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Knit Basics: Know Before You Sew - Layout, Cutting & Marking

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Knit Basics:  Know Before You Sew - Layout, Cutting & Marking

This is the last post in the series Knit Basics – Know Before You Sew.   This post will explore layout, cutting and marking techniques for knits, as well as beyond the basics.  I know you are eager to get sewing but some additional care during this phase will improve your overall success and isn’t that what we all want?    My goal is for my clients to be delighted with their sewing projects.  Selecting the right fabric, proper fitting, good layout, cutting and marking techniques all contribute to the overall success.  Let’s get started.

Before I cut, I like to pretreat my fabric.  If I am making a knit jacket for example, I’ll decide if I will wash or dry clean the finished garment.  Typically for a less structured knit jacket (no lining and underlining) I will wash on gentle and lay flat to dry.  In this case, I would treat the fabric in the same way, by washing the yardage on gentle and tumble dry.  This is the one and only time I would tumble dry as continual abrasion can lead to pilling.   See Knit Basics: Know Before You Sew - Selecting the Right Fabric  blog post for additional information.

Pretreating the fabric also helps to relax the fabric as it can be stretched when wrapped on the bolt.  This might be more evident if the pattern appears to be slightly skewed.  Once pretreated, the fabric should return to the original undistorted shape.  If not, it might have been printed off the grain and you may consider not using it.  When your fabric is on your cutting table this is a great time to check for flaws.  Note these flaws and do your best to work around them in the layout.   There’s nothing worse than finding a flaw on a front garment piece after cutting.  

I like to cut jersey knits in a single layer.  I find it much easier to control otherwise it is easy to get a hidden wrinkle in the under layer.    

Cutting single layer Bamboo jersey

This can lead to all kinds of problems including your garment hanging off the grain.  Ask me how I know?  I thought I would save time by cutting a novelty knit dress double layer.  While cutting out I didn’t realize I had a wrinkle in the underlayer.  Despite significant efforts to address this issue, the back still hangs off the grain at the center back seam.  That dress is a great reminder to me of what happens when you cut corners!

  Off grain CB on Novelty Knit Dress

Note slight woohoo near bottom

When cutting a garment piece on the fold single layer, I line up the fold line of the pattern piece on the grainline and cut one half of the garment piece.   Flip over and cut the second side.  You will note in the picture below I crisscross pins at the CF (or CB) top and bottom locations to use as a reference point to help ensure accuracy when cutting the second side.  Sliding the piece over even ¼" will create unexpected issues.  These pins also help to prevent you from cutting up the fold line.  Once again a lesson learned from a mistake requiring a creative finish on the garment front!

Cutting Single Layer Printed Ponte


Remember when cutting sleeves on a single layer to cut one with the pattern piece right side up and then flip over to cut the second sleeve.  Otherwise, you will have two of the same sleeve!

I also find cutting single layer works well for bulky sweater knits or when you are trying to match a pattern on a printed Ponte fabric as pictured above. 

Cutting Single Layer Bulky Sweater Knit


Besides better control, another advantage when cutting on a single layer is that you can economize on fabric.  This can be very helpful if you are short of yardage, or your fabric is pricy.  

Depending on how the knit is manufactured, you might get some pulling at the selvage making it challenging to lay the pattern out on the grain.  In this situation simply removing the selvage will allow the fabric to lay flat, resolving the issue. 

Tencel Modal with Selvage  TEncel Modal without selvage


Your next consideration for layout is the grainline.  Pattern pieces are usually placed on the lengthwise grain with the crosswise stretch running around your body.  This however doesn’t have to be the case.   After all, as the designer you have the right to change things.   Just check the amount of stretch in both directions to determine suitability of cutting on the crosswise grain.  Once again, check out Knit Basics: Know Before You Sew - Selecting the Right Fabric blog post for an example of what happens when you mix up the grainline.  

For the ribbed knit below, I found more stretch on the lengthwise grain, so I was easily able to utilize the crosswise grain, having the ribs run vertical for a more slimming effect.  

Crosswise Ribbed Fabric    Ribbed Knit Turtleneck Dress


Before cutting, if you are combining fabrics or matching a pattern, take time to consider how best to approach it.  I like to layout the fabrics and sketch how it might look before I cut.  Using the line art from the pattern and some pencil crayons can give you a good visual before you commit on fabric.  Below, you can see I am spending some time before cutting to ensure that I am matching the pattern at the side seams. 

Sweater Knit Design  Matching Sweater Knit pattern before cutout

Checking to ensure side seams match  Finished look at side seams

Even though I just love my Kai scissors, I find that it is easier to cut knits with a rotary cutter.   You don’t seem to get that drag scissors create even with a serrated edge.  You get a much smoother more even cut line with a rotary cutter.  It’s really a personal preference so use what works best for you.  

Cutting out Sweater Knit


Depending upon the type of knit, marking can be a challenge.   In that case, you might need to be creative.   I found that draping tape (or painters’ tape) works great.   On this mesh knit I used draping tape to mark the dart and simply sewed inside the tape to create the dart.

Marking dart with draping tape on mesh knit


On bulky knits traditional marking didn’t work either so I resorted to painters’ tape as well.   Multicoloured stationery dots are also another option.   The only problem I found with the tape is on sweater knits it sometimes stuck too well, and you had to be careful removing it.

Use of draping tape to mark sleeve on bulky sweater knit


Pinning can be your next challenge for bulky or loose knitted fabric.  I found that pins just fell out and Wonder Clips worked great.  In the picture below I am using the Wonder Clips while setting in the sleeve in this bulky sweater knit.  I also used Wonder Clips when sewing the seams in the mesh knit.   You might also notice that I used a sew in stay tape to help provide strength in the seams.

Use of Wonder Clips to set in sleeve  Use of Wonder Clips to hold loose knit

Now I would consider doing test samples of seam finishes and details.  Here are some questions to consider: What stitch length do I like best?  Do I have any skipped stitches?  What press cloth and iron temperature work best?  How do I want to finish the seams?  Once you have figured this out, it is time to sew, sew, sew!  But don’t forget to fit as you sew!

For more in the series check out the prior blog posts:

Knit Basics:  Know Before You Sew

Part 1:  Selecting the Right Fabric

Part 2:  Fitting Knit Tops

Part 3:  Fitting Knit Pants


1 Response


June 12, 2022

Great stuff, as usual Janice. I especially liked the woohoo! part. 👗

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