How to sew jersey/knit fabric with a standard sewing machine.

There is a fantastic array of plain and printed jersey/knit fabrics in lots of different weights, available widely. Making jersey/knit garments can be fun and super quick, meaning you can boost your handmade wardrobe massively in a short space of time. Jersey/knit fabrics are also a super practical option for kids clothing.

Using an overlocker is the ideal way to sew jersey/knit fabrics because the stitch it produces stretches with the stretch of the fabric. However you may not own an overlocker.

Although using an overlocker produces the best results you can still get very good results and make successful garments using a standard domestic sewing machine. In this post I am going to share my tips for sewing jersey/knit fabrics on a standard domestic sewing machine:

knit 11. Sewing machine needle – Change your sewing machine needle to either a ball point needle or a stretch needle. Both needles have a ball point which does not damage or break the fibres of the fabric and will help prevent skipped stitches. Needles come in different sizes just like standard machine needles for woven fabrics. Smaller sizes such as 70/10 are for finer or lighter weight fabrics while the larger the number such as 90/14 are for heavier weight fabrics.

stretch stitching

2. Stitch style – Generally on most sewing machines there is a zig zag stitch, some machines also have a stretch stitch. Either of these stitches are fine to use on jersey/knit fabric. There is no ‘give’ with a straight stitch. If you were to sew your jersey/knit fabric with a straight stitch you would find when the fabric stretches the seam would crack and the stitches would break.

My general rule for the size of zig zag stitch is based on how much stretch the seam will receive when worn. For example a seam such as a side seam on a legging that is quite fitted will be stretched when worn as well as when you put the garment on. In this case I would use a wider stitch. The length of the stitch should not be too small or the seam will become stretched and wavy. For a side seam on a semi fitted top which won’t receive much stretch when worn or put on, I would use a shallower zig zag stitch. Again the length of stitch should not be too small.

Where a seam may get a lot of stretch such as an armhole or crotch seam on leggings or trousers I like to stitch a second row close to the first for double reinforcement.

It is best to test your stitch sizes on a piece of scrap before you start.

knit 5

3. Pressure – You might find that as you are sewing the fabric it is becoming wavy. There are a few things to think about if this is happening. Firstly check that you are just guiding the fabric as it goes through the machine and not pulling it through or holding it back. Either of these will stretch the fabric. If the fabric is still wavy and you are just guiding it gently, it may be that the fabric is super stretchy and therefore worth looking at whether the pressure can be reduced on the presser foot of your machine. Your machine guide book will tell you if you can do this.

The other option is to try a walking foot- a walking foot moves the fabric through the machine by stepping rather than pushing this helps prevent stretching.

One of the magic things about jersey/knit fabric is… pressing. A bit of over stretch can disappear with a good steam. This works best on natural fibres such as cotton. Test it on a piece of scrap before pressing the real thing. Hold a steam iron a few centimetres away from the seam you want to press, make sure it is flat on your ironing board. Give the seam a big blast of steam followed by patting it into shape by hand. This is a great technique for a slightly stretched neckline.

stretch hemmings

4. Hemming and seam finishing – finishing is easy you just don’t need to! Jersey/knit fabrics don’t fray so you can just cut cleanly and leave at that!

Hemming varies depending on the type of jersey you are working with but my stable way of stitching a hem which works well on cotton/elastane is to turn just once and zig zag on the very edge. Because the turning is single it is less bulky and therefore less likely to stretch to badly. Because its stitched on the very edge the effect is neat and tidy both inside and out.

I hope you find these tips useful if you feel inspired I now sell a great range of knitted fabrics here that are suitable for all sorts of projects. If you would like more guidance in one of my classes I have several options for jersey garment making completed in one session and you are also welcome to sew jersey in my dressmaking course or bring your own project sessions too.

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Julia Claridge

I was about 6 or 7 years old when I had my first go on a sewing machine, it was an old hand crank machine that my mum used with her patients, she was an occupational therapist. I still vividly remember watching with amazement as the tiny perfectly formed stitches were created as I turned the handle. I Grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when buying clothes was less affordable and dressmaking was an answer to updating your wardrobe more regularly. My own mother was a talented dressmaker who made most of my clothes and my sisters clothes as well as a many for herself. I soon got involved with making my clothes, I loved the whole experience of picking out fabrics, trims and a pattern to create a new outfit, then going home to make a new garment or outfit. When it came to leaving school I visited a careers advisor who asked what I wanted to do next. My answer was ..Sew! Read more...

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