For our third KNITerview of this series, let’s see what Tara of Girl Like the Sea is up to these days! Tara sews up fantastic clothing for her two adorable daughters (and much of it with knits), including a lot of stuff that isn’t categorically “girly,” something that is always refreshing to see. I think the thing I love the most about Tara’s blog is that she is an honest and hilarious writer. This post is a classic example, but if you haven’t caught up on Tara’s blog, spend some time diving into her archives; I think you’ll find it to be really fun! Welcome, Tara!!!
RAE: What was the first thing you ever sewed with knits (if you remember?) Was it a good or bad experience?
TARA: The earliest memory I have of sewing with knits wasn’t so much a project as an alteration. I have this ocd reaction to neckbands being too tight, and I’d sliced one off of a Radiohead concert tee so I wouldn’t feel like the scranton strangler was attacking me. I decided to sew a decorative red line inside the new raw edge. Unfortunately, I knew nothing and did a straight stitch. It popped out the first time I put my head through. Fail.
I also had some interesting use of rib knit early on before I knew that there was a certain direction your stretch was supposed to go. There were some sleeves and bodices that got sewn on with the stretch going up and down.
RAE: What’s your favorite thing to sew with knit fabrics?
TARA: Probably tee shirts for my kids. They like to wear them and they’re easy to customize.
RAE: Do you have a favorite pattern for knit fabrics that you keep coming back to?
TARA: Considering this is your blog this sounds like a big kiss on the backside, but my go-to pattern is the Flashback Skinny Tee. I like to tinker with it since it’s a reliable base to start with. I’ve made things like tanks and hooded tees with it, adjusted the neckline, made it more A-line etc.
RAE: What kind of knit fabric do you like best?
TARA: It depends on what I’m sewing. Jersey or rib for tees, interlock for leggings, terry knit for sweatshirts or loungy pants. Also, I’m a natural fiber fan/snob and prefer organic cotton when possible. It just feels really nice and is better for the environment, including my own home environment! There is an organic cotton/bamboo blend striped jersey I got a few years ago in Portland that I’m still obsessed with.
RAE: What’s the trickiest knit fabric you’ve ever sewn with, and do you have any tips for working with that fabric?
TARA: Tissue thin knit jersey with stripes (if you care about matching stripes). It curls like CRAZY. Either get friendly with starching that stuff, or suck it up and spend extra time being meticulous with it.
RAE: Where do you get your knit fabric?
TARA: fabric.com and Finch Sewing Studio. I’d love to get some from spoonflower someday. I can often find good prices on organic basic knits on fabric.com . Another great source of knits is repurposed clothes. Your own closet, the thrift store, or the sale rack can be great sources for high quality or interesting knits. You can make things for kids that might never be found in a store.
RAE: What type of knit (jersey? rib? interlock?) would you recommend for someone who’s never sewn with knits before for a first project?
TARA: Interlock or baby rib with some lycra or spandex in it is pretty forgiving. It doesn’t curl up and has good stretch recovery. Sewing a neckband on a tee shirt with super curly knit can make you want to light your project on fire.
RAE: What kind of sewing machine do you have? and do you recommend your machine for knits?
TARA: I have an older mechanical Pfaff machine that I got on craigslist. When it’s working properly, it does a great job. There is a built-in walking foot on it, and it has a variety of stretch stitches.
RAE: What’s one tip or trick you wish someone had told you when you first started sewing with knits?
TARA: Pay attention to the direction of your fabric when you’re cutting it. And not all knit types are good for every project! Ok, that’s two tips. But I’ve had a lot of problems as I’ve learned. Lol.
RAE: What’s the most useful trick in your knit-sewing-toolbag?
TARA: A sense of adventure and gathering experience.
RAE: Do you use a serger? Which make/model? Do you recommend it?
TARA: I own a Bernina 1100D serger. Got it off of craigslist for a crazy low price from some lady who can apparently afford to spend 1000$ on a machine and then not use it. If you can find a nice one like that used, I totally recommend it. It’s a great machine. It’s a beast. I fear that machine a bit, actually.
RAE: Did you find it difficult to learn how to use a serger?
TARA: Not gonna lie. It was kind of a pain until the lady I bought it from found the full manual in her closet and mailed it to me. Before that, there was a lot of swearing and frustration. There are more minute details involved in adjusting a serger for different stitches or fabrics, and I tend to try getting it working well and leave it alone. But for sewing with knits, I LOVE using it. The finish and durability of the clothes I make with it is so much better. The stretch integrity of the knits is better than with a regular sewing machine.
RAE: Any tips for sewing with sergers?
TARA: Follow the threading diagram exactly. Change to a ballpoint needle when you’re using knits by cutting the threads going into the needles right before they go through the threading hole, put your ballpoints in, and stick the threads back through.
And if my sewing machine is really being a poop and making wavy hems on a particular knit, I’ll sometimes just cut an extra band of knit and serge it on to finish the bottom of a shirt or leggings.
It’s a good idea to test your serger on a scrap before starting a project, and after changing any threads or needles. Ruin your scraps, not your nice project.
Because there’s no backstitch on a serger, I often overlap the end of my seam on circular openings like neckbands, and then either use my sewing machine to tack down the end of the threads, or I tie the chain off. For the end of straight seams that won’t be hemmed up, I cut the chain and leave a bit of a tail, and then tack it down with my sewing machine. I’m not sure if this is the right way to do it, to be honest, but it does work.
RAE: What’s different on your sewing machine when you sew knits vs wovens, in other words — how do you set up your machine to sew knits?
TARA: I always switch to a ballpoint needle and makes sure the built-in walking foot is down on my machine. Then I either use a zig zag stitch of about 2.5 length and 2-3 width, or I use one of the stretch stitches. The zig zag stitch is good for speed because it just takes less time to sew a seam with it, but the stretch stitch functions tend to work better, in my opinion. I’ve always been a fan of the faux overlock stitch as a seam and as a top stitch. Like if I’m going to topstitch the neckband on a tee shirt, the faux overlock looks nice.
RAE: Thanks so much for joining our KNITerviews, Tara!!
And you can find all the posts from the previous series HERE.