Improving my twin needle hems

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The twin needle threaded up and ready to go.

I don’t have a coverstitch machine (yet…), so my favourite way to hem knitted garments is with a twin needle on my regular sewing machine. I’ve been sewing lots of knits over the last year (children’s clothes 1, 2 and 3 as well as things for me 1, 2 and 3). And I’m not very happy with my twin needle hems so I thought I’d scout around the blogosphere for some tips, test them, and share the results with you all.

So here’s my control example: some sweatshirting fabric scraps sewn with a twin needle, using Gutermann sew-all thread on top and bottom, medium presser foot pressure and the ordinary tension settings.

As you can see, the two lines of stitching on the top are fine, but there’s not much zig and zag in the black bobbin thread meaning them hem won’t stretch much. Fine in a loose fitting sweatshirt, maybe, but not great for a tight-fitting T-shirt. And when you look at the hem in profile, it’s got that tunnelling effect where the fabric between the two lines of stitching almost looks as though it has piping inside it.

The first tip I found was to adjust the tension on the top thread. Cranking up the tension on the top should make the bobbin tension lower and create more zig and zag in the bobbin thread. Except it didn’t, so I haven’t taken any pictures of that. The only thing it did do was to stop the hem from curving – almost as if I’d adjusted a non-existent differential feed.

Woolly nylon in the bobbin thread

The second tip I found was to try woolly nylon thread in the bobbin, instead of sew-all. This stuff is weird! It’s fuzzy, stretchy and feels very, very synthetic – a bit like you’ve unravelled your tights, I suppose.

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With woolly nylon in the bobbin, the hem comes out like this:

I think there’s a bit more zigzagging going on in the bobbin thread – although it’s hard to see with the pale grey colour I bought (sorry!), but there’s still a definite tunnel effect when you look at the hem in profile. So far, no better.

Lowering the bobbin tension (while using woolly nylon)

Next up, I tried lowering the bobbin tension as suggested on Oliver and S. My sewing machine manual doesn’t even tell me how to do this, as Janome firmly believes you should only ever need to alter the top tension to get the right balance. (If you try this at home, please make sure you know how to undo it, too.) To save my sanity if I couldn’t undo it, I followed Rachel’s example in the Oliver and S post and bought a second bobbin casing to play with, loosening the screw to lower the tension.

The results looked like this:

Lots more zigzagging in the bobbin thread, which means the hem is much stretchier. But I’ve still got the tunnelling. Aaargh.

Have you solved this problem? What should I try next?

 

Top 3 misses of 2016

Not everything I made this year was such a roaring success as the top 3. These three projects were top of the flops this year.

The beige scoop-neck T-shirt that I thought might become a handy wardrobe staple turned out to be best worn under a crew neck jumper.

The multi-coloured cardigan I painstakingly knitted for my son wasn’t finished until winter was almost over and the loose weave meant it didn’t look great over his brightly coloured T-shirts. Plus there was something very odd about the sleeves.

The one I’m most disappointed about is this white scoop-neck T-shirt. I spent ages getting the fit spot on, but in the end I haven’t worn it much because of the poor-quality fabric. I chose a relatively thick T-shirt jersey made from 100% cotton, thinking it wouldn’t show my underwear and would hold its shape nicely. But I didn’t check the stretch recovery… actually it doesn’t spring back into shape well and each time I wash it it curls up at the edges and has to be ironed. Not what I’m looking for from a T-shirt!

Those are the misses – all knits, in one form or another, and all doomed by poor fabric and yarn choices. That should give me some pointers for next year.

You can find the hits in last week’s post.

A sea-green Sallie jumpsuit

P1120963I’ve been feeling the need for both more glamour and more comfort in my wardrobe lately, so my latest make should provide a bit of both.

I’ve succumbed to the jumpsuit trend (despite swearing I wouldn’t two summers ago) and I’ll admit that all the things other people have said about them are true. Secret pyjamas? Check. Potential for dressing up? Check. Lazy afternoon in the park? Check.

P1120960The pattern

After deciding I needed a jumpsuit in my life, there was only one indie pattern in the running: Sallie by Closet Case Patterns. (For a Big 4 version, V9116 also looks promising.) I love the wide-legged trousers, and the way this style combines slouchy Sunday afternoon insouciance with the potential for 1970s-style Saturday night glamour. Can it be worn during the week, do you think?

There was some initial headscratching during the cutting out process. The front and back pattern pieces for the kimono tee top are identical, and I couldn’t work out if this would leave enough room up front so I made a top-half toile. It turns out there was enough room for me, but it’ll depend on your FBA size and the stretch percentage of your fabric.

I love the look, and the shape. And there are some tempting hack opportunities. If I were being picky, I’d request a few more notches, and some more detail in parts of the instructions would have made construction easier for me.

P1120952The fabric

It’s a beautiful deep sea green midweight cotton jersey with some spandex content from Fabrics Galore, bought back in the spring at an NEC sewing event. With just enough stretch, it has the structure I wanted through the bottom half, and it wasn’t too much of a pain to cut out.

P1120965The fit

I started with a size 14 on top and graded out to a 16 below the waist. The identical front and back pieces mean it does have to stretch at the front so there’s some spare fabric at the back and if I were making another one, I’d probably do a small sway back adjustment.

I lengthened the bodice by 1″ and the crotch length by 2″ to ensure that the waist seam ended up on the waist.

If you have a waist, I think you have to get this spot on, or at least very close for it to be wearable. If you’re not sure whether you’ve got enough length, add plenty of length in both these places, and tack/baste both the stitching for the casing and the waist seam to begin with so you can remove any extra length after a try-on. Remember that the weight of the trousers will pull on the top,  stretching it downwards.

P1120955The process

Although this is a fairly straightforward project, and could be attempted by anyone who’s made one knit garment before, there are one or two places where things get tricky, and I made a few mistakes along the way.

I’d really recommend labelling your front, back, front lining and back lining pieces clearly, especially if it’s hard to tell the right and wrong sides of your fabric apart.

If you’re making the kimono tee version, use your regular machine rather than your overlocker to stitch the side seams on the top. You have to stop/start exactly at the circle mark to get the underarm seams neat.

And if you’re a pear-shape grading up a size on the bottom, remember that you’ll have to get the neck opening over your hips to get in and out, so it’s best not to narrow the shoulders too much – the neck tie will stop it falling off your shoulders.

P1120959In the end

This is a project that’s divided the Wardrobe household. I love it. But Mr Wardrobe hates it. He looked distinctly worried when I said I might wear it for our next night out together.

So where do you stand on jumpsuits? Throwback, fad, or comfy chic?

And apart from wedges, what shoes would you pair with this for a more casual look?

Update: I’ve joined Allie J’s social sew for August, and included this as my ‘hot, hot heat’ make. The social sew is open until the end of the month, so if you’re sewing some warm weather gear, join us.

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In progress: a jade Sallie jumpsuit

I’ve given in. I need a jumpsuit in my life.

After admiring the way other people have pulled off jumpsuits during the past year, (I’m looking at you, Begonia Sews, Crafting a Rainbow and House of Pinheiro), I’ve cracked and decided to have a go myself. I’m using the Closet Case Patterns Sallie, view A, with the v-neck top and trousers.

V-neck tops and wide leg trousers are a staple of my evening wardrobe already, so I’m hoping they’ll still work if they just happen to be sewn together at the waist.

I’m using this gorgeous deep sea green jersey I bought from Fabrics Galore at Sewing for Pleasure. It’s a medium weight with a small spandex content so it recovers well, and in another life it would be perfect for a man’s T-shirt. I wanted something that wasn’t super-lightweight for this project so I wouldn’t have to deal with VPL!

I love love LOVE this colour, and I’m hoping it’s dark enough to exude a mysterious sophistication, rather than just turning me into a disco version of the Incredible Hulk.

We’ll find out soon…P1120922

May Martin’s sewing tips from the Simplicity Blog Meetup

May Martin holding a length of purple jersey fabric.

In May, I went along to a blog meetup organised by the Simplicity pattern company. Guest of honour was May Martin, who held a kind of sewing masterclass slash Q&A. May’s very different in real life from her GBSB persona – I found her much chattier and less serious than I’d expected. Perhaps that was because we weren’t being judged!

She was full of useful tips and advice for us, and we quizzed her about the best way to do this, that and everything.

Having finally tracked down my notebook from the day, I thought I’d share some of the tips she gave us. There were dozens and dozens, so I’ve jotted down the ones that were new to me, or that I thought you might be interested in.

Sewing with stretch fabrics

Most of us know that we should use a different machine sewing needle for knits, but I hadn’t realised that stretch needles and ballpoint needles aren’t one and the same. May recommended stretch needles for sewing spandex and lycra, and ballpoint needles for jersey fabrics.

If you sew knits on an overlocker, May says that fine needles will give good results on knit fabrics. You don’t have to switch your overlocker to ballpoint needles. Phew.

If you find your knit fabric is getting sucked into the feed dogs on your sewing machine at the start of a seam, you can try using a washaway or tear-away stabiliser (like stitch and tear). Or you can start sewing your seam on a scrap, start sewing and then feed your garment seam through the machine once you’ve got going.

Curved edges and enclosed seams

If you’ve got a critical curved seam to sew, this can be scary because it’s naturally unstable. Instead of cutting out the curved pieces and then sewing them together, try doing it the other way around: draw the curved seamline onto the uncut fabric, stitch it and then cut it out.

Pattern instructions usually tell you to notch enclosed concave curves after stitching, and before turning them inside out. This is tricky to do, and won’t always give you a nice even curve on a scalloped edge, for example. Instead, try using a shorter stitch length, then trim and grade the seam allowance but don’t bother notching them. If you think it still needs notching, use pinking shears to avoid a lumpy curve when you turn it inside out.

Ironing and interfacing

May’s a big believer in interfacing. If you don’t have the right weight of interfacing in your stash, you can always apply two layers of a lighterweight interfacing that add up to the weight you need. This is also useful if you’re not certain what weight to use – you can build it up a bit at a time.

And my favourite tip of the day – especially since I lunched my ironing board cover with some interfacing earlier in the year – put a layer of oven liner on your ironing board before applying fusibles like interfacing. This will stop you getting sticky glue all over your ironing board cover, and once it’s dried you can simply scratch it off the oven liner so it’s ready to use again next time.

If you’d like to have May Martin in your sewing room, then she has a book out. Or you can sign up for one of her classes in Oxfordshire.

Big thanks to Hannah at Simplicity’s marketing agency for organising the event, and for laying on so much cake for us all!

Scoop-neck white T-shirt

After my T-shirt fail last month, I wanted to get back in the saddle and find out if I’ve learnt from my sins. So here is the redemption.

I’m really happy with this one – it’s clean and simple, it fits (yet I can still move in it) and it’ll go with pretty much everything in my existing wardrobe. I have a feeling this one is going to get lots of wear this summer.

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I used the same self-drafted pattern as for the boat-neck T-shirt, but varied the neckline and added a small pocket. This Colette tutorial for binding knit edges was really useful – it is a fiddle getting it on evenly and distributing the stretch around such a large area, but I think it was worth the two hours I spent taking it on and off again.

For the sleeves, I thought I’d try a folded cuff this time for a change – I just winged that part, so if you know a great way to get a more slouchy cuff in lighterweight jersey, please enlighten me.

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The fabric is a plain white jersey I bought in Cheltenham last year. It feels like an interlock, so it was more suited to a fitted shape than a fluid one. The stretch recovery on it isn’t great, but I’m hoping the double pre-wash will help prevent it from going out of shape.

That might be it for T-shirts for a while. I’ve got one or two more jersey projects in my queue, but my overlocker needs a service. So next up is curtain-making (snore…) and, if I can get the fit sorted, hopefully some unselfish sewing for a change.

Do you like to sew the same thing on repeat, or is it more fun to switch between different fabrics and patterns each project?

T-shirt fail

I was hoping not to add to the Sewing Blunders category this year but this one definitely qualifies. A real-life case of pride coming before a fall. Or a fail, in this case.

I was so pleased with my self-drafted boat-neck breton top that I’d thought I’d quickly sew myself another T-shirt from the same pattern. This time I used the scoop-neck variation and some substantial beige cotton/spandex jersey I bought from the Fabrics Galore stand at Sewing for Pleasure.

But as you can see, it’s looking a bit sorry for itself.

Here are the mistakes I made:

  1. I forgot to trace the scoop-neck cutting line from the fabric onto the pattern so I did it after I’d started sewing, but obviously not very well as it came out lopsided.
  2. I didn’t take a large enough seam allowance when I attached the sleeve pieces with my overlocker, so the shoulders came out too wide, and don’t even match each other.
  3. I serged the raw edge of the neck opening before adding the neckband – accidentally taking too much off, meaning that I definitely can’t bend forwards in this top.
  4. My attempts to use up some cheap thread I had lurking in my stash rather than make another trip to the shops (I know, I know… ) backfired spectacularly when my twin needle chewed up and spat out the hem.

t-shirt fail

I tried to fix all these mistakes by giving the top a really good press, but it actually made things worse because I accidentally turned on the self-clean function and the iron spat dirty water that stained the back neck.

Unlike previous blunders, these mistakes are down to carelessness and rushing rather than ignorance, so I suppose you could say I’m learning. Onwards and upwards, hopefully.

Have you had any disasters recently?

Self-drafted boat neck breton top

After a serious think about the contents of my wardrobe – and the gaps in it – earlier this month, I settled on sewing the things that would get me through an average week. Top of my list was t-shirts – mainly because I had two patterns and plenty of knit fabric ready to go.

I opted to try out my self-drafted T-shirt pattern first. Since the initial fitting, I decided to  revise the block to include more ease, and I made four small alterations to the fit:

  • I narrowed the shoulder by 0.5cm
  • I added a smidgen more width around the bust
  • I took in the back waist a touch
  • I raised the armscye by 1cm to give more freedom of movement

I then added the three neckline variations I wear most often – boat (or slash) neck, scoop and crew.

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The fabric is leftover from a (pre-blog) maternity top I made back in 2013. It’s a lightweight cotton jersey with decent recovery, bought at Sewing for Pleasure at the NEC, but I can’t remember the name of the shop or the price unfortunately.

I stitched the shoulder seams on my ordinary sewing machine so I could add clear elastic as a stabiliser, but then used my overlocker for the other seams and to finish the remaining raw edges. Instead of the usual bands or twin needle finish, I opted for a zigzag stitch after reading the Grainline Lark sewalong.

I’m really pleased with the fit. It’s close-fitting but not too tight, and that balances the looser-fitting bottom halves in my wardrobe nicely. If I can avoid getting caught in the crossfire of flying egg and blackcurrants that constitutes dinnertime with a toddler, then hopefully I’ll be wearing it every week for years to come.

The pattern was free and the fabric and notions were all leftovers, so I’m calling that a zero-cost new top. Huzzah!

(I considered calling this T-shirt Boaty McBoatface, but thought better of it.)

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Hemming T-shirts

Coverstitch? Twin needles? Zigzag?

What’s the best way to hem a knit garment like a T-shirt or a jersey dress? From what I’ve learnt so far your options are:

Coverstitch

If you’re lucky enough to have a coverstitch machine this seems to be the way to go. You press up your hem, and then the coverstitch finishes the raw edge and stitches the hem in one go. It gives that RTW twin needle finish on the outside and because of the differential feed you can get it lovely and stretchy so you won’t split your stitches taking the garment on and off. If only I could justify buying one…

Overlock plus twin needle

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There’s just a hint of that tunnelling effect on this hem, but the printed fabric hides it well.

This is the one I’ve used the most. It gives a slightly stretchy finish because the bobbin thread zigs and zags between the two top threads, but it probably won’t stretch as much as the original fabric. First you overlock the raw edge and press up your hem. You can also stabilise the hem allowance to avoid a twisted, puckered or ridged finish.

Then fit a ballpoint twin needle in your ordinary sewing machine, use your walking foot, a straight stitch setting, and topstitch the hem in place from the right side.

(If you have a really old sewing machine, like my Singer 201K, that only has a straight stitch, then you may not have a footplate that will take a twin needle, but any machine that has a built-in a zigzag function should be fine. I used my mother-in-law’s 1960s Singer to hem my Moneta dress. If there’s no second spool, then put your two top threads onto bobbins and then you can stack them on top of each other on your spool pin.)

If you’re getting a ridge between the two lines of stitching, then a stabiliser should help, and you can also try playing around with the tension. Lots of people recommend stretchy woolly nylon for the bobbin thread, but I haven’t tried this yet.

If you don’t have an overlocker

You don’t have to overlock the edge before you press it up, you can still do a twin needle hem without this step, but in this case I would definitely use a stabiliser right up to the raw edge – and pick one that won’t wash out. A permanent stabiliser may limit the stretch a little, but that’s better than the raw edge curling back over the hemming stitch and creating a lump there. You might also choose to use an overedge or zigzag stitch to finish the raw edge for neatness.

If you don’t want to buy a ballpoint twin needle…

…because it’s an awful moment when you break one and have to part with another £4, then you can also topstitch the hem with a zigzag stitch, or a stretch stitch. This will stretch a little, but like the twin needle finish, not a lot. Some people are sniffy about how this finish looks, but I quite like the variation. I tried this for my latest T-shirt (which I’ll hopefully post later this week when the weather brightens enough to take pictures).

Unsolved mysteries

Can you help me with any of my unsolved questions?

  1. Is a coverstitch machine so amazing that I should blow the budget and get one? Or are they quite fiddly and hard to use?
  2. What’s the best stabiliser to use for knit hems? Spray-in starch, wash-away, knit interfacing or something else?
  3. I’ve read that you can also use a rolled hem. Has anyone tried this? What sort of fabric would this work best on?
  4. Where can you get woolly nylon thread in the UK?

Ottobre children’s T-shirt

It’s all about the knits here at the moment. This week, I wanted to try out a technique I haven’t used before – binding the neckline with ribbing, rather than a jersey band. So I asked my two-year old son to pick out his favourite knit fabrics from my stash and hunted through my Ottobre magazines for a suitable pattern.

He chose the bicycle-print organic cotton jersey leftover from his latest coat for the front and back. And we agreed on beige jersey (purchased from Fabrics Galore at Sewing for Pleasure in March) for the sleeves. He really wanted to use the rainbow ribbing I found in Stone Fabrics, and it goes surprisingly well with the colourful bikes. The pattern is number 17 from Ottobre 3/2015 in size 104cm and has a two-piece raglan short sleeve.

I don’t do a lot of tracing, so that was a mild annoyance, along with adding on the seam allowances by hand. Because he’s long and lean, I also added 2.5 cm to the length in the body.

This was a quick make, made even faster by using a four-thread overlock stitch for all the main seams. I spent some time puzzling over how to apply the ribbing because there were no instructions with the pattern, but I eventually located them tucked away in the back of the magazine. And them promptly did something different!

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For the hems I fused on some seam interfacing before pressing them up and topstitching with a twin needle. The seam interfacing really helps prevent the puckering and twisting you can sometimes get with a topstitched hem on knit fabrics. But it does also restrict the stretch a bit, so I’d like to try another method next time – maybe bands, as demonstrated in the Renfrew top sewalong.

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I’d love to show you how it looks on him, but so far he’s refused to wear it. I’m trying not to take that personally. Toddlers, huh?