My five rules for sewing with knits

In my last post on two Molly tops, I mentioned I put to paper my own five rules on sewing with knits, and agreed to follow them to-the-letter.  What follows are those five rules. Note that many of these contradict advice by experts who have a lot more than my nearly five months of sewing experience, so use at your own risk.

1. Don’t backstitch. My Singer (hereafter referred to as “Singer”. I also call her “Sing-ee”) won’t backstitch on knits. She just chews the fabric like a hamster. The workaround: When finished sewing the seam, pull the top thread through to the back and tie a knot. I read that some sewists actually prefer this to backstitching and do it all the time.  Makes sense because it prevents a lot of bulk and any chance of thread nests.

Worth noting that you can buy hamster fabric from Spoonflower. They really have everything!


2. Don’t sew close to the edges. The closest Singer can sew to the edge (on knits) is 1/2″. Any closer than that and it’s chew time. The seam allowance on the Molly top is 5/8″, so no issues there. But, I had to start all my seams almost an inch into the fabric. Johanna Lu at The Last Stitch had the solution for this: Put another piece of fabric behind your fabric. Sew that piece as a basting stitch, then go to your zigzag when you’re on the real fabric. At the end, pull the basting thread out and tie it.

This worked so well, I gave it a name: The seam train! It seemed especially appropriate because my walking foot looks like a train car.


Hop on the seam train!


Pull the seam train caboose off the end and re-use for the next seam!

I’m sure I was pulling an imaginary steam whistle in the air every time this worked.  My stitches were finally starting right at the edge. Very exciting!

3. Use the walking foot. I bought a walking foots for knits, but had not been using it most of the time. Mostly because it’s loud and clunky and makes it difficult to see the project underneath it. Johannu Lu suggested a fabric glue stick could do the same, which I tried. But for a whole seam it was just too much work. In the end, the walking foot produced the same result as the glue stick with no pre-work.

4. Use a microtex needle. I heard this tip on the Love to Sew podcast. They said a ballpoint or jersey needle doesn’t work for everyone and to try a microtex. I had tried a ballpoint needle and Singer dropped stitches all over the place. I tried every size of other needle I had and still she was dropping stitches. With the microtex, this issue cleared up immediately and I didn’t see another dropped stitch.

5. Don’t use a twin needle or mess with the bobbin tension. Seamwork had recommended a twin-needle technique for sewing necklines and hems on knits. They said if your machine is tunneling, try and adjust the bobbin tension. This was a mistake for me. Singer did not like me fiddling with her bobbin tension and she let me know it.

I had loosened the bobbin tension and tried sewing with two needles on a scrap. I soon heard and felt a very loud clunk and nearly fell out of my chair. It was the bobbin — and bobbin casing — breaking completely free of their mechanisms and flying around inside the machine. It was not fun putting this back together, nor figuring out what the proper tension was supposed to be again. My advice if you have a vintage machine — don’t fiddle with the bobbin tension.

I followed these rules and only used a small (not wide or long) zig-zag for everything.


My univeral knit stitch: tiny zig-zag

No other stitches needed! -rp

One thought on “My five rules for sewing with knits

  1. Really good tips especially the seam train. How many times have I fought a rats nest on starting a difficult seam!

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