Sewing Knits Without A Serger

Sewing Knits Without A Serger

The first t-shirt pattern in our sew-along is Burda 6820. This close fitting t-shirt pattern is designed for a two-way stretch jersey. I have sewn this pattern before with and without the use of my serger (overlock) machine. A serger does make sewing knits super easy, but there are some aspects of the project such as hemming that may require the use of your regular sewing machine. If you do not have a serger, you can use a regular sewing machine for the entire project. However, there are some things you can do to make the sewing process go smoothly. My hope is that regardless of how you are sewing your project, you will find this post helpful as a general guide for sewing knits.

Identify Your Knit

There is a wide selection of knit fabrics available. Perhaps one of the most important steps is to identify what type of knit you need for your project. For example, the stretch jersey we are working with for our t-shirt has more stretch crosswise from selvage to selvage versus lengthwise, while the 95% cotton 5% spandex blend stretches in a crosswise and lengthwise direction. Both knit fabrics have excellent fabric recovery and will work well for a fitted t-shirt.

What is fabric recovery? Recovery is the fabric’s ability to stretch and then go back to its original size and shape. This is important for making fitted clothing, and will help the garment maintain its shape. The percentage of stretch a knit fabric has will vary. Some sewing patterns will have a ”stretch knit gauge” printed on the pattern. This gauge is a great guide for identifying how much stretch your fabric will need to have for the given pattern. However, here are a few other things to keep in mind when identifying your knit.

  • Is the knit slightly, moderately or super stretchy? If you were to gently stretch the fabric, how much stretch can you get before the fabric is distorted? Fold your fabric crosswise to measure its stretch percentage.
  • Is shrinkage a factor? If you have a natural fabric blend such as a 95% cotton and 5% spandex you may find that your fabric will shrink over time with repeated washes. In this case, pre-washing your fabric prior to cutting would be a great idea especially for a fitted garment.
  • What is the weight of the fabric? The weight of the knit will affect what size needle you will need, so match the size of your needle for best results.
  • Does your knit fabric require support such as interfacing, seam binding, or transparent elastic?

Preparing Your Knit Fabric

Pre-washing and pre-shrinking your knit fabric will help prepare your fabric for sewing. Make note of the fiber content at the time of purchase and learn how to properly care for your fabric. Caring for your fabric as per care instructions both before and after you make your project will ensure the longevity of your make. Pre-washing your fabric is also a great way to remove impurities or residue left behind on your fabric from the manufacturing process and storage. Some knits may require that you safeguard the raw edges with a zig-zag (or overlock) stitch to prevent unraveling. You can test your care instructions on a small sample of your fabric. I also recommend that you test a fabric swatch for colour fastness.


Walking Foot Attachment
Even Feet or Walking Foot Attachment

Sewing Your Knits

Sewing knits can be intimidating and is a bit of a learning process. It may take some trial and error to learn how to work with different types of knits. I suggest having fun with the process and test scraps of fabric on your machine. Using the proper needle is also crucial for getting good results. A ballpoint or stretch needle is recommended when working with knits. The rounded point of the needle is designed to penetrate the fiber without catching or ripping through it. Needles are available in a range of sizes, so choose the size needle that is best suited to the weight of your fabric. Double or triple needles are also a great choice for top stitching, especially on hems. You can also use a regular top stitch as a way to stabilize seams and to add a decorative touch with a contrasting colour thread.

  • Use a sharp rotary cutter to cut your fabric.
  • Use an even feet or walking foot attachment. It will help prevent your fabric from stretching out of shape as you sew, and helps the layers of your fabric to feed evenly.
  • Select a good quality all purpose thread.
  • Hand baste or pin your pieces prior to stitching. This will help to keep your fabric layers in place and prevent them from stretching out while sewing.
  • Use a stretch stitch or a small narrow zig-zag stitch versus a regular straight stitch.
  • If you do not have a stretch stitch on your machine, you can use a straight stitch with the “stretch-as-you-sew” technique. The key to this technique is to stretch the fabric slightly as you stitch. It is a good idea to practice on scraps of your fabric before sewing your project.
  • Avoid creating ripples in your fabric by not stretching out your fabric too much while sewing.
  • If your fabric has less stretch than the pattern suggest, then consider adding more easement.

Happy Stitching!



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Last updated 26/05/22


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