Improving my twin needle hems

singer_357_twin
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.

woolly_nylon

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?

 

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?

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?

Moneta ice cream spot dress

I’ve finished the Moneta I started last weekend at the overlocker workshop. This must be record for me – a whole dress in only ten days! Here’s how it turned out.

I'm thinking that these really aren't the ideal shoes for this dress...
I’m thinking that these really aren’t the ideal shoes for this dress…

So it’s definitely not my usual style – my clothes aren’t usually as lightweight or as girly as this – but I like it. Maybe because the colours remind me of ice cream… it feels like the sort of dress you’d wear to a picnic or a barbecue in the heat of summer. But I can also see myself lounging in the garden or the park in it, and that’s something I want to do a lot more of.

moneta_full_length_2

Fitting

I originally thought I’d make the medium, and grade out to a large at the waist, adding an FBA, but the course tutor at Guthrie & Ghani, Layla, said to go with a straight large as my fabric wasn’t all that stretchy. I think this was probably the right choice (and definitely meant fewer adjustments, although next time I’d do a 1″ FBA). I added an inch to the back waist length, and nearly three inches to the length of the skirt as short skirts aren’t my thing. It’s come out perhaps a little bit large at the waist, but I’m not too worried as it’s such a fluid fabric.

moneta_gathers

The pattern

I made the short-sleeved version, but you can also opt for longer sleeves, or a more formal version with a collar and a lined bodice, which I think looks great in a slightly heavier fabric like an interlock or medium-weight jersey. It’s the first time I’ve made a Colette pattern, and I like the way they use a C-cup as standard rather than a B (less adjustment needed – hurrah!). But I wish Colette gave the back waist length measurement they work to for each size on the pattern envelope, or even printed on the pattern pieces. You have to get the waistline of this dress exactly where you want it for it to look right, and providing those measurements would take the guesswork out of it. (NB The weight of your fabric, as well as the amount of stretch in it will affect the length of the bodice.)

What would I change? I think I’d try version 1 next time, with the cowl neckline – the crew neck isn’t all that flattering on me.

The back neckline is cut slightly lower than the front.
The back neckline is cut slightly lower than the front.

Techniques

The gathers in the skirt are made using clear elastic, which you stretch out as you sew it to the top of the skirt. Getting this evenly stretched, and an even distance from the edge of the fabric was tricky, but hopefully it’s one of those things that gets easier the more you do it.

I also had my first twin needle experience on the neckline, sleeve hems and skirt hem. My machine can’t take a twin needle because it only has a single point hole in the throat plate. I got the neckline and sleeves finished in the class, but I still had the hem to do. Uh-oh. Luckily, my mother-in-law came to the rescue. I borrowed her 1967 Singer 357 – which is about ten years younger than my machine. It has a zig zag function, so I could put in a twin needle and finish the job.

Here's my mother-in-law's Singer 357 - from 1967. It was the first twin needle experience for me and for this machine.
Here’s my mother-in-law’s Singer 357 – from 1967. It was the first twin needle experience for both of us.
The twin needle threaded up and ready to go.
The twin needle threaded up and ready to go.

I think I’m now finally convinced that it might be time to invest in a more modern machine. There are so many functions I miss, and I’m wondering if I could stitch more slowly (and therefore more neatly) on a newer machine. But how to choose?