Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sewing Knits

Happy New Year everyone.  We had a quiet end of year with friends not far from home.  Great company and good food.  

For years I had a love hate relationship sewing knits.  I rarely wear blouses, mostly sweaters and knit tops.  I was tired of making bottoms and jackets but buying knit tops. Part of the problem was finding good knits to sew.  The other was learning how to sew them.  Ease in knits is kind of tricky because knits come in lots of degrees of stretch.   One pattern designer has a chart on how to figure wearing ease by the amount of stretch.  This only works if you like the  fit she thinks is right.  I also found her chart incomprehensible and my top even after making a muslin was a wadder.  I am not fond of wearing a sausage casing.  

Lately I've been watching the webcasts that Peggy Sagers has been posting on her Silhouette Pattern  site.  I used her method of wrapping the knit around your body to find the right ease for the knit being used.  Disaster.  I ruined a lovely sweater knit doing this. (This is not to say that it doesn't work, just that it  didn't work for me.  Her videos offer a wealth of information well worth your time to watch.) The best fitting method I've found for me is from Marcy Tilton's website. I fit the paper pattern and I've taken to cutting knits with 'in case' seam allowances in the fitting seams.  This seems to work the best for me.  That and basting my garment together before I sew it permanently with either my sewing machine or serger or a combination of both.  The other thing that improved my knit sewing was  buying a coverstitch machine.   I have a Janome 1000cs and I love it.   Of course the best help in sewing knits is to just sew a lot of them.  Like anything else, the more you sew the better you get.   
I used to obsess about grain, and lets face it there isn't real grain on a knit.  Knits are made in the round and cut apart after they come off the loom.  That glue edge on some knits is to keep them flat, but that is not like a selvedge on a woven.  You shouldn't use it to line up your grainline.  I used to take a magnifying glass and lay painters masking tape along one side of a knit line, which meant cutting with the right side up even when folded.   No more.   I fold plain knits in half and smooth until the fold line has no wrinkles or pulls in it and use the fold line to line up my grain.  It works and the hems are smooth and hang properly.

Finding Good Knits
The days of the independent fabric store are gone for most of us.  Unless you want to buy quilting fabric most of us have  only JoAnn's or Hancocks.  We have JoAnn's here on Long Island and I avoid that place like the plague.  The only thing I buy there is a bolt of muslin with a coupon or thread if I am desperate.  Door to door it takes me about two hours to get into NYC and walk into a fabric store.  Not an everyday occurance.  When I do go in I find knits at Mood or Elliot Berman for the most part.  I don't wear polyester knits, not straight anyway, because they make me clammy in the winter and hot in the summer.  My favorites for warm months are rayon and rayon lycra knits or a good cotton knit.  I love wool blend jerseys for warmth and softness.  All wool can be a bit scratchy.  Hands down Mood has the best selection of knits I've seen in the city.  But I buy a lot of knits online for the convenience and if I add in tax and a train ticket, it often works out cheaper for me and of course there is the time factor.  My favorites in order of how much I buy from them are Emmaonesock.  not just the quality here, but I find that her taste is compatible with mine.  I also buy knits from Marcy Tilton.  She is pricier than EOS, but her quality is good.  She also has great descriptions, as does EOS which is a big help when buying online.  I feel the most comfortable with EOS because she also has the best photography of her fabrics.  Nothing beats handling a fabric, but a good photo helps a lot.  

The last post I wrote was on fitting a Hot Patterns knit top.  I did finish it and wear it, but it still has problems.  I love that swoopy front but it is still longer than the back and I made the front hem deeper.  I don't think I'll make it again.
My current project is a sweater set using Pamela's patterns draped front cardigan.  I managed to not only cut the cardigan, but a short sleeve t shirt from a little over 2 yards.  I had to shorten the top a bit, but it was too long anyway.  I am making it from a gorgeous wool rayon jersey from Elliot Berman Fabrics that I bought from their store in  NYC.  I changed the t shirt pattern by rotating the side the dart into a French dart from the waist.  It really makes a fitting difference.  The cardigan is really an easy sew and fit.  It comes with two fronts, one for a fuller bust and one for a B cup.  What a treat.  The only adjustments I made to this pattern was to shorten the sleeves,  I have narrow shoulders and I didn't shorten them at all, so someone with wider shoulders should be aware of this.  I did make one other adjustment which was to take up the shoulder seam to reflect my sloping shoulder and my low right shoulder.  I didn't sew the underarm lower because I found it fairly low already.   I made this as a wearable muslin for some cashmere knit that I've been reluctant to cut into, but it's eminently wearable.  I should have it finished today and will post pictures soon.  


  1. Nice to hear from you again!
    I sew a lot of knits because I like to wear knits. They drive me nuts, but I battle on without a serger or cover stitch machine. I win some I lose some.
    A cashmere draped front cardigan sounds divine.

  2. Nancy, I can see this has been a learning journey for you! I'm glad you have been figuring it out and that Pamela cardigan is really nice. I have friends who have made it, one many times, though she ended up morphing it together with a similar Kwik Sew pattern. (Both patterns had features that she liked.)

    And, yes, a cashmere cardigan sounds divine!!

  3. "Of course the best help in sewing knits is to just sew a lot of them"

    Very true! There is no substitute for experience.

    As to grain - that's what I've always done with knits, and truth be told, most wovens too. I don't obsess with a perfect grain because my feeling is it's better to go with the fabric than fight it because it's going to hang how it's going to hang. That's not to say that I don't *visually* find the grain and smooth out folds - I just don't go nuts with a ruler.

  4. You've shared some great info here, Nancy. I'll be following your knit journey closely as I don't do much knit sewing and have lots to learn.

  5. Good post. You say you like rayon blends. I am confused by this because every time I purchase RTW in rayon, it is marked that it shouldn't be laundered, and if I launder it anyway, it is always wrinkly, and ugly. Rayon seems to ravel entirely too easily and is just finicky! Yet, if it very hard to find cotton knits. Would you consider doing a post of rayon, pluses and minuses?

  6. I like to wear them, but I really don't enjoy stitching them. I have a serger (a good one!) that I use for seam finishes, but I don't even like using it to construct knits. I'd rather use my sewing machine. Any tips for stitches? I hate the stretch stitch and I think I just haven't found the correct zigzag to work with on regular seams.

  7. I was thinking recently that I hadn't seen you posting for a while. Glad to know you're ok. Knits are finicky. I hate lycra in anything, and most knits now contain it. Why?

  8. Thanks for the tips! Next time I'm sewing a knit I'll think of this post.

  9. Hi Nancy! I just bought this cardigan pattern, and plan to make it soon...thanks for your insights. I like Marcy's method for "knit-fitting" too ;)

  10. Knits are sometimes difficult. What's even more difficult for me is to understand the different knit fabrics because of the language barrier. You (in English) might mean something quite different from what I think it is.
    Though cashmere is clear, sounds very good. Looking forward to see it.

  11. Happy New Year! I agree with you about polyester (blech!) In addition to Mood and Elliot Berman, I've also found some nice rayon and cotton knits at MetroTextiles when I've asked. (That is the key: ask.) And they've been at a better price than Mood and EB.

  12. Yeah - I think you're right - Marcy has a lot of knit savvy and she has some pretty neat fabrics that make making knits a lot easier. But knits are a whole other story when it comes to construction.

    We're fortunate here in that we have a pretty good Joann's (albeit they are moving further away from me - grrrrrr!), and they do a good business...this also helps keep the Hancock's a little above par, as they are across the street from each other (would love to know the demographics on that chart that pin-pointed this intersection as the intersection for fabric stores in my fair city!) But that said, they don't have the best knits in the world. You're so lucky to have NY so close (I'm green!)