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I am a mother, a 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 book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was 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.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Sewing and hemming knits Exhibit B

Wow are the comments great with this topic!

Make sure you read them all.

Some of your suggestions are incorporated in later exhibits as this story unfolds. However I really wanted to start off with a common by the book suggestion (included in many Indie patterns BTW too) so we can all have a look at how that goes.

We are testing here folks.

And also BTW I did steam press this last hem, although lightly. I am very careful about over pressing knits - something I have seen too many new sewers do over and over again and completely flatten the poor fabric permanently out of shape every time, so I work with the lots of steam, no direct pressure on the fabric, or my own hand instead.

Which now leads us to Exhibit B and my own take on it.

Last time we talked about the fact that straight stitches can break because they don't give when the fabric is pulled as knits do.

Despite this fact many well-respected sewing gurus and many Indie designers still advise on using a straight stitch for hemming any way.

Rather than do this when I already know that the stitches might pop and I would lose my mind, I did it with my own favourite adjustment and the one Great Big Secret  I have to share after having sewn a million hems and that is - to use Wooly Nylon thread in the bobbin.

The trick here is to wind the bobbin by hand - speed on the machine will stretch the thread out and then it will bounce back once in the hem and pucker things up.

Hand winding a bobbin is not hard at all. I for one am quite happy with a few minutes of mindless activity whenever I can get it.

I also should add that wooly nylon thread can be hard to find in many colours in many places and it can be expensive.

I have one terrific source that solves this problem Cleaner's Supply  These folks will send you out nice highly interesting catalogues with astoundingly low prices on stuff sewers use and also do a Canadian catalogue in Canadian dollars which is of high interest to those of us who live and sew at least part of the year on this side of the border.

When hand wound this is what your bobbin will look like:

Once the bobbin has been wound you can just go along and sew a straight stitch hem, no need for "finishing" the raw edge as of course knits don't fray. I also feel it useful to insert here that it is worthwhile to question the need to over finish raw edges in knits, particularly the fine ones, because I have found all the extra thread of say serging for example, can add to bulky see through on the right side.

The hem can be just straight stitched with a longer stitch length, I used a 3.0, although some folks prefer a slightly zig zag stitch - the famous wobble stitch, a width of only .5 or less.

Here is what it looks like, note I have not trimmed down to the stitching in this view although I did it a bit later:

I found this hem was both stretchy enough not to break and hung well, helped I am sure by the lack of busy action by the machine that might have stretched out the fabric.

Here is what this hem looks like on a garment:

BTW the fold is in fact centre front! Just doesn't look that way from this angle

I also used this combination of threads and stitch to turn the neck binding of this neckline to the right side which I folded under and top-stitched down:

  • Easy to do, no special machine
  • Little fabric distortion, some stretch

  • Not as stretchy as other treatments
  • Requires the hand winding of a specialty thread
  • Specialty thread is an additional expense
  • The raw edge on the wrong side must be tolerated or still finished
Grade : A

Now what do you think of this one?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Sewing and hemming knits Exhibit A

I love sewing knit garments and I love wearing them. 

Fast to sew and comfortable to wear - this just about covers it for me in terms of everyday clothes.

But let's face it.

There is one area that can be challenging to me and that is hemming.

I decided to get to the bottom of this issue and share my experiments, one by one, with you for comment.

As a baseline let's talk about what there is to know about knits and knit hems:

1. Knit fabric stretch - this is not helpful on hems that, in the process of hemming, can be stretched out of shape.

2. Straight up straight stitches, composed of the famous lockstitch, which is essentially a tiny knot in each stitch and not at all mobile when lined up in a seam, can break when the fabric stretches and it can't. I think it is safe to say that pretty much nothing terrifies a sewer like the idea that one of their own stitches should ever pop.

However we also know a few other things too, one of the most significant being that any zig-zag stitch is by nature somewhat stretchy.

Now this is a fact - compare what happens when you pull on a zig-zag stitch and when you pull on a straight stitch - although I can't actually tell you why this is so.

If I had being paying attention in the one and only year I took physics I might be able to say that the diagonals deflect the stress - but since I was not paying attention you and I would both know I was making this up, although like many made up things it does seem reasonable. 

Note I did take Latin instead of sciences - it was that kind of school system - on some argument that if you knew Latin you had a basis for other languages - logic that has left me with no other languages, no knowledge of science, and but lots of made up ideas about zig zag.

Back on track.

What does matter here, and is true, is that a hem made with zig zags will not break very easily. This is why many traditional patterns, and some companies like Jalie that have a long pre-serger history, suggest hemming with a zig zag stitch.

So as my kick off hem that is exactly what I did on this excellent sweatshirt pattern by Jalie:

I have to say that I really love this pattern. I bought it as a basis for the kids' Halloween costumes for which I needed various bottoms and tops, such as this Batman for Billy:

It kills me that I can use the same pattern for Billy and for myself.

In my version I left off the band at the bottom, I was doing a hemming experiment after all, and I curved the side of the hem.

I serge finished the raw edge of the cotton/lycra sweatshirt fleece, and then turned it up and stitched it with a large zig zag using sewing thread.

Here is what the stitched hem looks from each side laid next to each other:

And here is the sweat shirt on my dress form, since this project was a one person operation today and I am unable to both wear the outfit and photograph it at the same time. I notice my dress form has a bit of a list to her in these shots, undoubtedly because I bashed her around a bit on the stairs when we came up from the basement:

As I suspected it would this hem does have a wave to it. The reason for this is of course due to another aspect of the zig zag stitch applied to a knit fabric - the busy action of the zig zag can work the fabric a bit and under that activity stretch the fabric out somewhat and then sew that stretch in.

This is exactly why I am not a fan of all those multi-action reverse action "stretch" stitches on so many machines - too much movement=too much fabric stretch. A minimal old zig zag is about the only stitch like this I would ever use to make a knit hem.

To recap, so here we are:

Zig zag hems on a conventional machine with conventional thread:

  • Not likely to pop the stitches
  • Familiar machine, familiar stitch, easy to implement. You don't have to get up out of your chair, which has a lot going for it.
  • The hem may wave - the degree of wave in proportion to the degree of stretch in the fabric
Grade: B- to C+ which is a pass of course. Anyone who teaches or anyone who takes a course is very clear on this.

On my body this hem looks maybe more normal that it might to you now when you are looking at it on a dress form with an eagle eye for any faults.

More ideas tomorrow. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Knit tops and hemming experiments

Back again folks.

A little project of mine.

Starting tomorrow for 7 days I am going to post 7 garments hemmed in 7 different ways. 

I have a new coverstitch I am trying to master and also wanted to do a serious test for myself of the different approaches I know are out there, and try to figure out what works for me.

I will talk about the pros, the cons, and what, in my view, are the conditions that each approach might work with.

Now this is me.

So you know that not all experiments will be a success. Not all garments are hit it out of the park worthy of a glass case numbers. We actually don't live in a glass case around here so that's OK.

This is also a way for me to learn more, so feel free to, in fact I would love it, if you chimed in on this dialogue with your own good or better ideas.

My current theory is that different techniques work for different folks - that there is never really ever only one right way in sewing - so a conversation on the menu of options just makes sense to me.

Talk to you tomorrow.

Under construction

Hi folks.

I am in the process of getting together the knit hemming reviews. In the meantime I have had a reader suggest that I need to organize this blog better so tutorial type stuff is easier to access.

I am going to work on that, for instance I have added a search function this morning, and hopefully over the next week or so you should see some of those improvements.

My goal is to improve the functionality of this blog, and since I am a DIYer expect that fact to be reflected.

Note I have decided to make the blog easier to use but not to change its character. If you were hoping for more beautiful photos and professional presentation it might be good to bear in mind this is just me here, on my dining room table, in a house full of sewing plans and projects, dogs, small children, a dishwasher that needs emptying, and plain ordinary life. 

Blog design is not my focus to be honest. My effort here is in giving you some solid sewing information when I can and in sharing my perspective on life and sewing in case that might be relevant to someone, somewhere, at some time.

I will try to do that as efficiently as possible. If you have any thoughts on how I can deliver a better blog please let me know. It's you I am talking to here.

In the meantime be patient with my experiments, which of course will be undertaken in such a way as to not cut into my sewing time...

Monday, October 30, 2017

On production sewing and hemming knits

It's been a weird last week and I have some project catch-up to do.

First of all we have had intermittent internet issues. Our whole system (internet, phone and TV) has been up and down (at one point we had nothing for three days) for mysterious reasons.

The symptoms are that once the service tech comes out and says he doesn't understand what's going on and leaves, everything starts working again as soon as he exits the driveway, only to go down again a few days later.

Such a nuisance. I remember of course when we had none of this (and I am sure had a lot more time on our hands) but being connected is just necessary to my life. I have been able to post to Instagram more or less daily on my phone that has a different provider, but the blog has been harder to do.

Enough whining.

Last weekend I had a wonderful three days sewing with some members of the Atlantic Sewing Guild at a local yacht club. There was food, there was fitting, and there was a lot of laughter.

Would more could a sewer want?

Into this marathon of all things good I took a laundry basket of necessary garments for my everyday life cut out. At the end of the three days I had made:

  • 4 pairs of knit Brooklyn pants
  • 6 tops from various Jalie patterns, to be reviewed individually

Not the most exciting sewing maybe but enormously satisfying to have this section of my wardrobe refreshed.

The speed of production was enabled by the fact I sewed only knits. This meant that I could whip them up on the serger fast. The only thing I did not do at the retreat was hem, using my new cover hem, although thanks to Cindy I did learn a new way to finish off that kind of hem.

Now, since the Halloween sewing is done and our racoon, Batman and owl are ready to go out tomorrow, I intend to spend as much of today as I can experimenting with different knit hemming techniques.

Sometimes I am happy with my knit hems, and sometimes I am not, so I have decided to try a different technique on each garment and to record/share the results.

This is going to be a big day obviously.

Interestingly since this idea has been percolating in my mind, I was out yesterday at a fabric sale put on twice a year by a Canadian designer who sells her left overs once a round of production is done.

I know this designer's work pretty well back from when she made tailored suits and shirts for professional women.

It is interesting to me to see how her work has since evolved and that she now pretty much makes only knits in very simple shapes - something she says her clientele prefer. Every one wants to be comfortable and no one irons anymore she says.

I had a look at her pattern blocks while I was there and was struck by how simple her designs now are - 2-3 pattern pieces all the edges and hems just turned and stitched.

Most of all I was surprised to see that the raw edges of the necklines and armholes/sleeves where simply turned over and straight stitched  - I guess the width of most of them means popped stitches are unlikely. The bottom hems were all turned over twice and topstitched with a straight stitch too.

This is pretty radical stuff for a person who had set herself up for a comparison hemming project I can tell you.

I am thinking I should give this a go too today, although I might borrow an idea from Mary from last weekend and hand wind a bobbin with Wooly Nylon before I straight stitch.


Like most sewers I am terrified of a seam or a stitch opening up.

So stay tuned, hems to follow.