13 Sewing-Room Secrets That Are Really Knitting Tips

If you walk into fabric stores only to look at the yarn aisle or the button rack, you’re missing out. Many sewing tools, notions, and other supplies work for knitters as well as sewists. My sewing studio includes lots of cool gear that also support my knitting habit.

Construction

1. Wonder Clips for seaming. Any time I have to sew together pieces of knitted fabric, I use these babies to keep everything lined up. They’re much more efficient than quilter’s pins (no poky ends!) or locking stitch markers (which can’t clamp the fabric layers firmly together). Buy them in bulk, in all sizes possible—they’re that good. I’ve got the 1″ and jumbo sizes to handle any knitted fabric and seaming job imaginable; I’ve also seen mini clips online. Beyond seaming needs, the clips can be used to fit a seamed sweater while the garment is in progress: clip together front, back, sleeves, etc., and model in front of a mirror. Finally, when working either with a slippery yarn or multiple ends from stranded colorwork, try clipping the tails to your knitting to keep them secure.

knitting tips

My wonderful wonder clips!

2. Rotary cutter and self-healing cutting mat for cutting fringe. Line up the knitted edge on a gridline on the mat, then run the rotary cutter along another line for a beautifully even fringe.

knitting tips

For fringe, you won’t need a big cutting mat.

3. Water-soluble marker for buttons, pockets, toy eyes (basically anything that needs to be evenly spaced or aligned on your knitting). These markers come in all kinds of colors, including white for marking dark fabrics. Mark your placement spots, and if you goof, moisten the spot lightly to erase the marks. I also use these markers when I’m going to embroider on my knitting, whether it’s elaborate scrolling lines or just little French knots—draw first, embroider once!

Purple, blue, and white markers help me place things evenly.

Cardigan Closures and Steek Finishes

When my cardigans gap open between the buttons, they make me cranky. How can I humble-brag about my fitting expertise wearing a cardi that seems to fit poorly? One of my favorite tricks for cardi closures comes from Kate Davies: she skips buttonholes entirely and reinforces both front bands with grosgrain ribbon or bias tape. Snaps actually fasten up the cardi; buttons become purely decorative elements, sewn on to the public side of the topmost band. Kate also finishes many of her steeks with ribbon or bias tape, which strikes me as the coolest and safest way to do the job. If you’re interested in these methods, check out these fabric-store goodies.

4. Closure possibilities: Clear snaps and grosgrain ribbon or bias tape, to follow Kate Davies’s cardigan advice. If you like the idea of switching out buttons frequently, or want to protect them while washing, attach them to a front band with button pins; remove when desired. Or, close your cardigan with snap tape, a cotton twill tape with snaps already attached. Look for snap tape in packages or rolls, with twill tape in different colors and widths. Another option for cardigans: a separating zipper. Fabric stores stock them in many different colors and lengths, with plastic or metal teeth. See Josh Bennett’s expert advice on zipper insertion by hand and my tech tip for machine-sewing zippers.

5. Adhesive hem tape for basting closures or reinforcements (zippers, snap tape, grosgrain ribbon, bias tape, etc.). It’s always wise to baste any closure or reinforcement in place before hand- or machine-stitching it, to make sure everything lines up evenly without any stretching or puckering in the affected area. You can baste with adhesive hem tape, instead of using needle and thread. For an extra layer of support, fuse 1 long edge of the zipper/snap tape/ribbon to 1 front band—being careful not to stretch the knitted fabric out of shape—then fuse the remaining long edge to the other band. I especially like this idea for button bands and steeks. Once fused, that closure can’t be moved, so work slowly and carefully.

knitting tips

Fusible hem tape comes in various widths. The 3/8″ roll will be perfect for zippers.

6. Sewing machine for stitching closures. I don’t like to hand-sew zippers or ribbon to cardigan fronts; instead, give me the security of machine-stitching. While it’s easy to find a basic sewing machine for under $100, you might have to sacrifice some options. A machine equipped with adjustable presser-foot pressure makes sewing on knitwear much easier. When I machine-stitch zippers and ribbons, I ease up the presser foot’s pressure so it doesn’t smash down and thus stretch the knitted fabric. I also baste and check everything carefully before sitting down to the machine.

Most sewing machines come with presser feet that can be swapped out for different functions, and many feet can be adjusted to right or left. That’s not what I mean by “adjustable presser-foot pressure.” The dial atop my machine (right) lets me increase or decrease how firmly the presser foot holds fabric against the sewing machine bed while I stitch.

Blocking

My favorite sewing tools for knitting help with blocking. This crucial step makes my sweaters stand out from the crowd. Because I try to knit everything seamlessly, I often have to block 2 layers of fabric at a time. These sewing gadgets help to maximize space, block small parts of a garment, and generate clouds of steam for perfect knitwear.

7. Garment steamer. Nothing helps blocking more than steam, and nothing beats a garment steamer for creating that steam. Unfortunately, small handheld steamers can’t do the job unless you’re blocking on a wall—they’ll dump water all over the place. If you’ve got the space to store it, get a standing garment steamer with a hose between the water tank and the little doodad that delivers the steam so you can work horizontally. Come what may, I am making room for one of these units in my studio.

8. Sheer press cloth. If you want steam but need to save money or space, try a sheer press cloth (or get a big rectangle of silk organza). Soak the press cloth and lay it atop your project, then hover the iron over the press cloth. The sheer versions help you see what you’re doing while protecting your knitting from the iron’s heat.

A big sheer press cloth protects fabrics and, if damped first, adds steam—try it for blocking.

9. Seam roll and/or sleeve board for blocking sleeves and cuffs. Sewists use seam rolls—basically a big stuffed cylinder—to press seams, but seam rolls can also fit inside knitted sleeves and baby garments. Sleeve boards are miniature collapsible ironing boards for (you guessed it) sleeves. For seamless garments, use one of these options to easily block one layer of fabric at a time, without steaming unwanted creases into the sleeve.

A seam roll (left) and sleeve board (right). Either can help with blocking sleeves or other small knitted pieces. The seam roll has a wool side (shown) and a cotton duck side; use it wool-side up for blocking wool garments.

10. Tailor’s ham for blocking yokes. Think of the tailor’s ham as the seam roll’s big sister: it’s a fabric-covered ham-shaped stuffie used for pressing weird shapes in sewn clothing. These qualities make it ideal for blocking knitwear too! I recently knitted a seamless circular-yoke sweater with colorwork, and without special attention, the shoulder area wouldn’t have stretched enough to fit well. Out came my tailor’s hams—I popped one into each shoulder and happily steamed away.

Tailor’s hams (left), with canvas and wool sides showing. At right, they help block out a colorwork yoke. Buy 2 of these bad boys, and you can block both shoulders in one session!

11. Dress form for blocking tricky spots, and/or for fitting. A dress form takes up space but offers so much convenience. If you enjoy seamless construction as much as I do, try blocking shoulders, shawl collars, and back necks on a dress form or tailor’s dummy—it doesn’t have to be the kind that changes sizes to match your measurements. To refine fit for seamed or seamless projects, consider a customizable dress form that you can adjust to your measurements. Look for a padded surface, suitable for blocking pins (instead of a decorative metal one that resembles a cage).

12. Cardboard cutting board for blocking smallish shawls. Imagine a 36″ x 60″ piece of cardboard that folds into thirds, with a handy 1″ measuring grid marked on one side. I had little space for sewing in my younger days, so I initially bought one of these boards for cutting fabric. Then I started knitting and needed a blocking surface—voilà! Shawls often have to be pinned in straight lines, for which the grid comes in handy. Pro tip: use the cardboard board for shawls, not sopping-wet sweaters lying atop sopping-wet towels (I learned the hard way. Even the wettest shawls don’t hold as much water as a garment, and soaked cardboard tends to fall apart.)

13. Tabletop ironing board, fold-down ironing board, or fold-down cutting table for convenient blocking. Blocking mats have to lie flat once they’ve got a project pinned on top, and sometimes you can’t just place them on a floor. Consider some cool gadgets that instantly provide workspace when you need it, then can be folded up (or down) for easy storage. Hang an ironing board over a door and use it for blocking smaller projects—I bought one of these years ago and never went back to a full-size ironing board. You can also find tabletop ironing boards in the traditional shape, often with collapsible legs. For blocking garments and shawls, try a fold-down cutting table.

I prefer a multi-sided tabletop ironing board, or a fold-up version that hangs on a door, to full-size ironing boards. Some years ago, I found this handy model with built-in sleeve board and pointed end on one side, and a full surface on the other.

Do you have a favorite “crossover” tool that I’ve missed? Share it in comments!

—Deb Gerish
Editor, Love of Knitting


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