It’s easy to sew knits on a conventional sewing machine instead of a serger/ overlocker.
The inside of the garment doesn’t look the same as RTW, but the garment will wear as well.

Written tutorials

Here’s a post from Tilly and the Buttons on cutting out knit fabrics.

Here’s a brief overview tutorial by Nancy Zieman.

For detailed guidance about different sewing processes for knits, here is a long list of links from Sewaholic to tips for sewing knit fabrics.

Sewing Sweater Knits by See It, Design It, Make It.

Tutorial from Coletterie on bands and bindings for knit edges.

Videos – free

I haven’t watched most of the videos, so no guarantee of quality.

Here’s an intro from Ann Steeves of Gorgeous Fabrics.

And here are a couple of videos from Nancy Zieman, about sewing a wardrobe of knits using McCall’s 7331.
Part One
Part Two

Free pdf patterns and videos on sewing knits with a regular machine from Angela Kane.

Videos – not free

Some on-line video classes specifically on learning to sew knit fabrics using a conventional sewing machine :
Creative Bug
pdf pattern and sew-along for one-hour top with cut on sleeves, also classes on drafting and sewing a tee, dress, hoodie, leggings (I think the Creative Bug classes are easier as a starting point than the others).
Tilly and the Buttons
pdf pattern and sew-along for stylish tops.
Sew Over It
pdf patterns and sew-alongs for dress w princess seams and zip, gathered front top.
Craft University
Burda Academy
the same course at both sites – techniques, no patterns for specific projects.

Some intro comments

You can sew knits on any machine which has a zigzag stitch.

Use a ‘ball’ or ‘stretch’ needle for knit fabrics. ‘Stretch’ needles are supposed to be designed for sewing more closely woven fabrics. But try both, and a ‘universal’ needle, as different machines give a better result with different needles – no idea why !

Polyester thread has more natural stretch and recovery than cotton thread.

There is now an elastic thread, Eloflex from Coats, which I haven’t tried. Some people find it breaks easily, tips I’ve seen include :
– wind the bobbin slowly.
– sew slowly using a simple stitch.
– use a jeans needle.
– make sure there’s nowhere the thread gets rubbed unnecessarily.

When overlocking an edge, it’s best to use an overcasting foot. These have a flange or spike which stops the thread from pulling tight and crumpling the fabric.

For best results you can’t just put your foot to the pedal. You need to make test samples to find what’s best for a specific fabric.

You can use plain zigzag.  
The ‘wobble’ stitch is .5 wide and 2.5-3 long.
Sew a sample of this and test if the stitching stretches as much as the fabric. If not, increase the stitch width to 1 and try again. Continue increasing width until you have a stitch that’s right for your fabric.
Make samples sewing the fabric both widthways and lengthways, they probably stretch differently.

Better if your machine has some special stretch stitches.
Even the simplest modern sewing machines have a few ‘utility’ stitches.
Some stretch stitches to try.
On my machine these are called :
– 3-step zigzag,
two versions of this :
(1) each zig consists of 3 short stitches,
(2) each zig repeats 3 times (2 steps forward, 1 step back) (may be called triple stitch), the straight stitch version of this is also good for sewing knits,
– blind hem,
– overcast,
– closed overlock.

For seams that look like a conventional seam from the right side : use one of the 3 stitches to the right.
Take care with the position of the stitching. Notice the stitching line is on the left, not in the centre of the presser foot.
Here’s a note on getting the presser foot in the right place
Stretch stitch settings on a sewing machine

After stitching, trim the seam allowances.
Trim off the allowances a little beyond the stitching. Make sure not to snip through the thread.

For knit fabrics that fray or run : use a stitch which has a line of stitching on the right edge as well, such as the ‘closed overlock’.
For loose open lace or sweater knits : sew the seam with a narrow zigzag (1.5 wide, 2.5-3 long). Finish the edges with a wide zigzag (3 wide or more).

Different knits and stretch fabrics stretch different amounts lengthwise and crosswise.
Test several zigzag stitch widths and lengths, and other stretch stitches, to find which stretches the same amount as the fabric. Test both directions of the fabric.

If you need some seams not to have any stretch (such as at shoulders), use a stabiliser such as (bias) stay tape or tricot interfacing.
It’s not enough just to use a straight (non-stretch) stitch – the thread will probably ‘pop’ (break).
For a bit of stretch with good recovery, use clear/swimwear elastic.
Fold-over elastic makes an easy edge finish.

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Tricot – French for ‘knit’.
In French it’s pronounced ‘tree-coh’. In some countries it’s pronounced ‘try-cott’.

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First written December 2014, revised September 2017

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