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Beginners – starting to sew w/knits

Rosiem | Posted in General Discussion on

Gee – how did I EVER sew without you all? All of your help is greatly appreciated – and I’m going to go to the well again with this question.

I’ve done most of my sewing so far on easy-to-sew wovens and fleece. What would be the ideal tye of garment to sew when starting to sew with knits? What would I need to know about sewing knits?

Thanks again



  1. berninadriver | | #1

    Hi Rosiem and everyone; I'm new here but I'd like to know the answer to your question too. Also could anyone give me any tips on sewing fleece, as, like Rosiem, I've only really sewn with easy wovens before. Many thanks.

    1. cafms | | #4

      This site from Malden Mills has some helpful info for getting started sewing fleece.  It is a knit also, so a lot of the knit techniques will be helpful in sewing fleece.


      1. berninadriver | | #6

        Many thanks for the reply and the information. Haven't had time to check this out yet but will do so tomorrow. I'm in the UK and I sometimes feel we don't have half the resources that you do for sewing. I plan to sew fleece garments for an expected grandchild - do you have any tips on managing such tiny things? I know I should find a pattern that is suitable for fleece but are there styles that work better than others?

        1. cafms | | #7

          I haven't sewn too many things in fleece for a baby, yet.  My first grandchild is now 7 months old and had more stuff than she needed for this winter.  I do know from sewing many other things that patterns with only a few, larger pieces work better than many small ones.  You don't need to finish seam edges because it doesn't ravel.   Bind the edges of the neck or front opening  rather than using facings to reduce the bulk in the edge.  Use self fabric, ribbing, plain knit, or swimsuit fabric with lycra, cut cross grain so it stretches some. Bias cut woven fabrics will also work. Cut the binding at least 1.5 inches wide and use a 1/4 inch seam.   You can zig-zag over the seam allowance to flatten it some so the binding wraps smaller.  This will compress other seams also.  Stitch the binding and garment, right sides together, then wrap to the wrong side and stitch in the ditch - that is in the depression created by the seam line, on the right side, between the garment and binding.  Don't turn the binding under on the wrong side before you stitch in the ditch.  You can trim it close to the stitching on the wrong side to get rid of any extra fabric.  You can use any pattern designed for knits or wovens - though wovens will turn out a bit larger.   There is no need to use interfacing as it just adds bulk.  Do put a bit of twill tape or something similar in the shoulder seams to keep it from stretching. 

          There are some patterns for babies at this website that use fleece.  http://www.kwiksew.com/Cold_Fusion/catalog/Frame_New.cfm 

          Adventures With Polarfleece by Nancy Cornwell  is really a good resource for getting started with fleece.  That is the first one and she has a couple others now too.

          Hope this is helpful and not more than you wanted to know.  It really is easy sewing with fleece. 

          1. berninadriver | | #10

            Thank you so much! What a wealth of information & good advice. As the baby won't be born til the autumn (fall) I thought a few outerwear items might be useful, as our winters tend to be very cool and damp, so I was thinking about cozy toes (buntings) and maybe a little jacket & hat to match. You've given me lots to think about and I shall follow up all your ideas! One last thought, could you give me any ideas about controlling stretch? I don't have a walking foot for the Bernina, and I am unable to adjust the presser foot, although I do have an old Husqvarna that I can do this on. Or maybe I don't need to worry about this the same as knits?

          2. cafms | | #14

            I'm so glad Fitnessnut mentioned not pressing the fleece.  When I teach a class on sewing with fleece that is one of the first things I tell the class and I forgot it.  The only exception is to imboss the fleece.  This is a fun way to add some designs to plain fleece.  But the sole of the iron is not usually a fun design!

            I don't press it at all as you would sewing other fabrics.  If the seam seems bulky and won't stay flat try a lapped seam.  Mark the stitching line on both pieces and cut the seam allowance, on one layer, off on the stitching line.  Lap the cut piece over the remaining seam allowance, meeting the seamlines.  Edgestitch on the top piece and then 1/4 inch away.  Trim out any excess on the under side and the seam almost disappears.  I have used this many times on side seams and princess lines on vests or jackets, etc.  I have also finger pressed the seam open, then stitched down the center of the seam from the right side, using a 4.0 stretch twin needle and trimed out the seam allowance.   Or trim the seam allowance down and zig-zag or serge it  to compress it.  I like to hem fleece and knits with the twin needle also.

            I find that the stretch is mainly in the  crossgrain, as in knits, and lesser quality fleeces stretch more.  I will "crowd" or push the fleece towards the presser foot with a tool of some kind, like the end of my seam gauge, if it seems to want to stretch.  Just gently push small amounts right in front of the toes of the presser foot.  Be sure that the part of the fabric in front of the machine is loose and doesn't have any drag or tension on it.  On shoulder seams put a stablizer in to keep it from stretching when wearing.  I have a Pfaff 1229 with a built in walking foot and it does help a lot.

          3. berninadriver | | #15

            OK, that all makes perfect sense. I read about lapped seams on one of the links that you gave me; I may well try these on the bunting but I shall try everything out as samples first. The information on controlling the stretch is very helpful; I have recently acquired Marcy Tilton's book on sewing tops and she does give some information in there about using knits and similar techniques to "help" the fabric pass under the presser foot - again I think it's down to doing some sampling before I start. I am out of the habit of sewing clothes; the coming baby has made me get interested again, so I am looking forward to starting. As one tutor to another, can I thank you again for all the effort & time you have put into answering my questions; I will get back to you when I have some results to report! You have got my mind wandering off on the idea of embossing fleece though, I may have to try that out too.......

          4. mem | | #18

            remember to sew all your seams witha small zig zag if you dont have a dedicted stretch stitch . Sewing with fleece is so easy but remember to keep you design lines very simple so you dont end up with lots of bulky seams

          5. berninadriver | | #20

            Thanks mem, I'll search my bernina for a stretch stitch, although as it's an entry level machine, I may not have one. I haven't found it yet! However, small zigzag is no problem. Would you recommend a three step zig zag - I know I have one of those!

          6. mem | | #21

            No , I would just use a normal zig zag and make sure that you use a ball point needle.

        2. FitnessNut | | #8

          cafms offers you some good advice. But I have one tip that is especially relevant.....DON'T TOUCH FLEECE WITH AN IRON! You can steam seams open and press them with your fingertips or another tool, but don't touch the iron to the fleece. It will melt and you will be very unhappy. At the very least, you will flatten the pile.Fleece is very easy to sew. Do you have access to Kwik Sew patterns? They have a number of patterns especially designed for fleece textiles. Try their website (I believe it is http://www.kwiksew.com) - they may ship to the UK.

          1. FitnessNut | | #9

            Silly me! I now see the Kwik Sew reference at the end of cafms' post. Well now that two of us have recommended it, you simply must check it out!;-)

          2. berninadriver | | #11

            Yes, sound advice and I probably wouldn't have thought of it. I have the iron on permanently when I'm sewing & go to it without thinking. Is it possible to sandwich the fleece between sheets of baking parchment (do you call this silicone paper?) I do a lot of free machine embroidery and use products like Bondaweb a lot so I tend to press most things through baking parchment. It withstands the heat really well but I haven't thought of it for fleece before. Maybe the seams are just better finger pressed as you say. I believe Kwik Sew patterns have now made it to the UK, I'm having to find a whole new set, as this is the first baby I've sewn for for a long time so I'll check that out. Cannot thank you enough for your help and assistance; it's the first time I've used a discussion forum like this and the experience has been absolutely great!

          3. FitnessNut | | #12

            You can test pressing with parchment paper on scraps....it may well be a good idea but I've never done it, so I can't recommend it. I just give the seams a bit of steam and finger press them open. Because fleece doesn't ravel, you don't have to finish the seams.Since you are making baby items, you may be interested in knowing that fleece is also wonderful for applique....just cut, pin and stitch down. Use plenty of pins as it tends to move while stitching and be patient. You don't need to satin stitch unless you want the effect. I have used children's colouring books for pattern ideas.

          4. berninadriver | | #13

            Right. I shall have a go with baking parchment on a few scraps & let you know the result. Also the applique idea is a great one, no edges to neaten! I just have to acquire fleece and pattern and get started. I'll get back to you all in a week or so when I've managed to track those down. Thanks again.

        3. mygaley | | #17

          Dear sewing grandmother:  Just a reminder--in the USA infants are required to be buckled into a restraint car seat whenever they are riding, so the buntings with "legs" really make sense.  There are lots of patterns available for these.  Galey

          1. berninadriver | | #19

            Dear mygaley, thanks for the reminder. It's the same in the UK. I think I may make a "bag" type bunting first, so I can get myself used to the fabric and then work my way up. I have now found a pattern that has both the type with legs that you suggest and the bag type, so I just have to make a trip to the fabric shop (quite a long way here!) I know I could buy from the internet but I like to handle fabric, don't you?

    2. SewNancy | | #26

      With fleece, you need to lengthen the stitch as it is thick, you don't need to finish sas. You have to be carefull in pressing which is really not advisable in most cases. LIghten the presser foot tension as again thick fabric and you don't want drag. It is not hard to sew on and you can purchase stretch knit for edging like ready to wear.

      1. berninadriver | | #27

        Thanks SewNancy and to everyone else who has given me so much time & help over this. I still have to buy my fleece fabric but when I get started I'll let you all know how I'm getting on.

  2. solosmocker | | #2

    I rarely sew knits, just not my thing. But I can tell you it is very important to get a pattern for knits. The ease is totally different from patterns suggesting wovens. Look at the fabrics specified on the pattern envelope. If there are no knits suggested, move on.

  3. cafms | | #3

    I do a lot of sewing on knits and enjoy working with them.  It's best and easier to use patterns designed for knits but you can use patterns that are for woven fabrics.  The biggest problem is that they may end up larger than you need.  You can't use  patterns designed for knits with wovens because they are cut closer expecting that the fabric will stretch where a woven won't.  There are several books available on sewing with knits.  Singer Sewing Reference Library  Sewing with Knits is one and I think Marcy Tilton has one but I can't think of the exact name at the moment.  She has done some artiles in Threads in the past on knits.  Also check these articles on Threads website and one on Sew News. 








    A skirt with elastic waist or easy pull on pants would be a good starting garment.  A T-shirt  isn't that hard.  Kwik-Sew patterns have a lot of knit patterns and have helpful tips in the instructions. 

  4. suesew | | #5

    You've receved good advice so far. Be sure to get yourself some ball point needles and a twin 4. ball point needle for sewing hems that will look just like the cover stitch on ready to wear. There are books (and probably websites) that can teach you how to put on ribbing if that is the way you want to finish necklines, sleeves or waists.

    1. mompea | | #22

      Since I'm just becoming a knit sewer....how I've ever put it off this long I'll never know...but can you suggest any really good books about making a sleeveless camisole top out of a knit and applying the ribbing around the neck and forming the sleeve straps? I look at RT and it looks easy, but it seems like it's done in 2 stages. the front and back and then do the shoulder straps get formed when you do the sides? Or do you sew the ribbing to the sides and then the shoulder straps form from the ribbing that you put on the front and back? I'm sure it's a silly question, but I'm sure it makes a difference. I have a subscription to Threads and I've been looking through the back issues but I don't find one dealing specifically with camisole tops and the straps I'm dithering about.


      Thanks for letting me jump in on your sew w/knits thread.


      1. mem | | #23

        what they mean is to do the edging on the front and back neck pieces and the use the binding around the armhole to continue over the shoulder and to the other side of the armhole .This means that you will need to get your binding ready to create the strap  before you start and the apply it and then sew up the side seams.I hate making straps out of binding!!!!! I think the commercial makers must have a gadget which helps do it all  I would use a walking foot when you do it  and make lots of practise attempts.

      2. suesew | | #24

        There are some wonder folded elastics that will encase the raw edges of the underarm and then the folded edges are sewn together to create the strap. You need to try it on to get the fit of the straps just the way you like it. You can also insert some twill tape if you don't want the strap to stretch.
        There is a wonderfully easy way to sew separate elastic straps like the ones you see attached to bathing suits. Let's say you have a half inch elastic you want to cover. Cut a piece of the stretchy fabric a scant 4X the width of the elastic. Fold the fabric in half right sides together . Place the elastic on top of the folded fabric strip along the raw edge side and zig zag it all together. It works better if you sew closer to the folded edge rather than the raw edge - just keep the elastic lined up with the raw edge as you sew. Now turn it right side out by pulling the elastic through the tube. Voila - covered elastic. You could finish the underarm area on your camisole and add straps that match.

  5. autumn | | #16

    I had never sewn on fleece before, either, but decided to plunge in. The first thing I made was a jacket for my then 9yr. old granddaughter. She is now 12 1/2 and still wears it! (The jacket keeps getting smaller for some reason).  Fleece is very easy to work on. Just be sure to use LOTS of large pins, the long kind with plastic tips so they don't disappear into the fleece. I use a rotary cutter which prevents it from stretching the way scissors might do.

    I was so pleased with the first jacket that I've made one for my son-in-law, a pullover for my husband, several caps, and a gorgeous jacket for same granddaugter that I lined with a slick nylon lining so it would be warmer and easier to slip into. Whenever she wears it she gets stopped by people telling her how pretty it is. Well, I'm bragging, but the point is, fleece is easy to work with, except that it makes a lot of fuzz in the machine. Also DO NOT IRON IT. Just steam and finger press, or dampen a little and finger press.

  6. lovemyelna | | #25

    Dear Rosiem,
    I've been sewing with knits for 30 years. Your best bet is to get a basic t-shirt pattern from Kwik Sew or Stretch and Sew. They will walk you through the process with very concise instructions. You'll need to find out about seams, applying ribbings, blind hems and double stitching hems and how to figure out the amount of stretch for each fabric piece. All this info can be found in the pattern instructions or a simple book on knit sewing.
    Good Luck

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