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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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Friday, November 10, 2017

Sewing and hemming knits Exhbit H

Well folks it appears this is my final hemming knits series posts.

I have to say I have really enjoyed doing these.

I sew all the time and sew more than I can sometimes get organized to post. Yes I know item by item pictures is how sewing bogs work, but I too often go onto making the next thing before I get proper shots taken.

Writing is not hard but having someone home to take pictures, without their thumb over the lens, can be hard. My husband has been working late this last few weeks and that's why I put these recent sews on my dress form who definitely is going to get signed up for Weight Watchers real soon.

I know pictures on me are what I should do but would you rather see a garment on a dress form than not at all?

Anyway back to knits.

Exhibit H.1

An another project I made last week was in this angora like knit and the fabulous Jalie Marie-Claude pullover pattern. I like this pattern because it skims not clings the body, and is not too loose to be sloppy. The drafting of the turtle neck is brilliant, soft at the front but with a centre piece at the back neck that means the back of the neck is smooth and close to the neck - so much more sophisticated a draft that the usual turtle neck tube:

Because this sweater knit had far more body than say the green I used in the last twin set,  I used the wider cover  hem for this project. I think you can see below here how nice that looks, again to scale, and how much nicer the wider rows of stitching look than if I had used say the narrower cover hem:

The next, and final project, I have to show is a knit version I did of Stylearc's famous Adeline dress. This project was totally inspired by the cool fabric, a sort of a double knit with the stripes in opposite colours on each side. I used my own technique for a knit V neck on this one, here's the post on how to do it,

Again because this was a beefy knit, I used a wide cover hem for the bottom of the dress, but on the patch pockets, and because I liked the wrong side of the fabric so much, I just folded the hem to the right side and working from the wrong side of the pocket and with some jeans top stitching thread in the looper (I have tons of that thread once having had a finger slip on an online order and ordering 14 not 4 spools of the stuff) finished the raw edge of the pocket hem on the right side that way.

The cool thing about the loopers, and this is true of serger loopers too, is that the eye of the looper is so much larger than the eye of a needle and so you can easily use thicker thread there:

And here is the hem cover hemmed from the right and the wrong side:

Well that's it, a pause maybe more than a conclusion, on the subject of hemming knits.

I don't know about you but this topic focused way of sharing garments has worked for me this week. There is a good chance that I will be doing more with this in the future.

In the meantime what do you have to share now?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Sewing and hemming knits Exhibit G

Well folks this started out as seven posts on hemming knits and so that makes this one the last of this series and, as a summarizing post, one that will be more illustrated than previous posts.

I have thought about this all day and decided that if there are a few points I wanted to make in this last post it is that there:

1. Is no best way, no universal solution, to hemming all knits.

As a genre, if you can call them that, of fabrics knits cover a lot of territory. What fiber they are made of, how they are made - single knit, interlock, and double knits like ponte for instance, all produce fabrics of different hands and different degrees of stretchability, and will require different tactics to get the result you want. Even if you own a cover hem for example there will be times when a twin needle, a zig zag, or a hand hem might be a better strategy.

2. With this in mind it seems to me that the best approach is to build up sort of a vocabulary of techniques and pull them out as the occasion calls for - even using several different strategies in the same garment.

So to sum up here are a few of the things I have made recently with some explanations of how I hemmed them with comments.

Time for some show not tell I think.

Exhibit G.1

Here is a sort of twin set I made from two weird but matching knits I picked up by the side of the road in some Joann's somewhere. They are both fairly see through and loose but I like them, the nubbly sweater knit and the smoother jersey.

The patterns I used where Sewaholic's Renfrew top made without sleeves as a shell and lengthened with the pattern rotated out a bit from the bottom of the armhole to make it a bit more A line. For the cardigan I used Jalie's Drop Pocket cardigan.

It is hard to see all the hemming techniques I used here, and this garment looks better on than drooping on the back of a door (too much ground to cover tonight for me to organize a photos shoot I am afraid), but here is the list:


The fronts are doubled as per pattern so there are not any hems there. Due to the fineness of the fabric I doubled the hem at the sleeves and top stitched them down because I wanted the hem there to be durable.

For the back of the cardigan, the only area that needed a proper hem, I turned and topstitched to finish the edge (this fabric unravelled too much for serging to look neat I thought) and I hand hemmed it with a catch stitch, that lovely crisscross herringbone stitch that is the only common hand hemming stitch that is also stretchy.

Here is that hem from the wrong side:

And the right side:


This was a bit of a problem as the fabric turned out to be far more sheer than I expected. To cope with this I cut the back single and lettuce edge stitched the raw edge (setting the serger up for a 3 thread rolled hem and stretching the fabric as I serged.

The front I cut double (I really wanted more coverage there) and lettuce hemmed each piece before joining them at the side seams. You can see the front and back hems here:

Exhibit G.2

 Using the same dropped hem cardigan and shell pattern I made another twin set in green:

The green was a supposed rayon knit from an online seller but I have my doubts- seemed very ITY when I worked with it, high thread count and tight. I do love the colour though. However for some reason my brain took a stroll when I cut out and after cutting out what I thought were all the cardigan pieces I had so much left over I thought that I made the shell.

The trouble with this bit of luck of course is that the only reason I had that amount left over is that I forgot the fronts in this cardigan are cut double (four front pieces in all) which left me scrambling for a "design solution." That solution ended up being two of front pieces cut out in navy.

I actually really like how this looks ( I would be that creative only because of necessity not intent) and with a navy straight skirt I have I figure I look beyond sharp in this.

Anyway back to technique.

Because in this case I was dealing with a tight smooth knit I used a band for the neckline of the shell:

And I turned and topstitched the armholes:

 And cover hemmed the bottom of the shell and back of cardigan with a narrow cover hem:

When I turned and cover stitched the armholes, again with the narrow cover hem like the bottom hem I felt I was matching scale of the parallel rows of stitching to the scale of the fabric. You can see I think above how little tunnelling there is here with this narrow cover hem. I turned and hand basted the hem allowance up before stitching.

*** Editorial note: I had intended tonight to show you a few more garments but it appears that I have reached my photo limit for Blogger for one post. so this last one will have to be continued tomorrow.

That can be our bonus post I guess, and will focus on a few garments with the wider cover hems.

Talk again tomorrow.

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:

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Pause in tonight's posting

Sorry folks but tonight's hemming post will go up tomorrow. After supper I decided to adjust the tension on the Rocketeer myself and did a great job of taking in apart.

However every time I go to put it back together I have a part left over. Every time in fact it is a different part.

The evening has got away from me.

FYI sewing machine service is not something you can eyeball or do by intuition.

Back on track with the posts tomorrow, right now I figure it might be a good idea if I call it a day tonight.

Tell me you do things like this ....

Monday, November 6, 2017

Sewing and hemming knits Exhibit E

Before we move into the exciting world of cover hem machines I think it is appropriate to pause and consider the possibility that sometimes the best hem of all is no hem.

Let's face it.

The issues with knit hems tend to be most acute with those knits that are light weight and very stretchy. There are lots of things you can do to change these characteristics of course, like fusing a lightweight knit interfacing into the hem area, but sometimes it is best to go around that problem than try to solve it.

This is what I mean.

A few years ago I made the Sewaholic Renfrew top - a knit top with a well-deserved reputation as a successful sew particularly among new sewers.

I actually worked with a group of new sewists as they worked with this pattern and I can attest to both the quality of the draft the great results everyone in the group got with this pattern.

One of the pattern's secrets of course is that there is no real hem in any view. The bottom of the top is finished with a band, a more or less 1-to-1 band, rather than the pulled in rib bottom we are used to seeing in sweat shirts and rather than a turned and stitched hem.

Since the band is attached more or less like just an extension of the garment, it functions to both add some weight to the bottom of the top, since the band is doubled, and to avoid any real hemming stitching too.

Here are the pattern line drawings:

And here is one of my versions in a light silk knit ( the ultimate travel top BTW- I swear you could pack this little number in a teacup, that's how much silk jersey compresses):

When on my body this bottom band lies flat and smooth

There is of course no reason that you couldn't just do the same in any knit top in fabric you find challenging.

I will use this approach in hemming a cardigan I have planned for some very droopy and loose, but quite lovely, sweater knit I have backed up on the runway.

In fact I have even found a pattern that uses this approach Burdastyle#111 from 03/2014:

Interesting idea to think about isn't it?

If you can't lateral think your knit sewing when can you?

Even more hemming tomorrow.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sewing and hemming knits Exhibit D

Before we move on from conventional sewing machine it is important to talk about twin-needles. The two parallel rows of straight stitches they make, combined with that crazy zig zag going on below, renders this mode of top-stitching very flexible and therefore perfect for knits.

My sample of my own twin-needle sewing comes from a top that was on my body just pre photo. You can see a twin-needle hem here at the bottom of a very comfy bamboo knit T shirt I made when I had only access to my ordinary machine and not my cover hem.

A couple of facts first about twin needles if you haven't used them much before before we get to the pictures:

  • Any machine with a top or front loading bobbin can accommodate a twin needle. A side loading Singer Featherweight cannot for instance.
  • Twin needles come in a wide variety of set apartedness and also have ballpoint/stretch versions. I have found it makes sense to have several on hand if you sew with different fabrics:
    • closer twins work better with thinner and really stretchy fabrics, that's why I used one like that in the pink top below. I find that a wider twin, coupled with the activity of the zig zag can cause definite tunnelling (fabric forming a ridge between the stitches) in thinner fabrics.
    • A wider twin works much better with heavier fabrics - they hold the stitches in place farther apart and the wider set parallel lines look more like RTW
    • Again wooly nylon thread in the bobbin will give the stitches more bounce and also reduce tunnelling.
    • If you are on a desert island or somewhere where only straight stitch machines are available, a narrowly set twin needle can be used to stitch a very effective, strong, stretch seam. Handy survivalist information to have.

So back to pictures of twin-needling, my soft pink top.

The fabric shows some wear at this stage, as favourite garments do, but the hem has held up well and shows how twin-needle hems do that. Also you will notice there is not much of the dreaded wave despite the fact that this is an extremely stretchy fabric:

Inside view

The thing to notice about the inside view here is the white thread you see poking out just a bit from behind the serging I did to the raw edge.

What I did here was use a fusible thread in the lower looper - you can get that now at most sewing stores - and use that fact to hold the hem down when I pressed it into place before stitching. 

At this point I think it would be useful to deviate a bit and talk about how to prepare a knit hem and keep it folded up while you stitch it down. Here are all the methods I have tried/use, I will try to remember to say what approach I used in the samples I will show you over the next few days.

Here are different ways to hold a hem in place:

  • Let's start with the fusible thread. If you are serge finishing the raw edge this can be a great idea- just put it in the lower looper. Next press down lightly with a pressing cloth from the right side. Once pressed into place your hem will hold still while you sew without a lot of movement or without the hand of the fabric being changed substantially. This is particularly good for those turn over and top stitch instructions for necklines or armholes as the fusible eliminates that annoying rippling you can get when you stitch.
  • Next of course is pinning. Nothing new here except be aware in bouncy fabrics that you might get a sort of ripple around the pin as of course you are only holding that particular area still not the whole edge of the hem. Pins work more reliably IMO in less stretchy knits. Pinning can also be problematic of course when cover hemming - you have a choice to either keep the pins on the inside which is crazy unless you are dexterous enough to pull them out from the underneath layer of fabric just before you hit them. Alternately you can pin from the top of the fabric, with the folded hem hidden when cover hemming, which has its own challenges due to the unseen raw edge. (Are you able to follow this? Who would have thought there would be so much to say on this topic?)
  • Steam-a-seam and other named fusible heat sensitive webs/tapes. Fine with heavier knits but in my own experiments these webs can add a little stiffness to the hem which is an issue with the finer, stretchier knits.
  • Double sided adhesive tape. Use just like the heat sensitive webs/tapes, stick it to the wrong side of the hem and fold it down and stick to the wrong side of the garment, except they are just sticky and don't need heat to work. This is exactly why I prefer this kind of tape to the heat sensitive tapes - the less pressing you can do to a knit I feel the less chance you will kill it flat or out of shape. The only real downside of these tapes is that the rolls are very tiny. If anyone has a source where I can buy this stuff in sensible sized rolls please let me know.
  • Hand basting. Yes I know old school. I actually have started to hand baste down a fair number of my knit hems. Unlike pins it is possible to hold more of the raw edge down with hand basting and unlike the heat sensitive tapes once the basting thread has been removed there is of course no remaining impact to the fabric hand. When cover hemming in particular I find hand basting useful as I try to baste close to the cut edge. This is very helpful when stitching from the right side - I have a good idea where the raw edge is even if I can't see it.
So back to twin needles:

  • You can use your ordinary sewing machine and apart from having to roam around trying to find your twin needles you can stay where you are without having to fiddle with new threading etc. and sew a RTW look a like knit hem.
  • The needles come in different widths so your range of parallel possibilities is also much wider than say with a cover hem
  • Because you are working with a conventional machine and can back tack at the beginning and end of every line of stitching you are spared the sometimes elaborate strategies required to tie off a coverstitched hem.
  • You can use the free arm of your sewing machine, not all cover hem machines have that.
  • You can use more than just a straight stitch - sew a decorative or zig zag twin hem if you want - although I have never done that and probably never will want to.

  • Because you are working on a lock stitch machine you do not have cover hem features like a differential feed that can be activated to counter act wavy hems.
  • Twin needles stitch down the hem but don't finish them. This means you have to either forget about raw edge finishing, you don't really need it in a knit anyway, or finish the edge before you stitch as I have done here.
  • A twin needle hem is close to but not quite as professional RTW looking as a real cover hem. The raw edge doesn't have the same potential to be automatically covered up with underside loops as one sewn with a cover hem machine.
Grade: A