The best threads to sew knits without a serger
All-purpose polyester thread is a great choice for most knit garments because it has a tiny bit of stretch to it.
Stretchy fabric + stretchy thread=happy garments
Don’t use this thread for knits?
Cotton threads are great for natural fibers, but they don’t stretch, so just say no to cotton for sewing knits. Well, maybe…
But I do love an experiment. I’ve personally used Mettler Silk Finish Cotton thread on lower stretch knits for the hems, and had no problem. But I’d only use it in the top thread. Use a stretchier thread in the bobbin. On this rayon jersey, the upper sample has cotton in the top and bobbin. With a little pull, I easily snapped the bobbin thread.
If you do have cotton a thread you like, test it out on a scrap with a regular zigzag. Use something like wooly nylon in the bobbin. Pull on the threads. If the threads break, go for a different thread.
Thread for hemming knits
There’s specialty threads with lots of stretch that can be great for hemming. I like Wooly Nylon (*affiliate) in the bobbin.
Gutermann makes a really nice nylon thread for knits called Bulky Nylon. It’s pretty similar to wooly nylon, just less poofy. JoAnn always has a good selection of it, and it’s with the serger threads. Either of these are my favorite for bobbin threads when I’m sewing knits on my sewing machine. If you do have a serger, you can also use either in the upper looper.
If you do use this, wind the bobbin by hand so you don’t stretch out the thread. Use all-purpose thread on the top thread.
Stabilize your hems
All hems look a little nicer with a bit of fusible interfacing in them, and knits are no exception. Keep your knit hems from stretching out on you with a fusible knit tape like SewKeysE from Emma Seabrooke (*affiliate).
A strech twin needle + knit stay tape=a lovely hem
Sometimes I can get away without stay tape, it just depends on the knit. So, make yourself a small sample from a scrap of whatever knit you’re working with and see what you think.
Thread for SUPER stretchy fabrics
Coats & Clark started making a new thread especially for knits called EloFlex (*affiliate). It extra stretchy, so it’s meant for high tension seams on highly stretchy fabrics like what you’d use for activewear or swimwear.
I’ve been testing it out, and it’s definitely something worth trying when you’re sewing knits. You might need to lengthen your stitch. I found that even though it’s “stretchy”, once I had stretched a length of it by hand a few times, I could snap it pretty easily. This makes me worry about how it might fare when you’re wearing it, especially in stressed seams.
I think it might do better if you use it in your top thread only or your bobbin only in combination with another thread (polyester in the top, or wooly nylon in the bobbin).
But do buy a spool and experiment. I always say sometimes you need to try things out so you can have an opinion about them.
The one sewing machine add-on that makes a big difference
When you’re sewing your knit fabrics, keep the fabric from hanging off the edge of your sewing table. A flat extension table like this clear acrylic one from Sew Steady or another set in table, it’ll make a big difference.
If you don’t have an extension table, just keep your project as close to your sewing machine bed as you can get, letting it rest no further than the table your machine sits on. The seams could easily get stretched out weirdly if the fabric hangs off into your lap.
Do I need a walking foot for sewing knits?
I know a lot of people really love a walking foot for sewing knits. If you try one and like it and you get good results, go for it.
I personally find that I get just as good if not identical results without a walking foot.
Bonus: using my regular sewing foot for knits saves me the trouble of pulling out a screwdriver to install the walking foot and listening to the sound it makes. (Can you tell it’s not my favorite?!)
When a sewing machine can beat a serger with knits
A serger does not sew all knits equally well. Yes it’ll zip through jersey and make easy work of slippy rayon and ITY knits, but you don’t need a serger for other types.
Heavy weight knits
Thick heavy knits like sweatshirt knits, some wool jerseys, and specialized Polartec fleeces like the Windbloc fleece I used for this Shelby Nallo jacket do great on a sewing machine.
With big chunky knits, a serged seam can get really bulky. For wearing comfort, it’s nice for these heavier seams to sit flat on the inside of a garment.
For these kind of knits, I like to press the seams open or to one side and topstitch. You can use a double needle for this or a stretch needle.
A lot of sweater knits don’t have a lot of recovery. They don’t like to snap back into place once they’ve been stretched out. Sergers can make a real wavy mess out of sweater knit seams.
For sweater knits, try a ballpoint needle and a lightning stitch or narrow zigzag to sew a seam. To finish seams, press the seam open. Next, trim one side of the seam allowance to about half it’s original width. Press the wider side over the narrower side, wrapping it around the seam. Finish it by stitching a narrow zigzag close to the fold.
Yes you can sew knits quite well without a serger!
So hopefully by now, you’re feeling more confident about how to sewing knits on a regular sewing machine. Now you’re ready to sew knits without a serger now that you know what needles, stitches, and threads to pick, when your sewing machine can beat a serger, and now that you’re armed with some good knit sewing tips and tricks!
What’s your favorite trick for sewing with knits on your home sewing machine?
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.