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Eivy Cardigan Sew-Along

Eivy Sew-Along: Cutting Knit Fabrics

Cutting knit fabrics can be kind of tricky, especially if they have stripes or another type of pattern that you want to align. So in this instalment of the Eivy Sew-Along I will share my best tips for cutting knit fabrics to perfection for your Eivy Cardigan, or any other type of knit garment.

Should you pre-wash the fabric?

Pre-washing a fabric before cutting has two big benefits:

  1. It pre-shrinks the fabric so that you won’t end up with a garment up to 5-10% shorter once you wash it.
  2. It can remove unwanted and potentially harmful chemical residue that unfortunately some textiles are still treated with.

That said, I personally don’t always pre-wash knits. Synthetic knits for instance will rarely shrink much. Nor will many synthetic/natural fibre blends.

And at least here in Europe, we have a certification (Oeko-Tex 100) to ensure that the textile has been tested and cleared for harmful substances. Thankfully, a lot of fabrics now has this label.

But the main reason why I sometimes skip pre-washing is that it can twist some fabrics a bit, making cutting somewhat cumbersome.

That said, I also pre-wash plenty of knit fabrics.

Knit fabrics that I always pre-wash:

Wool knits. Unless they are pre-treated (super-wash) wool knits can often shrink like crazy, lengthwise at least. And they often keep shrinking after the first wash 🙁

So yes pre-washing wool fabrics is a must in my book, at least if the wool content is high (80% or more).

Smelly fabrics. Probably it’s just me being paranoid, but if the fabric has a weird smell, I always assume there is some harmful residue that needs to go away.

Loosley knitted fabrics. I find that loosely knitted fabrics in natural fibres in particular have a tendency to shrink more, especially lengthwise.

Knits that are made with natural fibres only. Cotton and linen knit fabrics are particularly prone to shrinking I’ve found.

Fabrics that have shrinkage up 8-10% stated on the label. At least here in Europe some of the bigger fabric vendors usually state the expected shrinkage on the label, or in the fabric description if it’s in an online store. This is very helpful information that I wish more vendors would provide.

Tips for cutting knit fabrics

1. Cut on a flat surface and don’t let the extra fabric hang down

If you are cutting knits on a table and there is excess fabric that is longer than the table, do not let it hang down over the edges. This will stretch out the fabric and distort the cut pieces, once they bounce back. Instead, roll or scrunch the extra fabric so that it stays on the table.

2. Align the grainline against a vertical row of loops

Most knit fabrics that are available to us home sewists are weft-knits, meaning that the loops are aligned in neat rows both vertically and horizontally.

A weft-knit up close.

When cutting knits it is key to align the grainline arrow so that it is parallel to a vertical row of loops, so always cut from the right side of the fabric, since it will usually be much easier to see.

Now, since knits are such flexible material, sometimes not all rows will be 100% straight. Just try to get as close as possible and don’t worry if you are a little off. Knits are forgiving fabrics, so as long as you are reasonably close, it won’t matter.

3. Cut each piece separately as a single layer

Yes, cutting knits one piece at a time is cumbersome, but once you start, there is no going back. No more twisting, no more slipping, no more misaligned stripes or patterns. Just evenly cut pieces.

Of course, many knit fabrics can be cut on the fold and as a double layer. But if you are having any kind of issues, switch to the single-layer method.

How to cut the mid-back piece of the Eivy Cardigan as a single layer

I do have a few pieces that are labelled cut on fold on the Eivy Cardigan, but if you want or need to cut the mid-back piece as a single layer, without having to print or draft a mirrored second half, this is how to do it:

1. Place the pattern piece on a single layer of fabric

Align the grainline with a vertical row of loops. Place pins at the mid-point of the neckline and hem.

2. Flip the pattern piece over to the other side after cutting

Cut around the half piece and stop at the pins. Flip the pattern piece over to the other side, using the pins as your guide. Cut the second half.

Bonus tip: Use the fabric piece instead of the pattern piece if cutting patterned fabric

  1. After cutting the first half, remove the pattern piece.
  2. Fold the cut half over so that the right sides are facing each other, the wrong side up.
  3. Align the cut half with the pattern on the remaining half.
  4. Then cut around the folded fabric piece.

This is how it looks on the cutting board. I strongly recommend this method when cutting striped or other patterned fabrics.

This method can also be used for individual pieces. The first piece is cut using the pattern, and the second piece is cut using the fabric piece instead, so it is easy to align the pattern exactly on both pieces.

4. Cut knits so that the direction with the most stretch goes around the body

This means that in most (if not all) cases the pattern pieces should be placed and cut crosswise, just like with woven fabrics. So that the grainline arrow on the pattern is in the same direction as the selvedge of the fabric.

4. Cut tiny notches using a pair of sharp scissors

Some knit fabrics tend to repel traditional tailor’s chalk and such. So what I do instead is to cut tiny clips into the seam allowance to mark a notch. Make sure the cut is super small since the Eivy cardigan only has a seam allowance of 1 cm (3/8″). I love my Kai Scissors, they make this super easy.

5. Invest in a cutting mat and rotary cutter

This is not always feasible, for financial and/or space issues. But using a rotary cutter rather than scissors will make cutting knits much easier and faster. And the edges will look cleaner too.

Hope that you have gained some new ideas on how to best cut knit fabrics. As with most things, taking it slow and thinking things through will ensure that the end result is just so much better. So I never set an expectation as to how fast I will cut out a particular project.

Luckily, since the Eivy Cardigan Sewing Pattern is meant for more stable knits, it is actually pretty easy to cut out, compared to many other types of knits. That said, I still recommend going slow.

And don’t forget to check out the other posts in the Eivy Cardigan Sew-Along series.

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