Sewing 101: This Sewing Machine Kills Knits + Stretch Fabrics!

If you’re using a standard sewing machine and trying to reconstruct t-shirts or sewing on knit fabrics, you’ll want to use a zig-zag or stretch stitch. The zig-zag allows the stitch to stretch with the fabric, so it doesn’t break when you try to get your newly reconstructed t-shirt on or off.

serged edge

serged edge

If you plan to be sewing a lot with stretch and knit fabrics, you might want to consider investing in a serger (sometimes called an overlock machine).

A serger is a special sewing machine that uses 3, 4, or 5 threads. It trims off the seam allowance and sews “around” the seam, locking the edges to prevent rolling and fraying.

Sergers are very well suited to sewing stretch fabrics because it’s stitch allows for a significant amount of stretch without breaking- more than even a zig-zag stitch.

Sergers aren’t cheap, but there are some decent inexpensive models on the market. One I can personally vouch for is the Brother 1034D.

Brother 1034D

Brother 1034D

You still might wind up being stuck sans serger for a while, so if you can’t resist the urge to sew with knits and other stretch fabrics in the meantime, here are a few more tips if your sewing machine tends to go Cookie Monster on your fabric:

  • If the sewing machine sucks the fabric into the machine or forms a big wad of thread on the underside when you first start sewing, try sliding the edge of the fabric about an inch or so past the foot when you first start sewing. You can also try wrapping a piece of tape or tissue paper around the edge of the fabric to add extra stability. It may also help to sew the first few stitches by turning the wheel by hand manually.
  • Make sure you’re using a ball point needle for knits. Standard sewing machine needles are made for woven fabric and can snag the fibers of knit fabric. Some machines are very temperamental about this. Others are not.
  • You can try an overlock attachment, but I have no experience with them. From what I’m told by those that have, it is NOT really anything like using an overlock/serger machine, it merely makes stitches that look like it.


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My name is Alexis. I have a craft addiction. This is my story. also check out: www.smarmyclothes.com (my clothes) www.whatthecraft.com (my tutorials)

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14 comments on “Sewing 101: This Sewing Machine Kills Knits + Stretch Fabrics!
  1. Ru says:

    Thanks for the tips! I don’t think I’m at the point where I want to invest in a serger, but the part about sewing knits with normal sewing machines is really useful, as I was just about to sew a circle skirt (your tutorial!) with knit fabric. Thanks again!

  2. Katja says:

    How long have you been using your serger? I’m thinking of purchasing one, too because I’m doing a lot of t-shirt refashions lately. I have a brand new high end Brother sewing machine and while it works great with non-strechy fabric it doesn’t perform so well on jersey. I have been eying the Brother serger for a while now, but after shelling out the big bucks for a new sewing machine I’ll have to make a few sales before purchasing another one… Sigh…

  3. Lex says:

    Ru- You’re very welcome!

    Katja- I got my first serger in 2004, and I seriously don’t know what I’d do without one now. I’d definitely recommend one if you want to work with t-shirts and knits.

  4. These are excellent tips. Your second tip about using a ball point needle is right.

  5. i made it says:

    Because i do lots of shirt refashion, i invested in a used one.
    I never buy new machines, just love the old mechanical workhorses. Bought mine for 200 $ which included 28 hardcover singer books..yeah yeah …. but honestly i think it was the best investment i ever did.

  6. Lex says:

    That’s a good point! I always recommend used sewing machines, but sergers are the same deal, I’m sure. I’d love to get my hands on an old all-metal serger!

  7. DanyaMichelle says:

    I bought the 1034D recently, and I am genuinely in love with it. It’s so easy to thread, change hems and everything about it is just simple and straight forward. The manuals and computer disks help a ton too. I definetly recommend it for a newbie at sergers.

    • Lex says:

      It’s true, and I have to say… for a cheap plastic machine, it’s really surprisingly durable. Mine is still alive and kicking.

  8. Amanita Hill says:

    I did a lot of research before buying and I ended up going with the Brother 1034d. It had the most top reviews. I love it. It’s my first serger and it’s easy.. like Danya said, the cd’s & books, etc. I got it for a whopping $180 on amazon. Now my friends who thought they couldn’t afford a serger are looking into it, too. Thanks for the tip, Lex.

  9. Had no idea about sergers. I guess they can become a necessity for any kind of stretch fabric since they are difficult to handle with regular sewing machine. Thanks!

  10. Bowdownknave says:

    I love your blog and it helped me a lot yesterday when I picked out my first sewing supplies! Moving on, I intend to sew sleeves made of ninety percent cotton and ten percent polyester on a torso comprised of the same material, although I will also use a jersey knit alternative. For the jersey fabric and t-shirt reconstruction in general, would a zigzag stitch suffice to keep the seams from ripping under semi-stretchy fabrics, or should I wait to buy a serger? Also does the shirt I borrow the torso from have to be substantially larger than my scrawny size? I planned on militating the seams of several of my T-shirts that I no longer care about and raiding my local thrift store.

    • Lex says:

      A zigzag should be fine. Even with fairly stretchy stuff (like spandex) a zigzag stitch will put up with quite a lot of stretching.

      I find that the larger the shirt, the easier it is to work with, but really, as long as it fits with a little wiggle room, you should have enough to add sleeves without a problem.

  11. Yasmin says:

    What type of thread do you use for knit fabrics?

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Howdy, I'm Lex! I'm a craft addict & fashion designer.
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