I have always loved pretty dresses and prints, but have realized that I spend so much time making garments I wear a handful of times. And generally only in the spring and summer. So, I made a resolution this fall to start sewing more basic clothes I could wear every day. Sewing basics, however, inherently means sewing with comfier fabrics. Translation: the dreaded knit.
My first sweatshirt was a pretty stable knit that sewed more or less like a woven. My next attempt, with the Kate Spade Bow Hack, was somewhat more difficult, with a pretty stretchy jersey, but I managed. I mastered using my fancy zig zag stitches and finishing things off with some serging. It helped that all of the cuffs and edges were finished with ribbing, so I didn’t need to deal with hems. I also learned the importance of top stitching when working with thicker, polyesters that just don’t press well. Seriously. This is a step not to skip.
Which brings me to tank tops. I recently cloned my favourite, dying tank top and, of course, was forced to continue my exploration of stretch knits. Making three separate versions, I was able to learn and improve a lot. I googled my little heart out and learned that a cover stitch machine is more or less necessary to make stretchy garments look like ready-to-wear ones. While I’d consider getting one, I’m not there yet. I did discover and adapt a few tricks that helped me make my most recent tank my favourite. Here’s a few pointers:
- Don’t try cutting on the fold. It’s significantly easier to spot shifting or stretching fabric when you are dealing with only one layer. Simply trace your “on the fold” pattern piece and tape it together to create one flat piece.
- Add “stripe guides.” I added a handful of lines running perpendicular to the grain so I could check that my stripes were laying flat. It made matching my side seams so easy! I would reccommend this for any pattern as this really helped with my birds tank, too.
- Add stay tape to stabilize seams. I discovered stay tape when I was exploring making a blazer. I also discovered that it is apparently hard to come by, but easy to make. All you need to do is cut little strips of interefacing on the bias. It’s important to cut them on the bias to have enough give to go around curves, such as the arm scythe. I cut mine to a 1/4 inch so it would be enough to keep things from stretching while I was sewing but not enough to get caught in the stitching. I used it on literally every seam. But it made sewing this up so. much. easier.
- Use your serger to sew, not just finish. This is a tip that popped up in my feedly newsfeed but I can’t, for the life of me, remember where. This cut my sewing time in half and made for much nicer seams. Just make sure to think about your seam allowance.
- Gather a rounded hem with dental floss. This is another technique I sort of amalgamated from several things I read ages ago. When heming something round, gathering works wonders to get things to lay flat. Gathering on a stretch knit, however, is pretty much impossible using the tried and true baste and pull technique. I saw somewhere that zig zag stitching over a length of dental floss is a super easy way to gather, so I tried it and it worked like a charm! The trick is to not sew over the floss when you are hemming, or it’s imposible to get out. My husband suggested keeping the floss in “for corn roasts and other emergencies.” Pratical.
- Bias tape is your friend. I’ve written about my love of bias tape before, but my appreciation for this little wonder has multiplied ten-fold since working with knits. I used self-made bias tape to bind everything but the hem. It made my straps and armholes look fantastic. When dealing with bias tape, you’ve got a couple of options on how to use it. You can do a Hong Kong binding (more on that later) to bind visible seams inside a garment, you can sandwich your seam with the bias tape or you can sew it to one side and ‘stitch in the ditch.’ For knits, I found the latter the most effective, because you can start with a zigzag and finish with a straight stitch, depending on the fabric.
Laying your bias tape open on the good side of your fabric, stitch with a zig zag, using the edge of your foot as a guide. You want to have a few milimeteres between your stitching and the raw edges of the fabric. The trick here is to trim as close to the stitching as possible without cutting thread. Fold the bias tape over to bind the edge, making sure to keep the raw edges of the bias tape folded under. Make sure that folded edge descends one or two milimeters below the seam on the other side. This ensures that when you stitch in the ditch (sew as close to in that seam as possible) you’re catching the other side of the bias tape. I have sewn and unpicked bias tape that didn’t catch on the underside so many times I hope to spare you that same fate. Finally, with a straight stitch, stitch, on the good side, as close to the seam attatching the bias tape to the garment. If your fabric is super stretchy, you can zig zag, too.
In conclusion, sewing your own basics is not impossible and stretchy fabrics are not scary. Go forth and make t-shirts!