by Shannon Gifford
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  • Buttermilk

    If you've stayed away from novelty knits, unsure of how to use them, test the waters with a length of buttermilk knit. You'll find this fabric fun, versatile and easy to sew. This is a good fabric for beginning sewers, as well. Buttermilk knit is a medium weight knit with moderate stretch in 2 directions. The printed design only appears on the right side of the fabric; the back of the fabric is generally a solid color. This fabric, when stretched, recovers with a "snap", making it perfect for travel or for garments you do not wish to iron.


    To pretreat buttermilk knit, simply wash with your chosen detergent, no bleach, in cold water. Dry in the dryer; remove promptly. Buttermilk knit does not wrinkle, fade, or shrink when machine washed.

    Needles and Thread:

    Use a 75/11 stretch needle for your seams. Poly/cotton thread or all polyester thread are the best choices for working with this fabric.

    Seams, Seam Finishes, and Hems:

    Choose a zigzag stitch, 1.0 length, 1.5 width, in order to work with the stretch of the fabric. If you have a serger, a 3 thread overlock with balanced tension will work beautifully. Seam finishes are not necessary in this fabric. It does not fray or run. Do trim your seams to ΒΌ inch finished; you'll likely find the narrower seam width to be more comfortable than a wide seam. Hems in buttermilk knit are easy! You can use one of the following:

    • Fuse the hem in place with fusible seam tape for a quick hem.
    • Permanently attach your hem with a zigzag stitch.
    • Use a twin needle (size 4.0/75 stretch) and a 3.5 length stitch.
    • Use the rolled hem feature of your serger. If you want a lettuce edge, stretch the fabric as it feeds through the serger's feed dogs.
    • Some upper-scale ready-to-wear garments of this fabric are left unhemmed, with a row of edgestitching approximately 1/8 inch from the cut edge. This is a totally bulk-free, fuss-free hem edge. See if your garment style will warrant this trendy unstructured look.


    Should your project require interfacing, a cool-fuse, lightweight interfacing like So Sheer is perfect for buttermilk knits. Test your iron's heat on a scrap of the fabric; some prints may need to have a press cloth between the fabric and the iron. Match the grain of your interfacing to the grain of the knit.

    Pattern Suggestions:

    Choose a pattern for knits that is listed for "moderate stretch". Look for patterns for tees, tanks, dresses, skirts, and shirts. Patterns with trendy styling, draped details, assymetry, flounced hems, and drawstrings will all work well in buttermilk knit. You can also use patterns for wovens if the pattern is not heavily structured. For instance, do not choose patterns for tailored items or snug-fitting pants. The amount of understructure needed for tailored items will not mix well with buttermilk, and the body-conscious garments will distort and strain the fabric in an unpleasant manner. However, traditional blouses and shirts, skirts with shape and flare, capes and ponchos will all work well with buttermilk knit, even if the pattern calls for a woven fabric.

    Creative Possibilities:

    Pair buttermilk knit with a cotton/lycra knit or lightweight faux suede for a color-blocked garment. Or for a feminine touch, use stretch lace as trim.

    Additional Tips:

    If you are making a top with set-in sleeves, cut an arc-shape of interfacing 1 inch wide and position it just inside the cut edge of the cap. Fuse this arc to the cap to give additional support to the cap of the sleeve.

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