Avoiding Skipped Stitches on Knits

I’ve been having problems with skipped stitches when sewing on all types of knit fabrics. I looked up tips for avoiding skipped stitches, and I thought I was doing everything right, but nothing I tried helped. I was starting to worry that my vintage sewing machines just weren’t up to the job, and maybe I needed a modern machine? I really don’t want a modern machine, though! I like being able to service my machines myself, and knowing my sewing machine can sew through just about anything without breaking.

Well, I finally figured out what I was doing wrong. Both my needle and thread choices were causing skipped stitches.

You know how everyone says to match your needle size to your fabric? Well, in my case, that doesn’t work for knit fabrics. I have to use a size 14/90 ball point or stretch needle regardless of fabric thickness, even on the sheerest knits. I do remember reading somewhere that vintage machines were designed to work best with size 14 needles, so if you have a modern machine, other sizes may work OK, too. I can’t test this, because I gave away the only modern machine I had!

I tend to use serger thread or cheap cone thread for most of my sewing. I do use stronger thread on high stress seams, but since I haven’t had any problems with my seams failing, I use the cheap thread for most things. As I was pondering my problem with skipped stitches, I remembered how my old serger would stop skipping stitches when I used thicker, high quality thread in the needles. I also remembered a relative complaining about how her expensive, high end sewing machine only worked with high quality thread, even after being serviced.

So I did some testing. These tests were done on my Singer 328K, using the needles and thread I had on hand. I started with a piece of nylon/spandex techsheen fabric and tried various thread and needle combinations. Here are the results:

knit stitch test 1

Row 1: Singer size 14/90 ballpoint needle with cheap serger thread.
Row 2: Singer size 14/90 ballpoint needle with “spun polyester” thread purchased on ebay from seller superiorsurestitch (I definitely won’t be buying more of that!)
Row 3: Singer size 14/90 ballpoint needle with Coats & Clark Dual Duty XP thread.
Row 4: Singer size 14/90 ballpoint needle with Gütermann thread.
Row 5: Singer size 14/90 ballpoint needle with Gütermann thread.
Row 6: Singer size 14/90 ballpoint needle with Coats & Clark Dual Duty XP thread.
Row 7: Schmetz size 14/90 stretch needle with Coats & Clark Dual Duty XP thread.
Row 8: Organ size 11/75 ballpoint needle with Coats & Clark Dual Duty XP thread.
Row 9: Schmetz size 11/75 stretch needle with Coats & Clark Dual Duty XP thread.
Row 10: Schmetz size 14/90 stretch needle with Gütermann thread.

From that sample, I can conclude that I need to use a size 14/90 stretch needle on fabric with spandex in it, and I definitely need to use high quality thread. Coats & Clark thread looks like it did a little better than Gütermann, but I’d have to do a larger sample to be sure. I think maybe black thread doesn’t work as well as lighter colors, too.

I made another sample on thin cotton jersey, this time using black Gütermann thread and only varying the needle type:

knit stitch test 2

Row 1: Singer size 14/90 ballpoint needle
Row 2: Organ size 11/75 ballpoint needle
Row 3: Schmetz size 14/90 stretch needle
Row 4: Schmetz size 11/75 stretch needle

The size 14/90 needles obviously worked the best, even though it was thin fabric. Since there is no spandex in this fabric, the ballpoint needles work fine – there is no need to use the more expensive stretch needles.

I picked out a couple of sheer knit fabrics to see if the size 14/90 ballpoint needles would still work. I tested 15 denier nylon tricot and 40 denier nylon tricot, and got no skipped stitches. The fairly large 14/90 needles seemed to work fine on sheer knit fabric, too.

knit stitch test 3

Note: You only need to use high quality thread in the needle. You can still use up your cheap thread by using it in the bobbin (if it is strong enough for whatever you are sewing).

So, when I sew knits, I’ll have to remember to use good thread and size 14/90 ballpoint needles for most knit fabric, or a size 14/90 stretch needle if I’m getting skipped stitches on spandex fabric. I’m glad I finally figured this out!

 

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Posted in Sewing, Vintage Sewing Machines
9 comments on “Avoiding Skipped Stitches on Knits
  1. Chris says:

    Fascinating! thank you for doing this experiment… Who would have thought that a needle brand or thread brand/type would make such a difference. I’m saving your post for future reference.

  2. klarisabet says:

    So glad your investigations paid off. The final result looks perfect!

  3. Try try again! It’s always nice when it works out to a great stitch!

  4. Brenda says:

    Awesome! I’ve only recently started doing repairs and hems on lightweight knits, and could not figure out why I was getting so many skipped stitches… most references tell you to use the smallest possible needle for any work, which generally is fine (and my thread is pretty good — but double whammy, it’s black), but I will try using the larger size from now on. Thanks for the research!

  5. […] so before I forget everything I learned, I thought I’d share them. Also take a look at my last post if you need some ideas for preventing skipped stitches while sewing knit […]

  6. June Hall says:

    Thank you for doing this! I’ve been sewing FOREVER and couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get a good stitch on my knits! I thought I had tried everything, but your experiment opened my eyes! Bigger needle and better thread! Should have known. I always thought Gutterman was a better thread, but maybe not so much… Coats and Clark breaks in my machine way too often, though I think they have improved in the last few years. BTW, I have an industrial Bernina. Thanks again for the scientific approach!

  7. Laurie Hammeke says:

    Thank you so much for your experiment, and I’m really looking forward to solving my problem with skipped stitches on knits. I have been sewing for a long, LONG time, but not so much the last 16 years. As I get older, the more I like knit pants. Wish me luck!!

    • Leila says:

      Since I wrote this post, I’ve discovered that while the things I tried helped, the best way to avoid skipped stitches is to get a different sewing machine that works better with knit fabrics. Modern machines are more likely to work well on knit fabrics and elastic, but not guaranteed. Testing the sewing machine on various fabric samples is the only way to find out for sure. I have one vintage machine and one modern machine that sew well on knits, and many vintage machines that do not do well with knit fabrics or elastic. Good luck!

  8. Brenda says:

    Thanks for sharing this information. I was getting frustrated with my project but now I understand you just have to experiment. A lot of great ideas, thanks!

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