Sweater Knits 101

Learn how to make a stunning winter cape in our new Butte crested cape to sew!.

Even if you don't knit, you can sew cozy clothes and accessories this winter using knitted sweater fabrics. Learn how to select the best patterns, sewing tips and how to care for these special fabrics.

Unlike other stretch fabrics, knitted sweater fabrics look and feel similar to traditionally hand-knit fabrics, with thicker yarns, open structure, and more intricate designs. Most sweater knits are considered a stretch fabric, however, the stretch percentage varies greatly between fabrics. Some are knitted so densely that they are considered stable and treated like fabric. Additionally, sweater knits are available in a wide range of fiber contents, textures and weights.

Tips for Sewing with Knits

Here are some tips of the trade for sewing knitwear to achieve a perfect finish!

Choice of fabrics

Knitted fabrics for sweaters resemble hand-knitted fabric. Most are expandable, but to varying degrees. Be sure to check your template guide to choose the right one.

Sweater knits are available in a wide range of fibers, textures and weights. This is what makes them so wonderful and varied.


One of the most important factors when selecting a knit sweater is that it should have good stretch and recovery. Once stretched, the fabric should return to its initial shape. If it does not recover, the fabric will be more difficult to sew and will warp easily.

For beginner sewers, choose a knit sweater that contains mostly natural fibers, such as cotton or wool, and a thick knit with a dense or crochet-like structure.


Most knit sweaters can be machine washed and dried. Serge or zigzag the edge of the fabric before washing to prevent fraying.

For a dry-wash-only wool sweater, place one or two towels soaked in hot water in the dryer with the fabric. Select high heat and dry for 30 minutes. If the dryer has a steam setting, omit the towels and dry the fabric on high heat for 30 minutes.

Or pre-shrink the fabric with an iron. Select a wool with steam setting and hold the iron ½” above the fabric, steaming along the entire length of the fabric. Always test the pretreatment method on a fabric sample.

Choice of model

Only use patterns designed for stretchy knits unless you are using a stable knit.

Choose a simple design with minimal stitching, as complicated details create excess bulk and design elements can get lost in the texture of the fabric.

Cutting and marking

If you are using fabric that warps and warps easily, use pattern weights instead of pins to allow the fabric to lay flat and produce a more precise cut.

Use a rotary cutter instead of scissors that lift and pull the fabric while cutting.

Notches should not be used on unstable, loose knits. Try tailor's chalk or drawing pins.


Always use a new ballpoint needle to avoid holes and snags in the fabric. Size 70/11 is best for thinner knits, and size 80/12 is best for thicker knits. Use a twin needle for topstitching or hemming.

Select a narrow zigzag stitch 0.5mm wide and 2.5mm or 3mm long; increase the stitch width if necessary. Chunky knits require a longer stitch length, while open structure knits require a shorter stitch length.

Stabilize shoulder or pocket seams using a piece of organza, twill, or clear elastic.

Ironed seams for a professional final look. To avoid permanent pressure marks, only use the tip of the iron along the seams until it lies flat, or place the iron ½” above the seam and use steam. Or press with your finger to open the seams.

Try it!

Sew it Basic hat and scarf set, a hat and scarf set that is sewing perfection for beginners (and anyone who wants to be warm!). The hat is designed to fit most sizes, so choose a knit sweater with lots of stretch. Choose a lightweight knit to produce a drapey scarf, or a heavy knit to create a stiffer scarf and fitted hat.

We hope these tips will put you at ease when sewing knitwear. You can do it!

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