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Let's Sew a Cardigan

12 Lessons taught by Sienna

917 Seamwork members have watched this class.

Lesson 3: Knits Without a Serger

You can totally sew knit fabrics on a regular sewing machine! Don’t let not owning a serger hold you back from sewing up comfy knit garments.

In this lesson you’ll learn:

  • How to set up your machine to sew knits (00:20)

  • Three options for seaming knit garments (01:26)

  • Three options for hemming knit garments (02:50)

  • Plus some quick tips (04:00)


A serger makes assembling knit garments really fast, but you can totally sew knits on your regular sewing machine. In this lesson, I’ll cover some tips for sewing knits without a serger including how to prepare your machine, options for seaming and hemming, plus a few other quick tips.

First, let’s get our sewing machines ready to sew knits.

Set yourself up for success by switching to a ballpoint or jersey needle. These needles have a rounded tip which gently pushes through knit fabric instead of piercing it. Use a smaller sized needle for finer knits and a larger one for heavier fabrics.

If your knit has a lot of spandex or lycra, try using a stretch needle instead of a ballpoint needle. Stretch needles are specially designed to move through elastic without skipping stitches.

Get out your manual and if it has the option, adjust your machine’s presser foot pressure. If the pressure is too high when you’re sewing knits, it’ll stretch out your seams. Typically a setting of 1 or lower works well with knits.

A walking foot is a really handy accessory for sewing knits. It has its own feed dogs to help gently and uniformly feed fabric through your machine. Make sure you purchase a walking foot for your brand of sewing machine.

The fun thing about sewing knits with your sewing machine is you’re able to create both the construction and finishing stitch all at once.

A zigzag stitch is a great way to seam knit fabrics. Its inherent stretch allows for the fabric to stretch and move without fear of popping a seam.

On light to medium weight knits, try using a stitch length of 1.5 and a width of 5. To finish, trim the seam allowance close to the stitching. It even looks similar to an overlock stitch!

Some sewing machines even have overlock stitches. Since these types of stitches have a back-and-forth stitch path, be sure to support your project so it doesn’t get stretched out. Remember to backstitch to secure, then trim to neaten the seam allowance edges.

If you’re sewing thicker fabrics like ponte or heavy double knits, you might need to press seam allowances open to reduce bulk. Use a reinforced straight stitch in this case. A reinforced straight stitch is created by the needle moving forward and backward in a straight line, placing three parallel stitches side by side.

It’s best to finish knit garments with a single fold hem. This reduces bulk and helps keep the hem from rolling to right side. Just like in construction, using a stitch that stretches is important when hemming knit garment, especially if it has negative ease.

If you want to mimic the look of overstitch, use a twin needle. A twin needle will fit into any standard sewing machine. Check your sewing machine manual to learn about threading for your make and model of machine.

If you’re hemming a knit garment with ease, meaning it won’t need to stretch a whole lot, consider using a narrow zigzag. Adjust the width to be a very narrow 0.5 and your length to be just a bit longer than normal, approximately 3. Settings will vary depending on how heavy or light your fabric is, so always test.

If you’re hemming a really stable knit, try using a reinforced straight stitch to hem. This stitch line is pretty bold, so make sure you’ve matched your thread well, or go for a contrasting thread.

Tip 1: Always save scraps to test your needle and machine settings. Test stitching in both directions, since they will behave differently and may require slightly different settings. Take note of these variations and store with your project as you work.

Tip 2: Do not stretch as you sew or resist the feed of your machine by pulling the fabric toward or away from you.

Tip 3: Support the weight of your project while you sew. Do not let it fall to the ground as it passes through your sewing machine, which will stretch your project out. Position your sewing machine so there is plenty of space for your fabric to be supported behind and to the left of your sewing machine.

Tip 4: If some stretch occurs during the sewing process, hover your iron approximately 1” above the stretched seam and apply steam. The heat and moisture of the steam will help to shrink the seam back to its intended size and shape.

You’re ready to sew knits on your sewing machine! Happy sewing!

Let's Sew a Cardigan

Here’s what you’ll need for this project:

  • The Milo pattern

  • Medium to heavyweight knit fabric

  • All-purpose polyester sewing thread

  • Ballpoint sewing machine needle

  • Ballpoint twin needle

  • 1 yard of knit interfacing

  • Six 1” buttons for version 1, five 1” buttons for version 2

  • Optionally: 1/4 yard knit stay tape for reinforcing your shoulder seams


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