Well, my blog buddies, time to bring you up to speed with my little “free” dress project! Last time we talked, I left you with a nice glass of Chianti, as I racked my brain about anything and everything I knew about sewing with knits. So, here are some great tips to keep in mind when you’re using your sewing machine to construct a knit garment, some pulled from memory, others found online and in my sewing resource books:
- Use a little longer stitch length – this will allow your seam to stretch more, especially when the seam has tension on it (like pulling your garment over your head to put on), and less likely to pop. I opted to use our built-in stretch stitch, A5, and increased the stitch length a bit.
- Consider using Maxi-Lock Stretch thread both in the needle and the bobbin. Wind the bobbin on a low speed, to lessen stretching on the bobbin. It will give your straight seams that added degree of stretch. Nothing is worse than hearing that dreaded, “pop” when you pull a garment over your head and wiggle into it!
- Use a Stretch or Ballpoint Jersey needle with both your single needle and your double needle, to prevent cutting the knit threads. I opted to use a Stretch single and double needle, since I was using a non-standard thread. The Stretch needle has a few “perks” over the Ballpoint Jersey needle, including a deeper scarf to prevent skipped stitches. You can use your needle threader with your single needle, but, the Maxi-Lock Stretch thread is a bit fuzzy, so it can be a little tricky to use the threader. If you prefer, you can hand-thread, just cut the thread with your snippers, and moisten the end to thread by hand. Using a magnifying glass is also helpful!
- Lock the ends of your seams by using your Fix feature, or use your Reverse button, then use your Cut Thread function. Since the Maxi-Lock thread is stretchy, it can pull itself out of the end of the seam if you don’t lock your seams. You’ll find out really quickly why this is important, when you try to pull the finished seam out from underneath your needle. Pulling the thread can tighten the seam, as well as pull out the end of the seam! So, lock those seam starts and stops!
- Do some practice seam stitches and double needle top stitches to adjust your stitch length and tensions, so you get the best looking and performing seam and top stitching. Jot down your settings so you can come back to them over the time you’re finishing your project, or save your adjusted stitch to your U menu. This is how I found that I really did need to use a 90/14 Stretch needle for my seams. I noticed some very minor looping on the underside of my test seam with the 75/11 Stretch needle, even when I tried to increase or decrease my thread tension, or increase my stitch length. As soon as I switched to the 90/14 needle I had perfect stitches. I think what caused the small looping on the underside, was the drag through the 75/11 needle eye. And, possibly increased drag through the hole made by the thinner 75/11 needle. You can see my three attempts, from right to left – Regular tension (minor loopies), increased tension (still minor loopies), then the 90/14 needle (perfect):
- Consider using your dual feed foot. This reduces the drag on the top piece of fabric. Since knits like to creep and stretch, using your dual feed foot eliminates any “pushing” of the top fabric. It worked like a charm for me.
- Use a micro-serrated dressmaker’s shears to cut knits. I like my Gingher micro-serrated/knife edge 8” dressmaker’s shears, they worked like a charm, cut the fabric like butter.
- Lay your pattern out so that all your pieces run the same direction. Knits can sometimes behave like woven fabrics with a nap – reflecting light differently, depending on which way the piece is running. So, if you don’t cut them out in the same direction, you can end up having the skirt appear to be a darker or lighter color than the bodice piece. Not so attractive. It’s always smart play it on the safe side, and lay all your pieces that matter the same direction (skirts, bodices, sleeves, waistbands).
- Use ball-point pins, or ultra-fine dressmaker’s pins so you don’t snag the knit. Both worked very well on my particular knit fabric. Or, you can opt to use pattern weights, if you prefer.
- Press, do not iron, if you decide to use a fusible stabilizer or interfacing, to avoid puckering, wrinkling or distorting the knit.
- Use a cutaway stabilizer for proper stabilization when embroidering on knit fabrics. This proved to be rather interesting during my stitch out process. I first tired used two layers of Floriani No Fusible-Show Mesh, with the second layer fused at a 90 degree angle to the first layer, to give it more stabilization, and more stabilizer weight, since I was using 30 wt. Sulky cotton thread. This proved to be problematic, so I pulled out the “big guns”, and switched to Floriani’s water-activated adhesive cutaway stabilizer, Wet N Stick Cutaway. You’ll see more info about this as I blog along.
So, now to cut out the dress. Knits are notoriously challenging to cut a pattern from. So a few things I know to do: Find a nice, smooth, large, flat surface to lay the fabric out to smooth it out without tweaking it or distorting it. I opted to use my large kitchen island. Nice and wide, and pretty big. Also, because currently, my cutting table in stacked to the ceiling with a variety of sewing stuff, lol!! Clearly, I should not be given any empty horizontal space in sewing studio, as Murphy will come along, and fill it up with “stuff”.
I carefully smoothed with my palms. I know some folks like to use a long wooden ruler, but I prefer using my hands, as I can feel if the fabric is getting pulled or distorted. My size pattern called for laying the fabric out so that the selvedge ends met in the middle. I also noticed something in the pattern layout – it had the front and back skirt pieces running one direction, and the bodice pieces running the other direction. Knits can act like a woven fabric with a nap – having piece laid out running opposite directions can cause the pieces to appear to be different colors, based on how the light reflects on the surface. So, I switched the two bodice pieces so that they would face the same direction as the skirt pieces.
I used ballpoint pins, so I would not snag the fabric as I pinned the pieces. I probably should ironed my pattern pieces with a dry iron to get out the folds, but, I felt it was smooth enough, so I opted to skip that step. I know some folks like to use pattern weights, but I just don’t feel secure enough to use them. If I pin the pattern, I know it’s not going anywhere, even if I walk by and bump the pattern piece.
Next to cut out the fabric. Knits can be a little tricky to cut, especially slinky jersey knits. I used my Gingher micro serrated knife edge 8” shears, just in case. These are the best scissors ever for cutting knit fabrics. The bottom blade has the serrated edge, which gently grips the fabric so the upper knife edge blade can cut cleanly through the fabric. Plus, the tip of the scissors is blunted so it won’t catch on the fabric. The serrated edge is too small to show up well in a photo, but here’s the difference between the tips of regular Gingher Dressmaker’s shears in the top of the photo, and the blunt-tip, micro serrated knife edge dressmaker’s shears in the bottom of the photo (yup, that’s a bit of rust on my old, trusty standard Gingher scissors, due to sitting in a holder right under my window. Will be moving my scissors holder. That’s what you get when you’re only about 7 miles from the ocean):
Once I had all the pieces cut out, I decided I needed to embellish the skirt with some embroidery designs. Can’t just have a plain navy knit dress, how boring is that? Especially since I have one of the best home sewing/embroidery machines out there, sacrilege! Remember my mention of that great Viking Embroidery Collection #210, Handlook Embroidery in my previous blog post about Needle Know How? I thought, “Oh gosh, those are perfect designs to use!”
So, decided to make sure I had some decent stabilization for this knit. I decided to start with Floriani’s medium weight (2.0 oz.) fusible cutaway stabilizer in black.
This stabilizer should give me a nice, stable base to accept all those stitches, especially since these designs are specifically digitized for 30 wt. cotton. Lots of stitches with thick thread required good stabilization. Well, that did not work out as well as I had hoped. Not that the stabilizer isn’t great. The issue was actually how the embroidery design was digitized (not badly, just long satin stitches) and the 30 wt. cotton thread. And, to some extent, the amount of lycra in my fabric. Way, way too much pulling and puckering, especially on the end designs.
Center design stitched out just fine
Left side design, too much puckering
I was going to have to stitch out this design 3 times across each skirt section (for a total of 6 stitch outs), and those designs stitched out on the ends of the skirt pieces were proving to be the problematic ones – just not enough security with the hooping to keep the design from pulling the fabric right off of the stabilizer. No matter what I did with tension, fix baste, additional layer of stabilizer, etc, was preventing the puckering due to being so close to the side of the fabric. So, I opted to pull out the “big guns” stabilizer: Floriani Wet N Stick Cutaway in black:
This stabilizer’s water-activated adhesive will stick to any fabric very, very well. The more water you use, the more glue is activated, and the more “stick power”. This worked like a charm. I also experimented with a couple of different toppers, Inspira Clear N Melt, and Floriani’s Heat N Gone. I preferred the Floriani product, as it tore away more easily, and also was easier to remove with a medium warm iron. But, I didn’t really see a significant difference with or without a topper, as my knit doesn’t have much of a nap, so I opted to finish the front piece without any topper, and so far, as it’s going, I’ve very pleased with the results. One less clean up step with the embroidery in not having to pull off the topper, and remove the bits with the iron.
Next step – Finish the embroidery. LOTS of embroidery, and then I can put the little dress together. Stay tuned to part 3 – Assembly!!