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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Sewing and hemming knits Exhibit C

To further explore the idea of hemming on a conventional machine I want to pause here and talk about alternate zig zag stitches and edging treatments.

I have already expressed my feelings about those reverse action, back and forth heavy duty and, in my view fabric distorting, stitches manufacturers call stretch stitches.

Don't like them much.

I feel they nearly always exaggerate knit fabric wave tendencies.

There are some alternative stitches that work as well as plain zig zag however, and as slight detour in this series with a shout out to a good pattern, here is a camisole I made.

First the pattern.

I found myself suddenly needing a something to wear underneath garment. It turned out a V neck that I cut stretched about 3" down past expectations, due to the hyper stretchiness of the fabric. (You will all see exactly what I mean soon).

At that moment in time I was not near any camisole pattern. As a result I turned to this racerback tank which was, up to that point, a view I had ignored in this pattern:

I am not a huge fan of the old racerback T as a rule - something about my inability to consider obvious bra strap exposure owing to my birthdate in the last half of the last century.

That said I had nothing else handy and so I made this up, piecing the front top due to lack of fabric. Note that introducing this seam was easy.

Like many of Jalie's recent patterns there is one and the same pattern piece for lower front and back - you just lay the optional front or back upper piece on top of it as you cut. To piece my front I just added a seam allowance at the pattern joining line and made a seam.

I used a nice, but thin cotton knit. Rather than turning and stitching under the neck and armholes I laid narrow stretch lace over the raw edges and zig zagged on, trimming a bit of the excess fabric away from the stitching on the wrong side when I was done.

Notice the lace has flipped up a the centre front, need to go back and add a couple of stitches there - further evidence of Babs' universal law that if anything will go wrong it will do so at centre front and always in pictures

As to the tricky part, and in this case that would be the hem on a thin cotton single knit, I decided to go minimalist and use as light a hand with the fabric as I could.

That meant folding the hem over twice - to give some weight to counteract what was lacking this particular fabric - and using a less aggressive form of zig zag, in this case my vintage Bernina's "serpentine" stitch:

No waving at all and I think quite pretty.

I love this stitch and wish it was still to be found on newer machines. It is of course a form of zig zag or more rightly multi-step zig zag. Because it meanders, rather than go back and forth, to my mind this stitch, and those like it, worry the fabric less.

An additional comment about these multi-step or three step zig zag stitches, rather than the two step back and forth ones we think of when we talk zig zag.

Multi-stitch zig zags are really are the top stitch of choice, in my mind, for garments like underwear, swimwear, or children's clothes. Because the long thread of a traditional zig zag is broken up by smaller "multi" stitches there just aren't those long threads to catch on things. This alone makes these stitches really durable. If you default always to a regular zig zag you might want to look at multi-stitch versions too.

Now back to the pattern.

The racerback on this tank is really not very articulated - when I have this little unit on my bra straps don't show at all. I also don't think this is just a tank pattern -in fact it is an ideal undershirt pattern too (singlet if you live in the Southern Hemisphere or the UK).

Which prompts me to ask whatever happened to undershirts?

We always wore them growing up and I put them on all my children too until they were old enough to avoid me.

Undershirts, a body clinging layer next to the parts that shiver, are wonderful.

I completely do not understand why little kids and babies no longer wear them. Why? Kids still get cold.

Maybe this is a Canadian thing, maybe I am revealing my own childhood on the Canadian Prairies where it was -75 F with the wind chill factor and we still walked to school and back again four times a day lunch included. Mothers didn't drive much then in one car families so they just put us in undershirts, wound our heads in scarves, told us to stop fussing and pushed us out the door.

I am quite sure it was the undershirts if not our mothers who kept us alive and warm. 

So it is my strongly held opinion that undershirts, like common sense itself, should never have gone out of style. And if you have this pattern you can make your own for yourself or anyone else you can catch.

On that note.

Tomorrow twin needles.


Vancouver Barbara said...

Yes, just talking about undershirts today as Vancouver has suddenly become cold. My friend from north of Winnipeg never wore one but my mother made sure that I wore one of those thin woollen undershirts and sometimes even pants that went under leggings. It was very cold in southern British Columbia when I was a child. Today I wore three layers – well four counting the T-shirt – jacket, coat and then an overcoat and I was still cold. I knew that if I had had one of the thin woollen undershirts I'd have been fine. They came from England or Scotland and I haven't seen any of that kind of kit for years. Anyone????
Your undershirt looks lovely the way you've trimmed it. Hope it keeps you warm too.

Anonymous said...

I'm right there with you - I REFUSE to consider obvious bra strap exposure as acceptable wear for me - don't care what fashion trends dictate. Moving on, I'm enjoying your posts about knits, thank you!

jirons42 said...

I got two great ideas from this post - using the stretch lace and using the serpentine stitch (which I do have on my machine). I'm loving this series of posts. Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

Loving this series on hems. And in particular on undershirts which I read out to my partner who is a vest addict even in summer! One point on your 3 step hem. I have a new model Bernina 330 and it does have this stitch. In fact it has 2 versions and it is my favourite for hems. Christine

SewRuthie said...

In the UK we would actually call a singlet a vest, and are all quite confused when the Americans call a waist coat a vest. I wore them growing up but stopped once I got into bras.

Anne Frances said...

I wouldn't have thought of the serpentine stitch - and it does look as if that is a very good solution. I look forward to seeing your overall conclusions.
And you have answered a question for me! What is the garment I call a vest - try searching on line for Marks and Spencer girls vest - called across the Atlantic? An undershirt! What you call a vest - ie a sleeveless jacket - is called a waistcoat or a sleeveless jacket. My grandchildren wear vests for at least three quarters of a year and so do my husband and I. If they have spaghetti style straps or are made of a woven fabric they might be called camisoles or tank tops, but those are intended to be at least partially visible when worn. Vests are not! And singlets are not undergarments (ie invisible when worn) either. They are sleeveless tops worn for running or other sporting activity. Isn't vocabulary fascinating!

Teri on the said...

The stretch lace finish on the neckline is a lovely feminine touch on a garment that otherwise would remind me of a man's singlet. How did you finish b join the ends of the elastic?
Having been born in the first half of the last century I remember those walks to and from school, 4 X daily. If I’m pushing it I usually add that they were 2 miles long, through hip deep snow, uphill both ways.
Despite the hyperbole, and the fact I lived in a city, undershirts were a regular feature of life on the Canadian Prairies and none of them were as pretty as this one.

Alison G. said...

This is such a useful, interesting series. If you ever decide to publish a book, put me on the list! I've not grown up sewing knits: there was no need in the 1980s since everything was cut like a tent. But a lot of wovens now have stretch, and many RTW items are better for alterations, so it's a frequent consideration. My 1970s Frister does a lovely three step zig zag which is my favourite so far, but some methodical experimentation will be fun.

Barbara said...

Answers to questions. Kay I wind the wooly nylon in the bobbin by hand with basically no tension. I try to be neat but not stretch it at all if I can. I guess the point is to try and leave as much of the stretch potential still in the thread as you can do it will still be available to the stitch when you need it.

And Alison I have written a book, available on Amazon for pre order now ( not sure why this isn’t the latest iPhone ) to be released May 2018. This hemming stuff isn’t in the book but other stuff is. I might write a post about the book when it is out, the process was pretty funny.

Sasha said...

Love the three-step zig-zag. Much flatter and less likely to unravel, it is my top choice after the good old straight stitch for sewing.

I stopped wearing undershirts as that layer turns my girls into one large mountain. At this size, two smaller, well-defined peaks are more flattering.

Nana said...

This series is great......I looked back at my old Kenmore and I think that it has this same stitch but it is called a smocking stitch......I will grab me a scrap of knit later today and give it a try.
Thanks for all the hints on knit.....I am working very hard to get proficient with that fabric.

Janet said...

Please let us know the title of the book so we can order!! I am there. I enjoy every post and want to support you any way I can.
Love this series of posts but I love the undershirt discussion! My mother would develop palpitations if her grandchildren didn't have them on even in summer.
I assumed it was living in the northeast and our cold winters but it certainly was snuggely walking to school in January. It must have gone the way of belly bands( how many of your readers are old enough to know what that means!!).

jbettyb said...

We lived in England for a year when my husband was in the Air Force. A neighbour who had preceded us told me that she had always envied the hardy RAF wives who would show up at smart outdoor events, horse races and so on wearing a smart suit jacket and a silky blouse, but she eventually learned that the secret was a nice, snug undershirt. My Irish-born mother insisted on them, and though I abandoned them for many years, they are now the furnace frugallers friend. I really enjoy your blog. Betty

Anonymous said...

I love your series!
Recently I have found my personal best way to hem very stretchy knits: I use wondertape, which vanishes in the first washing.
I serge the edge of the garment (or I leave this step out), then I apply wondertape to the wrong side of the edge and turn the edge up to the wrong side so it sticks in place due to the wondertape. Sometimes I fold it over one more time, and I give it a good press. I then stitch this narrow hem in place with a straight stitch if the garment is wide enough and does not have to be stretched while wearing it, or with an elastic stitch such as the threefold straight stitch or the three-step-zigzag-stitch. At first this is quite stiff, but after washing the hem falls beautifully and is not distorted or wavy at all.
Best wishes from Germany

Noelle said...

Such a helpful series! I finally conquered my fear of knits and have been sewing a lot with them recently. This is really helping me with finishing, which I struggle with because I can't seem to get that twin needle thing down. Now if you can do a tutorial on making a v-neck, I would love it--my favorite neckline to wear, but my least favorite to sew.

Also have to say that I completely agree about the bra straps! When did that become socially acceptable? I see it everywhere, even in church services, and it drives me nuts.

Deanna M said...

truly enjoyed reading these posts. I grew up in the Maritimes and we not only hand the undershirts but the dreaded brown stockings that itched like crazy! Ha ha! Yes, that does date me but what a wonderful childhood I had, including learning to sew! Thanks for the posts - great tips on knit hems.

Anonymous said...

This series combines my two favorite things: sewing and vocabulary! I also remember wearing undershirts but can't remember when I quit wearing them. Maybe, as somebody said, when I started wearing bras? Anyway, loving the hem series and I'll definitely buy your book when it's available!

Anonymous said...

Off to see if my Pfaff has a serpentine stitch.
Made myself some fancy under shirts too. Used Kwik Sew #3645. The intention was to keep my long tops from sticking to my leggings and uncovering what they were intended to keep covered. Having a fancy undershirt is an added bonus.
Love these post Barb.Thank you.
Donna E

Barbara said...

Hi Noelle, I did a tutorial on V necks, hopefully you can find it if you do a search here and hopefully I will eventually figure out how to add a tutorial links tab to the top of this page.

Janet I have added some info on the book in my profile but it won't be available until May 2018. I will post more information closer to the time, can't imagine many folks will pre-order.

Cynthia Baker said...

I love your posts, Barb!! I was born in the first half of the last century in the GWN (great white north). And I, too, grew up with knitted vests and wearing trousers under one's skirt during the winter (girls wore skirts and dresses only!) and were removed once at school. And each classroom had a cloakroom! Regarding purchasing under vests today: Vermont Country Store sells them but I make my own out of cuddleskin.


Diane Kaylor said...

@ Vancouver Barbara: there is a company that makes lovely merino wool undergarments. The company name is Very nice stuff if a bit pricey.
To Barbara, thank you for your terrific blog. I always enjoy your writing. You seem like someone it would be good to have as a friend.

Anonymous said...

Indeed my mother dressed us in undershirts all the time when we were young and I never noticed they had disappeared, you're right! It always makes me smile when I think of childhood memories so thanks for that. These days, I find myself more and more wearing (spaghetti style) camisoles during the winter and perhaps this is due to the fact that I wore undershirts when I was young? I was actually thinking of making some in merino wool if I can find some but your camisole looks so lovely I think I'll give this pattern (which I have) a try.

Enjoying your posts and all the comments too. Someone mentioned scratchy brown socks, never wore them and sounds like it's a good thing. And belly bands? Never heard of them but am curious!

Great series.
Joanne in Montreal

Louise said...

When I was growing up in sunny Sydney in the 60s, men and children always wore singlets unless it was a really hot day. If you were a working class man, you wore a blue singlet. In winter after I had a couple of bouts of bronchitis, my mother made me also wear a spencer, which was a long sleeved thermal, as well as an interlock cotton petticoat under my school tunic. At PE in high school it took me forever to get changed. and I looked mollycoddled. Bronchitis was better for my image!

Claire S. said...

LOL, growing up in the windy city of Saint John, NB we also wore undershirts and I do remember starting to avoid Mom when I decided I didn't want to wear one ! A couple of years ago I started wearing regular jersey knit camis as undershirts and oh boy, it's so cozy to have that extra layer.

Anonymous said...

Love the discussions about undershirts. Fascinating topic, i learn something new.
Too hot in South America for undershirts. I so enjoy reading different ways to stitch hems.
A serpentine stitch is now on my radar. Checking my vintage bernina tomorrow. What a great timing. I just return from Brasil. I have one luggage full of knits. The fun part, down south knits are sold by the kilo.
How generous of you to share your knowledge.
Muito Obrigado
Josie in Socal

LinB said...

Undershirts definitely a northern thing. We did wear little cotton slips here in the sunny South, but otherwise only our skin under garments.

Kathleen Meadows said...

I was just thinking the other day that I need an undershirt (I'm in Victoria BC which has been getting colder and colder - the arctic winds started shifting - they used to blow east but they've altered their direction and now come west gathering speed and COLD as they whistle through the rockies!)because they did make such a difference in keeping your body warm. It's amazing what that thin swatch of cotton right against your skin will do! I too hate that so called "stretch" or "lightening" stitch on the machine. My machine seems to hate it too. I've taken to just sewing my knits with a lengthened straight stitch with that new Eloflex thread by Coats. Works great!

Elizabeth said...

Omg I know this is an old old post but I had a huge laugh because there's literally a house rule here called CENTRE FRONT. and it's literally what you said. If something goes wrong in the house in the most obvious way for no discernable reason other than self hatred of some kind then we just yell CENTRE FRONT at each other across the house. We plan on passing it on to the kids. "Did you have a centre front day? I'm so sorry honey tell me all about it."