Cutting knit fabric is a whole different animal

Getting ready to sew the Renfrew

After purchasing some cotton jersey from Mood, I was ready to dive into a Sewaholic Renfrew, my first indie pattern and my first time sewing with knits (with the notable exception of my epic panty fail).  Exciting!  : )  I traced my pattern pieces, made a few simple alterations to the pattern (lengthening both the waist and sleeves by 2 inches), and was ready to go.  Then I got to my knit fabric.  Holy cow, working with knits is so different from wovens!  I learned a lot during this adventure.

Tub of orange dye

First of all, my bright orange jersey bled like crazy.  Do you see that tub of orange dye??  Holy crap!  I’ve never seen anywhere near this much dye bleeding with woven fabrics.  I assume this is not typical of all knits and relates to my specific fabric, but wow, I was not expecting that!  Since I didn’t have enough patience to keep rinsing it until the water ran clear, I’m planning to wash my finished shirt by itself for the first wash or two.

Pinning the lengthwise grain

When the fabric finally air dried (which took forever in this humid weather), I set out to cutting it.  After reading Tasia’s tutorial on cutting knits perfectly on-grain and various other websites that talked about this same technique, I figured I’d better take the time and do it right the first time, rather than establish sloppy habits right off the bat.

I busted out my bionic eyes, held the fabric about an inch away from my face, and pinned along one of the teeny tiny ribs on the right side of the fabric.  Can you see my line of pins in the photo above?  This process drove me CRAZY.  How tedious and eye-straining!!

When my line of pins was long enough for the first pattern piece, I smoothed out the fabric and gave it a few gentle tugs along the bias to straighten out the cross-grain.  This didn’t work very well because it seemed like my fabric was determined to stay a little crooked (annoying), but I did the best I could.  The last thing I want after all this work is a twisted shirt!

Marking the cut lines

When my fabric was as smooth and orthogonal as I could possibly get it (which still wasn’t perfect), I started tracing my pattern pieces.  Other sewists had recommended cutting all your pieces in a single layer (instead of folded) to make sure the grain is straight across the entire piece, which sounded good to me.  I traced half the pattern piece with a white heat-sensitive marking pen, flipped it over, and traced the mirror image on the other side of my line of pins.

What a HUGE PAIN IN THE ASS.  Seriously.  Apparently cutting knit fabric is not for the impatient.

Front piece finally cut out

After several hours of pinning, squinting, smoothing, tugging, pulling, and cursing… I had cut out one pattern piece.  UGH!  At least the rest of the pieces went a little faster once I figured out the method.

DIY pattern weights

I decided to pin along a lengthwise rib for every pattern piece to ensure that each individual piece was perfectly on-grain, or as close as I could get it.  I swear my fabric was heat set slightly off-grain or something – what a pain!!  Since I don’t have pattern weights but thought they would come in handy for tracing, I improvised and used whatever I had in my pantry.  Do you think veggie chili and tuna are a good combo?  Haha, me neither, but they sure worked well for holding down my pattern pieces.  : )

Cutting completeI did finally finish cutting out all the pieces, which is a surprise given my exponentially increasing level of grumpiness as the hours ticked by.  What a saga!  I think I spent about 6 hours between preparing the pattern pieces and cutting everything out.  Kind of ridiculous for a t-shirt.  Actually, very ridiculous.    All I can say is that this Renfrew had better be one hell of a fabulous t-shirt after all this work.

John reminded me that I could just run over to the Gap and buy a t-shirt for $10.  I’m starting to think that’s not such a bad idea.

What tips and techniques do you use for cutting knits?  And have you found that some knits are permanently “crooked” no matter how much you tug on them?

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4 thoughts on “Cutting knit fabric is a whole different animal

  1. Hi Carolyn! Pamela Leggett of PamelasPatterns.com has a great T-shirt pattern and two inexpensive DVDs on sewing knits. I think you will appreciate her relaxed approach to working with and cutting out knits. When working with very expensive knits, Sarah Veblen and Marcy Tilton are the sewing resources I use, too.

    I am sure the next phase of this project will be easier! Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks for these great resources, Mary. I think a “relaxed approach” is exactly what I need. : ) Hopefully working with knits will get easier as I learn more about them and get a little more experience under my belt!

  2. I think it’s great you’re exploring something new – way to go! I started sewing with knits a few years ago and I love it. I read lots of books and blogs, watched DVDs & even took a Craftsy course (Sewing with Knits: Five Wardrobe Essentials – well worth the $42), all of which was so helpful. But you’re right, it’s a lot of prepping and work just to sew a t-shirt, isn’t it? On the other hand, I love being able to make my own t-shirts, hoodies and other knit garments. Good luck! I’m looking forward to seeing how the shirt turns out. I really like the orange colour!

    • Thanks Corinne! I agree – it would be great to be able to sew all my own knit garments, especially since I often need to wear “sloppy” clothes to work, which means I wear some kind of t-shirt almost everyday. That Craftsy class sounds great – thanks for the recommendation! I’m glad to hear your adventures in sewing with knits have gone well. : )

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