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Sewing Sweater Knit: Tips for your Coziest Seasonal Projects!

Here in Central Virginia, January is just the start of our winter weather. It’s usually reliable for at least one big snowfall, and months of looks-like-Springtime-until-you’re-repeatedly-smacked-with-freezing-temps-and-accumulationless-precipitation. In other words: It’s sweater weather. And when I saw the Cali Fabric stock of sweater knits, I knew I needed to make my own to see me through this season of whiplash weather. So that’s exactly what I did!

Along the way, I found a few tips and had some “I made that mistake so you didn’t have to” experiences to share. I’ll warn you right off the bat – this is NOT a beginner friendly fabric choice. And it will take quite a time investment (at least, your first go at sewing sweater fabrics). But the results are oh-so-worth-it! Let’s hop to it, shall we??

sweatercover

Pre-wash

Sweater knits are still knits – so prewash on delicate, preferably in a delicate’s bag, and free of snag-inducing buttons, clasps, zippers, etc. I dried mine on low heat (also a delicate setting) because I know my own laziness when caring for sweater – but you’ll extend the life of your garment if you lay flat and reshape.

Pick a simple sew

The fewer seams, the better! And the straighter those seams are, the better! I strongly recommend a project with raglan sleeves, and few bindings. If your pattern does use bands or bindings, I recommend picking up a coordinating rib or jersey knit for those pieces. These sweater knits are simply too bulky for the job!

I chose the Toaster Sweater #1 from Sew House Seven, omitting the cuffs and carefully handling the bottom band.

Before you handle: De-Accessorize.

Bracelets, rings, even low necklaces are ripe for sweater-knit-snagging. Set yourself up for success by removing these items (and any clutter in your work-space, too).

Start your project when you have the time to finish it.

From the moment you cut out your pieces (more on that below) – your raw edges will be prone to unraveling. The more you handle the, the worse it’ll get. This fabric is not a candidate for a “pile it on my desk and move it around for a few weeks until inspiration strikes” project. Don’t cut until you’re ready to sew – don’t start sewing unless you’ve got time to finish.

Cut Carefully

Consider cutting on the floor, or on a table that can fit your whole cut of fabric. Sweater knit can be heavy – so any amount of it hanging off the side of an elevated work space can stretch it out and yield wonky cuts.

Cut your “on fold” pieces one side at a time. Thicker fabrics are less reliable for getting the right shape piece when cut on fold. Sweater knits are no exception. Cut one half (*not* including the fold line) – flip the pattern piece – and cut the other half. Likewise, don’t layer the fabric to cut two pieces out at once. It takes a little extra time, but the results are more reliable.

When you’re ready to cut out your pieces – cut with a generous seam allowance. Many knit patterns are designed with a 3/8 seam allowance (for use with a serger) – but you’ll want the extra wiggle room when the edges start to unravel.

Watch for your fabric to “spring” back into shape while you cut. Even when laid out carefully, these knits can stretch out. It’s ok! But when you cut it, and it “releases” back to it’s original shape, shift your pattern piece accordingly so your pieces are the right size in the end.

Avoid Serger TemptationIvory Cable Sweater Knit

When sewing with chunky weaves like this ivory sweater knit (or these in-stock versions in black and red), it’s best to embrace your sewing machine. You’re going to need the control over every cut and verifying every seam allowance. So load up your machine with a fresh stretch needle and prepare for an exact (but time consuming) assembly process!

Cut 2 inch wide binding strips

We’re going to enclose every seam with bias binding. Knits don’t fray like wovens do, but I’ll keep banging the “sweater knits unravel” drum until it sinks in! Seams won’t hold up to wear or wash unless they’re enclosed.

Before you groan at the extra work of bias binding, you should know there are two practical applications for the binding:

  1. It stabilizes my garment by reinforcing each seam against the weight of the fabric.
  2. Separates the thick cording from my presser foot – preventing snags!

I cut my binding strips out of knit scraps (pretty ones too! Benefits of being a hoarder?). It made for good photos for this post, but it DOES add bulk to the seams, AND it’s visible from the outside. I suggest using strips of stretch mesh instead.

img_5941If you’re afraid your fabric will get sucked into the machine, consider sandwiching your sweater knit between the binding strip on the top – and a 1 inch strip of water soluble stabilizer on the bottom. (It helps you to find your line of stitching too, when you go to enclose your seam.)

Now we need to trim that seam allowance down to 1/4. Fold the binding piece to the raw edge, and again to the line of stitching on the opposite side. Zig-zag stitch in place.

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Repeat on every seam, trimming off excess at the ends.

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I used extra strips of stabilizer to keep the hems from stretching out – and to get consistent hems.

Don’t Mess Up

No Pressure! This isn’t the project you want to unpick seams – especially after you’ve trimmed away your seam allowance. I strongly encourage you work imperfections into your design, and check your perfectionism at the door. We’re our own works critics anyway – I doubt the rest of the world will notice! Between you, me, and the fence post: my cowl is sewn on backwards. I have a bulky seam front/center. No one has noticed yet! And if you did… thanks for letting me believe you didn’t. 😉

Mind the Mess

Cutting your pieces + trimming your seam allowances = recipe for knit explosion all over your sewing space. I kept a hand vacuum handy to tidy up as I went (just, don’t use it directly on your garment!). You’ll have time for a full clean up when your sweater is in the wash (delicate, cold!) having the stabilizer rinsed away. You can reward your tidiness later by hitting the town in a cozy new sweater with a bright red lip:

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Enjoy the challenge, friends! Did I miss a tip or two? Share yours in the comments below!

6 thoughts on “Sewing Sweater Knit: Tips for your Coziest Seasonal Projects!

  1. heatherandthepugs says:

    Seriously, you are amazing Becca! This sweater looks fantastic and I’m super jealous of your leggings too. Those bound hems are fantastic!

    Like

  2. Jennifer says:

    As someone who has just started experimenting with sweater knits, I found this article to be so helpful; thank you! I do have one question: when using power mesh, do you need to finish the edges first like other fabrics, or does it not unravel like stabilizer? TIA!

    Like

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