Male Pattern Boldness is proud to be the world's most popular men's sewing blog!

Jul 17, 2013

Rayon knit and the miracle of spray starch

Friends, despite my having made some cute knit cotton jersey underwear recently, I'm not a big fan of sewing knits.  Maybe it's because I'm not really that excited about making the kind of garments one makes with knits: for men, we're talking tee shirts and underwear.

For all the time and energy it takes to make a decent-looking knit tee shirt, I'd rather buy one ready made.  There, I said it.

But Michael had chosen a rayon knit for his summer ensemble and I was committed to making him a tee shirt with it.  Rayon knit -- or at least this rayon knit -- looks and feels fragile.  Whether it proves to be a durable garment over the long term remains to be seen.

I made a decision at the fabric store that helped tremendously on this project: along with my rayon knit, I picked up half a yard of a very durable, high quality solid cotton knit for the neck band, arm bands, and waistband too.  The cotton knit provides durability at some of the shirt's primary stretch points and was (relatively) easy to work with.

I thought about using clear elastic, among other things, to strengthen the seams, but decided against it.  None of my RTW knit shirts have clear elastic in the seams and the shirts hold up just fine.

At first, I stitched my seams at my sewing machine and then serged over the stitched seams.  This was helpful particularly on curved seams.  For the sleeve and side torso seams, I went directly to the serger without pre-stitching.  I serged slowly and very carefully.  The rayon knit is a difficult fabric to work with.  It tends to cling to itself, so I had to check and double-check to make sure the layers were feeding into the serger perfectly flat.  (BTW, I prewashed and dried everything.)

To make the neckline, I followed  Lynda Maynards instructions from "The Dressmaker's Handbook of Couture Sewing Techniques."  I am happy with the results even though I wasn't quite as careful laying one layer of my neckband over the other as I should have been so they're not perfectly even in width at the "v" point.  But I'm not complaining: the shirt looks good.

Because the fabric is slightly transparent, you can make out the serged seam of the neckband that is turned under and topstitched.  That's just the way it is.

Now let's talk spray starch.  Lynda Maynard has you apply interfacing to the neckline edge to stabilize it before attaching the neckband, but I didn't have any knit interfacing.  Instead, I used spray starch.  Below you can see the starched knit swatch (left) next to the unstarched knit swatch (right). The starch makes the knit much less likely to roll up at the edges, which knits have a tendency to do.  NOTE: It does not make the fabric stiff, just flatter and easier to handle.

I made a LOT of samples before starting my actual shirt.  I probably spent as much time testing the fabric and my sewing techniques than I did making the shirt.  But I think it paid off.

I can't show you the shirt on Michael yet, but here's a shot of the shirt on Roy (before I added a narrow waistband).  Roy wears clothes so well but then, that's his job.

In closing, friends, have you ever used spray starch on knits?  Has it helped much?  Any other knit-related helpful hints you recommend?

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. actually I have never heard spray starch up until
    now but anyway because I sew quite a bit with stretch knits my best friends are my serger, my iron (it helps to harness those wavy hems) and my sewing machine for basting and hemming( it has stitches that are specially designed for knits)
    B.T.W the shirt looks really interesting

  2. Wow, Peter, that was fast! I've not sewn on knits before, but am ready to try (after I finish my daughter's Little Black Chanel-ish jacket and Kenneth King's Fly Front Coat, which I just bought the lining for and can't wait to get started.) I've not used spray starch before, but have used Magic Sizing, which I believe is similar, if not so stiff. It's especially helpful with heirloom lace work, which I used on a sampler shirt. Also, when using soluble stabilizer, any left over scraps of the stuff goes into a covered container with some water. The resulting solution is a liquid stabilizer that rinses out completely, but adds structure and stiffness to light weight fabrics. Be sure to keep the container in the fridge, as it will turn rancid if not kept cold. I just take a little out at a time and use from a small squeeze bottle. and refill as necessary.

  3. Interseting...No I have not yet used spray starch that way before. I must investigate because I sew a lot of different knits and this might be a very handy idea. Did you iron the starch in then? and then do you think it will be wearable starched or do you rinse the starch out? Your shirt turned out nice!

  4. Really nice T-shirt Peter ! And as always, I'm very pleased that we're going to see plenty of Michael again.
    When I sew with knit that is really thin and very stretchy, I sometimes use a foot on my machine that has little wheels built in and is made of teflon, it's called a "non stick roller foot". As that foot doesn't grip the fabric, it doesn't over stretch it nor deforms the knit.

  5. I haven't used spray starch on knits, but that sounds like a brilliant idea. I'm taking notes for my next project with a misbehaving knit. I always knit interfacing on the hems, which helps stabilize it for sewing, but also controls the curl on those edges.

  6. I've had success with fusible knit stay tape and elastic. And some of my RTW shirts *do* use the elastic!

  7. I've never used spray starch on knits. In fact, the few times that I have used spray starch in sewing, I couldn't stand the smell long enough to continue.

  8. Your blog is wonderful. I use washable glue sticks to tame knit seam allowances before sewing, and Vilene chain stitch bias fusible tape for stabilizing necklines. It was the best souvenir from a trip to England.

  9. "For all the time and energy it takes to make a decent-looking knit tee shirt, I'd rather buy one ready made."

    This cracks me up because a knit tee to me is one of the fastest, least fiddly things to make and I'd rather make one than buy one. But I love sewing and wearing knits and have a LOT of practice ... mostly because I can be lazy sewing knits and lazy sewing, if any sewing at all, is what I'm doing lately.

  10. Whilst I find sewing with wovens easier, I find wearing stuff with a bit of stretch nicer, so I am trying hard to master jersey :-)

  11. I love knits and sew with them a lot. I've gotten to a point where I have had plenty of success with just going slowly and holding my fabric in place with my fingers. I do usually stabilize the shoulder seams with stay tape.

    BTW - I bought a bunch of knits on my NYC fabric spree - pics here:

  12. I have sewn with knits and don't find them that bad. I use to use a special needle and my machine had a knit stitch. I would sew slowly. Knits are good because you don't have to worry about fraying. Knits in my opinion have far more variety in colors and prints that look really wonderful. Do whatever you need to stabilize the fabric. I use to make my daughter wonderful summer dresses with knits. I don't sew clothes anymore but still love knits.

  13. I have never sewn with knits. In fact, I am afraid of them. (And only slightly ashamed to admit it.)

    This post has me reconsidering. You do such a beautiful job, and that main fabric is just gorgeous. Can't wait to see it on Michael!

  14. The last time I worked with a fussy knit, I wadded it up and threw it in the trash! I have no patience for it and I commend your perseverance. However, given your inspiration, I may give it a go again. But only after a couple of drinks!

  15. There are knits and then there are thin, limp rayon knits! Spray starch may have saved my sanity on those rayon knits.

  16. I do have RTW shirts with clear plastic elastic in the shoulders. Do you have any t-shirts made from slinky knits? Perhaps this is found more often in women's clothing made from rayon, modal, and tissue thin knits.

  17. Looks great, Peter! I sew with knits often and actually began my career as a sample sewer, sewing primarily on knits. We always used the clear elastic in the shoulder seams to keep the seam from stretching. With rayon knits that have a loose and drape-y hand, I would recommend adding the elastic to the shoulder seams.
    For the rolling, I just line up the cut edges and hold them with my fingers to keep the section flat as it is going through the serger. I do add more notches along the seam lines (every 2 or 3 inches) to make sure I'm not easing one side into the other. One tip to reduce some curling is to be very careful handling the knit once you have cut it. One good stretch can cause the fabric to roll up into an instant tube!

  18. I usually am altering tshirts to make them fit my daughter. I am grateful for the spray starch idea, I will try that!!

  19. Michael, knits intimidate me and your project provides me with much encouragement. Out here in the Midwest, where there are just chain fabric stores, I don't think there are many nice t-shirt type knits to choose from. The rayon looks so nice.

  20. Your help please. Does anyone know how to remove rancid liquid starch smell from fabric and from a wooden drawer? My elderly aunt used the starch and gifted the items and doilies. I have washed all of them several times and soaked them in Febreeze. I then put them in my sideboard drawer, thinking the smell was gone. Now, the drawer smells of this putrid rancid smell. The drawer is from an Ethan Allen piece, so great care needs to be taken to remove smell from the wood without damage. I tried spraying and wiping down the drawer with Febreeze, but that doesn't work. Thank you!

    1. Baking powder might do it! Put a good layer in overnight maybe and give it a good clean out in the morning?


Related Posts with Thumbnails