Sewing with knits seems to strike fear in the heart of most sewists. Most of us learn to sew using tight woven fabrics like brightly print cotton. We start garment or apparel sewing with patterns that are not close-fitting and thus, forgiving on sizing. And then we see a friend in a cute tee and we think "if only I could make that". Or we see amazing printed leggings, skirts and cardigans at a home party and realize "that's so simple, I want to make that myself!"
Sherry (left) in print leggings, a reversible print flyaway hoodie jacket, and a black crewneck tee. Ann, (right) in a reversible sleeveless top, black cropped skinny pants (leggings, wider at the hem) and a draped black/gray jacket.
Don't be afraid to sew with knits! Successful sewing with knits comes from having the right pattern AND right knit fabric combo. I'm not talking any sewing pattern, but one that's designed for knit fabrics, and designed by a designer who understands where home sewists get tripped up in construction or finishing and need a better-designed pattern.
Knits are EASY to sew, forgiving on fit, and rarely require a series of 'muslin' or test garments to be successful. Because of these forgiving characteristics, they're a favorite for fast-fashion projects - or even fast fashion that you can wear year after year and still look stylish.
So, how do you choose a knit fabric for sewing success?
So many choices…And so easy to make a mistake. Choosing the wrong fabric for your pattern not only wastes money and time but it takes what could have been a positive experience and turns it into what may be, for some their last sewing project. Here are some questions to ask yourself before making the final decision on using a knit fabric.
Q. Pattern sizing- Was the pattern you are using designed for knits?
A. Pattern that are designed for knit fabrics ONLY are drafted differently that woven fabric patterns. Using a knit fabric for a woven pattern is a safer choice than using that a woven fabric for a knit pattern. Some patterns such as leotards and swimwear need at least 100% stretch in all directions to fit as intended according to the sizing charts. Just think about trying to get a bathing suit up over your hips in a fabric that only has 25% stretch in one direction! It just won’t work. Even though this is an extreme example if you don’t keep it in mind while making the decision to use a fabric that does not meet a patterns stretch guide your are taking a chance.
Q. Is there a stretch guide on the back of the pattern?
A. Stop ignoring stretch guides! Long before I started my pattern company I was designing patterns for my cotton/LYCRA knit fabric not really thinking too much about how much stretch the fabric had when I designed a skirt or sleeve or neckline. I just knew that it had to stretch enough to get over the hips and recover enough to stay put once it got there! It was fortunate that my fabric had 90-100% stretch in both directions and it just wasn’t a concern, but when I began expanding my fabrics and wanted to make some of my patterns in other fabrics it was a learning experience about which fabrics were suitable. Had I spent a little time thinking about a stretch guide it would have saved me time and frustration. I am also guilty of ignoring stretch guides. This is ok if you know what you are doing but if you are still learning about stretch, recovery and sizing you may miss out on a great pattern just because you choose the wrong fabric. Believe me, the designer of the pattern you are ignoring understood that the knit needed to stretch!
Q. Pattern Ease- Was the amount of ease in the pattern designed for a woven fabric? How do you know if it is too much or not enough for your fabric?
A. If you are using a 100% stretch knit fabric (which means that a 4” square will stretch to 8” in all directions) with a zippered pant pattern that was sized for a woven fabric you can assume that you won’t need the zipper and that the pant itself can be made smaller. How much smaller can be determined after the first fitting. Just remember that you need less ease in your pattern the more ease you have in your fabric.
Q. Fabric Ease- Is there enough ease in your knit fabric without LYCRA to give a good fit?
A. Knits without LYCRA are best used with patterns that are not close fitting or need negative ease. My only complaint with “plain” knit fabric is the stretching and bagging at stress points. I save these knits for very wide leg pants, a line skirts and loose fitting tees etc.
Q. Stretch and Recovery- Will your knit fabric have enough stretch and enough recovery for the pattern?
A. It is amazing that some knits have no ease at all. Just because you have a knit fabric that doesn’t mean it will be appropriate for all “knit” patterns. As much as I hate to measure anything the only sure way to be sure is to measure you tissue pattern pieces and test the stretch in your fabric to decide how much ease you need for the fit you want. Some knits need to be treated as woven fabrics when it comes to sizing. There are some double knits that are very closely knitted that you would use the some size as you would if you were using a wool gabardine.
Q. Drape- The knit might be perfect but is the drape right? How do you know?
A. Being able to recognize good drape in fabric is worth its weight in gold. When you have the entire bolt of fabric at your fingertips it is pretty easy. Unroll a couple yards and let it fall. Gather it up and let it hang to see how it falls. Hold it on the bias and see if the true bias falls longer than the straight grain. I love a fabric that drapes well on the bias. It is tricky to find. When you are making a bias cowl top and want excellent drape so the bias can truly hug your curves you need fabric with heavy drape.