Thursday, March 1, 2012

T-Shirt Series: Putting Your Shirt Together

Sorry, this next post has taken a little longer to get all put together and posted.  Life is happening around here--as I'm sure yours is as well. 

Now that you have some information and a few of our hints for knits we can get started putting a t-shirt together.  You have your correct needle (ballpoint) and now you need to figure out what stitch you are going to use so that your knit fabric will stretch, like it is supposed to, once you are finished with your project.

There are a number of options you can use. 
By all means if you have a Serger use it.  This is probably the best method for knits.  However, you can achieve nice garments without one.  So don't be discouraged and rush right out and buy one.

Most machines are equipped with a some sort of stretch stitch option.

Below are 2 of my (both Kenmore) machines.  The yellow stitches shown on the bottom row are all the stretch stitch options.  Some are more decorative than constructive stitches, but lots of options nonetheless.
I have used mostly #1 and #6 (starting from the left).
You just need to change the stitch length dial (left) to the stretch option to get to those stitches.

 Same thing on this machine, but with not as many options.

Check your manual to see what it recommends. 
Practice and test, then do it again, and again, on some knit scraps. 
You'll find which stitch(es) you are most comfortable with and what gives you the best result based on your machine and settings and the particular fabric you use.

You may think that this is a bit of a cop-out; however, even pattern companies can't agree on the same method to use for knit fabrics.

Just looking at some of my patterns I found that this is what they had to say.

McCalls, Butterick & Vogue
  • "Stretch fabric slightly while stitching." 
Really this is a bit vague if you ask me.  What this means is when stitching with a straight stitch.  But otherwise that is their tip.  No other info included in the instructions to help you out.

I have to admit I do use this method a lot. However, (big pause) I've also sewn for a lot of years and kind of have the "feel" for it through trial and error.  If your tension and settings aren't right then the fabric will not hang right or even stretch at all.  (Done that more than once) Or if you stretch more than "slightly" you can completely distort your garment. Or your fabric will distort on its own without you even helping it.  So annoying!  I think this method takes a bit of practice and then it'll change with different types of knits.  So until you've sewn awhile with knits I would recommend finding a stretch stitch on your machine that you like or use the zig-zag method which we talk about below.

Kwik Sew

If you've never sewn with knits before, Kwik Sew really does include the best instructions about sewing with knits (including swimwear).  AND they have pics--even better. I copied the little section that is included on one of the t-shirt patterns I have from Kwik Sew. Click on pic to enlarge and read it easier. 

They also tell you which needle to use (Ballpoint!!)

Simplicity & New Look

  • "If you use a zig-zag machine...use a narrow stitch, medium length; trim seam to 1/4" and overcast edges together by machine. If you use a straight stitch...stretch fabric as you sew (unless working on a firm double knit) and sew seams 2 or 3 times close together."
In response to the sew 2 or 3 times close together.  I would only do this on a shoulder seam I think--somewhere where I really don't want the seam to stretch.  I don't ever do this. 

The zig-zag method is Tiffany's go to choice when working with knits.

Here is how she sets up her (White) machine normally.
Top dial is stitch LENGTH
Bottom dial is stitch WIDTH

Length at about 2 1/2 and width at 0.

And then her set up to sew on knits.
Length at 1 and width at about 3 1/2.

And here is a side by side of her zig-zag compared to a straight stitch based on the numbers listed above.

This allows for a lot of stretch and also can use up a lot of thread.  Once she has the fit right on her t-shirt she then goes back over and uses her serger to complete the garment covering up the zig-zag for the most part.  If you don't have a serger, you certainly don't need to use one as the knit will not fray or ravel.  It just makes your garment look more professional.
Having not used this method much I did a little practicing myself to see if I liked it.  I tried to go more on what Kwik Sew recommendations are:  narrow stitch width and medium length, so that I could have a comparison.

So my machine is set up like this.
Left dial is stitch LENGTH and right dial is stitch WIDTH.

After switching my dial to the zig-zag option, I leave my stitch LENGTH where I normally sew--at a 3.
However, I then move the stitch WIDTH to a 1 (more or less).
It would be set at 0 for a straight stitch.

Here is a side by side of my zig-zag option (left) and the straight stitch (right) based on the numbers above.
It sure doesn't look like there is any difference at all in the stitches, but there is a definite difference in the amount of stretch available for the fabric.

I tried this method on a Jersey chevron skirt I just made and loved it.  I'll be showing that a little later.

So I guess the point of this post is this: try a few different stitching options and see what you like best and see what your machine likes best.  Practice all the methods to get a feel for what will happen and then you can make a good choice for you.  There really is no one wrong or right way.  What we're all aiming for is a nicely constructed garment that people will admire.

Up next: Some detail options for hemming, necklines and other adjustments to personalize your tees.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this! I have been reading your t-shirt series tonight and have been learning so much. I am new to sewing with knits and now have an idea of where to begin. Nobody (not even the book I bought FOR learning to sew with knits) has explained it as well as you have.

    1. Glad we could help. I love sewing with knits and really think they aren't as scary as many people think. Feel free to email us if you have any questions while you're working on projects.



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