Tips for Working With Knits & Mock-Coverstitch Tutorial

on June 21 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 139 Comments

Meg McElwee of Sew Liberated shares her tips for working with knits today! Meg’s second book, Growing Up Sew Liberated, will publish in May 2011; it contains clothing patterns for babies and kids using knits, in addition to other toy and accessory patterns using woven fabric. Meg will highlight some projects she’s made with knits this week on her Sew Liberated blog, so be sure to check those out. We’ll also have more tips and projects to share this week to help you feel super-confident with knits!

Many people think that knit fabrics are scary, when, in fact, they are such gentle monsters-– kind of like Muppets, really. Although they’re kind of funny, they’re also super soft and pose no real threat to the motivated sewist. I’ve taken up sewing with them a lot more since having a baby-– there’s nothing better for comfort wear, and what’s more important than coziness for little ones?

The key to working with these Muppet-like knits is to know which strings to pull to get the professional-looking results that you want. I thought I’d share some of my favorite tricks:

1. Know your sewing machine or serger inside and out. You don’t need a serger to sew knits successfully, but you do need to know the capabilities of your machine. Any tips that you read online or pick up in a book won’t tell you what settings your machine needs in order to sew knits without frustration. Read the manual and set aside an afternoon to really master your machine, fiddling around with different settings and plenty of scrap fabric. If you purchased your machine (or serger) from a dealer, they usually offer free machine mastery classes for their customers. Take advantage of your dealer! I just had an issue with the coverstitch function on my serger, and I took it in and had someone sit down with me and troubleshoot. It was super helpful.

2. Get the right needles for the job. More often than not, I use Schmetz Stretch needles (130/705 H-S) for sewing with knits. On heavier-weight knits, I might use a ballpoint/jersey needle, but if I’m getting skipped stitches, I’ll switch back to my trusty stretch needle. You’ll also want to have Stretch Twin needles on hand for sewing hems and a mock coverstitch (more on this below!).

3. Overlock or zigzag stitch all seams. Knit patterns are cut with less ease because the fabrics themselves are stretchy. Think of the neck opening on a basic t-shirt-– it needs to stretch a good deal just to get over your head. So, the seams that you sew on a knit need to stretch as well, or else the thread will break. An overlock stitch on a serger is a very stretchy and strong seam, and is perfectly suited for sewing seams on knits. If you’re sewing on a regular machine, check your manual to see if it has a mock-overlock stitch or a jersey stitch. Both are well-suited for knits. The standard option for sewing seams on a basic sewing machine is to use a zigzag stitch, set to a width of .7 mm and a length of 3.0 mm.

4. Reduce the pressure of the presser foot if your seams stretch out when you sew. If you’re getting stretched-out, wavy seams, it’s likely due to too much presser foot pressure. Most machines (and sergers) have the option to lower the pressure of the foot; check your manual. If you have a serger and you’re getting wavy seams, make sure your differential feed is set to 1.5 instead of N (N is the setting for woven fabrics, 1.5 for knits).

5. Consider using a walking foot. If you’ve reduced the pressure of the foot on your regular sewing machine and you’re still getting unsightly seams, try a walking foot. This nifty foot grabs at both the top and bottom fabrics and pulls the fabric through more evenly.

6. Use quality thread, and pick up some wooly nylon. You can always use regular spools of thread to sew knits-– you don’t need to buy those big cones. That said, if you’re using a serger, it does use lots more thread than a typical zigzag stitch on a sewing machine. Most sergers are somewhat picky about thread-– any inconsistencies in thread thickness will wreak havoc on the delicate tension balance, resulting in skipped stitches, broken threads, or other ugliness. Stick to quality cones, such as those made by Mettler, and you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration.

When you’re on the market for quality thread, be sure to pick up some wooly nylon thread. This usually comes in limited colors, but it doesn’t matter-– you’ll only use it in the bobbin of your machine or the loopers of your serger; in otherwords, it will only show on the wrong side of your garment. Wooly nylon is extra stretchy, making it perfect for use in most knitwear. If you use it in your serger, make sure to test your settings on a scrap piece of the fabric with which you’ll be sewing. You’ll most likely have to fiddle with the recommended tension of the needles and loopers, as wooly nylon has different properties than regular thread. Once I find the setting that works perfectly for wooly nylon on any given knit fabric, I write down the “formula” and keep it posted near my serger, so the next time I work with a similar fabric, I’ve cut down significantly on my guess work.

7. Know how to make a professional-looking hem finish on your regular sewing machine. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a serger, you probably don’t have a coverstitch machine. (Some sergers have a combo overlock/coverstitch function, like mine, but it can be a bit of a pain because I have to do some extensive re-threading if I want to switch between functions.) A coverstitch is comprised of the two parallel lines of stitching that you see on the hem of your t-shirts, which has a looping stitch on the wrong side of the fabric. The coverstitch is stretchy, and creates a very professional finish when it comes to knitwear. Perhaps you were worried that your knit garments will look too homemade because your only option for hem finishing was a zigzag. The good news is that you don’t have to shell out another $800 just to be able to sew a coverstitch. You’ll just need the following:

  • a machine that allows you to sew with a twin needle (most do)
  • a Stretch Twin needle in either 2.0 or 4.0 mm width
  • wooly nylon thread
  • Lite Steam-A-Seam 2, 1/2” wide
      1. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to fuse the Steam-A-Seam tape to the wrong side of the fabric, about 1/8” from the raw edge that you wish to hem.

Remove the paper backing, then fold the sticky tape to the wrong side of the fabric, using the edge of the tape as your folding guide. Press again following the manufacturer’s instructions. You should have a 5/8” hem.

2. Hand-wind a bobbin with wooly nylon thread (don’t stretch the thread too tightly as you wind) and insert your bobbin. Since a mock-coverstitch isn’t quite as stretchy as a real coverstitch, the wooly nylon will create extra give in your hem, assuring that you won’t snap any threads during everyday wear and tear.

3. Change out your regular Stretch needle for a Stretch Twin needle. Check out your sewing machine’s manual for instructions on how to thread a twin needle. Thread, then test your stitch on a scrap of your fabric. If you’re getting a ridge between the two lines of stitching, you need to reduce the top tension. (Mine is usually at a 4 or 5, but I turn it down to 1 for mock-coverstitching.)

Shop News:
New Knits by Patty Young for Michael Miller are available for preorder in the shop! We’ll begin shipping these orders on 6/28.


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139 Responses to Tips for Working With Knits & Mock-Coverstitch Tutorial

  1. maldiverna says:

    keep up the good work on the blog. I like it. Could maybe use some more updates more often, but i’m quite sure that you got some other things stuff to do like we all have to do unfortunately. =p

  2. Classic says:

    Ok im out right now.

  3. laura says:

    When I got settings on my machine that I liked I made samples on white fabric and wrote on them with sharpie what the dials said. The steam a seam idea is awesome- I think it will solve a lot of issues I’ve had. Thanks!

  4. Mary says:

    One reason I haven’t invested in a serger with coverstitch is because I feel I can get almost the same effect with the twin needle. I’ve never used wooly nylon in the bobbin though and am anxious to try it. Thanks

  5. teri pastorino says:

    thank you so much for posting this, i tried to make some leggings for my daughter out of stretch knit, my first attempt with it, what a disaster. you answered a lot of my questions. so now i need to go try again and set aside a play day to learn what i need to do
    teri

  6. Kim says:

    Oh I SO appreciate this information!!! I am still getting the hang of knits and trying to make them look as professional as possible. I will be using these tips very soon :)

  7. Cynthia says:

    This rocks! I’ve just begun to sew with knits, and I’m smitten! I love fabric embellishment and dyeing….so I’m sewing up my own blanks. Let’s hear it for summer and tie dye!

  8. Sarah says:

    I just started sewing with knits (yesterday!) and I am having a heck of a time! This tutorial is EXACTLY what I was looking for… Now when the kids let me, I’ll go mess around with my machine!

  9. Miss Muffin says:

    Thanks so much for this post! Have been looking all over the net for tips to sew knits … so this post is REALlY appreciated!

  10. Natalija says:

    Thank you for those tips, I am sewing a lot of knits, but do not have a serger. I have figured out already some things on my own, but any additional advice always helps.

  11. Pumpkinbear says:

    Shout-out to the zigzag stitch and ballpoint needle! I sew T-shirts ALL the time, and I can muscle through any project with the zigzag and the ballpoint.

  12. I (heart) my wooly nylon thread. :) Thanks for the other tips!

  13. Stacy says:

    Thank you so much for the knit tips – I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to try knits, and having a roadmap really helps.

  14. ~Helena~ says:

    I meant great info. hehe

  15. ~Helena~ says:

    Great ifo.

  16. Melissa says:

    Thanks for this informative post — I’m just getting into sewing knits and this was very helpful.

  17. Joke says:

    I’m going to try that this weekend!

  18. Amanda B says:

    Awesome tips for sewing knits. I’m just getting into it and this is a great guide!

  19. Theresa says:

    I’m guessing that sewing with knits is a lot like putting in zippers…not so difficult once you give it a go. Great advice, tips, and hints make it less intimidating, so thanks much for putting my fear to rest!

  20. Marla A. says:

    Thanks for the knit sewing tips. I’ve been considering making a knit top for some time now. I’ll definitely get some stretch needles and give it a try.

  21. Heather says:

    This is just the information I’ve been needing. Thank you!!!

  22. Jessica C says:

    I’m going to have to try these tips out

  23. Rosa in the Antipodes says:

    I loved this post! It’s time to make one of those beautiful Finn’s knit caps for my little man! Thank you so much Meg!

  24. Marcia W. says:

    Beautiful Patty Young fabrics. Thank you for providing this informative article.

  25. Deece says:

    I have just recently begun to sew with knits. I love it! I don’t have a serger, but so far I’ve been able to pull it off decently using my Singer. Thank you for the tips.

  26. Lisa says:

    oh wow, thanks SO much for this bit of help. You provided answers I just haven’t been able to find yet.

  27. 4vs1 says:

    I am so intimidated with sewing knits… even though this is probably the fabric I love to wear most often and my girls love it too – so comfy! I am wanting to try sewing with it. These tips will definitely help me out! Thanks so much!

  28. Anna says:

    I am so motivated after reading this article. Thanks Meg!

  29. claireel says:

    these are great tips

  30. Nicole Lamb says:

    Those Patty Young fabrics could be my most favorite patterns ever!

  31. Raheli says:

    This is great — I just sew with an old Kenmore machine, so I’ve only got a few stitch options, and Meg makes it sound like I might be able to pull off some nice looking knits without investing in some fancy machinery

  32. Claire says:

    I tried to sew some knits and it was really frustrating. I will try these tips. Thanks so much!

  33. Amy says:

    Great tips! I’ve been looking for a concise guide to knits and this works! Thanks!

  34. amber says:

    I love the way knits feel but have always been afraid to sew with them but armed with these trips I think I might give it a try.

  35. Desiree says:

    thank you! i just made a dress from cotton/knit mix and the machine kept skipping a stitch or two… i will def. get a better needle and some new thread.

  36. Latrilla says:

    Thanks for the tips! Very informative. Sewing with knits can be very intimidating. It really is about gaining the knowledge and confidence to move forward.

  37. DebbieKL says:

    great tips! I have some knits I’ve been avoiding because I’ve heard they’re tricky.

  38. Amy says:

    Great tips, even for someone whose been sewing for years.Thanks!

  39. Unity says:

    Thank you for this.

  40. Ramona says:

    Great tips. Lots of things I didn’t know.

  41. Rochelle says:

    Thanks for the knit tips! I’ve written down your needle recommendations for my trip to town later today. I’ll be putting the sleeves on my first knit t-shirt this evening.

  42. marilyn podoll says:

    Thanks for the tips. I’m going to be brave and try this. I’m looking for big ladies patterns. Not much to choose from.

  43. Catherine says:

    so helpful–thanks! my kids always choose their boughten knit clothes first, over the woven ones I work so hard to sew. I would love to sew them up some beautiful knit clothing.

  44. Kathy says:

    Thanks for the tips! I picked up some knit fabric just the other day, brought it home and then realized that I didn’t know how to sew knit fabric.

  45. Megan Curtis says:

    Thanks for the tips! I’ve been frustrated by knits more than once!

  46. Angel says:

    Thanks for all the knit tips…I personally like wearing knits and of course my kids do so this was great (bring on more!) tips and projects with knits.

  47. Celeste says:

    So helpful!

  48. PeachRainbow says:

    Thanks for sharing

  49. Erin says:

    Mock-coverstitch! Just the tutorial I needed!! Thank you so much for all these tips.

  50. Lori says:

    Thanks for this! Knits scare me to death but I feel like I may just be confident enough to try this now!

  51. QSOgirl says:

    those Michael Miller knits are gorgeous!! I am lucky enough to have a great serger with a coverstitch function that is very easy to thread, so I actually love sewing on knits— I just wish I had more time!!

  52. Diana says:

    Thanks for sharing these tips! I loook forward to trying knits again.

  53. Deb Cameron says:

    How timely! Seriously, I had a free afternoon and have a lovely knit cardigan cut out that I was chomping at the bit to sew. Low and behold, I sew the first seam on my serger and the bottom loopers are loose…I spent two hours this afternoon playing with the tension, pressure of the foot, stitch lenght etc to no AVAIL! So tonight I spent another hour threading and rethreadingng my machine – UGH! Anyway in desperation I logged onto the web and read some troubleshooting – everything I read I had tried, except on thing that I read maybe 4-5 times, said in an offhand way, “reset your tension when you rethread to 0 and then set your tension again” – given I’d done everything else I thought I’d try it – YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE IT! THAT IS WHAT FIXED IT! Ha! I’m soooo glad, but really – should this not be included in the manual! And then for some light relief I logged on to SewMamaSew and the post today is about Sergers! Too FUNNY! Thank you :-)

  54. Vanessa says:

    Thanks for the useful tips! I am just waiting for a knit fabric to arrive, and will definitely take all this into account when using it.

  55. katevet says:

    Thank you so much! I love her blog!

  56. lisa says:

    I have not been sewing for long, and have only sewed with wovens, but I have been hoarding some beautiful knits I scored at a steal of a deal last year for something special. Now with these great tips I feel confident that I won’t ruin my stash now! Thanks A Million

  57. Jenny says:

    Oh thank you! I definitely need all the tips I can get.

  58. sy says:

    thanks for the tips. i’ll be sure to pick up some wooly nylon thread.

  59. I’d love to win! I just recently purchased my very first sewing machine and I’m so excited!! I have so many things I want to make! Quilts are a must! hehe!!

    Thanks for the chance to win and I love all of your tips and tutorials. Thanks so much for all your hard work and your blog!

    Angie

  60. Michelle says:

    I didn’t know you could use Wooly Nylon in a regular machine bobbin! Thanks for the knit tips.

  61. Janine says:

    Thank you for this article, I have never sewn with knits being intimated about the stretch, but this article makes them very accesable.

  62. lots of good tips, thank you!

  63. Kimberly says:

    Love the coverstitch hints. I have always wondered how that works!

  64. Abigail A. says:

    Thanks for the helpful tips! I have been preparing to make some tanks and tees, and of course I want them to look as professional as possible. I will give these tips a go on my next project.

  65. Laurel says:

    So practical. Thanks!

  66. Molly says:

    Ah! Timely topic for me!! I can’t wait to give knits a try!

  67. Julie says:

    Thanks for the tips. I have a serger but I will also try the mock coverstitch.

  68. Danyelle says:

    Thanks for all the great information!

  69. Corvus says:

    Good tips! I need to get myself a walking foot.

  70. Ginger says:

    Good info. I’ve heard various things about using a stretch or a ball point needle, so I keep both on hand.

  71. Jennifer S. says:

    the new knits look lovely!

  72. susan hwang says:

    lovely tips, thank you. i use the same needles from Schmetz. they work great :)

  73. Kirsten says:

    I was just trying a mock cover stitch this weekend (love how the back of the twin needle gives a zig zag and allows a little stretch) but was getting that ridge between my stitches. Now I know to turn down the top tension. I also hadn’t thought about using wooly nylon in my bobbin. Thanks for the amazing tips!!!

  74. Christine says:

    Great tutorial! Thanks.

  75. Laura says:

    I too have been afraid of knits. It still seems a bit overwhelming, but at least I know where to start!

  76. rachelmp says:

    This was really helpful to read as I hoping to sew the Modkids Maya pattern (for my daughter Maya) soon and I don’t have stretch sewing experience. You have given me some extra confidence – thanks!

  77. Kimberly says:

    Thanks! I have been too nervous to try knits but feel encouraged to try.

  78. Amanda says:

    Thank you! I just got a bunch of knits but have been too nervous to dig in. I’m ready now (I think!).

  79. Danielle says:

    fantastic tutorial! many thanks!

  80. Christina says:

    I cannot wait to go sew some knits with these tips! Thank you!

  81. georgia says:

    Ack!!! Michael Miller knits?? I think I might die of anticipation!

  82. naomig says:

    I love sewing with knits, but I’m always so interested to see what other people do, as I’ve definitely had questions as I’ve learned. Thanks for all this great info!

  83. Jackie H says:

    What a fantabulous article! Thanks so much for putting the time in to demystify working with knits, esp since the Patty Young knits just came out..haha. ;)

  84. Renee Smith says:

    Thanks so much! I will definitely bookmark this to refer back once I have some more time to start sewing… the last summer of Montessori training is no time for that! I cannot wait to get to sewing!

  85. Jen L says:

    Great tip with the wooly thhread in the bobbin – I hadn’t thought of that

  86. Patti Johnson says:

    Thanks for those tips! I hope to make some t’s this summer so it’ll be great to give those tips a try!

  87. Joanna says:

    I have been trying things on my sewing machine that I’ve never done before, and sewing with knits is one I have on my agenda. Thanks for the tips.

  88. Megan says:

    I just bought the fabric for my first ever knit skirt and these tips are great!

  89. Cinnamon says:

    Such helpful tips, but I still feel intimidated! I think a class is in my future.

  90. shannon says:

    I love sewing knits and these tips are great! :) I can never learn enough!!! I’m really enjoying this month!

    I am so excited about the new Michael Miller knits! Yay! :)

  91. Kelli says:

    Thanks for the tips. I’ve worked with knits, but very, very limited and always with someone around to help. I think I’m ready to give them a shot…after I make a dent in my to-do ist!

  92. Barbara says:

    Oh, I LOVE the tip about wooly nylon in the bobbin! I’ve been sewing knits forever, but I’ve never heard of that before. Thanks!

  93. Jamey says:

    Wow, this is really helpful! I didn’t know how to fix my wavy edge problem before. Thanks!

  94. Layla says:

    I’ve never heard the wooly nylon thread tip before; thanks! Looking forward to your next book, Meg!

  95. Super helpful! Knits can often be elusive!

  96. Andi says:

    I have some knit fabric just waiting to be made into something – this will be helpful, thanks!

  97. Katrina says:

    I just used a twin needle on the hem of my knits and it works really well, thank you for the additional tips, hopefully i can get things to work on my necklines now!

  98. Ms. Fine says:

    So very timely. I’m a total knitty chicken and I even ahve a serger for pete’s sake. I’m going to buy your favorite needle, a yard of knit fabric and just try it with no pressure of perfection. THanks for the motivation!

  99. Wendy says:

    Awesome tips! Thanks!

  100. Ana says:

    Thanks for those tips. I have always used a zigzag for sewing jersey but never been happy with the look of the finished seam. I shall definitely try a twin needle next time.

  101. bethany says:

    thank you so much for this post.

  102. Jen says:

    Thanks for the info about the overlock machine. I figured out how to sew knits on my regular machine, and I was frustrated that my overlock, which should work best, was giving me the worst time. Now I know … :)

  103. Rebecca says:

    thanks!

  104. Amber F. says:

    Thanks for the great info!! I’m determined to conquer using knits and this will help a ton.

  105. Eva says:

    Thanks for the tips, I was really really scared about knits.

  106. Addy says:

    I recently tried to sew the underarm seam of a sleeveless knit shirt to close the gap a bit, and, for some reason, the thread wouldn’t go through the fabric. I used a normal, new needle, and I would be sewing along, only to realize there weren’t any stitches! What was I doing wrong?

  107. Suzanne says:

    Great tips! One day I’ll take the leap and try making something with knits…

  108. Sascha says:

    Love these tips!

  109. Mama Lusco says:

    Thanks for the tips! I like knits because of their comfort but haven’t tried to mock-coverstitch yet. I need to buy some good thread!

  110. Doris says:

    I have to admit I’m pretty skittish about sewing with stretchy textiles, but this info is hopefully going to help me next time I do! Great tips…

  111. Chris says:

    I love working with knits. It does take a bit more time learning the techniques and figuring out the settings for your machine but the end results are so worth it. These are great tips that should make learning easier.

  112. Trish B. says:

    Knits are hard… but rewarding because they can fit so well sometimes…

  113. Sarah M says:

    Awesome post. I have yet to try clothes for myself because of the fear I have stitching with knits (though I have repurosed old clothes of mine to make for my kids…go figure). I think I have the guts to try it out now!~
    Sarah M

  114. Lark says:

    I’ve been hesitant to use knits. These tips really help me feel like it is possible with my simple old machine!

  115. Christine says:

    Thanks for the tips!

  116. Jen says:

    What a fabulous list of tips! Thank you!!

  117. corinnea says:

    Very good info. Thanks!

  118. Joan Gutierrez says:

    I just started to sew with knits myself. I am working on a dress. I am going to switch to my walking foot to check out the result and I will also purchase the stretch twin needles and Lite Steam-a-seam to sew my hem. I am so happy you are doing a series of article this week on sewing knits. Thank You.

  119. Sam says:

    Thanks for the info on woolly nylon – I’ve never used it but have been meaning to try!

  120. Sara says:

    Great info!

  121. Lynne says:

    Wow! Great information! Thanks!

  122. What a great tip to use wooly nylon in the bobbin of the regular machine with the twin needle.

  123. Thank-You so much for this informative post! I am just about to begin sewing with knits, and this little bit of encouragment was just what I needed!

  124. Denise M. says:

    Thanks for the tips! I want to try knits, but they do scare me. I also appreciate the non-serger owner tips.

  125. Ana V says:

    Very helpful. Thank you!

  126. Claire says:

    Great tips! I’ll be sure to use them!

  127. Kimberly says:

    How helpful. Thank you!

  128. Amy Hooper says:

    Awesome tips! I look forward to trying these out! Thanks for your well- explained tutorial.

  129. Margie Bennett says:

    I really NEED these tips as knits still scare me !!

  130. I will try the tip for the wooly nylon for the twin needle. Maybe this will solve the problems I had :)

  131. Stine says:

    THANK YOU! This is EXACLTY the kind of advice I need right now. Did you hear my cursing this weekend? :-)

  132. Melissa says:

    Wow, lots of great tips! First up, gotta find that manual..

  133. Cat says:

    These are great tips. I would love to take a whole class on sewing knits!

  134. Charity says:

    Great tips!!

  135. Katie says:

    This is fantastic!! So many great tips!! Can’t wait to try the mock coverstitch method!!

  136. Michelle says:

    Thanks for this! I have a serger, but it does not do a coverstitch and a new one is out of the question. I want to work more with knits, but hate that everything looked so homemade. I can’t wait to try these tips out on some baby clothes. Thanks again!

  137. Tong says:

    Thanks for the tips! I’ve yet to try sewing with knits, but the info touched on here will definitely come in handy one day!

  138. nopinkhere says:

    Thanks! I really need to write down my settings when I find a happy place because I never remember them later.

  139. Amy Hodge says:

    Thanks so much for these tips! I’ve just started sewing with knits, and was perplexed that the patterns I have do not include hardly any edge finishes (I know it doesn’t ravel, but I don’t like the look for everything). This will be so helpful!

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