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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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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Sewing and hemming knits Exhibit F

Sorry about that folks. 

Up to midnight last night but in the end I was able to set that tension just perfectly. Sewed about 10 miles of test seams, but I did it.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that this is all working with the tension dial cover, the part with the numbers and all that stuff you need so you know where you are and what you are doing, still on the table. My spring assembly is set, but exposed.

My current plan is to flatter my husband sufficiently so he figures out how to get those parts on for me. 

Yup, it is right next time I take something apart against everyone else's better judgement I will take pictures and a video (great idea). I just jumped in of course, like a sometimes do when I sew sometimes, hoping for the best.

Enough on my tales of my life as a mechanic and let's move on to wise words of a real mechanic and the next chapter in our series on hemming knits.

Let's talk cover hems.

Now I hope I have established that you can do a wonderful job hemming knits on a conventional machine. And we haven't even talked about doing a great knit hem by hand, remind me to do that.

As a sewer, or sewist,  I am very wary of any approach to sewing that suggests you need to have a mega machine to do it. No new sewer thrilled with a second hand machine she has inherited, or working on an inexpensive machine from a big box store, should feel that real sewing can only be done on $10,000 worth of equipment. 

That's just not true.

I have had amazing machines, top of the line machines, in this house but I have myself passed over them for the hum of my vintage Berninas and now the infamous, partially disabled but tension balanced, Rocketeer.

So now having made clear I hope that what we have to talk about here is not something you must have to hem knits, but something you can have, let's move on.

Cover hems are dedicated machines that sew two parallel line of top-stitching (or with a triple needle three rows of topstitching) with a serged/flatlock looking stitch on the wrong side.

If you are really savvy, or more likely if you are really lucky, you can even situate the serge-like finish on the wrong side to cover the raw hem edge (hence the name cover hem - I just right now put that together).

Here is a picture of the new Juki cover hem I bought while I was in Winnipeg, a Juki MCS 1500:



You will notice that there are only three tension dials on this machine, the lower looper actually goes down the back and underneath the machine and that thread has a tension in the left side, and then goes into the bottom of the machine sort of like a bobbin thread. 

OK not relevant, and not like a lot of other cover hem machines, so this is sort of interesting.

What is worth talking about here is why go to all the trouble of investing in a separate machine just to hem knits (which is essentially the primary function of these machines).

I mean if you factored it out in the number of T shirts you could buy for that money (someone in your household might bring it upon himself to do this) you might think those must be some pretty damn good hems if that's all these machines do.

So what are the reasons for having a dedicated cover hem machine, at least the way I see it?:


  1. A cover hem looks just like the hems in knit garments in the stores. This is like the reason most of us bought sergers to finish seams - looks like the real thing.
  2. A dedicated cover hem all set up is so easy to use. Before I had a cover hem machine I had a 2-3-4-5 thread serger that could be set up to do a cover hem but it was quite a major production. Getting to that stage, the hemming stage, in a garment and then thinking I had to go to all the rethreading and putting on converter parts etc. before I could cover hem one little hem always made me feel the exact same way I do when it is 11:00 at night and I want to go to bed but I have dishes in the sink and I open the dishwasher to put them in and find the dishes are all clean and the whole thing has to be emptied first. Big sigh.
  3. Back to the great technician I know, one who had worked on many factory machines. The best machines, sergers in particular, are those that have to do only one job, he told me. Every time a new function or stitch is added to a serger, this fellow said, it has to be squeezed into essentially the same area, and performance, and more frequently reliability, is compromised. If you want a machine to keep running with the least amount of trouble he argued, have a different machine for different tasks. I have certainly found this to be completely true with my cover hem machines - by far the least fussy and more reliable of all my equipment - once I got comfortable with threading and using them I should say. BTW I sold my multi-purpose serger and moved down to a plain old 3/4 serger, which does a beautiful stitch and my new cover hem.
  4. In addition to sewing the hem you can also finish the raw edge at the same time. The reverse side of the cover hem also makes a decent but different top stitch too - I will show you a sample of that on a dress in a later post.
  5. Cover hems are by nature stretchy and if you put a wooly nylon in the bottom looper, the stitches won't break easily which makes for a nice reliable knit hem. ( I have found if you use only sewing thread in the looper the stitches can break, say in a the pyjamas of a 3 year-old who is jumping over the couch onto his sisters).
  6. Like sergers, but unlike say conventional sewing machines, most cover hems have differential feed that can be set by increasing the rate of the front feed dogs (move you differential dial up to a higher number) which counteracts the tendency of really stretchy knits to wave out as they are stitched (waving being a topic of high interest in most of this series of posts).
Additionally, if you have the option of a three thread cover hem, like I do now, you also have the option of both a wide and narrow cover stitch. This is kind of nice as I have found the narrower cover hem works better, without tunnelling, on finer fabrics. A wider set cover hem seems to work best on heavier knits and also seems to be in keeping with the scale of those fabrics too.

The disadvantages of a cover hem machine, apart from the fact you have to buy one, are similar to sergers:

1. There is no reverse, this means you have to do some fairly archaic things like tie off the threads somehow instead of backstitching the seams.
2. I was going to write a number 2 but can't think of any thing to say. If you have anything to add here let me know.

Time for some pictures. 

Here is the short sleeved version of the Jalie Dolman T shirt done in cotton single knit. Primarily because this was a single knit and sort of unreliable, stability wise, I ironed strips of fusible knit interfacing cut cross grain so as to preserve the stretch, within the hem allowances. This worked really well to give a nice, non-ripply hem.

I also used wooly nylon (sorry had to use grey - no available colour match at the time) in the looper and used the narrower option of my two possible cover hem widths:

Sorry about the stretched fit on the dress form here. It appears my body double has been snacking away down in the basement lately- I swear she has put on weight - could hardly get this on her
 Here is a better shot of the hem itself shot closer:




And here is a shot showing both sides of the cover hem- the wrong side, the one with the grey wooly nylon in it, shows how narrow this hem actually is, and I think how nice the loopers look in wooly nylon:


Finally I put on a plain band around the neckline of this T shirt and got the idea in my head to top stitch around the band (something I never, ever do with a conventional machine as the lock stitches are likely to break when you stretch that neck over your head).

I also thought I would try a 10 out of 10 as they say in Olympic diving difficulty rating and sew along the well of the seam situating one row of stitching on either side.

Since this was already a narrow cover stitch this attempt was way beyond my skill level - just when I had a section this worked then I had a section where it did not- so I ended up having to take the seam ripper to that little effort.

However by then I was all into cover hemming, and being the sort of optimist who takes apart a sewing machine tension without keeping track of what order the parts came off in, I tried again below  the band.

This is how that turned out, maybe it looks weird, but I did what I had come to do, which was cover hem everything and then it was time to go to bed, which I will do again now:


8 comments:

Ana Malu said...

I really enjoy everything you write and this little series is no exeption.

But unlike most days, today I have something to add to the discussion :)
What made me eventually go for buying a coverstitch machine was that with the one-thread seam you have the perfect basting stitch. It unravels super easily from the end of the seam (just unpick 2-3 stitches of needle thread and then pull on the looper thread). So I thought if this is not only for hemming t-shirts, but also for basting jeans to get them to fit JUST right without hours of unpicking, then it is worth it. What can I say? I have an aversion to unitaskers at home...

The other thing I'd like to add is that even the 1-needle seam is flexible and suitable for hemming (or stitching down a neckband).

Paula said...

The looper side makes a nice embellishment. I used it as topstitching on a cotton toile, and it showed much better than simple topstitching.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iPad and
tested to see if it can survive a twenty five foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My
iPad is now broken and she has 83 views. I know this is completely off topic but I had
to share it with someone!

Anonymous said...

Best explanation ever of what a coverstitch machine does and how it works. I've been asking and until now it was as clear as mud. I am learning so much from these posts. Now if I could just find my way to my sewing room.
Thanks again
Donna E

Donnajones15 said...

Thank you so much for this series. I was hoping you had a Janome cover stitch, I do and am not happy with it, I went cheap and regret it but am not sure it's the machine. I will try wooly nylon in the looper. I have looked into the Juki online, is the manual difficult to understand?

Debbie Cook said...

Just to help you out ... :-)

2. You have to buy (and store) even more thread.

That's the best I could come up with.

Dorothy DotDot said...

Another great example of great work. I just wish it was my body double doing all of the snacking!

Tsc said...

I totally agree with Ana - I keep my coverstitch machine out almost all the time to use for basting. It's great for fitting muslins...it rips out so easily. There are also alot of decorative stitches you can do with it (Linda Lee has a great Craftsy class on this topic.)