Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Sewing with knits, a beginner's evaluation

Back in February, when I finally unpacked my second hand serger, I was not convinced I would enjoy sewing with knits. Seven months after this Start the serger post, and twelve knit garments later, it is time to make up my mind. Do I like sewing with knits? Place your bets!

Let's start with my thoughts on the Bernina 1100 D. It behaved well, from the very first moment on. Which is more than can be said about it's owner, who may or may not have used some inappropriate language in the sewing room while threading the beast. 

Really, I felt like the biggest klutz in sewing history. Determined to master the situation I kept threading and threading over again for about two hours until I got the hang of it. I never had a threading issue after that. Also: no breaking needles, no fabric eating or other incidents during those seven months of serger joy.

So technically it was a success. Yet I'm not completely sold.
As I said at the start of this experiment, I don't like fast sewing. After making some easy skirts and shirts I was missing the feeling of accomplishment, of making bespoke one of a kind garments with nice details. That's when I started to bring some of my favourite techniques into the mix. After whipping up a Moneta dress in a few hours, I wanted my next dress to be more of a challenge. And it was! Stretch lace, underlined bodice, french seams for the skirt and a hand stitched hem.

It's the most 'me' garment I made during this test period and I'm wearing it whenever I can. 

Although I may not get overjoyed by sewing knits, I do like wearing them.
Initially I thought sewing simple tees was a waste of time. Why bother? But after making a Deer&Doe Plantain shirt I completely changed my mind. This was so different! A relaxed (and forgiving) fit, sleeves that ended where I wanted them to end, nice details and a loud print. Just because I could pick whatever I fancied!

When it comes to fitting with knits each fabric will behave differently. Lots of variables have to be taken into account. The amount of stretch, mechanical- and yarn stretch, vertical stretch, weight of the fabric and more. In The Colette guide to sewing knits the advice is to fit as you work. I find that hard, especially when it comes to creating the right neckline. With my frame I look massive when the neckline is too high, on the other hand a neckline that drops too low can be pretty indecent when you're blessed with a large bust. Fitting a bodice can not be done properly without knowing how much the neckline and waistline will drop once you've added the skirt. It's interesting to compare pictures of Moneta dresses, made by bloggers in different fabrics. Fabrics with little stretch result in high necklines and short skirts, too much vertical stretch and you'll end up with lots of cleavage, a dropped waist and a midi skirt! Making a test garment is only useful when you use the same fabric you're planning to use for your final garment. That's not a very cheerful thought when you lay your hands on some beautiful but expensive knit fabric!

All in all I've learned a lot about sergers and knits and there's a lot more to investigate. And I will! The serger will stay for sure. Must make more Mabels and Monetas.
And Plantains, and... Yet, I don't know how to put it, something is missing. 

If you force me now to push one of the three buttons above I'll pick the middle one. I like the garments I've made so far cause they're easy to wear in everyday life. But when it comes to sewing, for me it's not the destination but the journey that counts. Seeing a garment come to life little by little, going through your reference books to find a new technique. Nothing beats daydreaming with a fine needle in your hand!

Maybe I need to find a balance. Sew up some knits for quick wardrobe fixes, alternated with slow and mindful sewing projects? 


  1. I sewed a lot of knits when I was younger on a straight stitch machine! The knits themselves were more stable back then, so it worked fine. I'm with you on wanting to make things that are fancier now, but I'm about to embark on some wool jersey projects, so we'll see how it goes! I won't be using a serger, though.

    1. O yes, I remember those knits! Very stable, and for some reason the selvedges always felt like cardboard. Guess I wasn't a total beginner after all! For modern knits I like the differential feed on the serger, no matter how thick or thin, you'll never create a wobbly seam. Are you planning vintage projects for the wool jersey? I'm on the lookout for inspiring knit projects!

  2. I agree Marianne. I also find sewing with knits intrinsically unsatisfying, for exactly the same reasons you have outlined. There just seems something missing after quickly cut and serge and then it's done. I agree, knits are useful items, but really, for basic knits buying them is slightly more satisfying - except you can't find the colours, necklines or lengths you want. Sigh, back to the serger...


    1. Maybe I've just been sewing too many knits in a row. It started out as a one month test period but I felt there was so much more to learn! Perhaps after finishing a long and difficult project I'll be longing for the serger again...