Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Stabilizing Knits: Yay or Nay?

A few weeks ago I received a great question from Nilla about stabilizing knits, in particular raglan tops since I was posting a raglan-style sweatshirt. Her question got me thinking hard on the topic of stabilizing knits:

I'm a total raglan sleeve convert these days too. I've been meaning to ask you, since you're the knit expert, do you ever use fusible interfacing on your raglan seams? I think you're supposed to use it on regular shoulder seams to prevent them from stretching. How about the neckline? Burda patterns often have you stabilizing a lot of seams, but I'm beginning to question the necessity of it. It really makes the supposedly fast and easy knit projects a bit tedious :/ 

If you've done any reading about sewing with knits, you've probably come across the ever-popular advice to stabilize shoulder seams "to prevent them stretching out over time". There are a variety of ways to do this, by sewing in clear elastic, twill tape, or using a strip of interfacing.

Twill tape in shoulder seam

Now it was nice of Nilla to call me an expert, but I wouldn't go that far! I do, however, have a lot of experience. I'd say 75% of my projects are with knits. At this point I've tried a little of everything, and here's my oh-so-scientific conclusion:

It doesn't matter.

Shocking right? I've never noticed a problem with seams stretching out over time. Not on my me-made knits, and not on my RTW knits either! Maybe it's happened and I haven't noticed. Maybe other people have had that problem. But what length of time are we talking here anyway? If I've had problems with baggy knits, it's been the fabric itself and not the seams. There is no substitute for good fabric and stabilization can only go so far.

Much more important than stabilization, in my opinion, is pressing with steam. Shoulder seams stretch a bit as you sew because they are cut with the crossgrain, or stretchiest part of the fabric (generally). To shrink those seams back into place, I steam press them immediately after sewing.

Can you tell which one was stabilized and which one wasn't?

As for raglan style tops, the diagonal "shoulder" seams are not cut on the crossgrain like a traditional shoulder. Therefore, they are more stable. I can't recall seeing a pattern that recommends stabilization there and I don't think I would ever do it. Neckbands typically require stretch to go over your head, so unless you use a stretchy stabilizer (clear elastic) then I wouldn't bother there either.

If you're going to stabilize knits, fine, go for it! It certainly can't hurt. But don't beat yourself up if you forget. Like Nilla mentioned, it does take extra time and makes those quick projects tedious. Like I said, I'm not an expert, and I'd love to hear other opinions! Have you ever seen a seam stretch out over time? Do you stabilize everything?

9 comments:

  1. I've made a couple of raglan style knit tops and I didn't stabilize the seams on those. The instructions made no mention of it and to be honest I never even thought about it. I've not had any problems with the sleeves stretching out over time and I've almost worn that shirt to death.

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    1. I'm sure the fabric will wear out before the seams!

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  2. Very interesting discussion. I am always asking myself the same question, does it matter! Especially on the necklines.

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  3. Interesting, indeed. I feel the ones that get stretched a lot require some clear elastic to ease the recover, no? Take waistlines and the back piece of a neckline, for example.

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    1. Waistlines probably do need a bit more stability since they need to stretch over your shoulders, then to narrow at the waist.

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  4. Yay, thank you for putting so much effort into solving my problem! :) I don't have that much experience with knits, so I've taken the cautious route and stabilized a lot of seams. But I've never had any RTW-seams stretching out on me either! Beth, I think you have convinced me to join the dark side! :D

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    1. Now you'll have more time since your knits will be finished even faster! :)

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  5. I think that the answer depends on how stable the knit you are using. If you are sewing with ponte, cotton jersey or cotton/Lycra blend, then stabilizing is not as necessary as if you were using rayon blend or making maxi dress with ITY knit. Rayon doesn't hold the shape as well and tends to be heavier, especially in long garments. So I think your approach is right if you are making a hip length Jersey T. However, I would definitely stabilize if it is a longer garment made with rayon knit. Stretch and recovery factors are the key.

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    1. That's a very good point! Rayon knits seem to be their own special kind of beast. So soft, but very tricky to sew!

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