The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Knits Really Aren’t That Hard

Just like anything that’s new, it’s a difficult at first.  The thing you have to remember is that the hardest time you will have with a new technique or method will be the first time.  Don’t get discouraged.  It’s normal for it to be hard the first time.  You did not pop out of your mama’s womb knowing how to do everything and that includes the ability to chose the correct stretch fabric for the stretch garment you are dreaming of making!!!!


Today, knits have changed.  I remember the knits of the 70’s which were so plastic-y that if you got them too close to heat, they would melt.  Well, they didn’t but it sure felt that way.  And wicking?….OMG – there was no such thing.  Generally, they felt cheap, claustrophobic (no wicking) and were hell to work with (they never pressed cleanly, or prettily and it certainly wasn’t crisp looking).  They did not wrinkle, which we were instructed to believe was the end all.  Those of us who wore this stuff, knew better and it was much more prestigious to sew with linens, cottons, silks, wools and the blends of these fabrics than that awful polyester junk.


Today – knits are so dang dreamy, that you put your hand on them and it’s like “Oooooo”  I gotta have that.  Bamboo knits, cotton knits, rayon – OMG what rayon does for the hand (the feel and touch) of a fabric is almost illegal it feels so good.  Then you have all those beautiful natural fibers that weavers can make into beautiful stretch fabrics.  Then you add the modern equivalent of rubber which is called Spandex, Elastane or Lycra (those are trade names and hence always capitalized), and you have some pretty magical fabrics.

But – then there’s the:  What do I do with it?  or  How do I know what’s best for this type of knit?

I mean there’s the really stretchy knits…..
there’s the somewhat stretchy knits……
there’s the moderately stretchy knits…..
there’s the stable stretchy knits……
there’s the thick knits……
there’s the thin knits…..
there’s the stretchy fabrics…..
there’s the knit fabrics…..
there’s the content stretchy fabrics…..
there’s the mechanically stretchy knits…..
there’s 2-way stretch and 4-way stretch….
and what about retention or memory – what’s that mean!!!
I mean how’s a person to know what’s what in the knit world.

Here’s the starting secret to this:  The first thing is to pick out the right fabric for the right project.  Once you do that, you are almost home free.  But even the patterns don’t give you a good method to figure this out.  Some do with a gauge on the side of the pattern, but most of them don’t.  How in the world are you to tell without that gauge, and how in the world do you tell from something on the pattern that says “moderately stretch knit.”  Moderate to one person is something totally different to another, so what form of reference is the pattern company using?  Even worse, most likely there are several ideas of this within the pattern company to begin with!  That’s like not only mind-reading one person’s mind, but trying to mind read the whole company employee roster!  If reading one person’s mind is impossible, how then it is possible to read everyone’s mind within the company?  If you ask me, that’s not on the scale of possibility.  Yet that’s what some pattern company’s expect you to do.


Here’s a perfect example:

vogue02-2013aThis is Vogue 8854.  The left version was on the cover of the February/March, 2013 edition of Vogue Patterns Magazine.  The right version is the view in the pattern book. (click the photo above for the link to the pattern).  But here’s the problem.  The view on the left is a stable or very little stretch type fabric, while the version on the right is a lot stretchier fabric.  The result:  two totally different looks.  As it happens, this pattern is pretty good with either look, but in reality this rarely happens.  Most of the time if you make up a really stretchy fabric in a pretty stable stretch pattern, and vice versa (a really stable stretch fabric in a really stretchy pattern), it will look bad – it won’t come out like it’s supposed to or designed to.

This is what happens to a lot of folks when they start working with knits.  It’s so confusing to take into consideration all this stuff

There can be a huge difference from the 2-way or 4-way stretch knits, so even if the pattern says that info on the back, that helps a little but the truth is that you can’t really depend upon just that.

There has to be a way to determine what type of fabric would go with what pattern. This involves reading the pattern correctly and then a concrete formula for picking out the right fabric for that pattern. Without that, it’s literally a crap shoot – – sometimes you win and sometimes you loose, but you never know.

I just purchased some silk jersey.  It’s so dreamy you wouldn’t even believe it.  It’s fairly lightweight and stretches beautifully for what I want and it has a hand that is to die for (a hand refers to the touch or feel of the fabric).  And on top of that silk is my most favorite fabric – well, OK cashmere is too, but I like silk because I can use it a lot more places.  I’m sure there’s tissue-weight or gauze-y type cashmere out there, I just haven’t seen it yet!!!!  But this fabric can only be use is specific garment.  It will not look good as a dress – well it might look socially acceptable as a dress on a pre-pubescent, anorexic waif that eats one rice cake a week and spends her nights with her finger down her throat, but as you might well imagine that’s not me! (I like my lemon bars  and ice cream to much thankyouverymuch!!!!)  So I’m not going to submit the world to visual pollution of my ripples and ridges – I know, don’t thank me now, just remember how I saved your eyesight from this horrible vision!!!

The point here is that I know what this fabric will work best as, and it’s a good thing because silk jersey is hard to come by.  And I found it in a khaki color that will look fabulous on me, that I’ve never seen before. So the color and the availability of the fabric are such that I do NOT want to mess this up.  Fortunately I know how to pair this with the right pattern, so that the minute I saw this in the store, I picked it up and knew what I was going to do with it.

But I know how to match this up.  I have experience at this.  What if you don’t have experience or even worse your experience has been mistake ridden?  That will really scare you out of sewing with knits and stretch fabrics.  And that’s a shame.  There’s so much to enjoy here, and once you get the hang of this, it’s really a piece of cake.

So when I started sewing with knits, I had to have something to help me, and I developed this guide and formula so that when I go to the store, that’s what I use.  And once you have that guide, the picking out the right fabric for the right garment is a lot easier and this means more successful results.  With a good guide like this, the chances of you succeeding are a lot better.  This means more successful sewing with stretch and knit fabrics, and this means more experience under your belt which results in a greater willingness to do more and more with knits.

The truth is that now that I have this guide down, I know pretty much what the categories are the minute I touch the fabric. I may give it a little stretch to confirm my touch, but I’m almost always right, and before I even pull the bolt out of the rack, I have given it my stretch guide test, and from that I can tell whether or not it’s good for the garment I have in mind.

I had to create this guide for myself, because without it, I was lost.  There truly are so many wonderful options in the stretch-fabric world available, that I had to be able to categorize and divide these into groups so that I could consistently choose the right fabric for the right pattern.  And I didn’t have to study at some Man Made Fabric Institute of Sewing to learn this.  It was the guide that gave me the power to do this – well that and the information that the guide gave me.  When I meet my students at the local fabric store for the pre-class intro, this is one of the things we talk about is how to use this guide and how to use the information that the guide gives you.  Without it, it’s like going through the forest without those handy little crumbs to guide us home!

  1. ….and is that guide for sale? 😉

    What bugs me about knits is the automatic assumption by most sewists that you absolutely MUST have a serger. Not true. You do need a good machine, and a teflon (or walking) foot is very helpful.

    • Absolutely it is true – you do NOT have to have a serger to sew on your knits. There are things I can do with my machine that I can not hope to do with a serger, and I can do a beautiful overlock type stitch on my machine that I can’t do on my serger. It doesn’t look exactly like the overlock, but pretty close.

      Yes, I have that guide in the March newsletter – it’s easy to download and more importantly once you get the hang of it, it becomes indispensable. I use it almost every time I shop for knits.

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