I had the lovely pleasure of picking out fabrics with my 11 year old niece last week. She's going to make a very simple knit skirt, of her own design, and with her mum's help. And her mum is terrified. "I've never sewn with knits. This project is never going to get done because I don't have time to figure out how!". This from the woman who sewed her own wedding dress. But if you don't know...you don't know.
Her comment is one I hear often through the store and I thought this may be a great place to address it. So I'm going to go through the creation of my niece's skirt, except I'm going to make it for my Claire. She's 5.
This is for my niece and so my goal is for simplicity. :)
If you are not sewing with knits, I can't help but feel you're missing out on something. The lovely thing about knits is that they are soft, comfy and an everyday, practical fabric. The lovely thing about sewing with them is that they are forgiving, very forgiving. Your seams can be out a good bit, your measurements taken after that second glass of wine or maybe you have a little sweetie who wants to wear it "NOW!" and you don't have time for precision. With knits, you'll likely get away with it. And sometimes, that's nice.
Before I begin, I want to make it clear that I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about types of knits, or supplies, or techniques. That's all really great information and I don't want to make light of it. But there's something to be said for just jumping in and getting your feet wet. This project is simple and will give you a little context as you proceed forward.
You can do it! You can totally do it.
I'm going to let Claire pick out the fabric. I'd like 2 fabrics for this skirt, one for the waistband and one for the skirt.
I'm guessing pink.
Oh! Blue and pink. She's growing up. :)
The fabric that I'm using here has about a 50% stretch. That means when I hold it, grain going up and down, I can pull it about 50% again of its original length and when I let go, it bounces right back.
Next I wash and tumble dry. How? Well, the answer always seems to be as delicately as possible BUT for knits, I put them through their paces. I treat them the way, let's be honest, I'm going to treat them when my project is done. It's going to be dumped in the wash and then dumped in the dryer. I'm not likely to fish it out and even if I'm determined to, I'll miss it at least once and when I do, I want the shrinkage taken care of.
Here I'm going to put in a plug for using good quality fabric. Fabric has a job to do, and it should be helping you get the job done and not be an obstacle.
Most of the knits you're going to be using will likely be single knit jersey or interlock and these are not 'finery' fabrics. They are rough and tumble, everyday wear fabrics. You shouldn't have to coddle them. They should do their job. And if the quality is there, they will.
Your best friend when sewing with knits is the steam iron. Steam re-activates the elastic in the fabric and you'll see when we start sewing, it's almost magic! So, out of the dryer, and then I give it a quick steam iron and I'm ready to go.
For this skirt, I'm not going to use a pattern. I only need a few measurements: Claire's waist, hip and the length of skirt she'd like. From those measurements, I'm going to make 2 rectangles, one for the waistband and one for the skirt.
She tells me she'd like a skirt with a train that goes all the way out the DOOR! That is very cool!!...but maybe next time. :)
These are Claire's measurements in inches.
So the things I need to keep in mind as I'm cutting out my rectangles are the length/width I want, the seam allowances and if there are hems I need to add in. I will always have a seam allowance to add and I use 1 cm with knits on a sewing machine and 1/4 inch with a serger. I find I need a little more room with a sewing machine or I have bunching problems.
For the waist, because I'm using quite a stretchy knit, I'm going to subtract 2 inches from the width (the measurement going around her waist) so that the waistband fits a little more snuggly on her waist. This will make the comfy and easy waistband I'm looking for. So, 21.5 - 2 + seam allowance on both ends and that's my measurement around the waist.
For the length of the band, I'm going to fold the waistband in half for stability and a clean look so whatever the length I want is, I need to multiply it by two to take the fold into consideration. I'd like a good size waistband, about 2 inches wide, so I have 2 x 2 = 4 and then I add a seam allowance to both ends.
That's the length and the width for my waistband rectangle.
For the width measurement of the skirt, I'm going to add only 6' to the 25' waist measurement because I don't want a really full skirt. And then I'm going to add my seam allowances. If you'd like a fuller skirt, add more. But keep in mind the waistband may not be able to stretch far enough to get the entire length of the skirt. But you can always add gathering stitches to the top of skirt piece and make up for it that way.
She would like the skirt to measure 12 inches down her leg. I need to add in a seam allowance to the top and then consider the hem. When hemming knits, I don't need to fold twice because knits don't ravel. Yay! So, I'm only going to fold it once but I am going to give it a hefty hem of .5 inches because I find the hem rolls up if it's less than that. So I have the desired length + seam allowance at top + hem allowance. And that's the last rectangle.
Once you've found your numbers I literally draw the rectangles on the fabric with an fading fabric marker.
Fold your fabric along the grain, divide your width numbers in half (because your fabric is folded over) draw and cut!
Be sure to find the grain! You know the cheap shirts you buy where the seam starts to creep towards the front? Not cut on the grain.
To find the grain, pull the knit a little and you'll see the grain lines going up and down. I use a ruler to make sure I'm lined up properly.
I suggest switching to a ball point needle. This allows to the needle to push its way through the fabric instead of puncturing its way which can harm the fabric.
To sew knits, I need to use a stretch stitch. I'm going to use a simple zigzag stitch. If I use a straight stitch, the seam will snap when it gets pulled. Zigzags will stretch along with the fabric.
Incidentally, there are a lot of stretch stitches on most sewing machines. I bet more than you thought! But for this project, a simple zigzag is just fine.
I start my seam about 1 cm down (a little more than wovens), I hold the threads coming out the back for the first few stitches, back stitch as normal to secure the stitch, and then forward stitch down the seam.
I can easily clean up seams by trimming the excess seam allowances with scissors. I'm just going to watch I don't cut the stitches.
The fabric will 'wave' after sewing. DO NOT PANIC! Just steam press the seam to one side and watch it go right back to where it should!
I sew up the short ends of my waistband to form a circle. Then I press the seam to one side.
Fold in half so the right sides are showing.
I divide the waistband and skirt into quarters using the back seam as my guide. Pin to mark the quarters
Now I match the pins on the skirt to the pins on the waistband. I make sure to match the two seams lines together.
My waistband is smaller than my skirt piece so there will be a bit of bunching but don't worry! That's a good thing.
Now I'm going to sew the waistband onto the skirt piece. Can you see the skirt bunching up under the waistband?
When you sew, pull the waistband to match the length of the skirt. Oh, the beauty of knits!
I press the seam allowance down toward the skirt and then topstitch around to hold that seam allowance in place.
Iron up your hem. I like a good, wide hem allowance, especially if I'm sewing knits with a sewing machine. I find if the allowance is too thin, the hem will flip up. I recommend a good half inch.
I'm just using a zigzag again. There are a lot of really great options on your machine for hemming knits but I'm really trying to keep it to just one stitch. I like the look! You can even embellish it and add a brightly coloured thread.
One of the best parts of knits...they don't ravel. Trimming seams is as easy as cutting off the excess.
Here she is! I think she likes it!