Rae debriefs the KNITerviews

We had the last of the awesome KNITerviews last week, and I couldn’t help but notice a few themes. Here’s my takeaway:

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Thrifting/Upcycling for knit fabric is the way to go
Most if not all of our KNITerviewees said that the best place to get knit fabric was harvesting it from larger garments from the thrift store or sale racks. This comes as no surprise to me as that’s definitely been my favorite way to procure knit fabric (for baby tights, for example).

But can I just say: I think this represents a MAJOR FAIL on the part of the fabric industry?!?! Although many of the major quilting fabric manufacturers have branched out into garment textiles (Free Spirit, Robert Kaufman, Moda, Michael Miller come to mind), most if not all of them produce a fairly limited selection, making it hard for fabric shops to carry the “critical mass” of knits necessary to keep customers coming back. In addition, most online fabric shops veer heavily away from knitted fabrics, due to the fact that quilting fabrics simply sell better. Why? As far as I can tell, it’s due to two reasons: First, that quilting fabrics have more exciting prints that really “sell” on the computer screen, while knit fabrics are often solid. Second, it’s just harder to predict what a knit will be like when you can’t feel it in person.

I know this is a vicious cycle (we don’t shop for knits online because online shops don’t carry them, online shops don’t carry them because we don’t buy them), but it would help if, like quilting and home dec fabrics, knit fabrics had more of the wonderful prints we see on quilting fabrics and if knit fabrics had clear weight and stretch categories, to make it easier for us to predict how a knit would behave when shopping on the computer. I’d love to hear what you guys think about this. And then I’ll stop ranting and move on…

Knits = garment sewing!
All of our guests reported that they use knits to sew garments for their kids and/or themselves. No big surprise there. In retrospect, it was kindof a dumb question. I mean, what else is there to sew with knits? Toilet-paper cozies? I guess there’s always the t-shirt quilt, but that could technically qualify as “garment sewing.”

image courtesy of Cirque Du Bebe

Jersey and interlock are the clear favorites
Jersey and interlock were mentioned by most as the preferred type of knit. And I agree, those are definitely the two types of knits I sew with the most. Sascha held fast to her unrequited love for rib knit though, and I think it’s worth serious consideration. For a nice primer on the basic knit fabric types, check out this post by Liesl on the Oliver+S blog.

Stitch length and width: why mess with a good thing?
Most if not all of our KNITerviewees used a regular or slightly longer straight stitch on their sewing machines to sew their knits (ie, not many takers for using the stretch stitch or the narrow zig zag stitch). This actually surprised me a little…I find that eventually I get popped stitches if I use the straight stitch too heavily, especially on neckbands (see picture below) and hems. So I tend to use a narrow zig-zag stitch with a longer length, especially for neckbands.

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The serger is great. For finishing seams.
Most of our KNITerviewees felt that the serger was nice but not necessary for sewing the seams. Instead, the majority said they use the serger for finishing seams after they’ve been finished. Dana offered a nice explanation on why inย her KNITerview. Some of our KNITerviewees even said they really don’t like to use a serger at all!

Walking foot, schmalking foot.
Not many fans (this really surprised me! I seem to remember the walking foot being heavily pushed in the book Sew U: Home Stretch). The double needle was also dismissed by most as too fussy, except by Katy who swears by it.

image courtesy of Zaaberry

Cutting tips, and Don’t stretch your fabric
There were some great tips and tricks for sewing with knits! A couple dealt with cutting out the pattern pieces: Tracing patterns directly onto the knit fabric before cutting it out (Ruby, picture above) and using freezer paper to trace patterns then ironing that directly to the fabric (Meg). And a bunch of our guests reminded us NOT TO STRETCH the fabric as we sew. Great tips, everyone!

OK was there anything I missed here? Did anything in particular stand out to you? Let me know, I’d love to hear it!!

And remember, you can always go back and read the KNITerviews by clicking on the KNITS! tab on the nav bar, or by clicking right here. And even though the KNITerview series is now over, I’ve got more knit-related posts (and guests!) planned and coming soon — so don’t worry, it’s not over yet!!!

39 thoughts on “Rae debriefs the KNITerviews

  1. I used to use the stretch stitch when I first started sewing knits, but I’m not that great of a sewer, and it is MURDER to pick out stretch stitches. My two cents.

  2. Really enjoyed this series, “meeting” new sewers/bloggers, and am excited for more! thanks for sharing your experiences and contacts!

  3. Maybe if online fabric stores had more sample garments that would convince people to buy certain knits? There are definitely people who prefer to make something they know for sure will be successful that way.

  4. After the KNITerview with Ruby of Zaaberry, I realized two things:

    1) without even knowing it, I’d been doing prety decently by tracing then cutting. I do that on EVERYHING – not just knits. Mostly because I just do not have lots of flat space to work with!

    2) pattern weights help! I don’t have any grown-up style ones, but my daughter’s beanie-cat is *just* the right size and weight to hold the pattern parts in place. If the piece is too small for the cat to work, i use my grandma’s old tomato pincushion. that thing weighs a ton!

    thanks for the series! i now know no fear!

  5. Loved this series Rae! About your rant…. selection is definitely a problem, but I think we will see knits become more of a hot new thing with the big manufacturers and designers this year. I actually work in a local modern fabric shop and the vicious cycle is going on here. We only have about 15 bolts of knits, out of hundreds that are mostly quilting cottons. And the few that we have don’t sell because people don’t know what to do with them. I’m actually teaching a class there on sewing with knits that starts this Friday! Hopefully, that will get the ball rolling on people becoming more comfortable with them.

  6. This was a great series. I have no idea how to cleverly finish my hems with the serger not using the cutter. It’s threaded one way for finishing an edge – and it will stay that way until I am forced to change it due manic enthusiasm or child intervention. However, your series inspired me to order some knit fabrics (all stripes!) and hope to get to work soon. They are quick to sew with, that’s the truth.

  7. thanks for your rant, I think it needs to be heard and addressed! there just isn’t anywhere that carries a very big selection of interesting prints, either they’re boring looking, expensive, or have huge shipping charges. I think that’s why I don’t do more with knits, somehow i usually base a project off of a certain fabric I like, and I have quite a few knits, they just usually aren’t as cool or interesting as I’d like, plus you can’t find hardly any coordinates!

  8. I loved this series. Thanks. I also agree that we need a better knit selection both online and in stores. I love sewing with knits. I think my kids will wear my creations longer if I have a broader range of fabric, as well. Thanks again.

  9. Loved the debrief! Good to see all the info summed up in one place and I couldn’t agree more with the you. Where are all the knit fabrics with cool prints? I think you are onto a good thing harvesting from Spoonflower!

  10. I don’t have a blog, but I’ve been sewing knits for a really long time, mostly for myself, but some for my grandbaby, too. I pretty much buy all my knits online and find really nice knits from a number of good online fabric shops. My #1 go-to place is Fabricmartfabrics.com. Also Marcy Tilton’s Web site, and The Sewing Workshop site. If you’re looking for kid-type patterned knits, check out Fabric.com, Sew Baby, and The Fabric Fairy. Not every fabric has to come from a quilting shop!

    I also use a longer stitch length, but I was surprised no one mentioned decreasing the pressure foot pressure (if your machine has this adjustment), or maybe I just overlooked that tip. It makes a huge difference in sewing knits and esp. keeps hems from puckering.

    On some types of knits, I use my serger, but on others (particularly ITY knits) and soft jerseys I like using just a very small and narrow zig-zag stitch. When topstitching, I use a straight stitch.

    Another trick is using a fusible web tape to hold down the hems before stitching. I particularly like “Design Plus Ultra-Soft Double Sided Fusible Web” (available from The Sewing Place).

    These are just my personal observations, take what you like, and leave the rest!

  11. Thanks so much for putting this together, Rae. It’s really going to be a useful resource well into the future. Hopefully your rant will be obselete in the future. In the meantime, I’ll keep buying 27-freaking-dollar-per-yard Spoonflower Organic Knits. Because they are perfect.

  12. I enjoyed the series.
    I see more knits coming into the stores this year. You can’t beat thrift store knits though. The patterns are more of what you would find in retail.
    For me it was interesting about just using a straight stitch for most of the seaming. I was wondering if this was because of kid garments with small seams?
    As for the popped stitches, wondering if this is more of an issue with a particular machine or wrong needle type?
    Thank you for putting all the effort into this series.

    • The stitches might pop because they have no give, and there’s a big risk that the knit fabric will be stretched when worn. Like when a kid pulls his sleeves up to wash his hands. I’ve found that cotton thread breaks more easily than polyester thread. But where you want the garment to stretch, like a neck opening, you really do need an elastic stitch.

  13. I totally agree about the lack of selection of patterned knits. I just thought it was bad in Australia and when I moved to Houston I thought I’d find heaps more, well – nope! in fact I think it’s worse here which bummed me out. I have been looking for 3 years to find a navy and white striped cotton Lycra fabric with no luck. How basic a fabric is that? But I agree about needing to feel/touch the fabric so I am definitely wary about buying online.

    And I use my serger ALL the time and LOVE it. I also change the set up all the time from cover stitch to seaming so much so that I want a second serger so I can have each one set up on the different stitch!!

    Loved the series Rae. thanks

  14. I also wanted to thank you for this series. Because of it, I gained the courage to try knits with my sewing machine. I always thought I needed a serger to sew with them. The walking foot for the seams and the double needle for the hem made it super easy with my Emerald 116. I made three raglan style shirts for my son using interlock knits. My son was so happy to finally get something made for him. He is always watching his sister get new items from Mommy.

  15. Thanks for doing this series on knits. I agree that it’s disappointing that we don’t have more prints available in knits. I don’t want just solids and I have a little girl and want cute prints. I’ve had some luck with some local fabric/craft shops but I’d love to see more options as well. Thanks again for the series and all the great tips that were shared.

  16. I agree completely on the lack of knits that are worth buying in stores, and not knowing how they will really feel from online shops! I’m going to try some swatches from spoonflower to see how that goes to hopefully get some ‘fun’ prints.

    Loved the kniterviewed series! Thanks so much for doing it!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • We have a bunch of small fabric producers in Sweden that make really nice knits for kids and are successful selling them online. I’ve heard that the Spoonflower knits don’t look very good after being washed, so maybe it’s better to use them for other fabrics, like for home decor where you don’t wash it. Someone needs to start a knit fabric business in the US, I’m sure it would work as good as where I live. ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Thanks for the series Rae! I loved it and got so much useful info. I did order some knits from two of the places some of the kniterviewees recommended–Chez Ami fabric and Fabric Fairy, and got some really cute and nice quality prints. Before, I had been in to Joann looking for 100% cotton knits and the girl who worked there said, “Um, it HAS to have some polyester in it, or it wouldn’t be STRETCHY.” Hahaha

    So now I’ve already made a couple things I love and I have a little stack of prints and rib knit waiting by my serger for the Skinny Tee pattern to pop up here so I can turn them into little skinny tees for each of my kids!!!

    • I think there are some interlock fabrics that are 100% cotton, but they do tend to get a bit saggy after a while.

      • I should have known she was wrong b/c almost all of my kids’ store-bought clothes are 100% cotton and are knit…but she sounded so confident ๐Ÿ™‚ Fabric Fairy and several of the other stores kniterviewees mentioned carry lots of 100% cotton options, in jersey, interlock, rib, etc. Also the chez ami fabrics somebody mentioned–I think it was Ruby? are on a big sale right now. They only come in 2 yard increments so it’s a lot of fabric at once but the quality and price are really good.

  18. Thanks for the series! Really helpful and inspiring. I’m finally going to cut into that Liberty knit fabric thats been hanging around for years.

  19. I just found your series today and I can’t even begin to tell you how much i LOVE it. I recently bought Sew What You Love which has several knit patterns for adults (ie ME) that I’m dying to make but finding knits is so hard! But I LOVE all the tips and ideas and the pictures and the introductions to new blogs and OH MY! THANK YOU!

  20. Thanks for this series, Rae. One of my goals this year is to try sewing with knits. When I find the time, I will come right back to this series for reference! I, too, wish for a greater selection of knit prints. Perhaps some of our favorite designers will hear our plea. Thanks again!

  21. I applaud your knit availability and category rant!

    As for sergers, I would use one but I don’t own one. I have a “serge-like” stitch on my new, fancy machine but it seems like work….

  22. Hi Rae,
    I have been enjoying this series and am going to go back and give it another read and mull it over. Thanks you very much for running it. I have learned a lot.

    I too upcycle my knits, and I love doing it. An interesting thing that I have noticed is that my finished products sell better in person (like craft fairs) than they do online. Photography is probably a factor, but I also think people buy my hats from upcycled knits because they really like the way they feel. I think that is a huge factor with knits. It would be great to be able to find them at brick and mortar locations where we could touch them. But, in the meantime, reusing fabric IS great for the earth and our bank accounts

    • Definitely! I upcycle fabrics, esp for kid’s clothing, whenever I can. But upcycling has it’s limitations for larger garments (eg adult)…I’d love to see the organic knits and hemp knits play a larger part in the market.

  23. I agree completely with your rant. I am especially frustrated because if I use upcycled fabric, there isn’t enough there to make anything for my daughter now. arg…

  24. I have kind of given up on sewing with knits, only because I have a hard time sewing without stretching the knit material. I find that it puckers, even if I pin it well and that’s why I end up stretching it. Maybe it’s my sewing machine or maybe it’s my method causing the issue. I’m not sure. Knit fabric is expensive and I end up wasting it, because it is hard to rip the seams without making holes in the knit. If you have any tips for preventing any of this, I would love to hear them and I would be willing to try again. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • HI! Where do I find the post? Getting holes in the seams using spoonflowers organic knit fabrics.. Not a good problem but glad it brought me to your blog ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. I’ve been trying to bravely sew more with knits, as well. Yes, it is very difficult to know what you are getting with online shopping! I’ve been too nervous to try it, yet, but I think I’m going to dive in and get some Chez Ami knits soon – fingers crossed.

    A triple-stitch works really well for reinforcing high-tension areas, like the crotch seam, and it also is very attractive as a top stitch for a collar or ruffle. It will stretch, but still looks straight, and it also is a bit bolder than a running stitch.

    To avoid unpicking, you could construct once-through with a long running stitch so that you can turn it right side out and check everything, then go back over with the stretch stitch such as the overcast-looking stitch that mimics serging. I guess this is probably similar to constructing with a serger (although I don’t have have one…).

    Looking forward to more sewing-with-knit ideas, Rae!

  26. Another knit seller that I use (and have no affiliation with) is girlcharlee.com – tons of cotton and cotton/lycra prints and solids. Some are for kids, but many for adults as well. They will send you requested samples, and their prices are great. Just a satisfied customer.

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