This month’s feature is about sewing stretch knits without a serger! (It can be done.)
See below me in a garment sewn primarily on a sewing machine. This particular sewing pattern was Burda’s fitted sheath dress which features rouching and gussets made in a slinky ITY knit.
If you’re like the rest of the world, most of your closet at this point probably consists of jersey knits, ponte knits, or stretchy fabrics in general.
You will need a few special tools for any knit fabrics:
- Rotary cutter (you can get away without having this, but it’s super helpful for not messing up your cutting! Since stretch fabrics do stretch, pinning doesn’t always work.)
- Pattern weights. Pins in knits can stretch the fabric in less than desirable ways and you could cut off valuable seam allowance on your pattern pieces.
- Self-healing cutting mat (blue grid )
- Clear elastic stabilizer (again, something else you can get away without, but it’s helpful!)
- Twin stretch needle
- Ballpoint needle (not pictured)
Generally when you sew a knit, you will want to use a serger, but you can completely fake most garments on a sewing machine by using a zigzag stretch stitch! I do own a serger and I use it in every garment, but my process with knits will help any sewer who doesn’t have a serger.
The first thing you want to do is start by testing on a piece of the fabric you’re working on. I like to use scraps of the fabric leftover after cutting my pieces just to make sure I have all the right settings before diving into my garment.
Here, I have sewn a zigzag stitch to test out my settings on a scrap piece. I find it does help to do a mock seam in the same thicknesses you would be sewing on your actual garment.
(I know my seam isn’t perfect, but this is for width illustration purposes!)
When you sew a zigzag stitch, what you’re looking for is as close to a serger as possible – which is a wide but close together stitch. The reason you sew a stretch stitch and not a straight stitch is because you don’t want your threads popping and breaking when you wear the garment!
Next, flip your fabric and see what your stitches look like on the right side of your seam.
I like to pull on the seam and see how well it holds and what the threads look like, mimicking how it will stretch when worn. Here, it looks good! Ideally, the thread would blend in with the color of your garment, but this works perfectly so you can see what I did.
The settings on my machine ended up looking like this:
Every machine will vary, but this can give you a good starting point. I have my stitch width on the highest setting and the length on around 1.5. I also have my needle setting to a zigzag. You may also want to play with the tension setting on your machine if you find the seam to be puckering a bit on your stitching side. The tension I find generally varies from fabric to fabric so it’s best to run a test sew.
Optional (below): Clear elastic stabilizer.
A prior Burda garment I made called for this elastic stabilizer and I have been using it ever since. In this dress, I used it to make the rouching stay in place before stitching my seam. It’s also good to use on seams that will stretch a bit – usually shoulder seams and some side seams.
Lastly, you will want to finish all hems of your knit garment with a double needle.
I used to think this wasn’t so important, but I learned the hard way a few times. This is important because you want your hems to stretch; not pop and break in the garment.
I have a ballpoint stretch stitch needle which is perfectly suited for this type of application. You will have to thread it differently than your single needle, but you can Google how that is done.
Even if you do have a serger, most sergers on the market will NOT do a coverstitch. This has been helpful for me since around two years ago, I started sewing way more stretch knits.
That’s really all you need to do to sew stretch fabrics! There may be things over time you learn to do more efficiently with knits, but this is a great starting point for anyone who has minimal if any knits fabric sewing experience.
You might just end up making your next favorite garment!