Sewing with Stretch Knit Fabrics

Sewing with knit fabrics, making t-shirts and tank tops is not terribly difficult. I have made a number of them. However I am usually less than satisfied with the finished look, especially the hem and the neckline. The other day I was reading a post by Leanne at Devoted Quilter and she shared a pretty blue t-shirt she made. By using a double needle (or twin needle) she was able to achieve a nice finish at the hem and neckline.

These are available everywhere – Jo-Anns, Amazon, etc.

Some time back, I purchased a double needle, fully intending to try this. But for whatever reason, the needle landed in the drawer with lots of other needles and was forgotten. Leanne’s success gave me just the push I needed to give it a try. I looked on-line to see if there was anything special about threading my machine (Janome 6500) for this needle. My machine has two posts for thread which is mandatory. But threading it was nearly the same as using only one spool of thread. I didn’t want to buy two spools of the same color thread since this isn’t a color I will use often. Instead, I wound an extra bobbin and used it on the second post. This worked just fine.

Two very neat rows of topstitching forming the hem of the sleeve.

Sewing with a twin needle is interesting in that you must stitch from the right (or the top) side of the garment. The twin stitching shows on top and the bottom stitching has an interesting zig zag pattern achieved from the use on two needles on top and only one bobbin on the bottom.

This is how the back side looks.

This is the part I think is so magical. When I first tried using the needle and a a few scraps, I wasn’t at all sure what the bottom would look like as I didn’t really understand how one bobbin would deal with two threads.

Ok, here are a few details about this project. Using McCall’s M6957 and my thrifted stretch knit fabric, I made a very simple t-shirt dress. I cut the top at a size 12 and graded the waist and hip area to a 14 so it wouldn’t hug at the belly (because that isn’t a look I need to share with the world). 😉 The cut of this simple dress is really comfortable and the fact there are only three pieces to the pattern makes it a very easy project to put together.

I have had this green knit fabric in the drawer for about a year now. I picked it up at a garage sale from someone who was clearing out a lot of fabric. (That was a great sale and I was fortunate to purchase a large stack of knit fabric in good condition). I thought I would use this piece of fabric because if the fit wasn’t good there wasn’t a big loss since there was only a few dollars investment.

I got lucky though and the fit is great. I don’t have a picture of it on me because as I write this, I don’t have anyone to take a photo. Selfies are not my forte so I am not going to bother. Maybe I will post one later on. For now, you get the boring picture of it hanging from the door.

In my opinion the double needle makes all the difference. The hemline, hem of the sleeves and the topstitching of the neckline look so clean. It really elevates the finish of this dress. One thing to note, the pattern instructions told me to just fold the neckline in toward the wrong side and topstitch. I don’t like that method as it usually makes a wavy neckline and it allows too much stretch.

Instead, I attached single fold bias tape and then folded that to the inside and topstitched it. This way, I have a cotton strip creating shape to the neckline. It lays flat and looks really nice. I also reinforced the shoulder seams with bias tape so they wouldn’t stretch. After sewing the shoulder seams and checking the fit, I took a small piece of bias tape, laid it over the seam line and stitched it down. A very easy task and it will prevent the seams from stretching.

Now that I feel confident about the fit and look of this pattern, I want to make another one. I have lots of nice knits and look forward to using them. I think I will make a sleeveless version since we have such warm summers.

Hoping all of you enjoy the weekend. We will likely have a fairly quiet weekend. Julia is studying for finals. My husband wrenched his back and is limping around trying to let it heal. No big plans for the Kringel’s this weekend!

Linking to my usuals – check them out at the top of the page under Link Ups.

27 thoughts on “Sewing with Stretch Knit Fabrics

  1. Jan Altomare

    What a beautiful finish that double needle makes. I got one when I bought my machine and never thought I would use it. I may need to dig it our and find some stretchy fabric.

    Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      One thing I forgot to mention, I used my walking foot when I was topstitching. That fed the fabric through nicely and I didn’t have to tug or pull. This way it reduced the risk of having a wave to the neckline and/or the hem. Just FYI if you give this a try. ☺️

      Reply
    2. Bernie Post author

      Definitely – give it a try! I bet you would enjoy it. I know the double needles come in various sizes and I am thinking of getting a larger one and doing some straight line quilting with it. Wouldn’t that look cool??

      Reply
  2. Katherine

    The dress looks great! I bet that color looks good on you!
    Good idea for the walking foot! I’ll try that.
    I do love using a twin needle on knits. Such a professional looking finish.
    Quiet weekends are nice. ❤️ Have a good one!
    Hope your hubby heals up quickly and Julia does well on her finals!!

    Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      Thanks Katherine. My husband is feeling lots better and went back to work today. Finals shouldn’t be too difficult this semester so that is nice for Julia. The walking foot is really helpful. Also, I did’t mention this but if you have an edge that is curling which can be annoying, spritz it with spray starch or Best Press before sewing. That helps quite a bit. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Wendy Tuma

    A twin needle came with my Janome when I bought it too. I haven’t used it yet; you make this look so simple. It’s a pretty dress for summer!

    Reply
  4. Lisa Benson

    Hi Bernie, your dress is beautiful. How about another sew-along project, this one featuring the dress and working with knit fabric? I greatly enjoyed the shirt project from a couple of years ago and learned a lot. Lisa

    Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      That is a good idea Lisa. I will give it some thought. I am happy to hear you enjoyed the shirt project – I did as well!

      Reply
  5. Teacie

    I love wearing dresses like this and have been looking for a pattern. Thanks for all the great tips!

    Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      Thank you!! Hope all is well and you are enjoying doing laundry without the drama of horrible sounds coming from the laundry room. 😉

      Reply
  6. Barbara Esposito, TheQuiltedB

    Wow Bernie – I love this dress. I keep telling myself I will be brave and one day try to sew with knits but it terrifies me! Your thrifty solution to low cost fabric is a wise compromise. I would love to see a picture of you in this masterfully sewn dress!

    Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      Barb, find some knit fabric on clearance somewhere so you aren’t out a lot of $$ if it doesn’t work out. Honestly though, you have such great sewing skills – I know you can easily whip up a t-shirt. Go by your measurements when you select the pattern – not the size you use for ready-wear. I hate it because the pattern sizes are bigger than ready wear and my vain self hates to see those sizes. But really, that is my own issue. Let me know if you try it or if you have questions. 🙂

      Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      I have a serger but it is old and finicky so I rarely use it. This does the trick for me. Thanks a bunch Carole.

      Reply
  7. Linda (txquiltgal on IG)

    First of all, that dress is so pretty and I bet it looks great on you as well as the door. 😉
    Second, I have a dual feed attachment on my Janome and it never dawned on me that was for twin needle sewing. I am scheduled to take “Janice” Janome in for service and will ask the gal how to thread my needle for it, because I can’t find anything in my manual.
    Third, what a great bunch of tips for sewing with knits. I’ve always had the stretching problem, and once I get the hang of twin needle sewing, I’ll experiment with a flowered gray Sharon Holland knit I’ve been hoarding.

    Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      This sounds like the perfect plan! Art Gallery’s knits wash up beautifully – I think you will be really happy with your results. Good luck!!

      Reply
  8. Mari

    What a great dress! I love the color, it looks so fresh and happy. And it was a bargain to boot! I was also taught to use twill tape or grosgrain ribbon in the shoulders to keep them from stretching, but I’ve never used it on the neckline. Interesting to see how that worked out. I may be inspired to make myself something after seeing your beautiful results!

    Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      Thanks Mari. Are you packing and getting crazy for the upcoming move? Hope all is well. Moving is so darn much work!!

      Reply
  9. jean fletcher

    Long ago when i sewed clothing, I learned to use a stay stitch at curves, inside the seam line, to keep it from stretching out. Curves like the neckline. That way I would keep it from getting too deep. I LOVE the dress pattern, that shape is very flattering. You were wise to adjust the waist since they are often designed for lovely YOUNG things. At the shoulder seams, I’ve used cotton selvage from similar colored fabrics. The selvage does not stretch and works perfectly and is free from my stash. When I cut my quilting fabric on my mat I ALWAYS line up the ruler along the edge of the fabric and cut off the selvage, leaving it attached to the uncut area that I have not gotten to yet. After I leave that tail out of the way, then I cut my strips from the quilting fabrics. Thank you for reminding me of the double needle, I have some T-shirts that have a too tight crew neck that I’ve been considering cutting the ribbing off and slightly lowering the neckline. Have a BEAUTIFUL day!

    Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      Oh, using selvages is such a good idea as it is waisted fabric. It would work great for the shoulder seams. Probably wouldn’t choose it for round seams like the neckline as it isn’t cut on the bias. Thanks Jean!

      Reply
  10. Kathleen McCormick

    This is fabulous! I love the double needle but have never sewn a lot of knits due to the wave…the walking foot seems the perfect solution. I have some rayon I really want to make into a jacket but have been hesitating. Maybe I will find a pattern and do it!

    Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      Give it a try – I know you can do it. That annoying wave can be avoided by not pulling on the fabric & stabilizing it with twill or bias tape. Good luck!!

      Reply

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