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!


Posted in Sewing, Vintage Sewing Machines
23 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!


  9. j. says:

    I found that my newer janome machine did not do well at all on knits. My older simpler Janome did. I thought it was the power of the motor. But I did much better when I used a topstitch needle and polyester serger thread. I had been having a real big problem with broken and shredded thread on all fabrics but worse on knits. NOthing worked until I tried the topstitch needle. The problem of skipped stitches went way down and breakage has stopped.


    • Leila says:

      I’ve found it really varies from machine to machine how well they handle knits. One factor is the design of the machine, which you can’t do anything about. Other factors possibly causing skipped stitches are lint that needs to be cleaned out, a burr on the hook, the timing needs adjusting, or the needle to hook distance needs adjusting (adjustments are best done by a professional).

      Be careful with topstitch needles. They are very sharp, so they can cut through the threads on knit fabrics and leave holes. If you are sewing on polyester knit, it might be fine, but I wouldn’t use them on fabric made from natural fibers.


  10. Marilou K Lee says:

    The 14 needle did the trick. I was struggling


  11. Natalie Odilo OP says:

    Hello 🙂 I’m SO GLAD I found you!! This is my first time sewing with knits and of course, I’m skipping stitches and my blood pressure is rising with the frustration. But, as my mom and I say, Google knows everything (everyone). I giggled and this was thankfully the first link I followed. I’ve switched to a Schmitz 14/90 stretch needle and my Bernina is humming happily along without a single stitch missed. THANK YOU SO MUCH for sharing this! You’ve saved me! And my nieces can have their new dresses!


    • Leila says:

      I’m glad it worked for you. I’ve gotten some different sewing machines since I wrote this post, and I’ve discovered that different solutions work for different machines. And some machines just won’t sew knits well, no matter what!


  12. Claudia says:

    Late to the knit party! I’ve been sewing for years and am attempting a very simple project. Skipped stitches were giving me fits. I will try again this morning armed with your advice. Thank you so much.


  13. Inna says:

    Thank you so much, you saved me from buying a new machine. I was struggling for two last days trying to hem two-layers dress, with lace as top layer and synthetic stretch fabric underneath. As you advised I changed all purpose thread to high quality one (i brought one many years ago from Soviet Union) and I could finally make it happened!
    Previously whatever i was doing -my old generic Brother was skipping stitches. I was doing: “stay in place” tape, reinforcement with paper, and very badly and ugly completed the underneath synthetic part. But today i find recommendation for replacing regular foot for a walking foot, i did, for lace layer, it did not help with skipping stitches, then i finally found your recommendation. Who would think to replace the thread!!! So easy! I did not do reinforcement of any kind and completed that very slippery stretchy lace layer hemming in few minutes!!!


  14. Alla Blanca says:

    I know this is many years after your original post, but just wanted to say THANK YOU for your advice. You saved my sanity. The thorough review of both needles and threads is really not covered elsewhere. (Nor did I know there’s a difference between “stretch” and “jersey” needles.)
    I only had lighter weight stretch/jersey/universal needles and was having the worst skipping results on activewear knit (not for the first time, either). All the other stitching on this project had been done via serger, just needed a bit of topstitching. My 90/14 needle choices were: jeans, topstitch, or quilting. And because of shelter-in-place, I am not going needle shopping anytime soon. I went with the 90/14 topstitch needle and didn’t have a single problem.
    Here’s to the value of evergreen blog content!


  15. Laura says:

    This was incredibly helpful. Thank you SO much for posting this!!


  16. estrnod says:

    I tried a 90/14 needle and still had skipped stitch issues until I placed a single line of cheap-o single-ply toilet paper along the top-stitch line (Scott 1000 is good for something after all!) And sewed through it (max pressure foot tension). The TP was easy to pull off afterwards and few if any skipped stitches.


  17. Tina Grant says:

    Thank you so much! I had been struggling to redo top stitching on a very expensive pair of riding pants for my daughter. Size 14 stretch needle and about the 5th spool of black thread from my stash sewed perfectly.


  18. S S says:

    Thank you so much! I’m still a beginner at sewing, and I usually get my thread and needles from other people’s castoffs (or estate sales). I didn’t think thread mattered as long as it didn’t snap in the machine, and had the same messy-looking results you did.
    But after seeing this, I found a spool of Gutermann thread from a previous project and a packet of Bernina ballpoints from my box of other people’s unwanted supplies, and suddenly the machine is doing near-perfect zigzags as long as I keep the width less than 3 (out of 5)! I’ll be getting size 14 needles since these aren’t, and then I might be able to get full-width zigzags out of my old machine!
    So in case you’re wondering, this post you wrote six years ago is still helping people!


  19. susan says:

    Mine not only skips a stitch, it doesn’t hook it at all. It does fine on cotton. What’s the deal? 😦


    • Leila says:

      I don’t know what kind of machine you have, but I have a couple of vintage Singer 237’s that won’t sew on knits at all. I think the problem on mine is that the hook is adjusted too far from the needle.


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