I’m on a bit of a fabric-busting mission at the moment: matching up all my stashed-away fabrics to appropriate patterns and getting them sewn up. I get a bit antsy when there’s too much stuff accumulating in my house, and my fabric pile(s) are getting slightly out of control. I now have a Google spreadsheet so I know exactly what I have and how I want to use it, and I promise I won’t buy any more until it’s significantly reduced. Apart from that Goldhawk Road visit with the Spoolettes last weekend, ahem.
The main things in my stash are printed jerseys (thanks to a few binges at Rolls & Rems, Girl Charlee and Fabulace), and awkward sub-1m pieces left from other projects. Naturally jersey is easier to think of projects for and is also a large component of what I wear day to day, so I’ve been whizzing my way through this pile. I don’t have all that much to say about them though, so I thought I’d dump them all together here. I also thought I’d jot down a few tips for working with knits/an overlocker, in case anyone find it helpful.
First, a simple elastic-waist frock in a rayon knit from Fabulace. The skirt part is Simplicity 1800 again, like my favourite feather dress, and the bodice is By Hand’s Anna with minor alterations. In retrospect the large geometric print wasn’t the best choice for Anna as it gets chopped up by the waist pleats and you can’t really see the ‘blossoming bust’ detail, but I really just wanted to see if it worked in a knit.
I had to take a large dart out of the centre back to compensate for the stretchy fabric. Next time I’d do this before actually cutting the piece out, I had to kind of fudge it afterwards. To be honest, this was one of those ‘it’s 9pm on a school night but I really feel like making something NOW’ kind of projects, so it’s a bit rushed and wonky in places, but I still like it a lot. How nice is the green with the black and white? I need more green makes, I think.
This time I made a waistband with encased elastic rather than the folded-over ribbing band the pattern recommends. These are basically a copy of a pair of RTW trousers that I wear all the darn time for work-at-home days, and they’re just about outside-acceptable too. Right?!
Here’s a peek at what’s been my little project since the new year: a totally self-drafted peplum tee, which I’m going to make available as a free PDF download very soon. I’ve made several during the process of drafting the pattern and think this plain black one is my favourite, even though it was an earlier version and the bust still isn’t quite right. Watch out next week for the pattern release if you like it.
Now, here are some of my top tips for working with jerseys, as I know a few people got overlockers for Christmas so might find these useful.
I use my pleasingly matchy-matchy weights and rotary cutter to cut. I find using scissors and pins can cause distortion and a ‘hacky’ uneven edge, and you want to be as accurate as possible to make life easier when sewing. I only have a small cutting mat, so I have to move it around under the pieces as I cut.
Buy the big cones of thread in packs of 3 or 4 depending on how many your machine takes (my machine can take 4 but I usually sew with 3). eBay and Jaycotts are good sources, they can be tricky to find in shops. I’ve only ever needed black, white and a medium grey, which seem to blend into nearly everything I’ve made (telling, huh?!), and they last forever – over a year and counting for mine and still nowhere near finished. Rotate the spools often, because the lower loopers use more thread than the upper needles.
Once your machine’s threaded up, you never need rethread it, even when changing colour. Simply snip the threads at the top, tie on the new colour and knot securely. Snip the loose ends short then run the machine in short bursts to pull the threads through, stopping when they get to a tension dial and manually helping them through. You’ll find the lower loopers feed through first as they use up more thread, so I usually run the machine until they are done then pull through the top needle thread manually and rethread the needle (or both needles, if using four threads). This takes under 90 seconds when you’ve done it a few times. Andrea has done a photo tutorial of basically the same technique I use. I can make a video on my process if anyone would find it helpful?!
If you’re a bit scared of the overlocker, there’s no harm in basting your seams first with a regular sewing machine. Either stitch close to the edge so the stitches are covered by the overlocking, or further in so you can easily pull them out later.
Always do a quick test run on a scrap of fabric before starting each project. Tension can vary quite a bit between different jersey weights.
Sometimes I remove the knife from my overlocker, trim down the seam allowances if necessary (but leaving an allowance the width of the overlocked stitch, in my case about 5mm), and stitch my seams without using the blade to cut off any excess. This can be handy when going around tight corners so you don’t accidentally slice a bit off, and can also create a more stable seam at shoulders as the fabric bunches a little into the stitches. It also means you can unpick and re-sew if you make a mistake!
Unpicking overlocked seams is quite easy – quicker than regular stitching, I think. Here’s a tutorial.
I use Clover wonder clips instead of pins, as I’m terrified of what would happen if I accidentally ran a pin through my overlocker blade *shudders*
A walking foot is a great investment for sewing with knits on your regular machine. Mine is a cheap unbranded snap-on one and does the job fine.
To finish an edge where an overlocked end is left loose (as opposed to being covered by another seam), I thread the tail ends onto a large darning needle and weave it back into the overlocked seam, cutting after an inch or so and securing with a drop of Fray Check or a small bar tack.
My usual technique is to finish the raw edge with the overlocker, fold up once anywhere from 1/2″ (on a sleeve) to 2″ (on a dress hem), press, and stitch directly over the overlocking using a walking foot and zigzag or twin needle stitch. A double-folded up edge can look bulky on some jerseys and affect the drape. You want to catch the very edge, or even tip over, the finished overlocked edge so your seam won’t flip unattractively to the outside. I also love to do a machine blind hem on jersey dresses as it won’t ever flip outside, looks nearly invisible, and doesn’t affect the hang or drape. Press well after stitching.
Neck and cuff bands
I sometimes use this Megan Nielsen technique, which has you stitch the neckband to the inside (wrong side) of the garment, then press to the outside and topstitch. This has the benefit of giving a bit of stability, but can look a bit poor in lighter or loopy knits as the topstitches will just sink in. Or you can sew a band straight to the right side and press upwards, like this tutorial.