We’re talking all about sewing with sweater knits today. Sweater knits are one of my favorite subsets of knits to work with!
I’m not a knitter or crocheter, so I kind of get a cheap thrill out of knowing that I can literally sew a sweater in a fraction of the time. Not to disrespect people with mad yarn skills, but sewing with sweater knits is FAST!
Sometimes they’re a little more demanding than other warm, easy sew knits like ponte or sweatshirting. With a few tips in the back of your mind, you’ll be ready to take on sewing your own sweater.
So let’s talk about what sweater knits are, some tips that will have you sewing them like a pro, plus where to find them, and some patterns that work well for sweater knits.
What are sweater knits anyhow?
Sweater knits are a big subset of knit fabric that are, well used to sew sweaters.
Sweater knits can be made of about any fiber out there. On the warm end, you’ll see sweater knits from wool, mohair, acrylic blends, and polyester blends.
The Queen of warm knits is cashmere. It’s both toasty and not itchy. Some people with more sensitive skin might not be able to wear wool, but cashmere is more gentle.
Sweater knits are not just for cold weather. If you’re looking for cooler, lighter weight knits, look for sweater knits in cotton, breezy linen, drapey rayon, or lighter weight polyesters.
Types of sweater knits
The biggest two types of sweater knits you’ll come across are either knitted or crochet type knits.
Crochet knits tend to have more open weaves. Knitted knits are tighter and more uniform like jersey fabric, though you can find some fun variety in sweater knits with details like cable knit patterns.
There’s also lace sweater knits and rib knits. Rib knits, with their vertical stripes and extra stretch built into them are a great way to hem sweater knits.
You’ll also see “hacci” sweater knits which are more lighter weight and great for drapey cardigans. They’re usually softer and more airy in the wearing.
Look for cool textures like boucle, waffle knit, and unusual rib patterns.
On to where you can find sweater knits.
Where to buy sweater knits
Probably my favorite place to find good sweater knits is at the thrift store. I very often come across cashmere and wool blend sweaters that would be $$$ to buy as yardage.
With a little refashion love, you’ve got usable sweater knits that won’t cost you a fortune. Sweaters are one of my top sewing supplies at thrift stores worth treasure hunting!
Most fabric stores have at least a few sweater knits on hand. Here’s a few places worth checking out for sweater knits:
- Fabric Mart: a few times a year you can snag wool sweater knits here, and they go quick because they’re typically a great price!
- Mood Fabrics
- Apple Annie Fabrics: small selection of high end sweater knits
- O Jolly: premium hand knit sweater knits!
- Emma One Sock: designer and high quality sweater knits, from reasonably priced to luxury prices. I gotta slap my hands away from this cotton/cashmere.
You can find more options in the Ultimate Jumbo Mega Guide to Online Fabric Stores.
Read on for tips of sewing with sweater knits…
Tips for sewing with sweater knits
1. Know your recovery on sweater knits
Recovery is how much a knit fabric will stretch and then snap back into place.
Many sweater knits have less recovery. What this ends up meaning is that it can be easier for sweater knits to distort out of shape. Low recovery sweater knits will need a little special handling.
If your sweater knit is blended with a little bit of spandex, it will be a lot less likely to warp on you.
Here’s how to test a sweater knit for good recovery.
- Cut a swatch of sweater knit.
- Next pull the knit in the stretch direction.
- After this, let go of one end.
- Evaluate: did it stretch out? If yes, you’ll have to handle the knit more carefully. If it snapped back into place, you won’t have to treat the fabric with kid gloves.
You can see this cashmere blend doesn’t snap back into place. And sure enough when I sewed it, it did take a lot more careful attention.
2. Washing your sweater knits
Be sure to know how your sweater knits are going to handle the wash.
Real life: you make a sweater you can’t wait to wear from a fabulous wool sweater knit.
Then a well-meaning family member just trying to help out with laundry accidentally shrinks your sweater. Ugly crying ensues.
Don’t ugly cry over your sweater knits. Cut a swatch and toss it in your normal wash and see what happens. If you end up with a postage stamp, know that hand washing in cold water is probably your best bet.
If your swatch looks the same at the other end, you hit sweater knit gold, and you can safely wash as you want reckless style.
3. How to cut sweater knits
Contrary to popular belief, some knits will indeed ravel, and most of them are in the sweater knit family.
Because of this and because of that lower recovery here’s a couple things to do when you cut sweater knits.
- Cut with pattern weights + rotary cutter: this will keep the fabric from warping on you and help you get clean precise cuts.
- Cut notches outward: a lot of times you can get away with snipping into seam allowances to mark notches. With sweater knits, cut them outward. Outward notches will be easier to see, and you won’t damage the seam allowance on more ravel-prone sweater knits.
4. Stabilizing sweater knits
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Sewing with sweater knits, especially those with lower recovery means you’re going to need to stabilize certain areas.
For shoulder seams, sew in a strip of clear elastic or a fusible knit stay tape. Both of these will support the weight of the shoulder and keep it from stretching out of shape.
You can use knit stay tape on armholes, necklines and other seams as well. I love SewKeysE tape from Emma Seabrooke for this. All of her tapes fuse well to most fabric and they do an excellent job of
For more open weave lacy knits, you can cut strips of mesh knit in the shape of the armhole or neckline. Sometimes needles have a difficult time grabbing onto anything in more open weave sweater knits. Weirdly, you can end up with literal holes in your seam.
The mesh can give the needle something to stitch on that will bridge the space between those gaps in open sweater knits.
5. Needles for sweater knits
Try a ballpoint needle for more open sweater knits. The ballpoint will slide between the loops and gaps without snagging.
For stable sweater knits, you can sew with universal needles.
If you’re working with a very stretchy sweater knit, a 75/11 or 80/14 stretch needle will do an excellent job.
It’s always good to do a little test to see how any needle will handle your fabric. Test several and see what you like. If you’ve cut a swatch more permanently to put in a DIY fabric swatch book, you can write a note about which needle wins the day.
6. To serge or not to serge
Not every knit fabric is meant for a serger! Sweater knits can get really chewed up by them.
If you’ve stabilized your seams like we talked about above, you’ll do better.
A safer way if you want to serge a sweater knit is to use it to finish the seams only. Sew your stabilized seams with your regular machine, then finish off the seam with a serger.
You can also widen your seam allowance. After you stitch your seams (narrow zigzag works well here), zigzag close to your stitching. Finish the seam
Thick, heavy sweater knits like boiled wool tend to get really bulky in a serger. Instead, press the seams open, and topstitch the seam allowances down from the right side. It’ll keep the bulk to a minimum and add a sharp embellishment to boot.
7. How to press sweater knits
Be gentle with sweater knits. If your sweater knit is really lofty, a lot of aggressive pressing can smoosh permanently.
Use a press cloth and just the tip of your iron with lots of steam. Gently place a clapper or your hand over the pressed area and hold it until it’s cool.
8. Hemming sweater knits
To hem knits without warping, be sure to stabilize the hems as well.
Cut strips of fusible interfacing or use a knit hem tape like SewKeysE.
The interfacing will help you press up a nice even hem and keep the hem stitching looking its best. Coverstitch or a double needle can work well to stitch your hems.
If you have a sweater knit that’s sheer, you can cut self strips of the knit and use them to stabilize your hems. That way when you look inside your hem, you only see the fabric itself and not the hem tape.
Another way to hem sweater knits is with ribbing. You see it all the time on actual sweaters, and sewing on rib knit cuffs and rib knit hem bands work well every time.
Be on the look out for coordinating knits or rib knits you can use as hem bands. I’ll point you to the thrift store again here! You can very often find rib knit sweaters that have plenty of yardage for trimming out a sweater knit project.
Finishing up with some patterns that are great for sweater knits.
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Patterns for sweater knits
Turn a sweater into a shrug
Finally something to do with shrunken sweaters!
Toaster sweater hack
Add lace and a zipper to the Sew House Seven Toaster Sweater
- Refashioned sweater shrug tutorial
- Sew House Seven Toaster Sweater
- Toaster sweater hack
- Itch to Stitch Orono top
- McCalls’ 7660
So that’s a whole lot about sewing with sweater knits. I hope I’ve inspired you to go try your hand at sewing with them. We’ve talked all about what sweater knits are, what types you can find, where to buy them, and tips for making your sweater knit endeavors successful. To finish up, I shared some easy patterns that are great for sweater knits.
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.