If the thought of sewing a T-Shirt or sweatshirt is a little intimidating - don't let the idea of sewing with knits deter you from giving it a try. Sewing with a knit fabric is not much different than sewing with a woven fabric. The main difference is a knit fabric has the ability to stretch where a woven fabric does not. Because of this we need to adjust from a standard straight stitch to a stretch stitch. A straight stitch cannot stretch at all. If you use a straight stitch on a knit fabric and then try to stretch that fabric the straight stitches will simply break open.
A stretch stitch, on the other hand, is basically a stitch style that can stretch along with your fabric. Almost all home sewing machines have some sort of stretch stitch you can choose from.
Let's go over the recommended stitches to choose from.
1. First up the good old zigzag stitch. The zigzag formation gives the fabric room to stretch. So when you are pulling a t-shirt over your head, for example, the stitches will not break. Instead the stitches will stretch with your fabric. This stitch is super common and is available on just about any home sewing machine. You may also notice that you can choose a width and a length for your zigzag stitch. Don't worry too much about that, just use the default that your sewing machine is set at. It's going to work just fine. Once you are more comfortable you can start experimenting with these settings and see what you like best for the project you are working on.
Lightening Bolt Stitch
2. Another good stitch is the "straight stitch for elastic fabrics" aka the "lightning bolt stitch". It's basically a zigzag stitch that moves diagonally up and down to form a tiny zigzag that resembles a lightning bolt. As in the name "straight stitch for elastic fabrics", the lightning bolt stitch will appear a lot straighter than the zigzag stitch so it will ultimately produce a cleaner seam when looking at your garment from the right side. However, because it is on the straighter side it will not stretch as far out as a zigzag stitch will. So if you are sewing something that needs to stretch a lot like a bathing suit or yoga pants the lightning bolt stitch may break easier over time. If this sounds complicated, do not worry, these are just tiny details to consider when sewing up your knit project. The best thing to do is just get started, any of these stitch choices will work just fine. After you have a few projects completed you will be a pro at understanding what stitch is going to work best for you.
Those are the two basic stitches for you to try.
Beyond that you can consider using a Ball Point Needle which is designed specifically for knits. The tip of the needle isn't as pointy so it goes into the knit fabrics smoother. However, in my opinion there is minimal difference between using a ball point needle verses a universal needle (which most likely came with your sewing machine). Try that one first because a universal needle is exactly what it sounds like, it's universal so you can use it for everything. I'm only mentioning this so you don't get hung up on the idea that you have to go out and buy new needles. Any needle will work so again just start that project! I'll do another post on needle types and sizes just in case anyone is interested.
The other quick tip I want to mention is using a walking foot. Sometimes knit fabrics can be either bulky or sticky making it challenging to get an even feed between the top layer of fabric and the bottom layer. Changing to a walking foot can help a lot with that. A walking foot helps to evenly feed fabric or layers of fabric through your machine. This means that the top layer of fabric will feed through the machine at the same rate as the bottom layer helping to eliminate shifting and puckering. However, most home sewing machines do not come with one and you have to purchase it as an add on accessory. It can also be pricy depending on what machine you have. To me this foot is a luxury item that can facilitate certain projects but certainly not necessary. However, it is pretty cool so you might want to think about adding it to your collection of presser feet.
Finally there is the serger. I won't get too much into this one because not everyone has this machine. But if you do, you know what it does and how AMAZING it is. Let me know in the comments if you want me to do a post on the serger and how it can change your sewing life.
If you are new to sewing knits, don't be scared to just dive right in. We just launched a new pattern, the All Around Crew, which is a great beginner project for sewing with knits. It's a relaxed fitting garment with simple and easy to sew shapes. Can't wait to see what you make!