Saturday, May 25, 2013

Making Doll Clothes Tutorial - Sewing With Knits

OK! This is for everyone who asked for tips on sewing knits. These tips can also be applied to soft and slippery fabrics such as chiffons, light gauze cottons, satins, silks and really just about any fabric your machine wants to eat or doesn't want to feed right. If you are familiar with sewing knits for people, some of the things I do might make you freak out and say THAT'S NOT RIGHT! I know, and I'm sorry for that. I have learned to adapt some methods for doll clothes. Because their bodies don't bend and stretch and move like ours, you can adapt. I am also writing this for basic use. Meaning no special machine attachments like straight stitch plates, special presser feet or a walking foot. This is just for basic sewing.


Knits are made by fabric being looped together rather than multiple threads being woven across one another like you find in broadcloth. It's the same as knit and purl used in hand knitting. Basic knit has a right and wrong size. The right side has a vertical rib and the wrong size is horizontal. Knits typically do not fray unless it is a loose knit like a sweater. This means you don't need fray check! The edges will sometimes roll. If your knit doesn't have nylon, polyester, spandex or another meltable synthetic in it then its okay to iron out that roll to make things easier. Also try to avoid stretching your knit as this will create the rolling.

Most knits are stretchy just from the process of the knitting. However, some have added or controlled stretch by introducing fibers such as spandex or by using different knitting techniques such as in double knits. Some various types of apparel knits are jersey, double knits, sweater, rib, fleece and swim suit/dance knits.

Jersey - Most common. T-shirts are considered jersey. Varied thickness. Basic stretch quality unless blended.
Double Knits - Heavier knits that don't cling and drape like jersey. A lot of women's office wear is double knit. Thick. Minimal controlled stretch.
Sweater - Knitted yarn fabric. Often made with wool. Thickness varies. Stretch can vary depending on yarn thickness and type used.
Rib - The most basic way to describe this is the white mens undershirts that look like tank tops. That's a ribbed knit. Typically thin. Very stretchy.
Fleece - Common. Sweatshirts. Can be fuzzy on one or both sides. Easy to work with. Varied thickness. Minimal stretch.
Swim Suit/Dance Knits - I often call these spandex but they're not. They do have high amount of spandex in them though. Or nylon. Or both. They retain their shape better when wet and can stretch back into shape. Imagine wearing a bathing suit made of a t-shirt. You might look cute but once you get wet you will look naked because it absorbs water, stretches and gets weighted down. Typically thin, Can be thicker such as workout clothing. There are very thin versions usually beinge and black used for lining. Controlled stretch.


Most of the time when your machine is acting up and eating fabric, it's not mechanical, it's the fabric or a stabilizer problem. I know some people have heard me say stabilizer a million times but may not realize what it is. Stabilizers are designed to support your fabric when it needs additional weight and grip to get through a sewing machine. You may not have realized that parts of your clothes were sewn with a stabilizer because a lot of the time it is removed. In some cases, like embroidery there may be a patch cut around the embroidery. You may have seen it then when you got shirt with a logo on it or something. The reason they left some of it there is because tearing to close to the stitches hurts the structural integrity of the embroidery.

Back to standard machine sewing though. There are 4 basic types of stabilizer. I say basic because there are actually dozens of types of stabilizer but we want to be concerned with something that is removable for sewing our doll clothes. The 4 basic types of removable stabilizers are tear-away, cut-away, heat-away and wash-away. That first part tells you how the stabilizer is removed. I recommend tear-away or cut-away. You can get stabilizers at any sewing store but I recommend using coffee filters for these small pieces that we sew on doll clothes. You can get a large pack of 100 or more for a couple of dollars. They easily tear away and also have a ton of other uses around your house if you want to google that. (One of the best is sifting wine to get out broken cork or glass pieces - and they are lint free when cleaning windows.) I'm just saying - coffee filters are life changing. And I don't even drink coffee.

If any of you have one my jumpers or a dress with a collar and wonder how I do those tiny stitches on the's stabilizer. The reason your machine tends to eat your fabric is because the presser foot is designed to push your fabric down with enough pressure that the feed dogs below can grab it and move it along. When your fabric doesn't reach far enough across that presser foot/feed dog area it leaves your fabric slack and loose. If you've ever sewn through a flat head pin, or your finger (it happens) or a button, or had a needle shatter into pieces and come shooting out at you from your machine, then you already know that the needle carries a lot of force behind it. If your fabric is slack because the presser foot/feed dogs can't do their job then that needle is going to slam down and shove that loose fabric right under the plate and into the shuttle area. Sometimes it's a few stitches or more before you realize it's happening and you end up with that crazy birds nest of thread and in some cases a nasty hole in your fabric.

Stabilizer works to combat this. For most fabrics, one layer of stabilizer on the bottom of your project is enough. For some fabrics like chiffons and silks, you might want to sandwich your fabric. I am sure that you all know that when sewing seams the right side of your project should always be on top. Which also makes it hard to see what is going on with your seam underneath. The stabilizer will take away that guess work because your seam is on top of it. You want to use a large piece of stabilizer. Give it a several inch cushion outside of your fabric to both the left and right of your needle. This will make the feed dogs rely entirely on moving your stabilizer and give it something to grab. It also protects delicate fabrics from micro snags caused by the feed dogs.

After you have sewn your seams, pull your threads through to to the wrong side of your project, tie them off and trim. You can now start tearing away your stabilizer. Go slow and don't pull harder than is necessary or tear to large of an area at a time. I like to work in tiny areas. Another option is that if you have a pair of tiny embroidery snips you can trim the stabilizer very close to the seam and the other side will just pull away. The drawback to this is that sometimes you will snip one of your stitches so be careful! Any other little bits can be pulled away with tweezers.

Its pretty important that you use stabilizer on knits. Why? Well knits stretch. A lot. And this makes your machine do bad things. The machine knows when you are cheating and doesn't hesitate to remind you of it by doing something awful and gross to your project. In my house that ends in swearing and if it's 3am, there might be tears. Sometimes me. Sometimes the machine. It makes this sad emoticon with a tear when I upset it. Do you always have to use stabilizer on knits? No. But you just said.....I know, I know. But if you have adjustable pressure capability on your machine for your presser foot and use are using a not so stretchy knit and are very familiar with how your machine acts when sewing knits, you can sometimes get away with it. I say this because sometimes I don't use stabilizer. You will get to know when you need it and when you don't. And sometimes you will think you don't and learn otherwise. It happens. Always run a test piece that's as long as your project through your machine to see how its going to act. I won't mention any names, but [i]Jessica[/i] sometimes skips this and I regret it miserably.


Other things that are recommended when using knits - a ball point needle in your machine. They may also be called stretch needles. Ball point needles are better than sharps because they don't stab your fabric and they won't snag. They are designed to slide through the looped texture of knits. I am not going to lie, I don't use ball point needles very often. For most of my doll sewing I use a basic needle. I have never had a problem. You will have to test out your machine. If you feel that you are getting snags, put a new needle in and try again. You should change your needle often. If you still have problems, then you may need a ball point needle.

Do you need fray check? No, you shouldn't unless you are adding in another fabric that frays. Most knits won't fray at all. However, some knits, like sweater can and will unravel. How do you stop this? You need to sew a zig zag finishing stitch (like a serger) over the edge of your fabric BEFORE you start sewing your pieces together. It's best to do immediately after you cut your piece out so that it doesn't unravel while you are working with it.

Pins are helpful when sewing pieces of knits together. You can pin right onto the stabilizer. But the addition of pins will change your pressure. Sew slowly when you use pins. As you are sewing you will notice that while your fabric is fine on the bottom the presser foot is stretching your fabric. Every so many stitches stop and raise your presser foot, keep your needle down into your fabric. You are just doing this to relive the pressure and being up the slack. If you can program your machine turn on the auto raise setting so that when you stop sewing your needle remains down and your pressure foot raises on its own.


Not really. You should already be using a smaller stitch length when you sew doll clothes anyway. Your machine will guide you on what it likes. My machine is happy with a 1.6 straight stitch. If you are sewing two pieces together you can or may want to finish those edges together with a zig zag stitch. Just make sure you don't go beyond your straight stitch.

Do I need to use a zig zag stitch? You may want to use a zig zag stitch at the top of things like tights socks. This gives the stitches the opportunity to stretch with the fabric and will reduce popped stitches. You don't always need a zig zag stitch on every knit though. Sometimes a straight stitch is fine.


Do you have a coffee filter, some knit fabric and a sewing machine? Then yes! YOU CAN DO IT! It's easier than you think and really the big deal is stabilizer.

Questions? Ask them please!


SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT! I'm working on my own patterns to add to my Etsy shop. The first pattern will be for t-shirts for Neo Blythe and Middie that don't need a closure. Keep an eye out, it should be posted in a few days!

1 comment:

  1. You're my hero.
    I was seriously ready to trash all my adorable very thin baby rib knits that I've been trying to make baby leggings from, because I've had to throw out more than a few ALMOST FINISHED pairs when I've gotten the hole/ birds nest situation in the waistband.
    I make them for my Etsy shop, Owlet Organics, and if they're not perfect, I don't sell them, so......


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