Saturday, 3 May 2014

Notionally Speaking: Knits

Do you sew with knits or tend to avoid them? I fall in the latter camp but can't quite pin point why. This month's Notionally Speaking comes from Kelly at Make, Sew, Do who discusses this particular type of fabric and explains why they are like spiders. Read on to find out more...

Notionally Speaking

I am delighted to be taking part in notionally speaking today - I've really enjoyed reading all the previous posts. I picked the number 14 from Claire's list and was given 'Knits' as my topic, so here we go..

Knit fabrics seem to be a bit like spiders - many people seem to have a fear of them, but it's a fear that often seems to have little rational basis, and seems to be learned from other people. 

Who knows where knits got their bad rap from, but they're really not that scary. 

However I, like many sewists, seem to have fallen into this fear of knits trap, and I am determined to get out of it. It is most definitely a learned fear - the second item of clothing I ever sewed was a swimsuit! A Swimsuit! And it turned out brilliantly, I absolutely love it. I used an overlocker for the first time, I had no major issues with any of it and I wondered what all the fuss about knits was all about.

Closet Case Files Bombshell Swimsuit

But since then, I seem to have developed a bit more of a fear - I've only made one knit garment since (a wearable toile of the Lady Skater dress). It's daft, especially as such a high proportion of the RTW clothes I wear on a regular basis are from knit fabric - especially dresses - probably 90% of the time I wear a dress to work it is a knit dress. I have the fabric for two more lady skaters lined up, but even though I know the fit is right, I still have this bit of underlying fear which is preventing me from just getting on with them.


Yes, there are some things that can make sewing with knits more tricky than sewing with wovens - the fact that they stretch and can be a bit slinky means that it can be harder to line pattern pieces up correctly, and, if you're not careful, the fabric might stretch when you sew. You're not going to have those issues with a nice crisp cotton.


You also need a little (and only a little) specialist equipment - while an overlocker is great for sewing knits, and makes things a bit easier, your can also sew them perfectly well on a normal sewing machine. The only special thing you really need is a ballpoint needle for your machine and, if you want to hem your items, a twin needle also helps. Most knits don't even fray, so hemming is optional anyway, or using hem bands is another way of finishing the edges like the sleeve and neckbands on the lady skater. That's it, nothing else is needed. You'll probably need to use a different stitch on your machine, to make sure the seam will stretch - a normal zigzag stitch usually works great.

sleeve band

And then you look on the flip side - there are so many benefits to sewing with knits. For starters, knits are SO much more forgiving to fit - the need for an FBA is, in most cases, completely eliminated. Given the negative ease often written into knit patterns, you can get a nice, tight-fitting garment with no pattern alterations at all. Slightly looser fitting patterns will also be so much more forgiving to fit, due to the stretch in the fabric.

Fastenings can be pretty much done away with as well. I don't think I know a single sewist who hasn't at one point been cursing a zip that just won't go in, or buttonholes that are not behaving themselves. With a knit, you don't have to worry about fastenings - most of the time you can just pull them on. Given my recent run in with an invisible zip, and repeated issues with buttonholes, this is something that I love about knits.

Another benefit of knits comes when you're trying to line up your pattern pieces on the grain - and figure out exactly where the grain is. With a knit fabric, you just follow the stretch! Much easier than trying to work out exactly where the grainline is on a woven fabric.

And when it comes to wearing knits - no need to iron! That is always a bonus! Much as a lovely cotton dress is lovely for the summer - the chances of me ironing something when I pull it out my wardrobe as I'm getting ready for work…not so much. Until I started sewing, I don't think I'd ironed anything in a good few years...

If you are a sewist who is yet to tackle knits, but wants to try them out, I challenge you to give it a go! I for one am going to make it a goal this year to sew up more knit pieces, so why don't you join me? There are loads of great beginner knit patterns out there, which can all easily become wardrobe staples. I can highly recommend the Lady Skater:


And then there is the ever-popular Sewaholic Renfrew:


And Tilly's newly released, and already taking the sewing world by storm, Coco:


If I've convinced you to give knits a go, but you need a little handholding to get started, there are lots of brilliant resources out there on sewing with knits. 

Lauren has written a great post on conquering knits, with lots of useful tips. Tilly has a list of resources on sewing with knits and a whole load of posts on sewing Coco, covering lots of techniques you need for sewing knits. Tasia at Sewaholic also has a big list of tips for sewing with knits and Colette have been doing some great posts recently as well, to tie in with the release of their first knit patterns and their book on sewing with knits

So let's all give knits the love they deserve - they make excellent comfortable, everyday clothes, and I look forward to having more homemade knits garments in my wardrobe.

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