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Thursday, 6 December 2018

How to sew Knit Fabrics

A Jaycotts post

Sewing with stretch fabrics, using the differential feed dial on your overlocker, and using a walking foot.

Stretch fabrics - used for sportswear in the program - are featured in the GBSB 2019

I have not covered how to sew with Knit and stretch fabrics for a while so I want to show you how I work with these sometimes tricky to sew fabrics.
There will be two garments in this post and another post will follow shortly. I also want to talk a little bit about overlockers and how to make the necessary adjustments to your settings for sewing lightweight knits
In the second half of the post I want to talk to you about the differential feed function on your overlocker if you have one.

NB not everyone has an overlocker. In this case I recommend using Mettler Seraflock
 This is a stretch thread and you can sew knits with it using a straight stitch. Neaten your seams with a zigzag.

I have chosen two patterns, one very easy, and one slightly more challenging. There are plenty of other patterns which use stretch fabrics and I will be making up some more shortly.

The fabric I used for the first top is a melange knit Melange stretch knit. I purchased this from Minerva Fabrics
The pattern is Butterick B5955. This pattern actually recommends light to medium weight woven fabrics but a lightweight knit like this one drapes beautifully. Whilst you can mostly substitute knit for woven it is not possible to do it the other way round.
If a pattern says that it is only suitable for knits then you cannot substitute a woven because the pattern will have been designed specifically for a fabric which stretches. But more  about that when I discuss the next top.

You may be worried that you don't have the necessary equipment to be able to sew knit fabrics successfully. This is not true. All you need is a basic sewing machine which has a zig-zag stitch and a few simple additions and you are good to go.

You may on the other hand have a top end sewing machine which does all manner of stretch stitches. If you want to use one of these specialist stitches then practice on scraps of your cut-offs until you are happy with the result.

Did you know though that it is possible to sew knits with just a basic straight stitch? You cannot use an ordinary thread because it would just snap every time you stretched your garment, but guess what? This amazing Mettler Seraflock stretch thread will enable you to sew anything with no danger of the thread snapping. No wonder it is such a popular thread! It comes in lots of colours, the bobbins of thread seem to last forever and it is smooth to sew with. I love it!

I know I am always going on at you about changing your needle every time you start a new project, this time you need to use a stretch or jersey needle. There is a variety of needles suitable for stretch fabrics, they differ from normal needles in that they do not pierce the fibres of your fabric - they gently push them apart therefore there is less danger of the fabric laddering or of holes appearing. Needles for stretch fabrics
There is even a stretch twin needle which would make the most beautiful finish to hems etc.

You may fancy treating yourself to a new tool, I absolutely love this little gadget (top)  it is a screwdriver like no other! It reaches all those awkward to reach screws and is great if your grip is not too great. Brother multi-purpose screwdriver

I am using it to attach my Walking foot They are available for most machines so do telephone Jaycotts and ask which is the best one for your machine.

The walking foot is a sewing machine foot that evenly feeds layers of through the machine while sewing. The foot grips onto the top layer of fabric and helps move it under the needle at the same pace that the machine's feed dogs are moving the bottom layer of fabric. It is useful when pattern matching as the walking action does not pull the layers out of alignment. It is great for knits because it feeds the fabric under the needle evenly without stretching the fabric out of shape.
I use mine a lot, it is even a fabulous choice for thick fabrics, making them easier to sew.

There will be fitting instructions with the walking foot relevant to your machine, so follow them carefully.
First, let’s go over what a walking foot looks like and how it functions. It is a bulky foot that looks intimidating compared to other sewing machine feet, but its mechanics are quite simple. The distinguishing feature is its set of teeth, which crank in a circular motion above and below the surface of the foot depending on the position of its side bar.
When attaching a walking foot to your machine, you must position this movable bar so it rests on top of your machine’s needle bar. As the needle moves up and down while you sew, the walking foot’s teeth will move correspondingly in sync with your machine’s feed dogs underneath the fabric.
It sounds complicated but like most things you need to see one in action if you are not sure call into Jaycotts for a demonstration.

This is my walking foot in place , my stretch needle and my stretch thread are all in place and I am ready to go.
By the way, Metler Seraflock is very fine and disappears into your seam when pressed so there is no need to colour match perfectly. Just use the nearest colour you can get.

Some seams need stabilising to stop them from stretching during wear. I am using
Seam tape interfacing along the front edge and the back neckline. Press it onto the wrong side of your fabric snipping it at intervals to help it to go around curves.
It really does help to keep the shape in your garment.

There is one thing you need to remember when using a walking foot and that is not to stitch backwards. So you need to disable any automatic functions at the start and end of seams which include back stitches. Instead start and end each seam with a tiny stitch - I am using 1•6 for only half an inch, increasing the stitch length to around 3•5 for normal sewing. The ends of the seams will be overlocked or zigzagged so they will not unravel.

The top is incredibly simple to put together and the instructions are very clear so there is little I can add to them.
You can see from this photograph that the seam tape is placed around the neckline. it will be hidden inside once the neckline is finished.

This is a very loose fitting top, I made the small size but I feel that the XS would have fit me equally well.
Do check your pattern for finished measurements as the ease will vary depending on the design and it may affect your size choice

I am wearing it with a vest top underneath as it is very low cut and being floaty and flowing it would prove draughty in the cooler weather - wonderful without the vest underneath on a hot day though!

I am pleased with this top. If you are new to sewing knits then this is a good pattern to start with.

Onto my next top. Whilst my sewing machine and overlocker are set up for sewing knits I am taking advantage of it and getting a few winter tops made.

This is a wonderful pattern from Vogue Vogue 9272 it has a lot of design features which make it very different from the rest. It is a bit more complicated than the previous top and you need some sewing experience.

        The fabric is again a stretch knit, there is plenty of choice, these are just some Stretch knit fabric from Minerva the fabric I am using is very lightweight and has a wool content.
The pattern specifies a stretch knit and the pattern envelope has a guide on the side showing you how much your fabric needs to stretch. Do not use a woven fabric or you will not be able to get it on.

You also need to cut out your pattern pieces with the stretch going across your body.

The instruction sheet gives a body measurement chart - sometimes these are not terribly good, but this one will help you to chose your size accurately.

This pattern has a lot of elements which need matching accurately. So it is vitally important that all the pattern markings are transferred to your fabric.
My preferred method is by using tailors tacks which stay put until you remove them if you use the correct thread. Tacking thread is made from short fibres of cotton which makes the thread slightly rough. It therefore clings to your fabric until you remove it.
I really do find that this is the best and most efficient way of transferring pattern markings.

These are the tailors tacks marking the fold lines for the sleeves. They are easy to see and very accurate. Some people use marker pens but even the ones which claim to be removable by air or water can become permanent when ironed so use them with care.

Here is a video in which I talk about pattern markings. If it doesn't open the link is Transferring pattern markings

The neckband needs interfacing to make it - not firmer as such - but more stable. Without it it would be a little to floppy and not hold its shape.
The type of interfacing you choose is important and in this case I needed a Lightweight stretch interfacing because it will move with the fabric and not add any bulk .

On both of these garments I used an overlocker to finish my seams. Don't worry if you do not have an overlocker because you could use an overedge foot on your regular sewing machine - ring Jaycotts if you don't have one. Otherwise a zigzag stitch will be fine.
I practised my overlocked edges first on spare fabric and you can see that the top sample has a lettuce leaf effect - which is fine if that is what you want , but I don't, I want a smooth finish to my seams.
Most modern overlockers have a differential feed dial. It is really helpful for getting the best finish on different fabrics.
Simply changing the differential feed will allow more or less fabric to be fed into the machine or more or less fabric to be fed out of the machine. It can be used to eliminate excess gathering as in my sample or it can be used to create gathers where required. Most people do not use this dial but you should! Don't be afraid of experimenting with your machine, no matter what type it is, you will be surprised at what your machine  can do. Don't be frightened of trying new settings, you are not likely to damage the machine.

The numbers on the differential feed dial show the ratio of speeds between the front and back teeth on the feed dogs, but really all you need to know that the dial is normally set at Zero and when stretch fabric is being sewn the edge may be wavy like mine was , so to counteract this all you do is to increase the dial from 1 to 2 which will give you a smooth finish -which is what I wanted to achieve.

There is a lot more information in your machine manual.

I joined the front and back at the shoulders and joined one set of neck facings together. Then I stitched the facing to the neck and pressed the seam upwards.

Then I stitched the neckband facing in place along the top edge. Clipped the curves and pressed the seam towards the facing. I then understched the seam onto the facing to keep the neckband in shape.
I then overlocked the edge of the facing and pressed it again, pinning it to the neckband seam.

Stitch " in the ditch" making sure that the facing is caught down.
It is important to press every stage.

The design has two pleats on the neckband which I marked with tailors tacks. Fold them as explained in the instructions and machine stitch across them about 1/2" down from the top making the stitching the same width on both pleats. Press.

The design has a Godet at each side. To hem them you can use the differential feed on your overlocker again.
This time we want to create a gathered edge so that the curved hem will sit neatly.
I changed  the dial to  just less than minus 1 which had the effect of gathering the hem just enough to make it fold over to the wrong side very neatly.

I then pressed the hems and top stitched close to the edge .

Following the pattern instructions - not forgetting to alter your overlocker settings again - insert the Godet on both sides, stitch the side seams and stitch the pleat in the Godet. All that remains is to insert the sleeves.

I really like this top, it is just that bit different and there are some lovely designer touches.
I hope that you will make a knit top for yourself - all you need is practice. Choose a simple pattern to start with and a fabric which has a two way stretch so that it is more manageable.

Some stretch fabrics have a four way stretch which means that they stretch up and down the length as well as across the width. For this pattern you only need a moderately stretch fabric which stretches across the width. You will find this fabric easier to sew until you gain in experience.

The machines and accessories used in this post were as always obtained from Jaycotts.
They can be contacted by telephone on 01244 394099

You can also visit them - do look at the virtual tour of the store Visit Jaycotts where you will also find driving instructions.

Please let me know if you found this post useful.

I just made another wool mix knit top. It took two hours of sewing that's all.

The pattern is incredibly simple Top pattern from Jaycotts , just follow the instructions above for tips on sewing knits
Fabric from Minerva fabrics as usual, there is lots of choice! Jersey knit fabrics

Happy sewing! 


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