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Dress Patterns for stretch fabric

knittips01Today we’ll be going over some techniques for sewing knit fabrics, choosing a size, fitting, and cutting out your pattern pieces.

Sewing with Knits

You can make the Moneta using a serger or a home machine. Highlighted below are some important factors to consider when working with knits.

(Sarai also posted a Primer on Sewing with Knit Fabrics over on the Mabel sewalong, so be sure to reference that if you’d like to read up a bit more.)

Stitch choice

Stitch choice is important when sewing knits. Because the fabric will be stretching as you wear your garment, the seams need to be able to stretch along with it. If they don’t, the thread will break. We certainly don’t want our dresses falling apart as we’re wearing them.

If you’re using a serger, there is automatically stretch built into the seam. The serger will attach, trim and finish every seam as it sews it. Pretty nifty!

If you’re using a home machine, you can use a zig zag stitch with a narrow width (0.5) and a medium length (2.5 on most machines). This will give the seam enough stretch to expand with the fabric. To make everything look neat and tidy you’ll also want to finish the raw edge of the seam with a separate stitch, like a mock overlock stitch or 3-step zig zag.

knittips02Your machine might also have some specific stretch stitches, like a reinforced straight stitch. Consult your manual if you aren’t sure.

Needle Choice

When sewing knits, you should use a ballpoint needle. They are designed to push the threads aside instead of piercing them, which helps prevent runs and skipped stitches. They’re often labeled “jersey needles.” If you see needles labeled “stretch, ” these are actually intended more for highly elastic materials (think swimwear).

Unless you have a coverstitch machine, you will need to use your standard machine for hemming. A twin needle is a great hemming option. Look for one that’s a little wider (4mm or 6mm) to give you the coverstitch look you’re used to seeing on knit garments. You’ll actually thread two separate threads through your machine, one through each needle point. You can buy ball point twin needles, but if your fabric store only has universal that will work too.

Seam allowances

As most overlock machines are designed to sew at 3/8”, the seam allowances on knit patterns may be smaller than the 5/8″ you’re used to on woven patterns. The seam allowance for the Moneta is 3/8”. Be sure to keep this in mind while sewing.

Serger Tips

knittips05If you are new to the world of serging, welcome! Sergers can be a little more daunting than a standard machine, so here are some tips to help your serging go more smoothly:

Follow the manual when threading. It is very important to thread a serger correctly. The separate threads must be threaded in the right sequence for everything to work properly. Many newer machines have color coding and diagrams on the inside to help you. When in doubt, refer to your manual. If you don’t have your manual you can try to find a PDF online.

Test it out. Test sewing is important when serging, as all fabrics behave a little differently as they move through the machine. Do your test sewing on the same fabric you’re using for your project. I always save some of my scraps from cutting out the pattern. Before I start serging the seams on my garment, I run a doubled over scrap through the serger to make sure the differential is set properly. Your serged seams should lay flat, and not be wavy or scrunched.

Don’t sew over your pins. While you shouldn’t do this on a standard machine either, you definitely shouldn’t do it while serging. It can wreck your serger blade, and pieces of pin can get stuck in the machine. Ouch!

Standard Machine Tips

One of the trickier parts of sewing knits on a standard machine is getting the fabric to feed through the machine properly. If you find that the fabric is getting caught up you can:

Use a walking foot. If you have a walking foot for your machine, that can help the stretchy fabric feed through more evenly.

Lower your presser foot pressure. If you machine has an adjustable presser foot pressure, try putting it on a lower setting. This means the presser foot won’t be pressing down on the fabric as hard. Sometimes this allows the fabric to move through the machine more easily.

Test it out. Save some of your cutting scraps to use as test swatches. I always test every different stitch I’m using on a knit garment to make sure the settings are good to go on that particular fabric.


Base your size choice off the size measurements listed on the back of the pattern. Don’t worry that some of the finished garment measurements are smaller than your body size. Knit garments are often designed with negative ease, meaning the finished garment is smaller than your body because the fabric will stretch to fit.

If you are falling into different sizes in the bust and waist, you can cut between sizes by blending the size lines. Just use a ruler to connect the cutting line for one size at the bust to another at the waist.

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