Sewing with knits: books, patterns & fabrics

Last month, Colette Patterns sent me a copy of their new book, The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits, to have a look at. I have a few books about sewing with knits, but nothing quite like this: it not only covers how to sew with knits, but also features incredibly in-depth instruction on how to use your overlocker, cover-stitch machine or even a regular sewing machine when sewing knits.

When I bought my overlocker, I was given an entire day's lesson on how to use it by an elderly lady at my local sewing shop. She was one of life's absolute treasures and her calm guidance was just what was needed when first learning to thread up a machine that uses four reels of thread, two needles, has an inbuilt butcher's knife and seems to overlock faster than the speed of light. She spent the day getting me to sew up and label samples where the looper tension was set wrongly, or the needle tensions were off, so that once I was at home without her by my side, I'd be able to look at my sample and work out what was wrong. She also showed me how to overlock with regular fabrics or with knits and what the best settings on my machine to cope with these different fabrics might be; how to negotiate an armhole so that the blade doesn't cut through the fabric; how to change the thread without re-threading the entire machine; and how to clean the whole machine when the inside looks like small furry animals have taken up residence. When I read through the Colette Guide to Sewing Knits, which is written by knitty expert, Alyson Clair, my first thought was that it was the next best thing to having my lovely teacher sitting next to me. It's also a blessing to have all the essential notes written down and laid out clearly on fully-formed, bound pages…rather than the scribblings on dog-eared bits of paper that I made myself during that lesson.

When I first heard about the book I must admit that I did think: how is this the 'Colette Guide', if it's written by Alison Clair? Well, the photography is all done by Colette and is very much in keeping with their style - for title pages and garment photos, it fits in with their usual dreamy, slightly sensual pastel palette, while the technique steps follow the clear, uncluttered style of photography and illustration that you find on the Colette Patterns blog. The book is actually edited by Sarai Mitnik (founder of Colette), so again, it feels just like one of their garment patterns, in that it covers all the small details, doesn't assume any knowledge, but also stretches a more experienced seamstress by going into the kind of detail that gives you the tools to aspire for perfection in your sewing. It's actually a brilliant combination of the expertise of someone who has worked with knits for years and understands everything about them, and the trustworthy, clear style of instruction that you'd expect from Colette Patterns.

The book doesn't include any garment patterns, it's very much an instruction manual for the practice of sewing with knits. It will tell you everything from how to shop for knits, from what thread and needles to use; how to cut knit fabrics to how to stabilise a waistband. Really nothing is left to chance - it's the only book you'd ever need on sewing with knits, no matter what type of machine you're sewing with. And those trouble-shooting samples my sewing teacher got me to make up so that I could find out what was wrong when my overlocker was having a tantrum? They're all in there!

If you're interested in buying a copy you can find it on Amazon or direct from Colette Patterns. I highly recommend it.

I thought that while I was reviewing the Sewing Knits book it might be a good time to share some suitable knit fabrics and patterns with you. The Monetta pattern, above, is still on my long list of things I'd like to sew. The way my weeks are panning out at the moment, I'm thinking it may be a winter version though, in which case I'd possibly raise the neckline at the back a little.

I love boatneck tops. V-necks have a habit of making me look and feel inexplicably hideous the moment I put them on (not from a body perspective, more because I think my face somehow doesn't suit that neckline). I find boat necks seem to be much more flattering, so this new pattern, the Brigitte top, from Tessutti, which is available as a paper pattern or a PDF has also been added to my mental list of 'must makes'.

There's also Tilly's Coco pattern, which also has a delicious boatneck, but offers a slightly less figure-hugging fit than the Brigitte. Again, it's available in paper or PDF form. Tilly's pattern has the added bonus of a dress pattern and a funnel neck top too - both specifically designed for knit fabrics.

So, on to some knit fabric choices. My sponsor, Dragonfly Fabrics has a fairly extensive range of knits in stock at the moment, with lots of different weights and drapes to choose from. These stripes would be perfect for any of the patterns above. The top four are Campan, while the bottom two are organic cotton interlock. The Campan feels like a better choice for summer - it feels slightly lighter and as though it has better stretch recovery, although either option would work well for autumn/winter (but even then, my preference would be for the campan). Dragonfly fabrics has these stripes in a huge range of colours in addition to the ones shown here. You can see the Campan in action in combination with Tilly's Coco pattern over on Jane's blog.

The next two photos are a mixture of viscose jersey and bamboo jersey (see labels). They all have a really similar feel: fluid, drapey, incredibly soft to touch. The viscose feels very slightly thicker and more stable to sew with than the bamboo, but it's only a slight difference. I've sewn with bamboo jersey before when I made this dress. It's an amazing fabric - it feels incredibly luxurious and always reminds me of the feel of those really lovely pyjamas made with cotton modal. However, while it flows over your curves and doesn't cling to them, because it's quite a thin fabric, it does tend to show every lump and bump, so if that's something that bothers you, consider your pattern choice carefully or plan strategic use of underwear without visible seams to give a smooth silhouette.  

I think that's probably enough knitted fun for one day.

Florence x

Ps. I'm really sorry to write another post before responding to all your really lovely comments to my last post. I'm struggling to juggle things at the moment and not quite managing to get to everything - it feels like it might be a bit like that over the next few months as we have quite a lot on. Please forgive me. x 


  1. I agree with the above comment!
    My local fabric store stocks the most hideous stretch fabrics and not a breton strip in sight!
    So thank you for the links, funnily enough i have just received that book and I agree with your review wholeheartedly
    bestest wishes
    Daisy j

  2. Thank you so much for such a comprehensive review of this book. I am struggling with sewing knits using my normal sewing machine and so I am going to get this book - I really need some help!

  3. That looks like a really useful book. I have very mixed results working with knits on my standard machine, particularly with its range of stretch stitches.

    Do you have any experience of sewing with silk jersey? I inhertied some and I'm scared to cut into it - it slithers even when I look at it!


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Florence x