Match your stretch % to your pattern
Consider the amount of stretch (and recovery) in your knit fabric against your intended pattern. Make sure it has enough stretch. If you are using a cotton lycra with less stretch than the pattern suggests, you may want to sew a bigger size.
Cut your pattern pieces according to greatest direction of stretch
The direction of greatest amount of stretch for a knit fabric is always the crossgrain. When laying out your pieces for cutting, take into consideration where you will need the garment to stretch the most and align your pattern accordingly. (cross-grain runs from selvedge to selvedge)
Continuing with our t-shirt example, around the torso or trunk of the body is generally where you will need the greatest amount of stretch. Placing the greatest amount of stretch in this direction enables the shirt to pull in and ‘hug’ your body.
Understanding in which direction a garment needs the greatest amount of stretch is particularly useful when cutting out materials for patterns that have panels, inserts, and other features (think gussets), that may require stretch in different directions to other pieces.
Stretch knit fabrics have a lot of inbuilt movement. When it comes to cutting knits, the less movement the material experiences, the greater the accuracy of your pattern pieces (and hence the final fit of your garment).
A rotary cutter, a cutting mat and paper weights are very handy when cutting out cotton knit fabrics. We recommend using a 45mm cutter for most pieces, combined with a smaller 28mm cutter for those tight corners.
If you are going to use scissors, then take care not to stretch the pattern pieces as you cut!
Use the correct needle
Using the incorrect needle for a knitted material leads to holes and skipped stitches. Using the correct rounded-tipped needle, pushes the fibres to either side, preserving the integrity of the material and resulting in perfect stitching.
We recommend jersey or ball point needles when working with our cotton jersey knit fabrics. The lighter the fabric, the lower the needle size and vice versa.
Universal needles are not recommended as despite being a ‘jack of all needles’ they can still cut fibres instead of moving them aside.
Stitch length and stitches
When using a regular sewing machine you have several options:
Set the stitch length between 2.5-3mm and the ‘zig’ width to 0.5mm. This slight zig zag stitch creates a small amount of ‘give’ in the line of stitching. A wider ‘zag’ might be necessary for seams that experience a lot of stress.
This stitch builds in the zig zag in what looks like a straight stitch but is actually on a slight diagonal. Use a 4mm stitch length with 1mm width ‘zag’.
Another stitch that looks straight and slightly wider than usual. This is because each ‘step’ is covered three times to build in the stretch. This stitch looks professional but takes longer to produce and 3x more thread. I reserve this stitch for top stitching on places that are going to take a lot of beating ie. necklines, cuffs, hems.
This sounds entirely counter intuitive, but if you use the especially designed Mettler Seraflex elastic sewing thread, you can sew with a normal straight stitch on your sewing machine! MaaiDesign has just started stocking this miracle thread but it's so popular that it can sell out in a matter of hours! (Make sure you are on the newsletter list to get the first information about restocked items.)
Use a walking foot (if you have one)
The feed dogs or ‘teeth’ under the sewing foot push the bottom fabric along as you sew. Because jersey knit fabrics stretch, the fabric on the bottom can get pushed through at a different speed to the top fabric. What started out as a matching side seam, can push out and become two different lengths! A walking foot has its own teeth to push through the top layer at the same rate as the bottom.
A walking foot is a great investment as it works especially well for stretch, cotton jersey fabric, Lycra fabric, delicate fabrics, and fabrics with a pile such as velour. They are also useful for double gauze fabric and quilting where there are many layers of material to move through the sewing machine.
Necklines, shoulder seams and hems are areas that are put under large levels of stress either in putting on the garment or are critical seams from which the garment hangs.
Load bearing seams
Shoulder seams often carry most of the weight of a garment. To prevent sagging or the seam stretching out over time, stabilise these seams use a clear elastic sewn into the seam from the wrong side of the fabric, or a strips of interfacing. Consider attaching the elastic to the back pattern piece so that when you press the shoulder seam towards the back, the elastic is hidden and won’t catch on your skin.
Stabilising load bearing seams improves the longevity of your garment.
Reinforce areas of intense stretch
Necklines and hems are susceptible to large forces in short bursts. Topstitching with triple stitch reinforces these areas so that the main seam line isn’t taking all the stress.
When sewing a V-neck in a cotton jersey, it is recommended to apply a small piece of knit interfacing (e.g. 1cm wide) around the V section, which will help create a crisp V shape, and make sewing a neck binding in the area much easier.
Use a stretch twin needle
Stabilise the hem with iron on stretch interfacing and then use a stretch specific twin needle to create a professional looking finish. This finish must be sewn from the correct side of the garment.
Adding stretch interfacing minimises the issue of ‘tunnelling’ caused by tension issues. Alternatively, you can adjust the tension on your bobbin case and forgo the interfacing.
(You may need to consult your machine manual to thread the second spool correctly.)
Use triple stitch
As explained above, triple stitch is a reinforcing stitch that is durable and looks like a single stitch line at a pass.
Use a band or cuff
To create a band or cuff finish, use either the self-fabric or a ribbing fabric folded double and attached to edge of the garment. This method is used particularly in making jumpers, cardigans, and hoodies.
Forgo hemming and use the raw edge
Cotton jersey knit does not fray, so you can leave the edges raw if you prefer that look.
MaaiDesign aims to be one of the top suppliers of quality cotton jersey knit fabric online in Australia and to be the fabric store of choice for modern makers with a passion for sewing.
We pride ourselves on supporting indie sewing pattern businesses and stocking only high quality materials so that your projects look great, feel great and last a lifetime.