Sewing with S-T-R-E-T-C-H fabrics
Sewing with stretch fabrics can seem a bit daunting at first. I know the first time I sewed a knit dress the neckline stitches broke the first time I pulled it over my head, and my seams seemed way too wavy. It’s pretty easy to avoid these mistakes if you use the right stitches, and you don’t even need a serger (overlocker) to do it. Before you get started let’s talk about the tools you’ll need to do the job. As long as you’ve got a sewing machine with a zigzag stitch function and a ballpoint needle you’re set to sew, but a few tools will make your stitches look really good on knit fabric.
- Ballpoint Needle
This is absolutely necessary! A sharp needle will poke holes in your fabric and make it more likely to tear or run later on
- Walking Foot
Optional, but really really useful. It is the nature of stretch/knit fabrics to stretch as you stitch. This causes an uneven stitch and makes the seam appear wavy. A walking foot will put less pressure on the fabric because it moves the presser foot at the same speed as the feed dogs, essentially allowing it to “walk” over the fabric (hence the name).
- Twin Needle
Because knit fabrics are intended to stretch, it is important to choose a stitch that will also stretch along with the fabric. You may get away with a straight stitch in the side seams or a hem, but you must be extra careful around necklines that tend to go through a lot of pulling. The typical stitches to use are the zigzag and the stretch stitch.
I’m pretty confident saying that most (if not all) domestic sewing machines come with a zigzag stitch. You can play around with the width and length of the stitches to get the look you want. If you want the seam to look more like a straight stitch, but you don’t have a stretch stitch function on your machine you could always try lowering the width of the zigzag stitch. Alternatively, a wide but short zigzag can look very attractive too. The 3-step zigzag is generally used for very stretchy fabrics or for attaching elastics.
You’ve probably noticed this button on your machine that looks like a lightning bolt. That’s your stretch stitch. It is a stretchy stitch that is pretty close to a straight stitch.
The twin needle can be a little intimidating, but the results are gorgeous! Twin needles come in different sizes, and give that professional quality that is seen on hems, necklines and jeans in ready-to-wear clothing. I usually use my walking foot as well as the twin needle. Your machine should come with an attachment for the bobbin winder (like a little stick that you insert into the bobbin winder on top of your sewing machine). This holds a second spool of thread. Thread both spools of thread through the machine and through each needle. Sew a regular straight stitch, and voila! Two perfect, parallel straight stitches on the front, and a sort of zigzag stitch on the back.
To summarise, all you need to sew stretch fabrics is a ballpoint needle and a zigzag stitch. A walking foot and a twin needle are especially nice to have for a professional finish (as is an overlocker) but you can definitely make do without them. If you haven’t tried sewing with knits yet, give it a shot! The best way to learn how to sew with knit fabric is to try it out yourself!