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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, July 20, 2018

Leggings sew-a long: cutting and stitching tips

Hi folks.

By now it should be apparent that I don't really know how to do a proper internet type sew-along. What you are really getting here are my thoughts on various aspects as they would arise during construction and this is hopefully useful to you as you sew the same garment.

Nothing more organized. No beautiful step-by-steps.

This blog is part of my life and that gets lived.

For instance Daisy and I are still in bed as I write this. I will be getting up soon to take her to her acupuncture session that really does seem to work. She has been moving happily and easily the last few weeks and I am so glad about that. The 6 weeks we had to confine her in a penned in area were hell. She seemed to interpret this as we too were going to cage her up like the bad guys in her former life and there was too much hurt in her eyes. Recovery from that set-back has been slower than her back. I will do a lot to keep us from having to go there again.

I have been sewing my brains out. I had decided to make my DIL some maternity clothes and realized Monday that you can't put off sewing for a pregnancy when the due date in November. So I have gone into what my dad has called high gear. Two pairs of leggings, four tops and hopefully a bathing suit will go in the mail in the next few days. I also have made an identical skirt to one I had made her a while ago that had got misplaced somewhere on a recent trip east. It is awfully nice to be a sewer and be able to sew replacement garments.

I have also finally finished a shirt for her husband, my son, promised for his birthday in March. I will post some pictures once I know they have the garments in their own hands.

I am also getting ready for my daughter to come over tonight for help sewing her first dress. Having an adult child announce she wants to start sewing (she said reading my book put the idea into her head which is funny because I spent about 30 years sewing around her trying to do just that) makes me feel like other mothers might when a grown child says they are going to start going back to church. You know what I mean?

So within that life context you get my ideas on sewing leggings.

Does that count as a sew-along?

Are you finding this helpful?

So with that introduction here are my thoughts on starting sewing.

Layout and cutting:

Obviously you don't want to pierce the fabric too much with pins so I would keep those in the seam allowances. You can also use weights to hold the pattern down and lay a flat hand close to the cutting line and cut one hand length at a time, reposition and cut again.

I cut out two pairs at a time and left the first one pinned and then laid that on the second fabric as sort of a weighed pattern. I do this all the time and I am sure you do too.

The other hint I have that is really, really useful if you have trouble with accurate cutting is to always keep the pattern to the right of your scissors if you are right handed, and always to the left if you are left handed (and hopefully using left handed scissors). This absolutely gets the cut closer to the pattern and makes it more precise. Of course this can get awkward in some areas so I generally rough cut big around the pattern if I have to and spin the pinned piece around so I can still keep cutting with the pattern to the right of my scissors.

If you think this is crazy, just try it and see what you think. I really find this makes a difference.


You can sew leggings up equally well on both a serger and on a sewing machine. In my mind the difference is not in strength of the seam so much as speed of construction.

I know that there are folks who say that a 3 thread serged seam is stretchier than a 4 thread, and they are right about that, but there is no way I can eliminate that second needle thread myself and feel good about it.

There is also a suggestion, more popular before cover hems became widely available and folks were trying to make their self-made athletic wear have the same stitches they saw in RTW (which of course is made on machines not available domestically), to flat lock the seams. I don't do this myself but if you do and it works please tell us about it. The argument, and it makes sense, is that flat locking makes the seam lay flatter. The thing though is only two thread flat lock really lies flat, a three thread will still have that ridge unless you topstitch it down, and there is no way I am going to trust this crotch or back seam to two threads. Sorry, you can't talk me out of that one, I am afraid. Just can't do it.

So apart from a 4 thread serged seam I would also use either a reverse action triple straight stitch or the lightening stitch ( a short reverse action zig zag) for construction.

On the Eversewn Sparrow 30 I have been testing that would be stitch #3 or #4 pictured below:

I wouldn't use any of the fancy stretch stitches on a machine to sew the actual seams, maybe save those for topstitching to be discussed in a later post, as these can pack down too much thread and create seam waving with the activity of the machine doing so much, and that can get uncomfortable so tight and close to the skin.

I should add here too that if you have snapped seam paranoia you have the option of restitching over your high stress seam areas with one of the above stitches at the machine after you have serged. I usually don't feel the need to do this but that doesn't mean it can't be done.

Which brings us to thread.

Use a good one.

I have used the new stretch threads like Euroflex with success but didn't bother in my own leggings. I found that a good polyester thread in the needles worked just fine and I used wooly nylon in the loopers for more comfort on the skin.

To increase the stretch in the seam at the machine you can also hand wind a bobbin with the wooly nylon too (it won't work in the upper threading but will work in the bobbin area in most machines).

The main thing of course is to do some test seams and really give them a good stretch.

The same can, and should be done with your threads.

A sewing machine technician told me something a long time ago that made a really big impression on me.

He noted that most sewers collected serger thread in different colours and had them around for many years. During those years the thread dries out and he suggested I pull on my threads to see if any broke easily before I used them. I have done that and was surprised at how many of my serger cone threads snapped.

If you find this happening to you I would suggest you either buy new thread to sew your leggings or use a good spool thread like Gutterman in the needles for this project.

And of course use a new needle and one for knits - look for the words Stretch as opposed to Jersey - the stretch needles have a better point and if you experience skipped stitches at all it is invariably a question of finding the right needle.


The gusset pieces in both patterns I used are lined, this means double layer. You can see the Peg Leg piece above with the two layers basted together. You can use two layers of the leggings fabric but be aware this adds bulk in a tiny area. I have test sewed several pairs of leggings in different ways, serged seams and reverse action stitches on the Eversewn machine I am testing right now, want to see how it sews on different knits, and have used two different sergers too. I didn't have any trouble with bulky seams with my Juki serger but did with my daughter's older Pfaff. If you have had issues with serging over bulky seams you might want to make the lining for your gusset piece from a thinner fabric - I have used athletic mesh with good results.

In any case and in any pattern the gusset piece will be basted to the top of a garment leg before final stitching. I suggest you do this basting with a zig zag (something I should have thought of when I basted the two layers together above). The reason for this is that straight stitches break when stretched and zig zags won't, or at least not easily. This of course doesn't matter since the seams will eventually capture the gusset but the sound and feel of that breaking basting stitches can make you worry. 

The zig zag basting is more of an emotional thing.

For both of the patterns I am using I am not going to repeat the pattern instructions you can read yourself but when there is an easier way I will mention it.

A good example of this is the Peg Leg gusset piece.

The instructions are for the gusset to be basted in both sides to each side of the crotch. This can be a bit tricky and actually makes sewing the eventual inseams kind of complicated. I don't quite understand why this is advised.

I have been inserting gussets in things for decades and they are always sewing with in a short seam one side to one leg and the other side is captured in the long continuous inseam.

So I did the same thing here, serging on the gusset along one side and then pinning the remaining edge into the seam when I stitched that:


I have recently started to use clips rather than pins for a lot of my knit sewing, active wear in particular. Pins can spin around on you in knits, get caught in serger blades, and give out when you are really stretching as you sew, as in elastic to fabric for instance.

I find the security of the clips really helpful, all I do is make sure I clip them on coloured side up and push them down and pull them off before I come to them with my machine. And BTW no need to spend a fortune for a few at the fabric store- I got masses on Amazon for nearly nothing.


Finally don't fight with your stitching. If your serger has trouble crossing the bulk of the gusset switch to your sewing machine and a reverse action stitch for that part, no shame in doing that and I can tell you the stitching will be just as strong. And if you are paranoid about popping seams you can always reverse action stitch over the crotch seams after you serge too, although I don't bother to do that and haven't had any issues.

Also if you find keeping the layers together difficult under your serger (I did find the older serger had a little trouble with this) just zig zag the layers together and then serge. Works very well.

So folks that's a start. Anything I left out?

Any questions you have?

Thanks for hanging in with me for this long post!


Kansas Sky said...

I am really wanting to make a pair of these. Busy summer with other sewing needs, but you are getting my attention!!!! Thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

I'm smiling that your daughter is taking up sewing after reading your book because the back says "Everything your mother would tell you about sewing if your mother could sew." hahaha

Your thoughts and guidance on leggings are great. I haven't gotten there yet - a bit of a sewing queue - but I'm looking forward to getting underway this fall.
Ellie in Colorado

Anonymous said...

This is most interesting and educational - I may not make leggings this summer but I am feeling generally that sewing with knits will be more accessible next time I give that a try. And poor Miss D and her caging phobia, that must have been so hard for everyone. May the acupuncture continue to help!

AND I am laughing about the importance of not delaying maternity sewing with a November due date.....


Kamchick said...

Very good instructions, Barbara..I have big leggings plans and wonderful fabrics collected, BUT have -wait for it- opacification of my lens capsules ( 3 years post cataract surgery) They need lasering! But I won't get that done until September (wait list). Fall sewing should be delightful! Let us know about the Eversewen!

Ccmel said...

I am attempting my first pair of adult leggings and I have decided on the Pegleg pattern. I am trying to get my head around the gusset. I assumed that the longest part goes front to back, but from your description I now think it should be sideways in order to sew the inseam in a continuous line. So does the triangle mark the crotch seam?

Barbara said...

Yup the Peg Leg gusset is side to side with the weidest part lined up woth the crotch seam and the notch to the center back seam.

Ccmel said...

Thanks for clarifying Barb. I cut the fabric today and hope to start sewing tomorrow.

Nancy JC said...

I'm heading now to the mailbox to see if my Jalie pattern is there. Does one wear leggings at age 69? Will try to stay on many things in the que (most of which are not sewing related.)

Thanks fo this Barbara! I loved your book!

JanQ said...

Love reading your helpful blog.
Regards three thread serger seam. I use 3 thread but this the two needles and lower Looper. I block off the upper Looper with agizmo that came with my machine. The stitch has quite a bit more stretch the 4 thread but with the insurance of two needle threads.