How I learned to stop worrying and love the knit*

*Or, ‘Dr Stretch-love’.

One of the most exciting discoveries I made when I started reading sewing blogs was that you could make your own knit items.

This was when the penny dropped: you really could have a full wardrobe of self-made clothes. I think it’s easy to look at beautifully tailored coats or carefully fitted gowns and feel like it’s too difficult, or too remote from your every-day dressing. Surely so much effort and time could only be poured into a special occasion project, or would only ever represent a tiny percentage of your clothing.

But the idea you could sew your own t-shirt was kind of mind-blowing.

Fair isle cotton knit top

If you went to your wardrobe/drawers/teetering clothes pile right now, I’d bet you have quite a few knit items in there, even if it’s just your knickers. In the UK climate, layering is almost always a must, so you need that black cardigan, or a ribbed vest top under your shirt. And then there’s your favourite t-shirt for when you’re relaxing on the weekend, or the jersey wrap dress for when you want to look a little dressier, or your leggings because you’re going to just pretend it doesn’t bother you that you wore them the first time around in the 90s.

So learning to stop worrying and start loving the knit can add a whole other dimension to your sewing and I don’t think you should be nervous. I also don’t think you need a lot of new tools.

Clockwise from top: cotton tape, twin ballpoint needle, ballpoint needles, clear elastic tape

All you need to get started is:

  • a sewing machine that can do a zig-zag stitch
  • a ballpoint machine needle
  • knit fabric, an cotton interlock or jersey
  • standard thread (I use polyester)
  • a pattern

For a better finish I’d also recommend:

  • a sewing machine that can use a double needle
  • a double ballpoint machine needle (I bought mine in Liberty but if you’re having trouble with your local go-to haberdashers, online suppliers often carry them)
  • some narrow cotton tape to stabilise shoulder seams and prevent them becoming stretched out
  • some elastic to prevent necklines becoming stretched out

Things I don’t think are so essential: overlockers/sergers (a sewing machine is a more than appropriate stand-in if you can handle the fact your clothes won’t look as good inside as out); stretch machine needles (I gave them a whirl but I think they’re for high lycra content fabrics that you’d use for sports-wear).

Some things I’ve picked up so far…

  • When you’re checking out fabrics to buy, keep in mind that 2-way stretch just means it stretches across the way: so horizontal not vertical OR vertical not horizontal. If it does both it’s a 4-way stretch. For a simple t-shirt or dress, you don’t need that level of flexibility. [Some online sources that I looked at call a side-to-side stretch fabric 1-way rather than 2 but I'm not sure how widespread this is.]
  • If you’re using a self-drafted pattern, remember, the stretch has to go across your body, not up and down your body.
  • The degree of stretch will have a big impact on how your item fits you so just like a woven you might need to tweak the finished article or muslin to adapt for this.
  • I often come across knits with varying degree of lycra in them. Before you hit the shops, take a look at the knit items you already have, are there any with some lycra? If not, it may be because you don’t like the way it impacts on how it hangs so keep this in mind.
  • When you’re using a zig-zag and then a twin-needle stitch, you eat up the thread, so make sure you have a full bobbin.

If you’d like to find out more, check out some of these handy links:

Great intro to sewing knits without an overlocker¬†from a guest series on Gertie’s blog.

Primer from Threads on knits.

Adjust a too big t-shirt to fit you.

Make your own underwear! Tutorial by Cal Patch.

Coming up next: THE book to take your knits fear away.

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One Response to How I learned to stop worrying and love the knit*

  1. Asumi says:

    I wanted to drop a line and say hello as I came to your website through your facebook page and soooo excited to see your dresses and t-shirts! They look amazing and the patterns beautiful – reminds me of all the dresses you had for Roland. My sister makes a lot of clothing for her daughter and she loves it. I haven’t tried yet but look forward to learning more through your blog! I hope all is well and I look forward to catching up soon. Take care, Asumi

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