It’s actually quite brilliant. In much less time than it would take you to knit a sweater, you can sew one!
It might take you a couple of weeks to knit a cardigan or sweater. But if you sew it (some pattern suggestions: The brand new Carolyn Coatigan & Ginny Cardigan, The SL8 Sweater & Sweater Dress, and the upcoming Emma Sweatshirt) you can have it done in a couple of hours!
But first, you need to find some sweater knit fabric to sew it from. These days, you can find sweater knits in most fabric stores, and they are easily available online.
What is sweater knit fabric?
Sweater knit fabric is not just one type of fabric but rather a common term used to describe all knits made up of a thicker yarn than what is usually used for jersey knits.
They resemble hand knits and often have knitted patterns, such as cables, lace, or bobbles. The thickness of sweater knits also varies greatly, from the very thin lace knits to a heavy knit, almost like a hand-knitted Icelandic sweater in feel.
Sweater knits are made from many different fibers. Wool is always a winner. And it’s also the easiest to work with, so if you can find wool knits, use those for your first sweater knit project. I’ve also found sweater knits made from acrylic, polyester, cotton, rayon, and bamboo. And there are probably a lot of other fibers used for sweater knits out there.
How to sew with sweater knit fabric:
Since there are so many types of sweater knits, it can be difficult to give general advice on how to sew them. But I still have some advice for you:
Five Sewing Tips For Sewing Sweater Knits
If you are using a sewing machine to sew your sweater (rather than a serger/overlocker), you need the seam allowances to be larger than the usual 1 cm (3/8”). This is because you need more room to finish the seam allowances and trim them. A wider than usual seam allowance will also help avoid pulling the fabric under the stitch plate. I recommend working with seam allowances 1.5 cm (5/8”) wide.
To finish the seam allowance using a regular sewing machine first, sew the seam as usual:
Use a regular straight stitch for areas that don’t need to be able to stretch and a stretch seam (or a straight stitch with stretchable thread, such as the one from Mettler) for areas that do need to stretch.
Then sew a wide zigzag (3.5 wide and 2.5 long) to each side of the seam allowance and trim the fabric close to the zigzag stitches on each seam allowance
Sweater knits can easily be stretched out of shape as you sew them, such that the seam ends up being longer than intended. To avoid this, it’s essential to test on scraps, using different stitch lengths and settings as explained below.
- Be careful not to stretch the fabric as you sew.
- If you use a serger/overlocker, you will probably need to adjust the differential feed settings. The differential feed controls the feed dogs that transport the fabric as you sew: When the setting is 1, the typical setting, the front, and back feed dogs move at the same speed. When the setting is larger than 1, the front feed moves faster than the back feed, causing the fabric to be pushed together and not be stretched out of shape. You need to test your machine. I had to put the setting on 2 before my sweater knit fabric didn’t stretch.
- When sewing sweater knits on your sewing machine, you might want to adjust the presser foot pressure to make sure the fabric moves right. For example, I had to lower the pressure from 4 to 2.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to mark sweater knit fabric using chalk markers due to the texture. A snip marking in the seam allowances won’tbe visible if the fabric is loosely knit, and might also cause the fabric to unravel!
Instead, transfer the markings to the fabric by cutting outward triangles, by using pins or, if the fabric is too loose for the pins to stay put, by basting.
When cutting knit fabrics – and this goes for jersey fabric as well as sweater knit fabric – it can be difficult to cut precisely because the fabric is slippery and tends to move around a lot when you try cutting it with your fabric scissors.
Instead, cut with a rotary cutter and large mats (TIP: Buy the ones marketed for Graphic Design instead of for Sewing. They are way cheaper!). Use rotary cutters for anything except the firmest sweater knits.
Use a ballpoint needle when sewing sweater knits.
The rounded tip makes the needle slide between the stitches in the fabric instead of cutting through them, which would weaken the stitches making them more prone to ravel.