Sewing Doll Clothes with Knit Fabrics – Lesson One

How to sew doll clothes with knit fabrics

Do you suffer from SWKP?  That’s “sewing-with-knits-phobia”, in case you are unfamiliar with this common malady.  Sadly, many new sewists find themselves paralyzed by SWKP and pass over many fantastic patterns because they require knit fabrics.

Knit fabrics are awesome when sewing for dolls because they are readily available (especially if you enjoy recycling human clothes), they make fitting a breeze (one pattern often fits several doll brands, even if the dolls vary slightly in size), and doll clothing made from knits looks modern and trendy (many human fashions are made with knit fabrics).

Don’t fear the knit!  While it’s true that sewing with knits is a little different then sewing with woven fabrics, it doesn’t have to be more difficult.  In fact, sewing with knits can be easier and faster because you rarely have to wrestle with unruly, unraveling fabric and, since the fabric is stretchy and forgiving, you don’t have to worry about being quite so perfect with your sewing or your seam allowances to get great looking finished garments.  Making clothing with knits usually involves fewer pattern pieces and less intricate fussy sewing, so you can go from choosing your materials to finished product in a snap.

It’s my sincere hope that all aspiring doll fashionistas would embrace the knit, so welcome to the Many Small Friends : Sewing Doll Clothes with Knits class!  In the next few posts, I am going to introduce you to sewing with knits, give you all of my best tips and tricks to make working with stretchy fabrics easier, and walk you through a simple knit pattern to get you started.

If you are already an expert at sewing with knits, or have recently discovered a technique that has made sewing knits easier, I would love to add your knowledge to our class!  If you have a tip or technique to share, either send me your ideas via email or post in the comments section below.

Shall we begin?

Sewing with Knits – Lesson 1: Choose the Right Knit Fabric for Your Project

Let’s start by defining “knits”.   Most simply put, a knit fabric stretches when you pull it.  In contrast, a woven fabric has very little or no stretch.  The most common example of a knit fabric is t-shirt material.  An example of a woven, on the other hand, would be the type of material used for a man’s dress shirt.  Knits stretch, wovens don’t.

Even though “t-shirt” is often the first thing that comes to mind when you think of knits, there are lots of different types of knit fabrics.  They vary in stretchiness, thickness and weight, fabric content (cotton versus polyester, for example), and tightness of weave.

You’ve probably heard lots of names for knits including interlock, jersey, polar fleece, double knits, spandex, stretch velour, sweatshirt fleece, rib knits, just to name a few. It’s not super important that you know the difference between each to begin with, although it’s helpful to understand the best uses for each type of fabric as you delve deeper into sewing.

The best way to learn is to experiment with different types of fabrics and study human clothes and commercially produced doll clothes to see what choices professional designers have made. For example, you won’t find a t-shirt made out of polyester polar fleece nor would you see mittens made from cotton t-shirt fabric. You can learn a lot about proper fabric choices just by studying your own (and your doll’s) closet!

If you are choosing a knit to sew a specific pattern, most pattern designers will include suggestions for the best type of fabric for the project.

Sewing Doll Clothes with Polar Fleece

Polar fleece is an excellent knit fabric for beginners! I like micro fleece for doll sized clothing. Practice with micro fleece using the MSF hat and mittens tutorial.

Sewing Doll Clothes with Sweater Knit

Sweater knits vary in thickness. Don’t go too thick or heavy for doll clothes.  I like to upcycle human sweaters to doll sweaters. Try making the MSF Autumn Shrug with a sweater knit.

Sewing Doll Clothes with Sweatshirt Fleece Knit

Sweatshirt fleece is another terrific knit for beginners. It’s usually nice and stable.  It makes great sweatshirts. duh. 😉

Sewing Doll Clothes with Open Weave Knit

Don’t be afraid of sewing with open weave fabrics! You can stitch right over the “open” parts.. your sewing machine won’t know the difference. Check out the MSF Mod Shift Dress pattern.

Sewing Doll Clothes with Spandex Swim Knit

Thicker spandex knits are often a breeze to sew. Beginners may want to avoid thinner spandex and anything shiny or metallic, as sometimes slippery knits “misbehave”. Spandex knits are great for dolly tights, leggings, swimwear, and leotards.

Sewing Doll Clothes with Strecth Velour Knit

Velours are ideal knits for cardigans, flowing winter capes, and sweater tops.

Sewing Doll Clothes with Jersey Knit

The thicker the jersey, the easier to sew. Some very thin jerseys can be a pain and the edges tend to roll. Jerseys are often printed and make fun t-shirts, dresses, and tights.

You can get some hands on experience with different knit fabrics by taking a field trip to the fabric store.  Don’t be intimidated or worried that you’ll look stupid.  It’s perfectly acceptable to walk the aisles, touch the fabrics, and study the labels on the ends of the bolts.  Many fabric stores also sell small bits of leftover fabrics (often labeled with type of fabric and content) for discounted prices.

Example information end of fabric bolt

There’s lots of useful information on the end of fabric bolts. This is a woven flannel, not a knit fabric, but it’s the only full bolt I had on hand.

Buying discounted fabric samples or collecting fabric from outgrown or damaged people-sized clothing is a great way to build a stash of fabrics to experiment with.  Not every sewing session has to end with a finished product!  It’s relaxing and confidence building to simply sit at your machine with different types of fabric and sew swatches together using various stitches and machine settings.  You’ll be less concerned about making mistakes and more likely to try new things if you’re not worried about an end product.

Homework: Spend some time studying commercial clothing and fabrics and identify which are woven and which are knit.  Pay attention to thickness and weight of different fabrics, stretchiness, and what types of knits are used for tops versus leggings or sweaters versus t-shirts.  Imagine how you would fashion the different fabrics that you observe into doll clothes.

I hope you’ve found this overview of knit fabrics useful.  If you have any questions, please ask in the comments below.  And when you’re ready, proceed to Lesson 2!

8 comments

  1. Flo says:

    I think this is a great idea. I’m not a huge fan of sewing with knits. I’ll do it, but I won’t be happy about it! LOL I think my problem is I’m spoiled, my mom had an old Singer machine that did a great job on knits, there was just something about it, and I haven’t been able to achieve that same degree of finish with another machine. I keep plugging away at it though.

    • Steph says:

      It’s so true, Flo. The machine can make a big difference and it’s difficult to predict which will do the best job. I’m hopelessly spoiled because my Mother-in-Law gave me a Bernina Artista 640 when she upgraded and it sews EVERYTHING like a dream.

  2. Val says:

    What a great introduction. I love getting more knowledge about things. I do a lot of trial and error. It is always better if you can skip the error step.

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