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Girls Knit Tunic Top Tutorial (aka The Rainbow Sherbet Top)

(Looking for more free patterns? Be sure to check out my free patterns and tutorials page here.)

Every time I look at this adorable striped knit fabric, the colors make me think of rainbow sherbet!  I've been contemplating different ways to use the fabric and wanted to make sure whatever I made could be worn to school.  Once I made this knit dress for myself, I knew a tunic top in this style was perfect for the fabric.  (The tunic top is practically the same as the dress, just w/out the neck and sleeve binding.)



Even though this tunic top/dress is made with knit fabric, it is super simple to put together.  You can sew successfully on knit fabric without a serger.  All you really need is a ball point needle.  In fact, I almost prefer sewing on knits since so much time is saved by not having to finish the seams. (and I definitely prefer wearing knits…)

Here are few helpful tips for sewing on knit fabrics:

Read the rest of this post and see the tutorial after the break:

  • Always use a ball point needle.  A ball point needle has a rounded tip and allows the needle to move in between the thread fibers instead of piercing the thread fibers. (Which will cause holes in the fabric.)
  • When sewing seams that need to stretch, be sure to use either a narrow zig zag stitch- set at a medium stitch length, or many newer machines have additional stretch stitches you can use.  (Refer to your manual to find out which ones your machine does.)
  • It helps to loosen the needle thread tension just a tiny bit. (experiment on scraps til you find what works best on your fabric.)
  • For seams that don't need to stretch (like side seams) a regular straight stitch is fine. To keep the fabric from stretching when you sew, you can try a slightly longer stitch length and loosening the needle thread tension just a tiny bit.  ALWAYS do a few practice stitches on the fabric you will be using and then make any adjustments needed.
  • If you are working on a fabric that keeps curling, use fabric starch and your iron to flatten out the fabric.  This technique is helpful on all knits as the starch makes it less stretchy and moves through the machine smoother.
  • For hemming on knits, you have a few choices: 1. Leave the edge raw.  This looks fine on casual garments. 2.  Add a bound edge.  (You can see examples of how adding a bound hem works here and here.)  3. Use a walking foot and hem the edge with either a zig zag or other stretch stitch or using a twin needle. (The walking foot helps feed the material through the machine with less stretching.)
  • Remember to try a slightly longer stitch length and to loosen the needle thread tension just a tiny bit!
  • If your fabric is getting sucked into the machine or is still stretching, you can place a piece of thin tissue paper between the fabric and bottom feed dogs.  After you are done sewing, you can gently tear the tissue paper away.
For this particular project, I folded the sleeve, neck and bottom edge over and used my twin needle to sew the hem.  I love using a twin needle and do suggest it for hemming knits.  It creates a very stretchy stitch and looks most like a professional cover-stitched hem.  

Many new machines come with a twin needle, but you need to make sure it is a ball point twin needle before using it on your knit projects.  If the needle is not labled, I would assume it is not ball point, since these can be more expensive.  If you dont have twin needle, here is a link to the one I use: Schmetz Stretch Twin Needles - Size 4.0 75/11. You can order it today and be using it by the end of the week...

I have left many a sleeve edge or bottom hem raw and just allowed the edges to curl up.  Other times I have added binding to the to the sleeve or bottom hem if I felt the item needed “dressing up”.   So choose whichever method works best for you...

Now, on to the tutorial: (all seam allowances are 1/2 inch unless otherwise stated.)

Materials needed:
  • +/- 1 yard of fabric (Depends on what size you are making and the length you want.  I used a bit less than 3/4 yard for a 5/6 tunic length top and could have made a knee length dress with 1 yard.)
  • 1/2 elastic for the waistline
  • Ball point needle (plus optional Stretch Twin Needle)
  • ruler/measuring tape/scissors/fabric marker plus other basic sewing supplies
  • loose fitting t-shirt to trace, like a regular fruit of the loom or hanes t-shirt
  • large paper to trace the pattern on (wrapping paper, art paper or freezer paper all work well)
  • iron and spray starch (if needed)

Step one: Create your pattern and cutting the fabric pieces.

With the measuring tape, measure from the shoulder to the desired length of the top.  Add 1.5 inches to this measurement.

Fold your t-shirt in half, back facing out, smoothing out as many wrinkles as possible.  Follow the directions below to create your pattern: (I left the image large, so you can right click and open in a new window to see it better.)


After tracing the basic pattern, widen the neck line just a bit to create more of a "boat-neck".


Lower the front neckline by about 7/8 of an inch at the lowest point.  Draw the front neckline right onto the same pattern piece.


Cut out your pattern.  Fold your fabric so the stretchy-ness runs side to side (selvage to selvage) and line up the folded edge of your fabric with the fold-edge of your pattern and cut out the back piece.


Refold your fabric and cut out the front piece.  Don't forget to use the pattern mark for the front neckline.  To make things easier, I use my tracing wheel and tracing paper on the front neckline mark.


Step 2:  Assembling the shirt.

Fold the  back neckline edge over 1/2 inch toward the wrong side and pin in place.  If your fabric is giving you difficulties, try pressing the edge and using spray starch.  


Using a stretch twin needle or a narrow zig zag stitch set at a medium length, sew the hem in place.  Be sure to remove the pins before you get to them.  Running over a pin will stretch out the fabric.  Repeat this for the front piece.



Right sides together line up the shoulder edges and necklines, pin in place.  Use a serger or a straight stitch, on your machine and sew the shoulder seams using a 1/2 inch seam allowance.  (Don't forget to lengthen the stitch width and to loosen the needle tension a tiny bit, and do a few practice runs on some of your scraps!)



For the sleeve hem, you can choose to leave this edge raw.  If you do, you may want to trim the 1/2 inch seam allowance from the sleeve edge.

To hem the sleeve, fold the arm hems over 1/2 inch and sew this hem line with a twin needle or zig zag stitch.   Be sure to remove the pins before you get to them.  Running over a pin will stretch out the fabric.


Next, line up the sides of the shirt, right sides together and sew with your serger or a straight stitch on your sewing machine.


Step 3:  Adding the casing, belt or shirring the waistline.

I originally wanted a belt for this tunic top, but after making a practice top, I decided a belt would not be practical for school.  It was really cute though, and if you would like to add a belt, I will include the directions at the bottom of the tutorial.  (The top is not as cute in this solid fabric, but I loved the belt:) 


After deciding against the belt, I planned on shirring the waistline.  I love to shirr with elastic thread, it is a very easy option.  My machine was acting up and I couldn't get the shirring to work.  (I did take my machine in for a tune up and the repair man said the bobbin needed a tension adjustment.)  If you want to shirr your waistline, follow the placement guide below and I have some great shirring instructions on this post.

The best way to decide where to put the waist band is to just have your model try it on and mark the spot with a fabric marker.  If your model is not available here is what I suggest:

2/3t:: 1.5 inches down from sleeve edge
4/5:  2 inches down
6/7/8: 2.5 inches down

Decide where you want the waist line to be and mark the spot on both sides.  Use a ruler and fabric marker and connect the marks on both sides of the tunic top.  (Working on a striped fabric made it really easy to line up my casing.)


Cut a strip of your knit fabric 1 1/8 inch by the width of your shirt (all the way around) plus 1 1/2 inch.  You can also use bias tape, but do not use regular cotton fabric unless it is cut on the bias.



Line the top of the fabric strip up with your waistline mark and pin in place.


Sew the strip into place using a straight stitch about 1/8 inch from the edges. When you get to the end, you should have a tiny bit of fabric strip left.  Trim it off or just keep sewing and overlap the edges.  (If you look closely below, you can see where I over lapped the fabric.)  Be sure to leave about a 1 inch opening to thread the elastic through.

Measure around your models waist and subtract 1 inch.  Cut a piece of 1/2 inch elastic to this measurement. Using a safety pin, thread the elastic through the casing.  Once you are satisfied with the fit, sew the elastic together using a very tight zig zag stitch.  Trim the elastic edges and close up the casing.


Step 4:  Hemming the bottom.

You can choose to leave the bottom hem raw or hem it with a twin needle or zig zag stitch.  Fold your hem up 1/2 inch.  (or more if you left it long like I did.)  Sew right along the edge and carefully trim away any excess fabric.


That's it, You're done!  (So cute, she wore the top to school on Friday and told me that a few girls told her they liked her top!)




*To add a belt, you can use an embroidery needle and thread and create a little belt loop in the side seam at your waistline marking.  For the belt width and length, I suggest a 4 1/2 inch by about 60 inch piece of fabric.  Fold the fabric in half, right sides together,  long ways, and sew all the way around, leaving a 2 inch opening in the middle.   Turn the belt right side out through the opening and close the opening either by hand or with your machine.

I hope this tutorial inspires you to make a top or just try practicing on knits.  If you do make a top, pleas come back and share the link in the comments or if you don't have a blog, you can add a photo to my flickr group or Facebook Page.

If you like this type of tutorial and want to see more, you can follow along using the Google Friend Connect widget, through a reader, or signing up via email.  Just click on one of the icons below:


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I will be linking up to some of the linky parties listed here.




17 comments:

  1. Cute top and lots of great advice for sewing with knits! Thanks for sharing.

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  2. AWESOME tips for sewing knits!! THANK YOU!! I keep screwing up my pieces -- I've been using the double needle and just assumed it was ball point because they're not often used for other fabrics. So thank you, thank you, thank you!

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  3. This turned out soo cute! I have boys so I won't be sewing this tunic anytime soon, but the tips on sewing knit are super helpful! I'll be pinning this for later. Thanks!

    I'd love for you to link up to WKWW-What Kids Wore Wednesday Link Party this week at ONE little MOMMA!

    http://onelittlemomm.blogspot.com/2012/09/wkww-what-kids-wore-wednesday.html?utm_source=bp_recent&utm-medium=gadget&utm_campaign=bp_recent

    Kilee
    www.onelittlemomma.com

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  4. This is very cute! My daughter would LOVE that fabric as well! I'm tempted to sew one up tonight! ;) Thanks for sharing the tutorial.

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  5. Really like the top and fabric. Great tips on the way into knit season. I should really get some pattern weights, random question are you just using big washers?

    Rachel
    www.onceuponasewingmachine.com

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  6. SWEET! My daughter loves tunics like this. So making one!

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  7. Adorable top (and fabric and daughter). I'd like a few grown up ones too! Thanks for the knit tips. I Christian swear every time I sew knit! Thanks for sharing with air your laundry friday, Jamie! xo Jami

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  8. This turned out really cute. I love your pics - she is beautiful!

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  9. I always enjoy your sewing projects, and this is another adorable top, as well as your daughter. Great tips on sewing knits! Thanks for sharing your creative inspiration with Sunday’s Best – you helped make the party a success!

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  10. Ok, so when do I get some lessons. I love everything you link up each week! You amaze me! Thanks again for linking another fabulous outfit! Anytime you want to come by for a guest post, you are welcome!!! Have a great week! Tara @Trendy Treehouse

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  11. THat is so sweet! Your daughter is so pretty.
    She must be the best dresser girl in town!
    Thanks for linking up this week!
    Stacey of Embracing Change

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  12. Wow, great tutorial! Thanks for all the tips about sewing knits. Your daughter is adorable and so is that fabric choice. I love the sun in your photos.

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  13. 100% agree on that sweet fabric and a fab tutorial to go with it! Pinned it already - Thanks for linking to Craftastic Monday at Sew Can Do:)

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  14. i'm wanting to make some tunics for my daughter for fall, this is perfect!! i'm visiting from your link on sugar bee crafts. i just started a blog and this is fun!! www.mysewsweetlife.blogspot.com

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  15. I LOVE this! I might make a grown up version!! :)

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  16. I will be making some grown up versions to go with some skirts I am making. Seems like they could easily be taken in as I lose weight.

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