stretch stich on swimwear nylon

The best stitches for knit fabrics: no serger required

When you first start out sewing knits, you might be wondering what are the best stitches for knit fabrics?

It’d be nice if you could go with your good old reliable straight stitch. But with knits, straight stitches are not your friend here. The good news is that your regular home sewing machine has a big variety of stitches that work beautifully for sewing knits.

Let’s look at your best stitches for knit fabrics, we’ll look at some examples, and we’ll talk about when to use each one. The best part about all of these stitches is that you don’t need a serger to make any of them!

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Why a straight stitch is the wrong choice for knit fabrics

straight stitch on knit fabric

Straight stitch + knits= sad face.

If you’ve ever tried to sew knits with a straight stitch, you know those stitches can very easily pop as the fabric stretches in the wearing. Why? Straight stitches have no stretch and knit fabrics do. Sew stretchy fabric with a non-stretchy stitch, and you’ve got a fight you won’t win.

Knit stitches for sewing seams and general construction

Zigzag stitch

A zigzag stitch is your #1 of best stitches for knits. There’s very few situations where you won’t get good results with a zigzag.

It has a little give to it, so when you wear it, those stitches don’t get stressed as the fabric stretches on your body.

A standard zigzag does really well on lingerie fabrics. Here it is on a RTW bra.

zigzag stitch on rtw bra

You can use this stitch for knit seams, necklines and also hems. It’s a little more casual on hems and necklines, but totally a legit choice when you’re sewing knits without a serger.

zigzag stitch on t-shirt neckline

Narrow zigzag stitch

A narrow zigzag is a zigzag that’s almost a straight stitch. It has just enough wobble to it to give the stretch the fabric needs, but it looks a little less homemade than a regular zigzag on your hem.

Narrow zigzags are also a great choice for ultra stretchy knits (i.e. those with tons of spandex).

swimwear and ITY knit fabrics with stitch samples

I talked about this on my how to choose the best knit needles post, but if you notice that you get tunneling on the stitch with a regular zigzag, try narrowing the width. A narrow zigzag will always sit nice and flat for you!

Stretch stitch, aka the lightning bolt

sewing machine stitch panel with lightning bolt stitch circled

The stretch stitch is another great choice for sewing knits. You might see it referred to as the lightning bolt stitch because that’s what it looks like. It’s another variation of a zigzag. The side to side is quite narrow and the up and down is a little longer. It’s funky!

stretch stitch on swimwear nylon

Play around with this one. You might like it better than a narrow zigzag.

Use this stitch for knit seams. I think it works great on thicker lycra knits in combo with a stretch needle. Any knit that gets tunneling when you stitch it is a good candidate for the lightning bolt.

Bonus: it’s great for sewing bias seams on woven fabrics.

3-step zigzag stitch

The 3 step zigzag is a great stitch for knits when you need an extra-wide stitch. It’s wonderful to use when you stitch down elastic to a knit as you do often in lingerie sewing.

3 step zigzag stitch on nylon tricot

Here it’s on nylon tricot. Tricot is pretty slippy and stitches have a tendency to pucker, so the 3-way zigzag is a huge help. You can use it for hems on lingerie and swimwear fabrics too! I used this stitch on my Jalie Valerie Rashguard that I made away from home.

Read on for the best stitches for knits for hems and seam finishes…

Stitches for hemming knits

Blind Hem Stitch

When you’re testing out the best stitches for knit fabrics, don’t forget the blind hem. It’s a great choice for hemming knits.

ponte fabric with blind hem

If you look at the wrong side of a blind hem, there’s that zigzag again, though it looks a little different. The zigzag only comes every few stitches, taking a little bite of fabric with each one.

Because of how you sew a blind hem, you only see little micro stitches on the right side. Use it whenever you have a knit garment that’s a little fancier than your favorite t-shirt pattern.

Think knit pencil skirt or a sweatshirt blazer hem.

Double needle with narrow zigzag

double needle hem on cotton knit

Double needles are a great tool in combination with a narrow zigzag. Learn more about double needles in this post that’ll show you how to pick the best needles for knits.

When you combine the slight stretch in a narrow zigzag with the zigzag on the back that you get on a double needle, you’ll have a sturdy unpoppable hem.

Double needle + narrow zigzag is great for necklines too. From the right side, it almost looks like a coverstitch. This finish was a great choice for this fringe trim cardigan.

sweater knit neckline with double needle

Stitches for finishing knit seams

Here’s the thing. Very few knit fabric ravel. So do you *need* to finish knit seams like you must with wovens? No. But, that being said, if you care enough to sew for yourself, you probably care enough to make nice insides on your garments. So here’s some options to consider to make pretty knit seam finishes.

Overlock stitch

sewing machine panel with overlock stitch circled

Do you know that your regular sewing machine probably has an “overlock stitch”? I think I didn’t know about mine until I had already invested in a serger. *face palm*

It looks like this:

overlock stitch on cotton knit

While it’s not as clean as a serged seam, and it’s not the fastest to sew, it can be a great alternative to a serger when you want to finish a seam. The stitch sits “over” edge of the fabric stitching around it with a more complicated zigzag to “lock” it in place. Get the name, now?

sewing machine panel with overcasting and double overedge stitches circled

There might be a couple variations on your sewing machine of an “overlock stitch”, so test them out. The overlock stitch did a good job on knits, but the similar overcasting and double overedge stitch stretched out the jersey considerably! Better those be used for wovens.

seam finish stitches on jersey

Narrow zigzag + Double stitched seam

double stitched seam on scuba

I remember seeing this a lot on Big 4 pattern directions when I was first sewing. Use a narrow zigzag for this.

Sew your seam as you would normally, then sew a second row of stitching about 1/4″ away from the seam. From there you can call it a day, or you can trim the rest of the seam allowance close to the 2nd row of stitching.

This kind of seam finish will give you some extra strength on high stress areas and it makes for a nice minimal finish with no extra bulk.

Decorative stitches for bulky knits

Anytime you have a heavy weight knit like sweatshirting, play around with your seam finishes. Simply sewing the edges of a seam together like you would with a serger, overlock stitch, or double stitched seam will make a big chunky seam on the inside of your garment.

At the very least, press open the seam allowances when you sew heavy knits and choose your seam finish from there. That was a nice option for this yellow sweatshirt fleece I used on this DIY ruffle sweater. You could twin needle from the right side to secure the stitches down.

decorative stitch on sweatshirt

Even more fun: press the seam, and stitch from the right side with a decorative stitch. It’s a different kind of way to topstitch your seam into place, and I’ll be you $5 those stitches don’t get a lot of playtime on your machine!

So when it comes to finding the best stitches for knit fabric, you really do have a ton of options available to you even before you get within a country mile of a serger. Now you have some great options for stitching knits when you’re sewing seams, hems, and finishing seams.

Test out your options. It’s always good to know what the stitches look like and how they perform, and then when it’s time to pull them out of your back pocket, you have some ideas!

New to sewing knits? Check out the best threads for knit fabrics.

What’s your favorite stitch for sewing knits?

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