Sewing Knits FAQ

I've recently amassed a large selection of jersey knit fabrics in a fabulous array of colors. I've become obsessed with the current popularity of draped designs, and the liquid drape of silk and bamboo jersey is irresistible. While the pattern construction for knits is often kept simple to keep seams at a minimum and allow the fabric to do the work, sewing knits often intimidates sewers. It can be a tricky fabric to sew, but with a few simple techniques, the right sewing needles, and a little patience, sewing knits can be a breeze.

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Knit projects from the Spring 2011 issue of Stitch: Spiral Skirt by Beki Wilson (top), Comfy Sleep Set by Bonnie Ferguson (middle), and Felted Sweater Throw by Carol Zentgraf (bottom). Spacer 10x10 pixels
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In the new winter/spring issue of Stitch, we enlisted the help of Deepika Prakash, founder and queen bee of the must-read site,, to write a fantastic technique article on sewing knit fabrics. In addition to great information on understanding stretch, cutting guidelines, seams and hems, and pressing tips for knits, she includes this great list of troubleshooting tips. If you have sewn with knits, you have no doubt experienced these challenges at one point or another (I know I have!). The next time you get frustrated at your machine in the middle of a knit project, take a deep breath, and review these tips for help.

My fabric curls while I'm sewing! This is just what certain types of knit fabrics do naturally. If it bothers you, using spray starch followed by light pressing can help straighten that edge temporarily while you sew. Design Tip: Use that curling edge to your advantage! Stretch the fabric a few times and you'll notice it curls even more. Softly curled edges make great neckline finishes!

My fabric layers shift while I'm sewing! It's important to control fabric layers as you sew. To achieve that control you must sew slowly. Stop and check to make sure the fabric edges are aligned, then sew again. If you're still having problems, check the pressure on the foot. Too much pressure can result in puckered fabric and too little will cause the fabric to slip. A walking foot can also help keep fabric from shifting.

My seams or fabric edges are getting pulled into the machine! Working with a lightweight knit? This problem is bound to occur once in a while. Stop the machine. Hand turn the wheel so the needle is in the up position, clip the threads, and pull the fabric out. Try switching to a straight stitch foot, which will give the fabric more grip and let the needle go in more smoothly without pulling to the bottom. Also check to make sure that you're using the right type of needle. I recommend using a new needle for every project. For tricky knits, you can also cut the fabric with a larger seam allowance (up to 1" [2.5 cm]) than the pattern calls for so it's easier to sew. After the seaming is completed, you can trim the seam allowance.

I have skipped stitches! Stitches are skipped when the needle isn't able to pierce the fabric cleanly and as a result doesn't come in contact with the bobbin thread to form a loop. Solution: Switch to a Microtex sharp needle for dense fabrics. And of course, always make sure that you are using a new needle, because a dull needle will cause problems no matter what type it is.

I have puckered stitches! Stitches pucker because your fabric isn't feeding evenly, meaning one layer is being pulled in faster than the other. To see if your machine is feeding properly, cut two strips of fabric the same length and run them through the machine. Are they aligned when you're through? If so, your machine is working well; if not, check your machine's manual and learn how to adjust the feed dogs. If that doesn't solve the problem, try reducing the pressure on the foot of your machine.

Feeling empowered and ready to tackle a knit project? Check out the latest issue of Stitch for seven great knit projects, the rest of Deepika's knit sewing guide, and a host of useful technique tutorials and stylish projects.

Happy sewing!


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