the meantime, I have had a few "wadders".

    I dunno about the robe: I think it is a toss up on who wore it best. Michael has the curl factor and Mom looks a little impish. But I think Michael might have her beat all the way around with the sparkly eyes.

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    1. PS: I've never owned a serger. Am hoping to sometime in the foreseeable future.

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  8. Sonia and Michael are going into the finals.

    She's offering up unbridled effervescence, while he's touting a certain product-induced self-betterment vibe.

    Both sell, so now it's time to gird their loins and start the timer!

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  9. Ahhhh...Knits! I love them. They were the reason why I graduated up to an Elna Supermatic in the early 80’s from great grandma’s treadle 15-30. That was about the time I also discovered Kwik Sew patterns, they go hand in hand with knits. Within a years time I had my first serger. I don’t sew many knits now except for Polar Fleece, as you stated, tee shirts are inexpensive and readily available (and I am not a fan of boxer-briefs).

    I have used both methods you mentioned for attaching a collar and like the closed method…open is OK for sleeve bands and hem bands, but not for neckbands (just one man’s opinion). As for stabilizing, I used whatever I had on hand that was fusible for collars, front plackets, etc. The only time I can remember sewing then serging was if I were attaching a fussy collar or something like that, but for the most part, right to the serger. Also, keep it simple (KISS), save the “haute couture” for the woven fabrics. I have also come to the conclusion that my vintage machines are not always the ones to use to sew knits…my Bernina 150 leaves them in the dust.

    Love the pictures of Michael and his mom in their house Shmatte….is that a can of Pledge or Easy-Off?

    Stan
    PVD

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  10. Most of the sewing I've done has been with knits. I prefer to stitch the seams with a sewing machine and then serge the edges (3-thread). The serging is optional, as knits don't fray. I personally find 4-thread serged seams too bulky and heavy.

    I use a narrow ZZ on most seams and sew like normal. I never had luck stretching seams while sewing-- just ended up with wavy seams. I only stabilize shoulder seams, never the neckline. Hems, I use a very slow and inefficient method. I baste before stitching. I've tried other methods (such as using fusibles) but the basting works best for me.

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  11. Today I'm wearing a knit twinset I made (Pamela's Patterns rule!) as part of my marathon of serger sewing earlier this year. I travel now and then for business, and knits are great travelers. Like Ms M, I just stabilize shoulder seams, and put the neckbands on after closing the neck--definitely neater. I'll machine-baste a garment initially to test the fit. After I get the TNT pattern, it's straight to the serger! I'm sure Cathy would enjoy some knit outfits--they're great for busy moms ;-)

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  12. It's like you were peeking into my studio window last night! Last night before I turned in, I pinned the binding to the V neck of my tee that I am sewing (a Style Arc pattern called Lisa), thinking it's best done with a fresher eye. I then fell asleep reading up on V neck binding techniques on my iPad.

    This morning, I grabbed my "Dressmaker's Handbook of Couture Techniques" to peruse after a little blog reading. Imagine my surprise when you presented the V neck issue.

    I have been inspecting the hubby's t-shirts. The method I dislike is the one in which the V is made in the binding prior to insertion, then typically serged. I feel the finish is not as 'nice'. I prefer the method shown in the purple tee picture above.

    Don't be afraid of knits! A little practice is all it takes. As far as stitch then serge, I only do that on tricky areas. Last night while setting in the sleeves on my tee, I basted on the sewing machine, then after checki8ng for good placement, I serged. On straight seams like shoulders, side seams, or skirts and pants - I just serge.

    The moms are the best!

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  13. Neckline closed! I just find it to be easier.

    Your mom wore it best, no contest.

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  14. I love knits. Traditionally I serge knit tops in the flat. Jalie has great neck binding instructions; however, v-necks are always a problem for me.

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  15. I mainly sew with knits for two main reasons: easy to fit and easy to wear.
    I have always sewn neckbindings while the neck is closed and have never had an ill-fitting binding. I also never use stabilizers, and always serge seams straight away. A knit garmet comes together so quickly on a serger, and patterns normally have few pieces. I occasionally come by issues when hemming, depending on the fabric stitches might skip or the seam will be wavey - my solution to this is make a binding band on the hem as well. I've also been known to leave a hem undone with knits that don't roll. Love your knits Peter, they'll treat you right.

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  16. I am just learning knits and I prefer to stitch with a narrow zz then serge with 3 thread for a neat finish. The narrow zz is so much easier to "unsew" if I screw up. I haven't tried neck bands yet.

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  17. Alex in CaliforniaAugust 22, 2012 at 11:57 AM

    I think I am going to have to give it to Michael and his Mom but only because they got to wear a finished garment.

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  18. Knits are so easy and fast to sew. The only skill required is a little patience. Once you start sewing with knits you will laugh at yourself for being so afraid of them. No special equiptment required except for the right kind of foot for your machine that will not compress the knit too much.
    Neckline banding- Definitely leave one shoulder seam open so you can finish the banding nicely in the seam.
    Neckline interfacing for this style of neckline= never!
    BTW I am highly suspicious of any book entitled "Couture" that talks about T-shirt construction :)
    Side note for perfect neckline finish: the neckline banding must be shorter than neckline so it will be stretched to fit. This will make it lay flat. However, depending on the knit you need to play around with how much shorter.

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  19. I have used several methods. Right now I love the stabilized method from Lynda Maynard. It doesn't work for the v neck t that you sew the dart in, but it works for making that overlapped inset that she shows. I find that Maynard's method works every time no matter how much stretch the knit has.

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  20. I should have said that it works the first time out always without having to rip out stitches.

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  21. Is there something in the air? I was just bemoaning the fact that even though I've bought some beautiful knit fabric, I'm afraid to even take my serger out of the box and I've had it over a year now. So, please get right on those knit projects! Thanks for the hint of using t-shirts for practice. Sometimes the most common sense idea hides in plain site.
    As for the house coat capers-I vote Team Michael. He looks like a cute time bomb. So let's not excite him any further.

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    1. Don't be afraid! Your serger is your friend. Seriously, I started using mine 10 minutes after I opened it. Sure, I wasn't as skilled as I am now (not that I'm a serger expert, by any means) but it worked so nicely, right off the bat, I was inspired to learn. I also recommend the Serger Secrets book that Peter photoed above. It's ugly but it's got good info.

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    2. Thanks for the kind words of encouragement. I washed and dried my knits this afternoon and hope to get started soon. I mean when a T-shirt dress is $175, what have I to lose?

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  22. I sew knits more than anything and I think they're very rewarding as long as you have access to good fabric which for me means apparel remnants. I think you have more control sewing a binding with an open shoulder because you can cut a long strip and stretch it as much as seems appropriate. This requires experimentation as every fabric combo is different, but I With a closed loop, you need to be certain of the binding length before hand. However, I like the look of a loop better than a shoulder finish, so I usually do it this way. For v-necks I think stitching the tuck at the end works great. If I were to do it before applying, I'd want to make a mitered seam. I've never stabilized an entire neckline on a knit but there are fabrics I'd avoid using because they are so prone to stretching out. I sew bindings entirely on a sewing machine. Because the edge of the binding forms a smaller circle than the seamed edge, the binding needs to be stretched when it's applied to the neck or it will not lie flat. But it's only a small difference and it doesn't take much reduction. And when you apply the binding or collar, you don't want to stretch the neck in any way. I find having the shirt against the feed dogs and binding on top helps to keep the neck unstretched.

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  23. Horrifying, Jne4sl! I will never sew knits, ever.

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    1. Oops, what did I say? It's no fun writing about this stuff because it is trial and error to find the best technique for the fabric at hand. Which I think is why most the books are frustrating. But... you really can't go too far wrong and once you have it down a t-shirt from first thought to last hem is an hours work. I know knitwear can be purchased anywhere for next to nothing but it's quick to make and I love the fit of mine.

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  24. I love sewing knits! I wear a self made knit top or dress just about every day. They're so much easier fit and sew than wovens. Plus, setting sleeves in flat.

    I stabilize my shoulder seams with narrow strips of fusible interfacing. Usually something lighter weight, but I'll use whatever's handy. All construction seams are a 4-thread stitch on the serger.

    I sew the shoulder seams first, then apply the neckline binding. I typically use the Ottobre method - cut a strip of fabric for the binding about 1" - 1.5" wide. If the pattern doesn't have this, I guesstimate the length. Sew the ends of the binding together with a straight stitch. I quarter and pin the binding to the neckline to make sure I'm happy with it and adjust if I'm not. Then I sew the right side of the binding to the wrong side of the neckline. I press and fold the binding over to the right side of the garment and fold the raw edge under and topstich. I recently got some binders for my coverstitch machine, though, and it's been on my to-do list to figure those out.

    I do a coverhem, but before that I just used a twin needle hem.

    Seriously, knits are fun and easy! There are several knit top patterns for women that don't even involve a bound neckline, so maybe you could start by sewing something super easy for Cathy.

    Also, I love this Gorgeous Fabrics video for getting started with knits:

    http://pinterest.com/pin/140807925820062422/

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  25. RTW knits generally fit me. But when I do sew kinits I use the closed loop method. I can never remember to leave a shoulder seam open while sewing to try the open method (typical!). I interface everything. IMHO even when not strictly necessary, it gives a crisper finish and longer life to the garment.

    Every techinique I've tried from the Dressmaker's Handbook has worked out very well for me. So, I am a big fan.

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  26. I started sewing with knits before I realised they were meant to be scary!

    I just have a standard modern sewing machine (no serger)... the only problem I've faced is with very slippery knits, but slipperiness is a problem with wovens too.

    The only thing is to remember to stabilise anything that you don't want to stretch out (waistlines, shoulder seams, etc). I use clear elastic, or even ribbon (depending on the fabric).

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  27. try a double needle...

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  28. Your "Who Wore it Best" photos were awesome. It gave me a much needed laugh for the day. As for knits, the best reference (IMO) is Sewing With Knits by Connie Long. When I sew knits, I usually just use my serger, but I occasionally use my sewing machine. When I use my sewing machine I use a narrow zig zag stitch. I usually use my coverstitch to hem, but I've also just topstitched with a narrow zig zag. I love sewing knits, and the best recommendation is just to practice and try out different methods. Good luck and I can't wait to see your next project.

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  29. Knits are on my list of things to tackle, but the "to be sewn" list needs to be mostly done, first.

    SueC

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  30. I have made my most professional looking necklines following the Couture Sewing Techniques instructions, by Lynda Maynard. They turn out perfect every time!

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  31. I love knits, and had been very intimidated. My stash is filling up with great knits, for T's, simple dresses, etc. I have made 1 T of late, which was quite successful, using an altered Kwik Sew pattern. You can look at Marcy Tilton's blog for more help. And I have a great knits book upstairs on knits, from the 70's. I look to find extra help in books, or on-line. Great topic, very helpful tips!!!!!! Cathie, in Quebec.

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  32. I don't have a serger, so i do all my knit sewing straight on my sewing machine. I've not done any narrow banded knit tops, but I've made a pattern for a knit top with a wide v-neckband, and I sew the v in that first, make the band up, then stretch it into the neckline. (you can see the shirt here: http://mymessings.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/jumping-queue-new-t-shirt.html). That method works really well for me as it's more consistent than trusting I can achieve the right tension by stretching it in without a measurement as a guide.

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  33. I vote for YOUR mom (and her laugh)!
    As for the knits - I love working with them, mostly for comfy, quick garments that do not need a perfect fit. I always use a serger and coverlock unless I need my machine for a zipper. Lately, I started using the knit remnants for panties or hood linings. Can't advise on v-necks as I make only round ones, using the open shoulder method.

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  34. I love Michael's mum. The outfit looks like it belongs to her! As for knits, I sew with them all the time and I've never sewn a v neck. I'm going to do a few tests and try both of your suggested methods. Unlike most people, I don't sew knits on my overlocker. I prefer the way the seam looks when I sew with a stretch stitch and press the seams open as I would with wovens. I sew the hems and neckline with a twin needle.

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  35. michael's (and my!) mom.
    ONLY because they are "her" colors.

    I picture myself cleaning in that to-die-for headpiece
    and nothing else.
    rad.

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  36. I give it to your Mom. She just has that cuteness factor.

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  37. I think knit fabric is easy to sew. I use straight stitching and sometimes zig zag. Never had a problem with anything coming undone.
    I don't use trims. I usually line the bodice part with the same fabric. I made a great dress for my daughter. It hangs well and looks lovely.
    I was always scared of knit fabrics because I was told how difficult they are to sew. I couldn't tackle a tee-shirt though.

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