Notched leggings / Tips for Sewing with Knits
Working with knits has always been a bit of a challenge for me. But many people, my grandma included, love to sew with the fabric because projects come together quickly, don't need a lot of intricate fitting details, and don't need to be finished off. For me, though, they've always been challenging to sew, and for a while, I avoided them altogether. But late last year, I decided to start working with them more to improve my skills with this fabric and also my attitude toward it because I love wearing knit garments. I'm still growing in this area, but I've learned a few things that have made the process a little easier, and the projects more enjoyable to create.
A Little Encouragement
First thing's first—if you're newer to sewing knits or you struggle with them as I have, give yourself a little extra grace when working with this fabric. As much as I can be a perfectionist with the things I sew, I try to remind my self that even when seams aren't perfect, the garment is usually wearable. I created something with my own two hands that I can wear. I picked out a pattern and material, got down on the floor and cut fabric, and sewed pieces together to make something that will cover my body—that's a pretty fantastic thing. So even if seams come out a bit fussy, or you're not completely satisfied with what you've created, pat yourself on the back because you made something you can wear!
Secondly, here are a few things I've learned about knits and sewing with them that have helped to improve the quality of my knit garments, and also the experience of sewing them.
Selecting a Knit for Leggings
There are many different types of knit fabrics that come in various weights and are made up of different fibers. Because of this, I'm going to stick to the one that I used for this project-jersey knit. Jersey knit is typically a light to medium weight fabric that has a good stretch and is often used for T-shirts, dresses, skirts, and leggings. When it comes to sewing leggings, you'll want a fabric that has a four-way stretch, meaning it can be stretched in all directions, has a good recovery, meaning that when you stretch it out, it goes back to how it was before being stretched. This stretchability is especially important with leggings because the fit is generally pretty tight (has a lot of negative ease), and areas like the knees get a lot of stretching from wear.
My favorite types of jersey knit are those that contain rayon. Rayon is made from bamboo, so these types of knits are very soft and luxurious to wear. The fabric I used for my leggings is the Telio Rayon Jersey Knit in Black Tie Dye. It's 95% rayon (bamboo) and 5% spandex, giving it a super soft feeling on the skin and an excellent recovery after being stretched. I've used this fabric for dresses and tanks as well, and am always pleased with it.
Right Side & Wrong Side
Did you know that knits have a right and wrong side? Much of the time, and especially with jersey knits like the one I used, the fabric can look very similar on both sides, and it can be difficult to tell which is the right side. But if we want to get technical, the fabric does have a right side. Here's how I remember it—on the right side of jersey knit, the weave of the pattern looks like it's going up and down in long, thin, columns (knit side), and on the wrong side it looks like there are little rows going side to side (purl side). If you're a knitter, you'll probably be able to spot the differences easily, but if you're a sewer like me, looking up and learning about the two types of knitting stitches has helped me greatly when it comes to recognizing the wrong side.
That being said, I don't think there's any harm in using a fabric's wrong side; in fact, I've done this on purpose in the past. Using the wrong side can be a way to highlight a unique texture and give a garment more depth, such as with French Terry.
The first time I sewed something with knit fabric, I didn't use the correct need and was very disappointed with the make in the end. I later learned that I should have been using a ball point needle to avoid creating tiny holes in my fabric and skipped stitches. If you are using Schmetz needles, these will be the ones with either an orange or yellow stripe at the very top; they also come in a twin needed so that two seams may be sewn at once, which is helpful when finishing necklines or hems.
When it comes to sewing knits, using a walking foot has made a world of difference for me. The walking foot helps to avoid the fabric being stretched as you sew. You can tell if the material is being stretched when you're sewing because it will create little waves at the seamline. Sometimes these can be ironed out, but if stretched too much, the waviness will persist. Having a walking foot in your collection of sewing tools is very helpful if you plan to sew with knits. They vary somewhat, so make sure to get the correct one for your machine!
Another mistake I made when I first started sewing with knits was not using a stretch stitch, but I've since come to learn that this is very important when working with this type of fabric. The reason a stretch stitch is necessary when working with knits is that the seams needed to be able to stretch with the material or they will break, which happened to me many times in the early days. Every sewing machine is different, but they usually have a stretch stitch that looks like a long lightning bolt, and a smaller zigzag stitch works well too.
On my leggings, I used both the stretch stitch (lightning bolt stitch) and a zigzag stitch. I found the stretch stitch to work well on the side seams and inseams, but I had some trouble with it for the crotch seam as it didn't stretch enough, so I went back and sewed this seam with a small zigzag stitch that held up really well. Additionally, I used a large zigzag stitch at the waistband and to hem the legs, and I love the look of it.
Testing different stitches, stitch length, and width on a swatch of your fabric beforehand can be very helpful. Additionally, once you find a stitch that works well, make a note of it for future reference.
I don't use sewing clips as often as I do pins, but when attaching the elastic waistband to the leggings on this project, they were very helpful.
One of the wonderful things about sewing knits, as opposed to wovens, is that they don't have to be finished off because they don't unravel! Adding serging to main seams does help to strengthen the garment, but it isn't essential, especially if you're limited on time. This is why when my grandma was a young mom who made much of her children's clothing, she stuck to using knits. When I make knit dresses or tank tops or tees, I rarely finish off the hemline and instead leave it raw because I both like the look and hemming knit garments is usually one of the more challenging parts for me.
Do you have any tips for sewing knits? Share them in the comments below! - Emily