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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!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

More thoughts on fabric and fitting

Hi folks.

I had these amazing Supplex fabrics arrive from Halo Fabric Addicts yesterday and I have cut out four more pair of leggings - one for me, one for my daughter and two maternity versions for my daughter-in-law.

Supplex is not cheap but if you have confidence in your pattern it really lasts and yes it breathes. The days when I didn't care about breathability in fabric are long gone. I will be working both with the Supplex, some nylon/spandex from Joann's, and some cotton/lycra.

There doesn't seem to be much point in posting solid black and navy fabric, which is why my daughter and I will be getting, but here is the print I have ready to go for my DIL:

Some athletic mesh also came in the order - it's the stuff you see in legging inserts, and I am going to use it to line my waistbands in the black and navy pair. This is a bit of an experiment for me but a detail I have seen in RTW and I want to try it. Athletic mesh is lighter than Powermesh but seems really strong and has great horizontal stretch, but not much vertically.

On the subject of stretch and stretch direction Brit at Halo who has made many leggings as a business and I had an interesting email exchange on choosing the maximum stretch. This can be confusing in 4 way fabric.

Brit feels that the fabric she sells is so stretchy and has good recovery both directions so she makes some of her layout decisions based on which direction the colour changes (to avoid Lululemon show through) which I found interesting.

For instance here are her thoughts on laying out the mottled black/blue fabric above:

For the Marbled Blue/Black I believe the best orientation for the pattern is from selvage to selvage. If you give it a good stretch length-wise and another width-wise you'll notice that one directiongets slightly lighter in colour. (I believe it was cut edge to cutedge for that) so I run my pattern lengthwise perpendicular to that length.

This of course puts the pattern traditionally placed with the crosswise stretch running across the body (the advice I have talked about in previous posts) despite the fact the vertical stretch is near the same in this print, but I thought the advice about colour was really interesting.

Brit also shared a method for determining maximum stretch that I have not heard of before. Myself I just pull it each way and see which direction is slower to snap back, like chewed out bubble gum.

Brit calls this the "punch test":

Take the corner of the fabric and wrap it around one fist (like stuffing a wonton or punching bread dough) and really push into the fabric to see how the fabric recovers."

We both agree that whatever method you use it is important that the direction of greatest stretch is needed to accommodate   "butt/hips/thighs movement."

When cutting out last night I also had a few other thoughts to share. The Peg Legs includes calf measurement in the sizing charts. This is really important. I for example have an XL calf and a M thigh and a L everything else. To have my leggings fit I need to remember to grade out a bit below the knee.

So next will be cutting and stitching and then before you know it we will have leggings.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Before I go into my own assessment on fabrics for leggings I would like to give you some links to some very practical resources on fabric possibilities.

The first of these is Patterns4Pirates (they are the Peg Leg company) easy to understand chart that also references what fabrics work with what pattern. Very handy.

And here is a quick guide to performance fabrics. Of note is that bamboo is UV protecting (50 times if you were putting it on the sunscreen scale).

And finally a tech sheet on Supplex, the fabric I will be using for several of my sew-alongs, specifically the maternity ones I am making for my DIL who really needs stretch and breathability.

I am getting my Supplex from Halo Fabric Addicts because they are one of the few Canadian suppliers I have found and Brit's customer service is amazing. I have a big order coming in (including my next batch of swimwear fabric) but Canada Post now says it won't be here until Tuesday, which sort of messes up my schedule so look for an extra post as soon as that stuff arrives at the door here.

I have made many leggings from a variety of fabrics and have narrowed it down to three choices for me. All are 4-way stretch and all need to be selected not just for the stretch factor described last post, and shown in the video, but for recovery factor. Recovery is bounce back when stretched and released. The direction of maximum stretch always bounces back a little stronger than the other direction and this is the one you want going around the body (in most fabrics this will be crosswise not lengthwise grain).

You also want to consider show through when stretched, in prints in particular. I saw a girl at the Superstore yesterday in leggings that reminded me of this.

1. Supplex: Feels like cotton, breathes but stretches and recovers like the best of swimwear. Expensive but sews well and wears even better. Generally can be cut in actual size pattern, would work for both the Claras and the Peg Legs.

2. Cotton lycra: This works fine when you aren't planning on working up a sweat because of course the fabric will hold the moisture it gathers. It is something I use for out and about leggings and when I want breathability at a decent price. The key here is to get a good quality CL as anything else just won't have a) enough stretch b) enough recovery. In general because of the nature of cotton fibres I would definitely size up the first time you make a pair to make sure you have enough room.

3. Double brushed poly: This is a cool fabric, relatively new and although I try to avoid polyester for leggings as polyester does not breath at all and can get stinky as a result, this baby soft fuzzy fabric works fine for what I would call fall or winter leggings of the walking around the house kind. Very stretchy too so adapts well to fitting in near to normal for you size range but definitely has more stretch crosswise than lengthwise so I would use it for less precisely close fitting leggings, the Peg Legs not the Claras for example.

There are of course lots of other activewear fabrics possible. Poly ones I am not keen on for reasons above, but nylon tends to be better and more moisture wicking (less clammy on the skin - theory is the fabric sends the moisture away from the skin to the surface of the fabric, which it should be noted is different than fabric that actually breaths. 

Some folks also use swimwear fabric, which of course is nice and stretchy but if you go this route think about thinning of the fabric when stretched and try to use a heavier weight for this reason.

Finally there is the issue of compression leggings. Just making things tighter actually doesn't have accurate compressive effect - you need more compression at the ankle and less as it goes up the leg for the blood to be properly kept from pooling - but that said if you are looking for mild compression you are probably a runner and want to make sure your leggings don't fall down. Firm fabrics with notable recovery in addition to high stretch will help with this, but you might have to fine tune the fit/pattern size to get it right.

Athletic mesh (a different fabric than Powernet and hopefully when mine comes Tuesday I can show you) can be used for design inserts and as a lining for the wrong side.

Finally some thoughts on mesh and construction sent to me by email from Brittany at Halo, herself and expert leggings sewer:

 For legging waistbands that are lined/elastisized it always
depends on your fabric weight. If it's thin and will show the elastic ridge then use micromesh! When top stitching the inner-upper edge of the waistband make sure your tension isn't too tight or that stitch will snap as soon as it hits your hips! Don't cheap out and use a 2-way stretch mesh for your band lining, you'll cause muffin top and it won't be supportive even though you did the extra work.

Athletic and Micromesh is NOT the same as PowerNet! If you're unsure of what you're buying online then ask the retailer, they've got the details. If they offer swatches then grab some since it'll save way more headache down the road.

If you want to build a triangle gusset into a standard legging pattern make sure you REMOVE the same amount of fabric from the rear inseam rise or you will have gathering in the upper thigh/crotch (and possibly has saggy crotch syndrome).

 If you want to stitch mesh into a legging pattern treat it like
delicate lace and really reinforce that seam. Do a narrow and
short-length zigzag twice to put those layers together. If you want to topstitch it make sure it's right-side facing up to ensure it's straight.

So that's it for tonight's instalment on getting ready to sew leggings. More throughout the week.

In the meantime please share your own comments and questions.