I am really truly excited that so many of you are commenting to say that the KNITerviews have inspired you to get over yourself and try sewing with knits! I wanted to offer a few more posts about sewing with knits to help you S T    R       E        T              C                       H yourself (haha, GET IT??) and try it out. While I think it’s great to jump in and try new things, it’s realistic to expect a few bumps along the way. And while I strongly believe that mistakes are required if you want to learn, I also don’t want anyone to crash and burn! So I thought I’d offer a few tidbits of my own that might make sewing with knits easier for you.

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I think one of the hardest things about sewing knits is puckery hems. Almost 100% of the time you are sewing with knits you are sewing garments. And there’s nothing worse than getting to the very last step (the hemming) and finding that your fabric just won’t hem without stretching and puckering. The problem is worst when sewing perpendicular to the grain, which is why hemming is often a source of frustration when it comes to sewing knits (but puckering can also happen anywhere: on the shoulder seams, on the arm curves, around the neck).

So here are SIX ways that I’ve found to beat the puckery hem:

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1. PRESS IT! aka The Iron Is Your Friend – this is a really good rule, for any type of sewing, really: when things look grim, press it before you toss it.

PROS: If you don’t own an iron, then you really shouldn’t be sewing. So that sounds really extreme, but I keep trying to find a better way to say it than that, and I really can’t. It’s like biking without a helmet. Or skydiving without a parachute (?). OK, maybe not quite like that…but you get my point. Pressing is REALLY REALLY REALLY important.
CONS: Pressing does not fix everything, just alotathings. For example, you can see in the photo (above) that while the iron may make the seam flatter, it can’t always un-stretch it. But it’s worth a try, right?

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2. Double needle - I JUST tried this out for the first time a couple weeks ago (after reading Katy’s tute, in fact) and my double needle is my new BFF. No jokes.

PROS: Easy to use on almost any sewing machine, makes a neat professional looking seam which stretches nicely due to the zig-zag on the back side.
CONS: You can’t sew with the wrong side on top because the bobbin side makes the zig-zag (this makes it a little trickier to sew a hem) and, depending on the type of knit you are using, you may get some skipped stitches. I found that using a different size needle helped, Katy suggests that you try moving your needle position over a bit, and Sascha mentions (in her KNITerview) that increasing the stitch length can also help. So a little trouble-shooting may be needed.

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3. Knit Stay Tape – do you know about this stuff? It’s got iron-on adhesive on one side and is stretchy like knit, so you can attach it to the hem of a shirt and it helps it keep it’s shape when you hem it up (The stuff I like is called SewkeysE; I buy mine at Material Girls in Dearborn, they also have it online). “Knit interfacing” is similar, widely available and is useful for wider hems as it’s stretchy, fusible, and lightweight.

PROS: A little extra time at the iron, a lot less frustration at the machine.
CONS: Hard to find, a little pricey, doesn’t completely eliminate that “stretched-out” look, especially on super-stretchy knits

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4. The paper trick – I had a really crappy machine back in college (you know, a $120 Singer made almost completely out of plastic, even the insides) that used to always suck knits down into the bobbin case and mangle them. So when I wanted to sew knits I used to use this trick: Place a piece of paper between the fabric and the presser foot, and then go ahead and sew your seam.

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The needle will make a perforation in the paper, so shorter stitch length is best.

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When you’re finished, bend the paper along the stitch line, then tear the paper away from both sides to reveal — TA-DA! — a nice even seam.

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Not only does this help your seam look nice and flat, it prevents the fabric from getting sucked down into your machine and mangled (used to be a source of much frustration for me).

PROS: Everyone has paper, right?
CONS: Straight stitches break when stretched, so this might not be best for hems that see a ton of wear/stretching. I could see using it to hem a wide-leg jersey pant though! Also: thin paper doesn’t work as well as thick because it doesn’t tear away as easily and can get stuck under the stitches.

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5. Walking foot - The walking foot adds less pressure to the fabric, which helps move it through the machine with less stretching. I’ve just made a little video demonstrating my walking foot that I’ll post soon where I make a complete fool of myself. Whee!

PROS: In combination with the double needle, this has become my current go-to way to hem knits. If the universal walking foot works on your machine, there could be just $10 between you and hemming happiness!
CONS: On my machine these are especially expensive (Bernina Activa 220). I had to save up for mine. No joke.

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6: Add a cuff – It’s a cheat, really, but one of my favorite ways to finish the sleeve or waistband of a shirt or the hem of a knit pant is to add a folded cuff (aka a “waistband” if it’s on the hem of  a shirt, but the concept is still the same). The idea is that you take a strip of fabric that’s slightly smaller than the edge you want to finish (the end of a sleeve, for example), sew the ends together and fold it in half. Then you place it on the outside of the garment and sew all three edges together (two from the cuff/waistband, one from the garment). Then you flip the cuff or waistband away from the garment so the seam is no longer visible. Voila, beautiful finish!

PROS: Easy finish with NO visible seams
CONS: Well you can’t put a cuff on everything.

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And then of course, there’s the possibility of combining any of these things. My current favorite way to hem my skinny tees is my “triple threat” approach: pressing + walking foot + double needle. As you can see in the closeup below, the combination of double needle + walking foot is pretty nifty:

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And here’s another example. Can you tell which one used the walking foot?

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Are you ready to STRETCH YOURSELF and sew with knits? I hope so!!!!

Categories: knits
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59 Responses to Hemming KNITS: 6 ways to beat those pesky puckers

  1. sara klavan says:

    i want to go get a double needle right now!

    • Beverly says:

      Excellent!!! I have been sewing all summer with knits. My new best friend and my machine just wouldn’t do the job correctly. Now that I know about the double needle and walking foot technique, I am off to purchase both.

      Thank you so much for the wonderful tips!

  2. Fantastically useful. Thanks.

  3. Jen says:

    I can’t thank you enough for all of this info on sewing with knits! Lately that’s all I have been sewing so this is SO helpful.
    :)

  4. Grandma G says:

    I’d never heard of the stay tape… so that’s my “learn something new” for today. :) I just acquired a walking foot about a year ago (for my 41-yr-old super-high shank machine, even – yay for eBay!), and it’s now my favorite tool! Wish I’d had one long before that!

    A word of caution to the inexperienced about ironing… go easy and just ‘press’ gently, because ironing can stretch out knits, too!

    • Rae says:

      Yes that’s definitely good advice – I try to just set the iron down on the fabric, and not move it back and forth too much
      :)

  5. Rosie says:

    Can’t wait to try it out on this new skinny tee pattern! I guess I will need to get a double needle :)

  6. Clover Farr says:

    Thanks for all the great information. It has been super useful. I havent sewn with knit since last summer but am now ready with some new information and I am excited to get started again.

  7. corie says:

    I’ve been sewing knits for several years now and since I sew for 4 kiddos I made the investment in a coverstitcher. This was a good choice for me. I love being able to make a nice hem in minutes and don’t have to deal with any fiddly business.

    Some other tips for knits are to use a longer stitch length and when hemming tight leggings or sleeves to stretch the knit as your sewing a little, so you don’t have to deal with popped stitches.

    If you struggle with wonky neckbands I’d suggest taking a second look at your fabric. I like a knit (typically jersey) with a little lycra or el in it. The lycra helps the knit behave and “recover” back to where you want it.

  8. angie says:

    Oh these posts have been so fantastic! I do sew w/ knits, but I’m hoping it will look soooo much better now! Have to try the double needle next.

  9. Melissa says:

    I’m really enjoying all the knit tips. I am new and self- taught, but want to sew clothing my kids and I will actually wear (aka: not novelty cotton). Thanks so much!

  10. Sabrina says:

    I use my walking foot all the time, not just with knits. It is easy to use and makes a HUGE difference. I also use a double needle, but only sometimes because I find that I have trouble threading the needles no matter how many times I read the manual (Bernina), so I am looking forward to more from you on this :) Also, I end up with extra bobbins of thread all the time, which I find kind of annoying. (I love knits so I am following this series eagerly. Thanks for doing it.)

  11. Jane says:

    Like Corie I also recently invested in a coverstitch machine. I had tried everything: zigzag, twin needle, walking foot etc but even when I finally got a good-looking finish, the stitches would break in just a couple of wears. It was so frustrating! Maybe it was partly because I only have old sewing machines to try on. The coverstitch machine was ludicrously expensive and really hard to justify, but I have three boys who love the t-shirts I make so I should eventually get my money’s worth. In about ten years, ha!

  12. Barb says:

    Another trick for hems is to use a quarter inch or half inch wide strip of fusible web (I like Steam a Seam) between the hem and the inside of the garment, fuse then stitch. It works really well with a double needle or with a very tiny zigzag.

  13. Susan says:

    My Singer machine does not allow space for two spools of thread, and therefore, I have not been able to use a double needle. Any suggestions?

    • Rae says:

      Hi Susan: Two options, both involve using a spool and a bobbin on the top of your machine instead of two spools. First, if you use a spool and a bobbin, they might both fit together on your spool holder. Second, I just put the top bobbin on my bobbin winder on the top of my machine — it’s perched up on top so I can use that as my “second spool holder”. Does that make sense? – RAE

    • AngelicaSews says:

      I had the same problem with my Singer. I got around it by winding some thread onto a bobbin and using the bobbin winder as a spool holder for it.

    • I place a short soda straw (approx. 5 in. long) over my spool holder. Then it will hold two spools of thread.

  14. joquena says:

    Can’t wait to see your videos! Will those be on this site or somewhere else?

  15. Chris says:

    Ok. This is life changing, seriously. The worst part of sewing with knits for me is wonky hems. I need to find some of that tape!

  16. Fern says:

    that tape is a revelation! thanks for sharing, Rae! :-)

  17. Jenny says:

    Susan, I haven’t been sewing that long, so I don’t want to give a stupid answer here, but perhaps what you need is a stand-alone spool holder? They have them at my JoAnn, but I couldn’t find a link online. I remembered Leah Day featured one recently, so I pulled this link for you. Hope it helps. And no one laugh at me if I misunderstood. :-)

    http://www.freemotionquilting.blogspot.com/2012/01/question-thursday-4.html

  18. Nancy says:

    Hi Rae,
    When I try to send you an email it tries to load Microsoft Outlook which I no longer use. Could you email me so I can email you back?

    Thanks!

    Nancy

  19. Simona says:

    Thank you for doing this for us and our comfortable sewing (sucked and mangled knits are my bad dream as well).

  20. Camille says:

    Thank you! I’ve been sewing with knits for a while and love my double needle but now I’m convinced I need that walking foot.

  21. Jessica says:

    Good stuff! And I totally get the Bernina expenses! I looked at a ruffler foot for mine and it was 3x what I would pay for a generic one. Still not sure I need/want/have to have it, though!

  22. Mari says:

    What great advice! I’ve always wanted to try sewing with a double needle & you inspired me to do so last night. I was hemming a great, big knit circle skirt & it turned out beautifully instead of being the disaster I feared it might be. Thanks!

  23. Dagny says:

    I bought a walking foot this summer for my Brother machine and it was expensive ($90), but I have used it so much in just the last few months that it was totally worth it. I’ve only used my double needle once and I didn’t really like the outcome. I’m going to try it again though with a longer stitch length. I have loved this series. Thanks Rae!

  24. rachel says:

    That paper trick sounds neat! My machine always sucks the fabric into the bobbing case, especially if it is on the edge, or a thinner jersey. I’ll have to try it!

  25. Kat says:

    This is exactly the post that I needed! Thanks for posting this Rae! I have bookmarked this post so that I can read it over and over. I have been wanting to be able to make at least one knit item that doesn’t look stretched out. I will give it a try. I’ll be looking for a walking foot next.

  26. Clare says:

    Thanks! I finally got off my bum and made a t-shirt for my littlest boy, and it worked really well! I think that reading all of the tutorials and keeping all that advice in mind really helped (I’ve tried sewing with knits occasionally before with limited success). The T came out great (if a little small) and I’ll definately be making more. So easy! I blogged it, but with bad photos.
    Now, to use that double needle I bought two years ago (its still in its packet :)
    Thanks again – great tutorials.

  27. Lynda says:

    Thanks for the tut- timely!!! I have had some success with paper and the walking foot- but thin knits really give me hard time- I have always just “cuffed” the item. (I make all my son’s PJ’s). I think it is time to be a big girl and graduate to the double needle. And look up here in Canada for the tape. Always enjoy your blog. :) Thanks again.

  28. Vicki K says:

    This is such a helpful post – thank you for writing it. When you were talking about the paper method and said that straight stitches break, it reminded that my mother taught me to set my machine to an ever-so-slight zig-zag for knits. It doesn’t really “read” as zig-zag but it allows some give–more than a straight stitch.

  29. kataryna says:

    I never thought about combining three together! Totally makes sense! I Usually do the cuff trick… even for the hem, lol! And I also used to have some of that stripey zig zag material in the one pic with the cuff. Ha! Thanks for the tips!

  30. Trisha says:

    I love sewing with knits! Thanks for the great post.

    I have a question for you–when I use a double needle, it often makes a “tunnel” that is very stubborn–it doesn’t even iron out all of the way. Any tips to avoid the tunnel?

    • Trisha, it is possible that the tunnel is because the bobbin thread tension is too tight.

      • Trisha says:

        Thank you so much for replying!
        I’ve tried loosening the tension all the way down, and it’s still a problem. My next step will be to buy a walking foot to see if that helps alleviate the problem.

        • Rae says:

          Trisha:
          I notice that the “tunnel” is worse if I sew directly over the edge of the fabric (the raw edge that’s been turned up to hem). If I move my needle closer to the hem’s folded edge, it gets better. But it’s also possibly an issue of bobbin tension being too high, so you’d need to actually tighten the tension to fix it (not loosen).

  31. I have the paper trick on my blog, too! Except I used it in place of stabilizer when sewing button holes onto really plush fabric! It’s such a great thing to keep those fabric fibers from pushing down into the bobbin! These kniterviews and all this knit information has really made me respect your blog so much! Thank you for the wealth of knowledge!

  32. Kat says:

    So I have to say, the knitereviews and this particular post has helped me tremendously with sewing with knits. I was scared to death that I would ruin whatever I was sewing. I have recently started making t-shirts for my grand baby. However, I am stuck on the rib knit collar. I have made two shirts so far and everything came out perfect except for the collar. I am guessing that I didn’t stretch it enough. How much is enough and how much is too much?

  33. Rachel says:

    I am so happy to see this post. I love knits but sometimes I can’t get them to do what I want. These techniques are going to make a big diffrence in my knit sewing. Thank you.

  34. Thewallinna says:

    OMG, what a great post! I’ve just started sewing with knits and I fell in love! Now all I want to do is to sew with knits. But when sewing my first project I came across few difficult points. I was not sure about my seam finishes and if my stays were correctly choses (in fact I used organza for the neckline and armholes stays, not sure if that’s the right alternative to the knit stay tape). After reading your tips, I am definitely more confident for my future projects! Thanks a bunch ;)

  35. sewfancy says:

    One more thing that can make a double-needle hem look a little more professional is this tip. You will notice that the fabric tunnels between the two lines of stitching. I recently read that to keep that from happening, you need to use a flat bottomed foot. Most feet leave a space on the underneath part of the foot to allow thick build up of thread for instance when you are sewing a buttonhole. I wonder if it would help to put some duct tape across the bottom of the walking foot to see if that helps to create a flatter hem also?

  36. Jenn says:

    Thank you, Rae. I am short (and short-waisted), so modern t-shirts are always way too long. I’ve been flummoxed by my amateur attempts to hem these t-shirts, and certainly didn’t want to spend as much money as the t-shirts cost to have them professionally altered. Using two of your techniques above (double needle, walking foot) I was able to hem my shirts to my satisfaction!

  37. estaeheli says:

    I appreciate your knit, er, wit. :)

  38. katka says:

    thanks so much for the tips :) – sew helpful ;) !

  39. AngelicaSews says:

    For anyone who can’t find knit stay tape, try finding knit interfacing and cut it into strips. You can also control the width of the tape this way!

    My next step with this little trick is going to be adapting Louise Cutting’s no-stitch hem technique (sew two pieces of interfacing together, right sides facing together, stitch 1/4″ from edge; place in hem and press) for use with a knit interfacing… then I won’t have to stitch a hem on knits at all!

  40. Mj Favata says:

    Great Information……..I to have found using the walking foot makes sewing a lot easier. Not only on knits but when doing alterations and you need to take in a side seem (without taking out the original seam on ready made clothers) your fabric does not shift.

  41. JaniceB says:

    If it is possible on your sewing machine, reduce the presser foot pressure. That lets the fabric go under the presser foot without being stretched by the pressure between the foot the the feed dogs.
    Sometimes a narrower twin needle eliminates the tunneling.

  42. Elisa says:

    Great info! Thank you so much for posting. I’m still a very beginner sewer and I dont’ know how to do anything without getting frustrated, but I’ve just gotten my machine back from the cleaner (maintenace guy or whatever he’s called) and I’m up for mending a few of the kids’ clothes. I have 3 boys, so I love seeing all your BOY project. Yay!

  43. howtobejenna says:

    Just re-read this post the other day while working on a jersey dress. These are such useful tips! Thanks for posting.

  44. Lee says:

    I also want to add another way of achieving the hem without puckering for thoes who cant purchase a walking foot. I own a Husqvarna 605 Rose which does not have any available walking foot accessories. What i used to help prevent the puckering was to use a roller foot with a Ball Point needle. Ball point needles are used for specialty knits so it worked great with the interlock. Also make sure to keep the pressure to a minimum on the foot if your machine does that. It looks amazing!

  45. Robyn says:

    I’m using the wide double needle, but haven’t used the walking foot yet. I wondered if double tissue paper would work? I will try the reg paper on a scrap. Thanks for your lesson

  46. Jeff says:

    I have tried a double needle and a zig zag and have decided that life is too short and just bought a commercial coverstitch machine!!!!Yea me!!!!It is a kansai and it was 1395.00(plus 185.00 for shipping) on ebay!!!!It is brand new and is completely set up when delivered with a servo motor!!!And for those of you who don’t know what a servo motor is-it is the quietest commercial motor you can get.I have one on my industrial straight stitch and I forget half the time that it is on.And you save a ton of money on electric.This summer I am planning on buying an industrial 5 thread serger.

  47. Julie says:

    I’m very excited to have the links for the stay tape, and to see the ridge you get with double needle! I get that same ridge, but thought it was because of my machine being a basic model (very serviceable Pfaff 1526 I think). My sister gave me her old and second hand Bernina, that I am excited to have, but get a slight sinking feeling thinking of the parts I will have to get that I own for my Pfaff (walking foot). Anyway, thanks for the great insight, links, and Kniterviews!

  48. Hailey K. says:

    Any additional advice on how to reduce puckering on a very stretchy, thin fabric? I’m trying out the twin needle, but I can’t seem to figure out how to get the stitching to lay flat :/
    Thanks!

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