Sweater Knits 101

Written by Camille
November 2 2020 | Tutorials and techniques

There are many varieties of knit fabrics available, and figuring out what you need and how to sew with it can be intimidating if it’s your first time. However, working with knits is not as hard as you may think, and you don’t need a serger or special equipment to accomplish a nice garment.

There are also many benefits to working with knits. Knit fabrics are known for being soft, comfortable, easy to fit, and they don’t wrinkle as easily as woven fabrics. They also do not fray, which makes it easy to finish (or not!) seam allowances.

The Neige sweatshirt calls for a medium weight jersey or interlock fabric, with 0-30% stretch percentage. If you aren’t sure what that means, don’t worry – we will describe those terms in more detail below. The architectural design of the sleeves lends itself to knits with more body (and hence a little more stability), making Neige an excellent pattern for new and experienced knit sewists alike.

Choosing a Fabric

When shopping for knit fabrics, the different terms and descriptions can be a little overwhelming. What is the difference between fleece and terry? Elastane and lycra? Here are some of the common terms to describe knit fabrics and what they mean:

  • Jersey Knit: jersey, also known as a single knit, refers to fabric with a knit weave that is smooth on one side and has piles (or loops) on the other. It is often lightweight and commonly used for everyday t-shirts, although a medium weight jersey could work for Neige.
  • Interlock Knit: Sometimes called a double knit, interlock knits feature two layers that have been knit together. The result is a fabric that looks the same on both sides, and offers more stability and structure than a single knit. Interlock knits are often used for sweaters thanks to their heavier weight, and are ideal for Neige.
  • French Terry: this knit is similar to jersey, but its medium weight is more suitable for loungewear and sweaters. One side of this fabric is soft and smooth, while the other has a soft pile of loops similar to towels (although not as dense). It is not as heavy as sweatshirt fleece, but it’s just as cozy and easy to maintain. Because of its moisture-wicking properties, French terry is especially great for activewear.
  • Sweatshirt Fleece: On the outside, sweatshirt fleeces looks like any other knit fabric, but on the inside it features a very soft and comfortable fuzz (distinct from the inside “loops” of French terry). The fuzz is created by brushing the fabric to give it a nap, and it is a popular choice for sweaters and loungewear.
  • Elastane: Also known as spandex or lycra, elastane is a man-made fiber with extremely high give and recovery. It is often added to knit and woven fabrics to give them more stretch and help them “bounce back” after being worn. A knit that contains elastane is less likely to look bagged out after a day’s wear, but note that elastane fibers do have a shorter lifespan than natural fibers (especially when exposed to heat).
  • Stretch Percentage: this describes how far a knit will stretch past its original size. Often online descriptions will list this measurement, but it is easy to gauge for yourself. A 10 cm piece of fabric that stretches out to 12 cm has a 20% stretch percentage, while a 10 cm piece of fabric that stretches out to 15 cm has a 50% stretch percentage, and so on.

Tips for Sewing

Despite what you may have heard, sewing with knits is not difficult as long as you understand a few basic principles to make things easier. While sergers and coverstitch machines will certainly create a nice result, they are not necessary for sewing Neige or most other knit patterns.

  • Use a stretch or jersey needle. While universal needles have sharp tips designed to “pierce” the fabric, needles designed for knits have what is called a ballpoint tip. This design is meant to push between fibers rather than pierce them, which could cause unwanted holes in a knit weave. Using a needle designed for stretch fabrics will result in a better seam and less skipped stitches.
  • Always test your stitches. While this is a good practice generally, it is especially important with knit fabrics to confirm that you are using the correct needle before embarking on the rest of your project. Different fabrics will respond better to smaller or larger needles, and it is therefore a good idea to keep several types and sizes on hand until you find one that suits your fabric best.
  • Use a zigzag stitch. Because knit fabrics are designed to stretch, you will want to use a stitch setting that will allow the seams to have a little give. Use a wider stitch setting for seams that need more stretch, and a narrow stitch setting for everything else.
  • Avoid pulling the fabric. If you find that your seams are looking wavy, this is a good indication that your seam is stretching as you sew. To prevent this, try lightening the pressor foot tension, and make sure to avoid pulling or distorting the fabric as it feeds through the machine.

Preventing Stretching

Even with the tips above, fabric may still become wavy and stretched as you sew, especially if a fabric has poor recovery. In these instances, we like to call in the reinforcements and use a product like wonder tape (or something similar), which is a double sided tape that disappears in the wash. Because it has no stretch, wonder tape is perfect for holding seams together during construction and provides the stability needed to create a nice smooth seam. Likewise, fusible hem tape can be used on the hemline prior to stitching to prevent stretching. Since it does not wash out like wonder tape, just be sure to test application first to make sure you are happy with the final result and feel.

With a little practice, you will be on your way to purchasing and sewing knits with ease! We hope these tips have helped you and inspired you, and we cannot wait to see your versions of Neige. What type of fabric will you be using for your project?

2 commentaires

Marta, November 3 2020 Reply

Is there any weight we could use as a reference to classify the fabric as a lightweight or medium weight?
Thank you!

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