How to Sew Knit Fabrics: Sewing With Jersey 101

Babies love wearing cozy knits! Ladies love wearing cozy knits! When we asked the Prudent Mamas, we discovered everyone is nervous about knits. We get that! Since we have a bunch of cute patterns for knit jersey dresses and such planned for you, we thought we’d start by getting everyone comfortable with sewing knits. Let’s start with a little primer, including what equipment you need (or don’t need), the different stitches, and some basic tips to help you get on your way to Cozytown.

From the feedback on our facebook page and twitter, we see that the Prudent Mamas have concerns about stretched out seams, popping threads, and slippage while sewing. The overall conclusion was that knits are scary. No! Knits are just stretchy. Let’s take the mystery out of sewing these stretchy beasts.

Then you can make these cute dresses I share a pattern and tutorial for here: Beginner’s Jersey Baby Dress!

Learn the basics of how to sew with knit jersey fabrics after the jump…

How to Sew Knit Fabrics: Sewing With Jersey 101
First we’ll talk about FABRIC, then GEAR, then STITCHING, and finally TIPS for sewing with knit jersey. Here we go…

Knit Fabric 101
There are ten trillion different knit fabrics out there. To understand the basic difference between cotton and knit, let’s look at some diagrams. Cotton is woven:

Knits are, well, knitted (with loops):

(thanks for the illustrations, threads magazine)

There’s single knits, double knits, and rib knits. Some look different on each side. Some look the same on both sides. Some stretch a lot. Some stretch a little. Some are blended with rayon or acetate or (as Scarlet calls it) “sparkle thread.” Some are thick. Some are so thin you can see through them. There are so many fun options and you can sew them all! First you need to examine your fabric. Let us do so. Which way does it stretch? Stretch on the cut edges, then from the selvedges. One way will almost always stretch more. Make a note of it and cut the pattern as directed with the more stretch facing the right way. Sleeves are usually cut width wise (most stretch), same with shirt body. Some patterns are bias cut (on the diagonal) for a lovely drape.

In these pics I’m sewing with one of my husband’s old hanes t-shirts, and with stretchy Robert Kaufman panda knit, which I absolutely adore. Don’t you just want to snuggle up in it?

So now you’ve got your fabric. What else do you need to start sewing knits?

Knit & Jersey Sewing Gear 101
There is some gear that makes sewing knits much easier, but you don’t need all of it to sew with jersey. Let’s go through it and I’ll tell you what’s not absolutely necessary and what’s a must-have.

A Cover Stitch Machine.
Hi, almost no one has one of these at home. I sure do want one though. A commercially sewn knit item usually has a hem with a double row of stitching. A coverstitch machine hems these up quick and neat in one step. But no worries, you can simulate this look with a regular sewing machine.

A Serger.
I adore my Brother 5234 PRW. If you have a serger you can thread all four needles, then sew your jersey and cut your seams at the same time. But NO, you do NOT need a serger to sew jersey.

Today we will focus on how to sew jersey with a sewing machine instead.

Here are some things that are affordable to get and will help you enormously when sewing knit jerseys.

A Twin Needle
Many machines come with a twin needle, or you can purchase one inexpensively.

If your machine can zig-zag it can usually accommodate a twin needle. The benefit of a twin needle is that it builds stretch into your seams by creating two lines of straight stitches on the top of your item with a zig zag underneath. No popped seams, no trying to precisely stretch your fabric as you sew. Let me show you really quickly how to thread a twin needle so you understand the concept. When you use a twin needle, you’ll use two spools of thread on the top. Your machine probably comes with an extra spool pin that fits on top of the bobbin holder you normally use while winding bobbins, like this:

But even if you don’t have an extra spool pin, you can jerry-rig it by placing the second spool of thread somewhere nearby (on a thread rack, in a cup) where it won’t get tangled or resist unrolling while you sew. So once you’ve set up your spools, you’ll run both threads through the machine as you normally would the one thread. You thread the needles manually, the left one with your normal spool, and the right one with the second spool. I did them in two colors so you could see (the normal spool is black, threaded through the left needle).

Then you use your zigzag foot while sewing.

Ballpoint Needles
A ballpoint needle has a slightly rounded tip that allows it to slip through the fibers of your fabric, rather than ripping them as a regular needle would. There are also stretch needles that have a deeper indentation (so the needle can create a longer thread loop before forming the stitch, decreasing the chance for a slipped stitch). I have never bothered to get stretch needles, but for a very delicate fabric I would. There are also universal needles that say they are for both woven and knit fabrics, but I have not tried them. Now, you may want to give sewing jersey a shot with a regular needle. You can try it out if you are desperate. On a stiff men’s t-shirt (like your basic Hanes or what have you), a regular needle may work. But on a stretchy or delicate knit, it’s going to create tiny tears in the fabric that will get worse as you wash and wear. So I say definitely get ballpoint needles.

Ballpoint is on the left, straight is on the right.

Walking foot
I like to sew knits with my walking foot, especially if they are very stretchy. A walking foot moves both the top and bottom layers of fabric at the same time. This makes it a lot easier to avoid stretching the fabric out too much. They run $15-20 and you’ll use it a lot once you get one (for quilting and such). You can sew jersey without a walking foot, but it will take more trial and error with each new fabric to see how much you need to guide/stretch that specific fabric to avoid stretched seams. Here is what a walking foot looks like from the front:

And from the side:

Let’s do a comparison. Here I am using my stretchy panda knit fabric. I used a ballpoint needle and stretch stitch (explanation of stretch stitch and the other stitches you can use for knits later in this post), and in this first pic I used a walking foot.

Looking good, laying flat. In this next pic I used all the same setting, but with a regular foot.

See the difference? A walking foot just makes it much easier to keep the seams from becoming stretchy and sloppy, especially with very stretchy fabrics.

I don’t often use interfacing when sewing with jersey, but sometimes it helps to stabilize a seam that will get stretched/pulled during use (for example a shoulder seam). You don’t want to use regular old interfacing, you want to find one for knits that is more flexible. Try to match it to your fabric’s flex as close as you can. But for beginners, don’t worry about interfacing just yet.

Stitches for Sewing with Knit Jersey Fabric
Ok, let’s talk stitching.

As we’ve mentioned, knits and jerseys have varying degrees of stretch. If you just sew them together with a regular old straight stitch, then you have stretchy fabric with a not-stretchy seam. What do you think will happen when you stretch the fabric out? That’s right, the seam will pop. Here’s a pic of my panda knit stretch jersey with a straight stitch – I pulled on the fabric, check out how not-nice it looks…

One more pull and what do you think will happen?

That’s right: It will pop right out. We don’t want that to happen to our clothes, which should be able to move with us as we gallivant around town. So we don’t want to use a straight stitch. I do want to be clear that you CAN use a straight stitch to sew knits, BUT it requires a certain skill because you have to stretch your fabric *justright* as you sew to ensure the straight stitch seam has the right amount of stretch built in. It is much easier to use one of the following stitches until you get more experienced or find your groove with knit sewing.

If you are sewing with a twin needle, you can use a straight stitch, since the twin needle straight stitch has stretch built in. Here’s what that looks like on the front (the black is the left needle, the taupe is the right needle, just so you can see the difference):

And here is the back of the twin needle straight stitch, with black thread in the bobbin:

That sure looks nice. But if you don’t have a twin needle, don’t fear.

You can sew knits with one needle, no problem. Ideally, your machine has a stretch stitch. Which one is the stretch stitch? It is the one that looks like an offset zig zag. This stitch goes forward, then back a bit, to create a seam that can stretch with your fabric. Here is a pic of the stretch stitch diagram on my machine, it’s #4. I call it the lightning bolt.

Stitch #3 is a triple stretch stitch, especially good for armholes or other areas that take a lot of abuse and may need more strength built in.

If you don’t have a stretch stitch, no fear. A narrow zig zag stitch will do the trick. Set the width and length very low (2.5/.5 is a good starting point) and test it on your fabric scraps to find the best setting to make sure it lays flat. The zig zag will allow your fabric to stretch.

Here is a pic of all three stitches on a basic heavy knit mens tee, just so you can see what they look like. The heavy mens’ t can take a lot of stitches without doing anything too funky when it’s just one layer like this, but when you start to sew two pieces together, they stretch pretty easily, just an FYI. The stitches from right to left are stretch, zig zag, straight.

Whichever stitch you choose, test it out on some scraps of your fabric and adjust the tension as necessary until your stitching lays flat. It gets fancier from here, with stretch blind hem stitches and what not, but we’ll stick to these basics for now. Ok, on to the sewing of knits…

Sewing Knit Jersey Fabric
A lot of your work with knits is going to involve some amount of trial and error, so always buy a little extra fabric and do some tests. I’ll share some tips to help you have less error as you are doing your trials.

Beware the Stretch
If you are using your walking foot and a stitch with stretch, then you want to be sure you are not stretching your fabric out as you sew. If you do you will end up with floppy seams and stretched out armholes and the like. Let’s look at an example on my stretch jersey fabric. I used my walking foot, ballpoint needle, and stretch stitch. The stitch settings are exactly the same in both rows, but on the top row I let the fabric stretch as it went through the machine, while on the bottom row I was careful not to let the fabric stretch.

See the difference? So watch out for stretching while feeding your fabric through your machine.

Let’s talk about sewing two pieces of fabric together to create a seam. This example uses cut up remnants of my husband’s old hanes t-shirt sewn with a ballpoint needle, walking foot, and stretch stitch. In this first picture, I was careful not to stretch the fabric as it went through the machine:

Looking good! In this second picture, I was not careful and the fabric stretched just a bit. Now look at my seam:

A walking foot and being careful not to stretch your fabric too much are the two best ways to avoid these gaping seams. There is more to this when it comes to finishing necklines, but I will save that for another post while we all practice a bit first.

Finishing Inside Seams
Jersey will not unravel, so you do not need to do anything to finish inside seams except cut them even. However, if you have a serger it does add nice polish to your item to serge the seams, before or after you construct the piece (I usually do it before, but that’s just personal preference). If you are sewing with a thick fabric, a seam allowance from 1/2″ to 5/8″ is fine. If you are sewing with a thin/delicate knit fabric, the edges will roll, in which case you want to sew (or cut down) to a very small allowance, because the fabric has a tendency to curl and a big curl can be uncomfortable to whomever is wearing the item.

Hemming Knits
You can hem your item the traditional way, but you only need to fold under once, since the edge of the fabric won’t unravel (this also reduces bulk at hems) and stitch in place (or just roll under and stitch if the fabric is very thin).

The only issue is that you will have a zig zag or stretch stitch hem, which doesn’t always look very awesome. This is a great time to whip out your twin needle, so you can have straight seams with stretch built in. You can also sew with a straight stitch if you think you can stretch your fabric just the right amount to have a stretchy hem that won’t break. Or if you are making a dress or skirt, where the hem is unlikely to get stretched out while it is being worn, you can risk a non-stretch straight stitch. Or you can just cut that baby, because as I said, it won’t unravel.

Serging a rolled hem is also fun if you can. Or if you are fancy, go ahead and do a stretch blind hem stitch or some such awesomeness.

From here, I am going to share some patterns and tutorials that will allow you to practice all of these skills and learn about finishing necks and armholes, so they look polished like this (it’s so not hard at all I promise):

as well as adding sleeves

gathering, and other fun things you can do with jersey.

A good starter project that you can play around with right now is Jacinda’s adorable (and super giftable) Top Knot Baby Hat, which comes in three different versions and can be made from recycled tees. It’ll give you a good sense of your machine and knits, and you’ll get the satisfaction of a completed project of adorableness.

Okay Prudent Mamas, I hope I addressed a lot of your concerns, and took some of the scare and mystery out of sewing with knits.. Let me know if you have any questions about what I’ve shared here, and I’ll add to this post or follow up with more information. I hope this helps you feel a little less intimidated by knit jersey and encourages you to cut up some old clothes and get crafty. Stay tuned for our first jersey dress project and pattern later this week!

Update: Get the pattern and tutorial here: Beginner’s Jersey Baby Dress!

Practice your jersey knit skills with projects like, The 30-Minute Pleated Dress, Racerback Dress, How to Turn Any T-Shirt into a Sundress, Striped Jersey Shorts, and How to Make a Football Jersey from a T-shirt.



Jasmine Hill

Very good article! One question, you said to use ball point needle and twin needles. do I need ball point twin needles? New confused sewer lol Thanks.


I haven’t been able to find a ballpoint twin needle for my singer. Any suggestions? I know schmetz has a bunch of needles. Which would it be?

Michele R

I did a search for sewing with knits, and I’m so glad it referred me to this article! I am a beginning sewer, and I have wanted to try knits but was afraid. Now I feel confident, so thank you so much!


what a great help I am going to cut out my dress with fabric I have stashed for way too long. I am excited. Thank you.



I did the same thing & pulled out some very soft knit that I cut out for a tee type top this morning. Now I’m trying to get the nerve to start sewing. I have the original double needle that came with my Brother PC 420 that I bought 2 or 3 years ago but have never used the needle. I also ordered a needle changer because my fingers just don’t want to hold the needles for replacement very good. It arrives tomorrow. Do you have any suggestions for changing the needle in a sewing machine? Well, with me luck. 🙂

Lisa C.

Thank you for having this tutorial. I am new to sewing things other than straight curtains and such. Forgive me if someone has already asked this but how do you prevent the curling of the knit fabric where you’ve cut? I made my first maxi skirt, before reading your tutorial, and my biggest struggle was with the curling edges.

Thank you very much for your insight and help! I look forward to sewing an even better skirt using your tutorial! !


Great tutorial! Is it still ok to use a twin needle even if its not ball point? I have the twin needle that came with my machine. And I also have single ball point needles. Which would be best?


It really depends on the fabric, a single ballpoint needle would probably be better, especially if it’s a delicate knit. you could test out the twin needle on a small swatch and see if it tears the fibers. good luck!

Ramona Crabtree


I’m trying to sew a cotton fabric (as skirt) to a knit top. I don’t quite know how. Can you help me? My granddaughter (great) wants a maxi skirt, but wants a tank top as the top. I sew all the time, but this is a new one on me!



thanks a lot .. i didnt know the stitch no.4 and zig zag trick for that kind of material and always ended up stitching again and again everytime my fabric stretched.

please tell me how u made that flower? on the second frock?? please

innie minnie

Thank you so much for the tips. I used the twin needle and walking foot combo and it worked like a dream!!! Muaaahs


That was my next question. Can I use a walking foot and twin needle! Thanks for posting this. 🙂


I was a bit confused. Do i use a ball point for the zig zag stitch or a regular needle. And for the double needle, do I use a double ball point or regular double. What are the recommended combos of feet, stitches and needles for say a stretch jersey?


Does the Brother 5234 PRW use regular needles ? and does it sew a chainstitch like for jeans?

Bethany H

Help? I have a cheapo brother machine. It is a 5mm so I can only find one walking foot that will fit it. The walking foot is only a single hole so I can’t zig zag or twin needle with it? What should I do?? I am making jersey knit infinity scarves for Christmas. Can I do two parallel lines of straight stitch if I use my walking foot?


The walking foot should be able to accomodate a zig zag with the one hole – try it with a tight width on a test piece to see!

Kevin Johnson

Knitting is the art of knotting, that is making loops and knots in a length of yarn or thread into a piece of fabric using needles,Many types and styles knitting are running all over the world as per the demand,Knitting was used mostly to create necessary garments to protect against the elements in most European cultures.


Just to clarify… Wovens are woven and knits are knitted. Knits can be cotton and wovens can be cotton as well. Cotton is the fiber type so I thought it was weird that you say cottons ARE woven.

Patricia Byrd

I love this tutorial! I was wondering if you plan on doing one like this but using a serger? I have the same serger as you and love it to, but don’t know what to do with it yet. Lol. Patricia


I wish I had of read this article before. Wish I had a serger. I’m sewing with a stretchy cotton blend fabric and I purchased ballpoint needle. I will try sewing on scrap first. It’s my first attempt.


Much thanks to you such a great amount for the tips. I utilized the twin needle and strolling foot combo and it worked like a fantasy.Clothing collection so beautiful.


So…I have a serger, and everything I’ve read about knits says, “Serge it, it’ll be great!” But my last attempt was NOT so great. The seams popped just as much with my serged edge as they ever did on a regular straight stitch. What the heck am I doing wrong??


Amazing tutorial, exactly what I needed! Thank you for being so thorough and going through each thing that will help when sewing with jersey!


Where can I get the twin ball point needles? I’m not very good with the zig zag stitch

Sewing Shop

Thanks for posting this great guide on sewing knit fabrics, it’s very well explained with great tips!
I featured it on my blog today, you can see it at the pingback link above this message 🙂


I have the same serger as you….love it! If I use the serger, do I just sew as usual?


Can you tell me what Robert Kaufman Panda knits are? I googled it but nothing comes up.

Thank you for the great tutorial. I grateful for the help.


What about sewing a stretch fabric and a non stretch together? Any tips ? I have some trims that are stretchy and want to put them on regular fabric and visa versa.


Thank you so much. I have bought a jersey dress which was a bit long. So I wanted to make it shorter. I used normal needle and put the dress on today. and guess what….
Came home from work with popped seams )))))
I do have a double needle and never knew what to use it for.

Thank you for you post.

Will give it a go now to see if I am a quick learner))))


Thanks so much for this! Can you please tell me the settings for the stretch stitch. Is the #4 the same as a zigzag zag stitch? I always wondered why it was slanted.


I am making a baseball tee, my pattern says to use stretch fabrics ” Jerseys, Stretch Velvet, Two Way Stretch”, what would you suggest I use? I am new at sewing and would love to do this project successfully (the first time). If I am using a single needle, should I get a ballpoint or just stick with universal? Please respond as soon as you can, thanks for all the info on stretch fabrics in this post!


I have another question, do you serge stretch fabrics or will that ruin them? Also, I haven’t gone through the pattern with great detail but when I do top stitching such as on the hem of the shirt or the sleeves, do I use a twin needle?


Definitely get the ballpoint needle, though overall I would not suggest this as a project for a beginner, it can be fairly frustrating if you aren’t accustomed to the whims of sewing machines.

Barbara Harris


Thanks for sharing this nice post. I want to add some point for Sewing with Knits Fabrics. Such as-

1. Use the right needle
2. Stitch type and length
3. Seam finishes
4. Serger or Overlock Machines &
5. Stable Seams and Seam Finishes

Barbara Harris

Jason P.

I picked a knit jersey fabric for my first sewing project. I am terrified. But I’m less terrified now! Thanks so much.

Amy Morris

Amazing post – thank you so much! The photos are fantastic – really helpful. You have demystified the process and I’m now looking forward to giving jersey a try.

Can We Please Talk About Plus Size Yoga Clothes? - Silk Mayhem

[…] If you’ve never sewn with knits before, which are the ideal choice for workout wear, I would highly recommend using double knit which is a great place to start, giving you the confidence you need to get rolling! Seamwork Magazine has a great post about sewing with double knit and Colette Patterns has a fantastic, downloadable book on working with knits in general. Two blog posts that have also helped me build me confidence and answer many of my questions are Lladybird’s Conquering Knits and Pretty Prudent Sewing with Jersey 101. […]


What size of double needle do I need for a T-shirt quilt? Where can a find a ball point double needle in that size?

Mary Ellen Paton

Use a ball point needle for knits, and if the fabric has spandex in it use a stretch needle. I don’t recommend universal needles for knits.


I never leave comments for anything, but thank you so much for this. I could not find any specific answers for my question until I found this post. I also never utilized my walking foot. Thank you for that as well haha.


Another chicken of knits here! I just started sewing a knit top today, so far meh. It won’t end up being my favourite but it’s a jumping off point. Thank you for all the fantastic tips and suggestions, I feel a little more confident now!


Thank you for this article!! I’m a new sewer trying to figure this out and this blog post literally from 0 to 100.

Debbie Grove

Can’t wait to try! What thread would you recommend using, is it just normal Cotton?


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