I LOVE sewing with stretch fabrics (or knits). They are the soft, comfy fabrics we love to wear. But a lot of sewists simply don't know how. That's why this post has been in the works for a long, long time. Every time I hear one of my sewing friends say,
'Oh, I couldn't make that. I can't sew with stretch fabrics'
I just want to pull my hair out! Stretch fabrics are not inherently difficult to sew with! There are some difficult stretch fabrics, just like there are some difficult woven fabrics. But I'll get to that later.
If you take 3 simple steps (choosing needle, thread, and stitch type) when you start sewing a stretch fabric project, you can proceed confidently every time. I promise. And you don't need a serger.
Simple Step #1: Choose a Ballpoint Needle
Stretch fabrics require a ball-point needle, plain and simple. The sharp needles that we use for woven fabrics will tear holes in the knit fibers. I've had it happen. So start with a ball-point needle if at all possible.
Simple Step #2: Choose Polyester Thread
You are probably already using polyester all-purpose thread, and if so, keep on! It is the most widely available. If you are using cotton thread (like many quilters love) switch it out for polyester when you sew knits. The polyester thread actually has a tiny bit of stretch so it will be more resilient when you stretch that t-shirt hem. Cotton threads have no stretch at all.
Simple Step #3: Choose a Stretch Stitch
Of the three, this is probably the most important. Knit fabrics stretch, and that's why we love them. But even using polyester thread, a straight stitched seam will not stretch enough to accommodate the stretch of the fabric.
A serged seam will stretch. But if you don't have a serger, no big deal.
See if your sewing machine has a 'stretch stitch' or 'lightening bolt' stitch. It looks like it sounds.
If not, simply set your sewing machine to a narrow zig zag. For me that's a width of about .5-1 and a length of 3. (see photo at left)
You can use this stitch for all your knit fabric sewing, even hems.
For a professional looking 'fake overstitch' hem, try using a double needle (yes, with your sewing machine). A double needle hem is really stretchy, I've never had one pop.
That's enough to get you started but if you want more, here are some extra tips:
You may want to look for a fabric that doesn't curl at the edges for your first knit project. Nice flat 'stable' knits are easier to work with. If you really have to get that curling fabric, buy a few extra inches so you can cut out your pattern without using the curling edges. This will save you time and headache. Using spray starch and a warm iron on the edges may help flatten them if need be.
Pay close attention to 'direction of stretch' and always lay your pattern pieces accordingly (they should be marked). This concept is similar to and even more important than following the 'grainline' instructions when working with woven fabrics. The direction of stretch (usually the width of the fabric) goes around the body.
Some people swear by using a sewing machine walking foot when sewing with knit fabrics. I believe it depends on your machine. If you have a walking foot, go ahead and give it a try.
Knit fabric seams often look stretched out after sewing. Press gently and apply steam from your iron to shrink the seam back to normal.
Last of all, chillax! Have fun, and let yourself mess up a little. Just like anything else, your skills will get better with practice.
And guess what, my free leggings pattern for girls is perfect for beginners. Check it out!
P.S. You might also like my knit fabric binding tutorial. It's great on tee shirts and dresses made with knit fabrics.