Knits for Real People: Fitting and Sewing Fashion Knit Fabrics

Knits for Real People: Fitting and Sewing Fashion Knit Fabrics

by Susan Neall, Pati Palmer


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Unsure how to sew the new knits so they’ll look great and fit better than ready-to-wear? Knits for Real People helps readers sort out the differences in fabric types and explains the fitting and sewing techniques for each. Photographs of knit fashions from McCall’s, Vogue, and Butterick pattern companies provide inspiration throughout the book and illustrate the many types of knits. The many techniques explained include: layout, cutting, and marking; seaming techniques using sewing machines and sergers, including the use of the differential feed feature; creative embellishments, including piping, flounces, “peepers,” and decorative serging; neckline and edge finishes, including bands, collars, and bindings; sleeves, hems and closures; and fitting techniques for tops, pants, and activewear. Knit fabrics are very popular in fabric stores and this book helps people take advantage by teaching how to fit patterns for this versatile material.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781618470447
Publisher: Palmer-Pletsch Associates
Publication date: 06/01/2015
Series: Sewing for Real People series
Pages: 160
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 10.80(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Susan Neall is the tour coordinator for Sew Inspirational Events. She is a former editor for Australian Stitches magazine and a former craft consultant for Better Homes & Gardens magazine. Pati Palmer is the CEO of Palmer/Pletsch Publishing, a designer and consultant for the McCall Pattern Company, and an author of Fit for Real People, Mother Pletsch’s Painless Sewing, and Pants for Real People. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Read an Excerpt

Knits for Real People

Fitting and Sewing Fashion Knit Fabrics

By Susan Neall, Pati Palmer, Kate Pryka, Rebecca Neall

Palmer/Pletsch Publishing

Copyright © 2015 Palmer/Pletsch Incorporated
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61847-046-1


Knit Sewing Today

There is no need to fear sewing knits. There may have been a time when you feared wovens, possibly when you were learning to sew. Wovens can be thick or thin; shiny or dull; slippery or stiff; stable or stretchy. It is the same with today's knits. They include stretchy jersey and stable ponte. There are open mesh knits and knits with ribs. Popular interlocks are made from many fibers including polyester, nylon, rayon, cotton, acrylic, bamboo, lyocell, spandex, and any blend of these.

In knit fashions today, a simple T-shirt might be made in a polyester print instead of a cotton. A knit top may have fashion details like a cowl neckline, a wrap front, or pleats and gathers as well as many interesting fashion details. There are solids and prints and we are combining them for creativity.

In sewing patterns, there are sporty, dressy, active, and high- fashion designs for knits.

The newest rage is to get creative in your knit sewing as you will see in the following pages. Knits are a perfect canvas since they are easy to work with and easy to fit.


Knits allow you to create garments that wouldn't be possible in any other fabric.

Melissa Goes With the Flow

Pati's daughter, Melissa Watson, designs for McCall's, just like her mother. Some of her most successful patterns are designed to take advantage of the way knits drape. She loves lightweight jerseys and both of the above designs are a silk and rayon blend. The godets in the green skirt allow a lot of flare at the bottom with no gathers at the waist. It is almost floor length. Not a problem as most knits are washable.

The gray dress, at first glance, looks very simple. The creativity is subtle. The sleeves have shirring (page 93), the waistline has pleats on one side for draping. There is an overlay in the front; shirring below the keyhole back; and the front, hem, and keyhole back are left unfinished — the easiest treatment for this type of fabric. The McCall Pattern Company has graciously let us use images of its patterns throughout this book, which provide much to be inspired by when sewing with knits.

The McCall Pattern Company has graciously let us use images of its patterns throughout this book, which provide much to be inspired by when sewing with knits.

What Does It Take to Be Creative?

We often hear people say, "I am not creative." They probably just need inspiration. On the next few pages, we will share inspiration from Down Under. Sue says that when she was conducting knit workshops for Palmer/Pletsch in Australia, the students got inspired by each other. One idea led to another. After attending these workshops a few times, everyone tried to invent new ways to be creative with knits. Here we share some of the results and wish there was room to share more.

Australians Get Creative

Pati Palmer feels that the Australians are ultra-creative, after meeting the Aussie Palmer/Pletsch teachers that co-author Sue Neall introduced her to and seeing all of the amazing creative knit garments they have made. It is because of them that this knit sewing book is so inspirational — no pun intended. (Sue has a fabric shopping tour company called Sew Inspirational Fabric Tours that takes sewers to Bali, Vietnam, Tuscany, Paris, and the U.S., as well as around Australia.)

We asked these teachers — Val and Suzanne — to share some of the creative garments they've made and talk about how they get inspired. Then you can adapt the ideas to your own creative style. See them in Chapter 8 and 10 through 13 as well.

Val Combines Solids, Stripes, and Prints

Black is the unity that makes this work. The striking print contains black as does the stripe, so using black as the base for the top creates a sophisticated yet playful design.

The printed knit is appliqued onto a solid with topstitching. (Appliqué how-tos on page 121.)

Suzanne's Creative Cardigan

Suzanne's cardigan shows all kinds of ideas of what we can do with knits:

* Using color blocking. (The V of the neckline and the diagonal lines in the upper color blocking send the eye to her face.)

* Creating a contrast band.

* Adding a trim and sewing buttons onto it.

* Varying the length of front and back pieces.

* Using front buttons that pick up a color in the knits. (For buttonhole how-tos, see page 105.)

* Using an art panel for the left front and picking up those colors in the rest of the cardigan. (The face motif fabric is recycled from a T-shirt she bought in France.)

Suzanne's Creative Zip Cardigan

Suzanne's creative touches on this jacket include:

* Color blocking. (See page 13-14)

* A drawstring to draw up the center of the wide double-layer collar

* A "peeper" (a flat piping without cording) between the front and the exposed zipper (see page 109).

* Coverstitch topstitching (See page 73.)

Cardigans With ZIP

Katherine Tilton's design for Vogue uses a separating zipper in a knit. (The Tilton sisters are doing a lot of interesting designs for knits.)

Who would have thought of putting a zipper in mesh! There are many versions of lace mesh in all sorts of designs — some for day and others with glitz.

Sue Neall combined her black and gold lace mesh with an exposed zipper, neck band, and uneven flounce from a devoré (burnout fabric) gathered to the bottom.

See page 109 for exposed zippers, Chapter 9 for hems, and page 79-84 for neck bands.


Suzanne doesn't think she's innately creative, but by looking for ideas in catalogs, magazines, and in stores, she takes a bit from here and a bit from there. She uses her basic altered-to-fit T-shirt pattern and cuts it apart, adding seam allowances to sew it back together. At the right are inspirations using stripes, uneven hems, color blocking, bands, and sleeves.

Color Blocking

Below, Suzanne models one of her newest creations. She extended the T-shirt pattern armhole to be a cut-on "extension" (page 93). She added seam lines to piece her three knit fabrics together. The stripe became a peeper (page 114) and her neckband (page 79). The hem was made longer at the sides.


You can also call this piecing. Quilters certainly understand piecing. It can be done by drawing lines on a pattern, cutting the pattern apart, adding seam allowances, cutting the pieces out of different colors, and sewing them back together. The lines are easiest if straight, but can be slightly curved. Here are some pointers:

* Make a full front and back by tracing the halves onto a tissue like Perfect Pattern Paper, which has a useful grid printed on it. If you plan to piece the sleeves, trace the sleeve so you will have a left and a right.

* Draw your cutting lines. But before cutting the pattern pieces apart, make sure each piece will have a grainline by drawing lines parallel to the original pattern's grain. Add a description to each piece such as middle left front.

* Cut your pattern pieces out of Perfect Pattern Paper, adding seam allowances.

Try Various Possibilities

Arrange a combination of fabrics on a flat surface. Position the pattern piece over the top, angling it in various ways until you find the color-blocked shapes that most appeal to you.


Topstitching With a Zigzag

Topstitching doesn't have to be done with a straight stitch. You can use a zigzag, twin or triple needle rows, coverstitch, and flatlocking on a serger. The neck and arm bands on this top were serged on and the seams were pressed toward the top and topstitched with a zigzag stitch.

Peeper With Coverlocked Topstitching

This seam down the front of a tee has a peeper stitched between the two layers, then it is pressed to one side and topstitched with a coverstitch with the loops on top and the two straight lines of stitching on the wrong sides. When stitching from the wrong side, which is how you get the loopers on top, make sure your needle stays the same even distance from the first seamline.

See how-tos for peepers beginning on page 114 and for coverstitch on page 73.

Val Combines Ruching and Peepers in a Sleeve Seam

Val made her cowl neck top much more interesting by adding a solid-color interlock knit peeper and matching cuff to her sleeve. She cut the sleeve pattern down the middle and added seam allowances. Then she added narrow elastic to the lower sleeve to ruche it. She added 4" to the length of the sleeve to allow for the ruching. For how-tos on peepers see page 114 and for ruching with elastic see page 93.

Combine Fabric Blocking, Peepers, and Hook-and-Eye Tape.

Here's a closeup of a striking medley of black and gray color blocking. The unusual hook-and-eye tape closure, which extends to the V-neckline, is further accented with a peeper on each side. Snap tape could be another possibility for creative use.

Stripes Don't Need To Be Boring!

There are striped knits in all flavors. Note that neck and arm bands of these two tops are using the stripes in different directions.

One has an added godet of stripes. The other uses splicing of the pattern and added seam allowances to sew the striped sections back together in opposing directions.

For armhole and neckband how-tos see Chapter 7, Neck and Edge Finishes.

Knit Sewing, Like All Sewing, Is Fun. Take It One Step at a Time

Here is our Top 10 list of ideas that help us to enjoy sewing more.

1. Find or create a sewing place.

2. Learn about the tools of the trade. Find out as much as you can about new and improved haberdashery or notions, interfacings, fabrics, and machines.

3. Study the pattern catalogs. They are filled with useful information and patterns for specific body types.

4. Buy the right pattern size.

5. Learn what the back of a pattern envelope can tell you, and when you buy a pattern read the whole guide sheet before you start sewing.

6. Learn sewing terminology.

7. Buy the best quality you can afford.

8. Start early and begin with achievable projects.

9. Sew things that you'll love to wear.

10. Repeat each learning experience.

The Sewing Space

* Good lighting is essential. The light on the machine is not enough. Natural light is best. Good overhead lighting and spot lamps are a bonus. Try to position your work so that there is no shadowing on your work area. The more light the better.

* Sewing bench or table at the correct height for your height and/or an adjustable-height chair.

* Pressing station - Pressing is as important to the professional look of your garment as any sewing technique you will master. Keep your ironing board and iron as handy as possible while sewing. Each construction detail should be pressed after it is stitched, before proceeding to the next step. Steam pressing is necessary on almost all. Always keep your iron spotlessly clean and fill it with clean water.

* Storage and organization - You can't sew in a mess. Remember a place for everything and everything in its place. When you finish the day's activity, always tidy up, put everything in its place, pick up the pins, iron and hang up the work in progress, empty the iron, and clean and cover your machine. You will be very pleased when you come back for the next session. Dream Sewing Spaces, Second Edition, is very thorough on setting up a sewing room. It was written by a kitchen, bath, and sewing room designer who has studied ergonomics. The book includes the latest lighting information as well as space plans. (See page 158.)

Sew Things That You'll LOVE to Wear

Always make garments that you would love to wear, in fabrics you would love to sew. No one likes to waste their time or their money, so put off the thought of bitsy projects in cheap fabrics. Always launch right into something you can wear with pride and then adapt, expand and develop that knowledge and experience while it is still fresh.

Start with a basic style that gives a grounding in patterns, layout, cutting, pressing and sewing, and is also still very wearable and a great addition to your closet. Then move onto a designer challenge. It doesn't take much to individualize your designs and create your own personal style.

Have you noticed how many simple designs are repeated throughout each pattern catalog, each made in a different fabric and color, photographed on a different model? Each representation is carefully styled to appeal to a different age, body type, or lifestyle. There is usually a fashion representation to suit most sewers. Look through all the catalogs until you find the items that we suggest, throughout this book, but in YOUR style.


Knit Fabrics

When home-sewers first took up knit sewing in the 1960s and '70s, the range of fabric types was basically limited to sweatshirting, jersey, interlock, and double knit. Lingerie and sweater knits were the next revolutionary step, and then there was a quantum leap to today's huge range of fibers and fabrics — to say nothing of the variety of techniques now possible with the serger, which home-sewers have come to know and love only in the last 30 years.

Now the smorgasbord of superb knit fabrics to choose from and also "stretch wovens" have changed every woman's wardrobe essentials and every sewer's techniques and notions. The good news is that as different as today's fabrics are, the techniques for pattern fitting are not much different from those used for wovens, and the techniques for garment sewing are not at all difficult.

When sewing woven fabrics, each type calls for different needles, stitches, linings, underlinings, seam finishes, and threads. You would not expect to sew a silk georgette in the same way that you would sew a wool gabardine. We're going to look at knit fabrics in the same way. The diversity of fabric types, weights, and stretch characteristics is vast and each type may need a different approach. The more you sew knit fabrics, the better you'll be able to judge the techniques to use on any given knit, just like that ability you have with wovens.


Four categories of fibers are used in the construction of textiles:

* Cellulosic – rayon, modal, bamboo, lyocell (brand name Tencel), acetate

* Protein – silk, wool, specialty hair fibers such as mohair, cashmere, camel hair, alpaca

* Synthetic – acrylic, modacrylic, nylon, polyester, spandex (brand name Lycra)

* Vegetable – cotton, linen, hemp, ramie

Cellulosic – All of these fibers are manufactured from regenerated cellulose, primarily wood pulp. The differences come from the type of pulp or the process used to turn the cellulose into textile fiber. Bamboo and modal are in the rayon family; bamboo is made from bamboo grasses and modal from beech trees. Lyocell and acetate, like the rayon family, are also made of wood pulp but by different processes. Because all of these fibers are of natural origin, they have some properties similar to natural fibers, including comfort, softness, and greater breathability than synthetics. Acetate has a distinctly different feel from the others, but it dyes and drapes beautifully. It is the fiber used to make most Slinky knits (see page 23).

Synthetic – Manufactured from petroleum byproducts, synthetic fibers are the result of extensive research by scientists to improve on natural fibers. Each one is made from different compounds that produce different properties in finished fabrics.

Acrylic was originally developed to mimic wool, but the original acrylics stretched, pilled, and looked tired quickly. Today, acrylic is blended with nylon, polyester, and spandex to enable the fabric to retain its original shape and surface properties. You can find acrylic in sweater knits and double knits/ponte.

Modacrylic is a modified acrylic fiber used to make fleecy, fur-like fabrics, including children's sleepwear and faux furs.

Nylon was originally developed to be poor man's silk, but was hot and uncomfortable to wear. It is now blended with natural fibers to add texture and strength and is commonly found in sheer knits and meshes and knits for activewear.

Polyester can now be made to look and feel like natural fiber fabrics, but with all the wash and wear advantages of a synthetic. It can also be blended with all natural fibers to add strength and longevity to the fabric. Polyester can be found in all types of knits.

Spandex is an elastic fiber. DuPont developed one of the first in 1958, under the trade name Lycra. It can stretch up to seven times its length and regain its original shape without distortion. Originally used for swim and aerobic wear, it is now added to many other fibers to add stretch with excellent recovery.


Excerpted from Knits for Real People by Susan Neall, Pati Palmer, Kate Pryka, Rebecca Neall. Copyright © 2015 Palmer/Pletsch Incorporated. Excerpted by permission of Palmer/Pletsch Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


About the Authors,
1. Knit Sewing Today,
2. Knit Fabrics,
3. Patterns for Knits,
4. Fitting Knits,
5. Layout, Cutting & Marking,
6. Sewing Knits, the Basics,
7. Neck & Edge Finishes,
8. Sleeves,
9. Hems for Knit Fashions,
10. Closures,
11. Creative Fashion Knits,
12. Wrapped & Shirred,
13. Pants & Leggings,
14. Swimsuits & Leotards,
McCall Pattern Company Photo Credits,
Palmer/Pletsch Products,

Customer Reviews