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Sewing With Knits: A Tale of 3 Dresses

I have no issue with sewing fancy historical dresses, modern strapless formal dresses, or anything else that might be asked of me. But sewing something out of knit fabric? Due to the one time I tried to hem a swimsuit when I was 12, knit fabrics scare me. They're unpredictable! The sewing machine eats them! They stretch in weird ways!

Well, over the past year or so, I've been making myself sew with knits, occasionally. I made my mom a shirt. It turned out well. (I didn't hem it) I made the stockings to go with my historical clothing. They turned out well. My trepidation about sewing with knits has slightly decreased. In fact, it has decreased enough that I actually readily agreed to take a commission, of 3 (yes three) knit dresses.

What was supposed to be one dress turned into two when we started looking at patterns. Two dresses turned into three when we started looking at fabric. Fabric stores are just that way. All the pretty fabric! All the new ideas! It's nearly impossible to leave with just the one thing you came in looking for. On this particular day I came home with this:

Patterns, fabric, a piece of paper with measurements on it, and a promise that the dresses would be done soon. I was excited about these dresses, as we'd come up with some pretty cool design ideas for them, but also a little nervous, because, eek, knits!

The first dress I decided to make was the gray one, because I loved the fabric! Not only was the fabric pretty, but I also had no issues sewing it. No weird stretching and the sewing machine didn't try to eat it!

To finish the neckline, the pattern called for a narrow hem, still a little nervous about the whole hemming thing, I opted instead to finish the neckline with a strip of some contrasting fabric. 

Which worked really well! Due to a shortage of the gray fabric (Joann's only had about 2/3 the amount we needed), I also used the contrasting fabric for the sleeves, then finished them with a cuff made from the gray fabric. This dress came together pretty quickly, soon it was ready to be put on the dress form so I could check the fit. Well, it was rather loose and shapeless, so I added a couple darts down the front.

These fixed the issue, giving the dress shape so that it was ready to be delivered!

With the gray dress done I was now ready to tackle the blue dress. Same pattern, just thinner, stretchier fabric. This time I chose to hem the neckline like the pattern said to. 

That went. . . okish? It looked fine, but not great. It got done, but not easily. I left the neckline hemmed, but chose to avoid hemming the sleeves and skirt. Instead I cut a bunch of small half circles and sewed them together to make a ruffle for the bottom of the skirt, plus one for each sleeve. Since knit doesnt fray, no hemming was required to make the dress look finished. A couple darts, like on the gray one, and the blue dress was done!

Next up was the purple dress. The blue fabric was certainly trickier to sew than the grey, so I looked forward to seeing how the purple compared. Well, it was thinner and stretchier than the gray, but much more stable than the blue. The dress went together easily, even the bottom hem turned out well. Then I hemmed the sleeves.

I was not happy with the result. So I chopped off the sleeve hems and bound the sleeves with a folded over strip of fabric instead.

Much better! The purple dress was done!

I'm satisfied with how all three dresses turned out, as is the customer. Are they perfect? Not quite. Did I learn anything making these dresses? Yes. For example, Ive read its easiest to sew knits with a shallow zig-zag stitch if you're using a regular sewing machine. So that's what I did. Well, after some trial and error, I discovered that just the normal straight stitch worked best on the very thin, stretchy, blue fabric. Not at all what I expected! Am I more comfortable sewing with knits? Absolutely! In fact, I already bought some more knit fabric. What will it turn into? I'll keep you posted!


  1. Wow! My favourite is the grey dress - great fabric, and the contrast you chose is perfect. Great job on all three dresses. Knit fabric can be so daunting!


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