Matching Stitch Patterns Across Seams When Sewing Sweater Knits

I have a favorite technique for matching texture and color patterns when sewing seams, but it isn’t magic. Seams won’t miraculously match using this method unless they're carefully planned when the pattern is being cut. But if you are careful and think ahead, you can get beautiful matching across your seams.

Remember, when working with strong textures and color patterns, always purchase more fabric than you would for a solid or a fabric with a small pattern just like when you are matching stripes or plaids in a woven. Also the placement of your pattern pieces needs to be as precise as possible and careful cutting is mandatory! Once you plan your pattern matching and cut the pieces accordingly, you can use my method to make sure your hard work was worth your effort.

The One-Pin Method of Matching Stitch Patterns Across Seams

Step 1. Place fabric pieces right sides together.

Step 2. Making sure the first pattern is matched, place one pin perpendicular to the seam holding the fabric in place.

Step 3. Place fabric under the presser foot. Lower the presser foot. Lower the needle. Remove the pin.

Step 4. Separate the fabric a little to view the next pattern motif you need to match. It should be no greater than 3 or 4 inches away. Match the patterns and hold with your fingers as you sew.

Step 5. Once your fingers get close to the presser foot, stop and repeat steps 4 and 5 until you complete the seam.

In order for this technique to work, your machine must already be set up properly for sewing sweater knits. This means adjusting the presser foot pressure (if available) and using a walking foot (if necessary). See How to Sew Smooth Sweater Knit Seams.

You can also use this method on a serger with one big caveat: Don't use a pin to begin. In fact, never use pins when working with a serger! Instead, hold the fabric together with a craft clip (also sold under the brand name Wonder Clips). Binder clips work nicely too if you have them on hand. Since there's generally not a large bed on home sergers, the fabric adjustments and holds (step 4) will have to be done more frequently.

There's generally not a large bed on home sergers so the fabric adjustments and holds (step 4) will come more frequently. Be sure all settings are correct for your sweater knit, and you'll be able to match patterns across the seam with a serger, too.

Interested in exploring the details of sweater sewing a little more? My online workshop How to Cut and Sew a Sweater will be opening again for registration soon. Sign up to learn more about the course.


Sweater Block Challenge

The first ever Sweater Block Challenge is now officially over, but I plan on bringing it back in the future! I encourage you to always make blocks from your sweater leftovers. :)

If you've been sewing or machine knitting sweaters for a while, you’ve probably collected quite a few scraps, swatches, and never-gonna-finish-projects. With the fabulous patchwork sweaters I was seeing last fall and the ones I'm collecting now on my Pinterest board, I found a use for my sweater leftovers. I'm inspired to sew a patchwork sweater, challenged myself to sew the makings for one, and I'm inviting you to join in.

What exactly do I mean by the “makings"? Sweater blocks! Also known as sweater panels or sweater bodies, they're simply rectangles of fabric that are just large enough to accommodate one sweater piece. Sweater panels are sometimes knitted in the garment industry for cut and sew sweaters. For a person laying out the pattern pieces, blocks are so much easier to handle than yardage. Less waste too! Imagine one panel for the front, one for the back and one each for sleeves. Trims are either integrated into blocks while they’re being knitted or the trims are added later.

Some of you may have purchased sweater panels from me previously when I had cable sweater blocks in stock a couple of years ago. These were knitted extra wide on industrial machines, 2 panels at a time with a prominent mark down the middle to easily distinguish the panels, similar to the diagram below.
A double panel like this could accommodate a sweater front and sweater back.
So instead of making waste with a cut and sew sweater, the plan is to transform sweater waste into usable sweater blocks which will eventually become sweaters. Making the actual sweater is not officially part of the challenge... we’ll be on the honor system for that part!

If you join in, sweaters purchased from a thrift store can also be used as panel materials. In the worksheets you're able to download, I show one quick way to cut up thrifted sweaters to yield the greatest amount of fabric without the use of a seam ripper. Remember, no newly purchased or newly knitted fabric allowed!

I’ve already started the planning and I’m still collecting potential materials and imagining my design. Joining the Sweater Knit Challenge list [expired] will give you access to regular encouragement and, most importantly, access to the planning worksheets and design templates to help you in the process. If you’re on Facebook, join the Sweater Knit Sewing Group for the livestream a couple of times a week throughout the challenge. If you're not on Facebook, I'll be posting video recaps here [expired]. I hope that we can encourage and inspire each other.


A Stretchy Hong Kong Finish for Sweater Knits

This is an updated version of a post that was first published on May 12, 2014.

"Is it possible to finish seams neatly on a sweater knit without a serger?" That's a question I get asked frequently. The answer to that question is yes!

You're probably familiar with the Hong Kong finish when used with woven fabrics. The steps for creating this finish on a sweater knit are similar. For the binding fabric I use micro mesh from Spandex World in NYC's garment district. This mesh is also available online. I've also used very thin (a.k.a. flyweight) cotton or linen rib fabrics from Mood Fabrics. I've purchased both of these at Mood's New York store. They may be available online, though I haven't found them.

I've never seen or heard of a stretchy Hong Kong binding on a ready-to-wear sweater. I do love the finish, however, and think it's perfect for your handmade cut and sew sweaters.

How to Sew a Stretchy Hong Kong Finish for Sweater Knits

Step 1. Cut the binding strips.

I cut the mesh one and a half inches wide and as long as the sweater knit edge I'm finishing. No need to cut on the bias; the micro mesh is already nice and stretchy and doesn't run or fray. Pictured on the left is the mesh strip I'm using for this demonstration. In my hands is a sample of flyweight cotton rib cut into a strip. The right side of the sweater fabric is shown below.

Step 2. Sew the seam with right sides together using appropriate settings for the sweater knit.

For this fabric I used a regular zigzag at 0.5 mm wide by 2.75 mm long, sewing with polyester thread and a ball point needle, as I usually do with sweater knits. There's a 5/8 inch seam allowance for this demo.

Step 3. Sew the binding strip to the edge.

Line up raw edges and sew 1/8 inch to the right of the seam line, at the half-inch mark in this example. Right side of the binding is facing down, if there's an obvious right side of the binding fabric. I stayed with the plain, narrow zigzag (0.5 mm wide x 2.75 mm long). Stretch the binding fabric just a little as you sew. This will help keep the sweater knit fabric edge from stretching out when completed. (Note: Theoretically, if you have an overlocker, you could complete Step 3 with the overlocker and then skip Step 4, though I've never done it that way.)

Step 4. Trim the seam allowance close to the zigzag you've just sewn.

Step 5. Fold the binding strip over the sweater knit fabric edge and pin.

Step 6. Stitch the binding down.

Keep it stretchy. In this case I used the 3-step zigzag (3.0 mm wide x 3.0 mm long) right on the binding since the cut sweater fabric edge is now protected from stretching. I'm sure most any stretch stitch would work well.

Step 7. Trim the excess binding width on the back close to the stitches.

Also trim extra binding length.

Steam the seam allowance to the side. Steam the right side too. And that's it!


You may be wondering why I cut the the binding strip so wide when I was going to trim it in the end. There are 2 reasons: First, the trim becomes narrower as it's stretched along its length. Also, I like to be sure I have enough binding width to comfortably stretch around the sweater edge and to sew that final pass.

A stretchy Hong Kong finish will work with many sweater knits, as long as the binding fabric is thin enough. If using this finish with a very bulky sweater knit, I'd sew the sweater seam, steam it open, then attach the binding onto each edge separately, instead of both edges together as demonstrated above.

This seam allowance finish is a favorite of mine, and it can be accomplished with just a sewing machine. I think it's prettier than many edges that are overlocked or zigzagged and trimmed, if you've got the time!

Learning the Skills

The stretchy Hong Kong finish is just one of the techniques I teach in my online workshop How to Cut and Sew a Sweater. In the course I also teach students to sew professional looking necklines, achieve smooth seams, and several other essential techniques. Registration for the course is about to open again.  Please click for further information.