February Project – Sewing with Knits & Questions

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Sew Your Own T-shirt

Hey Sewing Loft Readers! How are your t-shirt projects going? And what questions do you have for me?

Today I’m going to talk a little about tips for sewing with knits, and then I’m opening the comments up for your questions.

So, tips for sewing knits – here’s the biggest one: DON’T STRETCH THE KNIT WHILE YOU SEW.  Because if you do, this happens

sewing with knits Tips and tricks

Yup, I am responsible for that ugly, wavy seam. For a long time I thought that if you stretched the knit slightly while you sewed, it would counteract the fact that thread isn’t stretchy (unless you’re using wooly nylon or elastic thread which is a whole ‘nother mess). But this is WRONG.


The way you deal with stretchy fabric/non-stretchy thread is to make sure your needle is doing some sideways motion. This is why a zig-zag stitch is perfect for sewing knits – the back and forth movement adds extra slack to the thread, so it doesn’t break when the fabric is stretched. It’s why sergers handle knits so well – the way the thread wraps around the edges is naturally stretchy. So use a zig-zag, a built in stretch stitch, or a serger.


The next stretching culprit is often the presser foot/feed dog combination on your sewing machine. Sometimes this stretches the fabric just slightly as it is sewn, even if you’re not stretching it. There are a few ways to combat this. First of all, look for a presser foot pressure adjustment on your machine – it’s often a knob on top – and lower the pressure. This solves the problem for me on my machine.

If you don’t have a presser foot adjustment or it doesn’t fix the stretching, there are some other things you can try. You can try putting transparent tape on the bottom of your foot, so that the fabric slides easier. You can try putting tissue paper under your fabric (against the feed dogs) to try to achieve the same thing. You can try a walking foot, which “walks” across the fabric, reducing the chance for stretching.

If all else fails (say you’re working on a really thin, very stretchy knit) you can use a fusible, wash away stabilizer. Pellon sells a new one called Stitch n’ Washaway by the yard. It looks like interfacing, and you iron it on. It will make your fabric behave like regular, non-stretchy fabric, and then when you wash, it dissolves and is gone.


Finally, if you’re running into issues with thread breakage, it’s probably your needle. Universal needles can handle most knits, but thread breakage is a sign you need to switch to a jersey or ballpoint needle.

For stitching that will show, if you prefer a straight stitch look to a zig-zag on the outside or your garment, you can try a twin needle. I wrote a tutorial about using them here.

So, in summary

  • Don’t stretch
  • Use a zig-zag, stretch stitch or a serger
  • Reduce the pressure
  • Use the right needles

Use them and instead of a wavy mess like above, you can have a t-shirt that looks like this (my favorite t-shirt I’ve sewn myself):

sewing with knits Q & A

So, what questions do you have for next time? A knit issue I didn’t cover? A t-shirt pattern you can’t figure out? Throw ’em at me in the comments so I can answer them next time (remember my fear of crickets).

Thanks and see you next week.



  1. I’ve tried knits and well it was less than fun. I didn’t like cutting it because it curled up on me and then my machine tried to eat it. I used a stitch and tear stabilizer but then it left crap in my seams. So I’m guessing I need a washable one instead?

  2. Great tips Melissa! When constructing tees or other garmets with jersey knit- I found my walking foot attachment to be a life saver! It helps to keep my knits from feeding unevenly and stretching I used it all the time before investing in a serger. They can be a little pricey depending on your machine but totally worth every penny!

  3. What to do when you want to embroider on your T-shirt (By hand not machine0

  4. I’ll have to try these tips. I stay away from knits because of all the problems I have trying to sew knits without jamming up my machine.

  5. Melissa, curious about how big or small a zig zag you use. I have sewn knits successfully with a stitch length longer & narrower than the default setting. It looks ALMOST like a straight stitch but has plenty of give. Anyone done this? Just curious.
    Samina ( @seweverything )

  6. This happens to me all the time. I never knew about the foot pressure, so I’m going to test it out!

  7. I really…. really… appreciate this article. I seriously hate working with knits, and had no idea how to do it. I’ve saved sooo much fabric to practice on but it just doesn’t work right for me. I end up tearing holes in my material. I’ve even tried it with the footer up, instead of down. I’ll try your advice, I appreciate the tips sooo much!

  8. Susan Irwin says

    I can’t seem to find the Pellon Stitch n’ Washaway -Please advise!

    • Hello Susan, I am sorry you are having trouble locating this product at your local store. It can also be ordered by the yard through Pellon on Amazon.

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