How To Sew Knits With A Sewing Machine

20 February 2020

Firstly, pre-wash your fabrics the same way you would launder the finished garment. This will help if there is shrinkage.

Next, make sure the fabric is suitable for the project – the patterns have suggested fabric type.

The pattern may also have a suggested stretch percentage. This is so the finished garment is comfortable to wear (ease lets you move your body comfortably).


You can download the stretch chart or cut a square of knit fabric 4 inches wide, and make sure to stretch it firstly in one direction (across), then the other (up and down) - stretch it to see how far it can stretch

 Stretch GuideIf it stretches

- less than 1 inch, the stretch is minimal

- 1 inch the stretch is 25% (minimal)

- 2 inches, the stretch is 50% (moderate)

- 3 inches, the stretch is 75% (very stretchy)

- 4 inches, the stretch is 100% (super stretchy)

For the majority of top sewing patterns, as a guideline, 40% horizontal stretch (at least)  is recommended. For something like athleisure leggings or swimwear, 100%+ or excellent stretch is recommended.  This stretch is horizontal or cross body stretch.  Vertical, or “up and down” stretch needs to be quite minimal to avoid heavy garments (like maxi dresses) growing in length while being worn.

Recovery is the ability of the fabric to bounce back into it’s original shape after being stretched.  Fabrics with Elastane (also known as Lycra or Spandex) mixed into the blend aid this.

The pattern normally tells us the stretch percentage required.  If you follow those guidelines you will have good sewing success. You can use other stretch but you need to have a good think about how you will wear the garment - do you need to move well? - what level of activity are you doing. Generally you can have more stretch than recommended but try not to go less.

There are many types of knit fabrics but mostly, light fabrics are harder to sew – they are stretchy both horizontally and vertically and move a lot while you are sewing. These are fabrics like bamboo blends (such as with rayon or elastane), stretch lace, ITY (interlock).

Medium knits are easier to sew – they stretch but not too much – and it is easier to control – popular fabrics include Cotton Elastane (Cotton Lycra) DBP (Double brushed polyester) and French Terry

Heavy weight knits are stable – they sew in a similar way to woven fabrics.  Generally, there is little to no vertical stretch with only minimal or moderate horizontal stretch.  Examples of this are Ponte (ponti de roma), sweatshirting , polar fleece and scuba.  These fabrics sew into great jackets – stable to sew but comfortable to wear as they have some “give”



It is really important to use a ball head needle when sewing knit fabrics on a sewing machine.  These needles “push” between the threads of the fabric rather than “cut” the fabric – resulting in a ladder or “run” in the final garment. Needles come packaged as “stretch”, “ball” or “jersey” needles. Start off with jersey needles. Stretch needles are normally used just for really stretchy fabrics like swimwear or elastane (Lycra). If your stitches using a knit/jersey needle “skip” or miss, try changing to a stretch needle.

Jersey Needles


All-purpose thread is key. Use a polyester thread.  It has a slight “give”. Do not use cotton thread.


Use pins that have a “ball” head and pin within the seam allowance (normally 6mm – ¼”) to avoid any holes or runs in your final garment.  Fabric clips also work well when sewing knit fabrics on your sewing machine. Clips are similar to a washing line peg but much smaller.

Knit fabric clips


You need to ensure the seams will stretch when the fabric stretches so use a lightning bolt stitch if your machine has one.  This is a stretch stitch. All machines have different types of stretch stitches so check your manual to see what is recommended.  Traditionally a zig-zag was the go-to stitch.

The stitches I would recommend you use are:

Zigzag Stitch

The traditional stretch stitch used. You can adjust the length and width of the stitch using test scrap fabric to suit the fabric type before you begin sewing your final garment. If you are sewing something like athleisure wear leggings - something in super-stretchy fabric that will put seams under stress, sew 2 rows of zig zag.  On the seam stitch line sew a narrow row, then sew again on top with a medium row.

Lightning Bolt

Another standard stitch on most sewing machines – it looks like a lightning strike or bolt which means it will stretch well. From the “right side” of the garment it looks like a straight stitch

Sewing Knits on A Sewing Machine recommended stitches


Every pattern company uses different seam allowances, but for my patterns I stay with 6mm – ¼” seams.


Use a zig zag on the raw edges of the fabric – saying that, knits do not fray but it will finish off your garment nicely.


Some people swear by a walking foot attachment.  You can use this for really stretchy or light fabrics.  In traditional sewing the feed dogs at the bottom on the needle plate push the fabric through and under the foot – it means one side of the fabric goes through at a different rate to the other.  A walking foot pushes or feeds the top and the bottom of the fabric throughat the same time and the same rate - which stops the fabric from stretching when you sew


Check your stitching on 2 layers of spare fabric before you start on your garment. 


Also turn your iron on and iron a scrap of fabric to ensure it is the correct temperature before you start your project. Try not to press your garment too much as you sew as it can make it stretch out of place – traditional woven sewing was always “sew-a-seam-press-a-seam” but this is not such good advice on knits.  Pressing will help take out waviness, but in general it’s a good idea to just press at the very end – things like Collars and Bands always look much more professional with a press.  Just use your judgement.


Sometimes when hemming your fabric will start to stretch. A couple of hint are

  • Use hemming tape
  • Spray starch will wash out but provide temporary stability
  • Tissue paper can help for hems and also buttonholes – it rips out after sewing

Hems can be sewn with a twin needle or a decorative stitch.  A twin needle sews a double line of stitches parallel to each other.  From the right side it looks like straight stitching and from the back it looks like a zig-zag.

Sometimes a “tunnel” can form between the rows – hem tape can help if adjusting tension or foot pressure doesn’t




By this I mean when you start sewing the fabric gets sucked down into the needle plate.  You can try holding the thread tails when you start stitching.  You can also try to start your sewing just in from the edge. Make sure to back-tack all the way to the edge before going forward again.


The only thing to stretch when you sew is the neckbands and armbands. Try not to stretch your fabric in the rest of the garment





Choosing A Theme For Your Fashion Collection

6 February 2020


Choosing A Theme For Your Garment - this is based on spaghetti pastaThe theme or concept for your fashion collection can seem quite a daunting task to tackle at first.


Choosing a theme for a garment, or developing a theme overall for fashion designing a collection, like anything, gets easier the more you do it.


The main thing you need to consider at first is The Brief.  Have you been given a fashion brief or do you have any limitations (if you are a student fashion designer) or are you setting your own limits?  Have you been told how many ensembles or looks to produce?  How many garments or separates need to be made for each ensemble?


Next you will need to go to your mind-map or brainstorming session and look at the possible ideas there.  Often there is a similar concept or feeling running through that you may decide stimulates you creatively.  The words and images can often be brought together into an initial theme.


All good fashion colections have a certain concept or theme at their core.  It is this theme that will be personal and together with your signature style or design aesthetic will make it particular to you and no-one else.  It is your interests and outlook on the world that will be displayed creatively in your designs.


Themes and concepts can usually be described as being one of the following, abstract, conceptual or narrative.


Abstract Fashion Design Themes and Concepts


A simple word is usually the basis for this concept - you can explore a word that had been brought up, perhaps within your mind-map.  The word will usually lead to ideas.  The word will express images to you personally - how then can you translate this image into the design of your clothing.


Conceptual Fashion Design Themes and Concepts


The key here is visual stimulation of the senses.  Take or gather a series of images you like.  Though possibly unrelated in topic, a commonality may develop.  This could lead to developing texture, colour and shape in your fashion collection.


Narrative Fashion Design Themes and Concepts


Many fashion designers start with narratives - it is a useful starting approach.  A narrative means a story.  Think of a person and develop a character for them - who are they?  what's their job?  what do they do in their spare time?  what era are they living in?  develop a personality for your muse and then you design the clothes for their lifestyle.  Your muse has a character and a lifestyle and personality to help your research develop in a certain direction.  The muse will also help you later with ideas when you will need to present your collection.


Fashion Design Competitions in New Zealand

1 February 2018

Fashion Design Awards and Fashion Design Student Competitions NZ New Zealand Online Fashion Design School Learn Design | Sewing and Constructing Garments | Patternmaking Tutorials the Garment Industry Way


What Fashion Design Competitions And Awards Are There In NZ?


The fashion competitions and design awards available in New Zealand do change from year to year.  

Please contact me if you have something coming up you'd like to include on this list.

Competitions and awards are a great way of increasing your public profile and gaining confidence in your fashion designing skills.  They teach you about deadlines and how to work to a brief.  Please be aware that some of these competitions have strict entry criteria.

We are lucky in New Zealand to have quite a few design awards, competitions and shows to enter, many are smaller regional shows and do not get huge publicity so often great prizes (usually cash) are offered by sponsors with very few student designers entering.  There are often prize categories just for student designers.   If in doubt give it a go - you will gain valuable experience and get some great photographs of your entries on a catwalk, often with professional models, photographers, and most shows are covered with local newspaper coverage - reporters will write articles that you could add to your portfolio.

These competitions are not always just for student designers - most are open to the public.

Even though these shows are based in New Zealand please check with the organisers if you are an overseas based designer and wish to enter - you may be eligible to enter.  Shows like WOW are international events and attract designers from around the world.  We need entries in the smaller regional wearable arts shows to act as learning tools or feeder programs to entering the bigger shows like World Of Wearable Arts with the fantastic prize money and prestige that goes along with winning.


NZ Fashion Competitions and Awards - Including Eco and Wearable Arts

- Wool On - link here (Was part of the Blossom Festival)

- Project Runway - NZ edition - apply here

- Project Glow Wear - link to website here

- Pacific Fusion Fashion Show - link to website here

- Tarankai Fashion Art Awards - link to website - link to Facebook

- The Leather Fashion Design Awards 2016 - link here

- New Zealand Fashion Week - New Generation Show - link here also here

- World of Wearble Art (WOW) - link here

- Art Couture - facebook link here - Wearable Art.  This is where you can show garments that did not get into the World Of Wearable Art Awards (WOW) Tickets here

- Hokonui Fashion Design Awards - link here

- Ruapehu Snow Queen - Check out the Facebook page : Ruapehu Snow Queen

- Cult Couture - link to entry form

- Hastings Pak N Save Edible Fashion Awards - Check out the Facebook page : Hastings PAKnSAVE Edible Fashion Awards

- Newmarket Young Fashion Designer Awards - link here

- ID Dunedin - link here

- Miromoda Maori Fashion Awards - Auckland Fashion Week - link here

- Cadbury Couture - link here

- Fielddays Ag Art Wear - link here and here for entry form

- NZ Hat and Hair - link here

- NZ Eco Fashion Exposed -  Eco Fashion Week - Student Designers section - link here

- Steampunk Fashion Show - link here

- Celebration of Light Emerging Designers Competition - link here

- Fibre Octave - link here

- Calico Bride Award - biannually - as part of Hitched Rotorua Wedding Show -  link here

- NZ Wedding Industry Awards - these are new to the Bay Of Plenty - link here

- Oversew Fashion Awards - link here or for their facebook page link here

- Young Designer Awards ages 11-18 - link here

- NZ Light Leathers Fashion Design Awards Competition - Wellington Fashion Week - Facebook link here

- Indigenous Runway Project - Australia and NZ - link here to website - here for facebook

- Pohutukawa Festival Wearable Arts Show - link here

- Art n Tartan Wearable Arts Awars - link here or facebook page

- Creative Fibre National Festival - Fashion Fibre and Fun  - link here and their blog link here and website here

- Totally Thames Wearable Arts Show - Facebook link here

- Pin'd Creative Showcase - Website here - and Facebook here (was Global Connexions)


In addition to fashion design competitions think about entering your local

- Racedays Fashion In The Field


and other shows such as

- Tarnished Frocks and Divas - link here

- Schools Trash to Fash show - link here

- Young Designer Awards - link here

- Bernina Events - link here

- Brother Design Stars schools competition - link here


HETTANZ - the Home Economics and Technology Teachers Association of NZ - run competitions for school students yearly also - link here


or other fun competitions like

- Miss Cadaver (the undead) - Check out the Facebook page : Miss Cadaver 2015

or you could volunteer to dress your local

- Miss Universe NZ Teen or Miss NZ contestants


Hong Kong

Eco-chic Design Awards - Link here



Red Carpet Green Dress - an amazing and clever eco-fashion idea by Suzy Amis Cameron - Link here

VPleat Ninja Student Design Competition - details on my Facebook page



Mini - Bright Rays Competition - link here

Virgin Australian Melbourne Fashion Festival - not a competition but a show - website here


Other/ International

Hat Talk - Hat making competition - link to website here


What's New

8 May 2017 Update


It's been a while since I have posted, and I have been keeping myself very busy -  I am still teaching design on the degree course, and this semester I have some wonderful international students at post-graduate level studying towards the Diploma in Creative Entrepreneurship, majoring in Fashion.  It's really interesting seeing the blending of cultures and how this translates to design, and helping them in their creative process towards their goals.

I have also been constantly updating the website - there are lots of new videos in response to student demand - the students on the course I teach use the website as course curriculum and their feedback has enabled things to grow and get better and better for their personal learning outcomes.

I have also decided now to start making downloadable pdf sewing patterns so watch out for new pdf sewing pattern releases.  They will appear on the website at the bottom, and all new releases are discounted for new release - calculated automatically so there is no need for discount codes.  You will need to checkback often to make sure you don't miss out on these deals.

There is also a Facebook group for the patterns - join for pattern hack advice and exclusive member discounts.

So many ideas and there are not enough hours in the day!

I love my job.