Sunday 18 January 2015

First encounter with knits - my very own Lady Skater!

New year, new beginning! I’ve finally plucked up the courage to sit down in front of my serger/overlocker, and completed my first jersey dress(es) with it! 
Get ready, this is a long post. I have included my key takeaways (in the form of lightbulb moments) and questions from my first encounter, in case it would help others, and also hoping that you could help me! Do chip in if you are able to share your experience, views and insights ;)  
I am embarrassed to admit that I have had my serger for over a year, and slowly accumulated knit fabric in that time. A few months ago, I attempted serging a jersey skirt using a vintage pattern (bad idea) which ended up in the bin, before chickening out at the last minute when I made the 30-minutes skirt with my regular machine. 
But having swoon over all the beautiful version of the Lady Skater, and read your reviews and comments suggesting that it’s a great starter pattern for knits, I felt encouraged and finally bit the bullet.
Isn't it jazzy? 
You guys were right of course. Knits are fine to work with (but choose carefully, see below), and they really don't bite! That said, as someone who was terrified of knit fabrics, and the serger, I sure had a few lightbulb moments when sewing this up. I wanted to jot them down, so that other "knit-virgins" don't waste their own precious time with the same issues. For the more experienced knit-sewers, perhaps you had the same confusions when you first started off. If so, let me know so I don't feel like a complete idiot :)   
Lightbulb moment #1
My hand-eye coordination was nowhere near as good as I thought it was! I might be able to pick up Zumba moves like it’s my second nature, when it comes to a pair of serger tweezers (they are possibly the most counter-intuitive thing that I have ever used), I’m constantly squeezing when I should be releasing. Argh!!! It’s a shame that they are so incredibly useful.
 Lightbulb moment #2
Start with stable knits first. I say this because when I made a tester version, I wanted to use one of my less liked pieces of fabric, which just happened to be the most soft, slinky, and stretchy (it's a 4-way stretch) jersey ever! I'm glad I did, as I didn't know what else to make with it, but truthfully it was a bit tricky to work with, especially as I'm new to sewing with jersey. 

You'll see what I mean here:

I enjoyed sewing with the blue cotton jersey a lot more, as I felt more in control. So I’m going to reiterate the advice that many others have given – start with a stable knit.

Lightbulb moment #3
Your sewing machine is still useful. for some reason I didn't realise this, and thought that a serger (OK, a coverstitch machine, but a serger is pretty close) is the daddy of all machines, and is the answer to everything. Why else would it look and sound so intimidating? But for this dress, I used my regular machine (using the zigzag and lightening bolt stitches) to pre-baste layers (the regular machine has more control), attach clear elastic, topstitch the neckline bands and sleeve bands, and also to hem with a twin-needle. And this leads me to the final lightbulb moment...
Lightbulb moment #4
The twin needle is for the regular machine, and not the serger! I spent ages looking through my serger manual, and couldn't find anything with reference to the twin needle. After a bit of searching online, I finally had the lightbulb moment.  Also, make sure you use a stretch twin needle, rather than an ordinary one, to avoid skipped stitches like these:

Lightbulb moment #5
Really floss that serger! As it wasn't the first time I threaded my serger, I got cocky and thought I could do it without the manual. Wrong! This is where I wasted a couple of hours. For the upper and lower threads, I did not “floss” them into the tension discs, and as a result I was able to pull the fabric from the right side, and the stitching would pretty much come undone. At one point I was almost convinced that this is what sergers did, but then I went to inspect the stitching of my RTW jersey garments, and decided to try rethreading the machine. This is when I realised that it wasn’t done properly.
Lightbulb moment #6
This is how you sew flat! Without realising, I have always sewn in the round (see Andrea explains it here) and now I understand how you can sew sleeves without having to set them (one of my pet hates!). I'm not convinced that I will be flat-sewing any time soon with woven fabrics as yet, but it's nice to know how it's done. 
OK, now some issues that I’ve come across along the way. I am still at a loss about these, so please do share your thoughts and tips with us, and help us all improve!
Dilemma #1 – Seam Allowances
I sure didn’t expect a giant issue like this before even starting to sew! On my serger there doesn’t appear to be a seam guide which extends to more than 4.5mm, so it was quite confusing as to how I was going to achieve the 3/8 (around 9.5mm) seam allowance, when at the very most my machine can manage a ¼ seam (which was too wide for the knits I used). Are you still with me? This meant that I had to chop off around ¼ inch (based on the seam allowance I used) as I sew, which was tricky without a gauge. In the end I eyeballed it. The good news is, 1/8 inch here or there isn’t a huge problem with stretchy fabrics – they are pretty forgiving. But it was pretty hard to fight the perfectionist in me!
Does your serger have a seam guide? If not, how do you deal with the seam allowances?
Dilemma #2 - clear elastic
The pattern calls for 1/4 clear elastic, which is hard to come by in the UK (anyone knows where to get this?). I managed to find some that are 3/8, so I trimmed it to size. 
What I cannot figure out, is where exactly to place this stuff. Should it all be kept within the seam allowance, or should it straddle the seam? I have studied my RTW garments, and noted that both options are used. To show you what I mean, here are two pictures:

In this top photo, the clear elastic straddles the actual seams. On the outside this resulted in a wavy waistline. 

In my real dress, I placed the clear elastic wholly within the seam allowance, so the outside is a bit more smooth. I think this is my preferred way of doing it, but it would be nice to know how you do this
I would also like to know how necessary it is to insert clear elastic. Any thoughts?
Dilemma #3 -- 2-way vs 4-way stretch 
Both of these fabrics are 4-way stretches, and having gone through my stash, apart from some t-shirt knit that I had, all other pieces are 4-way stretches. My main concern with a 4-way stretch is their weight. With my dresses above (the purple one more so than the blue, due to how stretchy it is), I am a bit concerned that they would elongate with time. I'm not going to hang them up, but you can't fight gravity, not when the fabric stretches vertically, too, and the Lycra making it quite heavy. 
Is my concern a valid one? If so, are there ways to prevent this? Finally, where on earth can I get some two-way stretch knit fabrics from? 
If you are still reading after all this, you must give yourself a medal for being such a patient saint. Let me complete this post with some more pictures, including side, back views and close-up ones. I would like to conclude by saying that this is indeed a great pattern, and I am really impressed by how well-illustrated (and fun!) the instructions are, as well as how flattering the end product is on all shapes and sizes. I don't think I've seen a version that I don't like yet! I love my new jersey dress, and I am so glad that I started my brand new knit-sewing journey with the Lady Skater pattern


  1. yeah, you sewn knits. great lady skaters.. i love knits

    1. Thank you Rachel! I think all your wonderful knit creations have encouraged me no end!

  2. I am also a beginner to knits and honestly pretty nervous about it! I don't have a serger though which makes me even more nervous!

    1. I actually find that my regular machine is my comfort blanket when it comes to sewing with knits, as it has a bit more control, and goes much more slowly and quietly...

  3. First of all, they look fabulous! And now that you've bit the bullet and serged knits, it'll just get easier and easier! I'm a very, uh, relaxed sewist, so I can't guarantee that my answers to you questions are right, but here's what works for me!
    1. 4 way knits may stretch vertically over time, but i've only had it be an issue with maxis. I think your waistband elastic will hold things in place.
    2. I find clear elastic a bit annoying, so I prefer to use FOE, picot elastic, or 1/4 normal elastic to stabilise waists. I rarely stabilise shoulders, because I've never had issues with shoulders except on very loose sweater knits. I don't think it matters where you align the clear elastic though, as long as it is caught in the seam and not trimmed off by the blade!
    3. Seam allowances. I don't follow pattern instructions for knits that I've sewn over and over, so I have no idea what the expected seam allowances are. I just adjust things so they'll fit with my prefered amount of I'll-eyeball-that-seam-allowance. (That said, cheap jersey that rolls at the edge is easier to sew with a bigger seam allowance. For everything else I just trim off a smidgen as I sew.)
    Really well done on both dresses!!

    1. Thank you Gillian for your kind words, and taking your time to share your wisdom!

      It's certainly reassuring to read that you also eyeball the seam allowances, and also your experience with 4-way knits. I did think about using normal elastic, as that's what one of my RTW dresses with a gathered skirt had at the waist seam, so I will try that out next time!

      Thanks again!

  4. Lovely dress and well done on your first knit project. My Janome overlocker (serger) does have some seam allowance marks on it but I still tend to eyeball the amount of fabric that gets cut off and try to keep it even. You could put a piece of sticky tape on your machine to mark the seam allowance too. I have done this on my sewing machine when I want some odd distance.

    1. What a great idea! Thank you for stopping by and sharing your experience with us Sue :)

  5. Your dresses are lovely! It took me a while to get used to using my overlocker but when I finally got the hang of it, I was well away. I use it for nearly all stages of sewing a knit garment, but I still find that some things I prefer to do on my regular Janome like waist seams as I find you have more control if there are pleats or several layers. I also found that keeping all the tension dials on the same number makes for better sewing. I made two Colette Monetas recently which are a bit like your lady Skaters but with longer sleeves. Happy overlocking! :-)

    1. Thank you Caroline! I'm totally with you on using the regular machine for sewing many layers, and thank you on the tension dials tip, too.

      I've been drooling over those Monetas, and because I think that pattern looks a bit like the Lady Skater (as you mentioned, too), I haven't quite made the purchase yet.

      Happy overlocking to you, too ;)

  6. I have the exact same questions, so am going to follow your comments and see what sorts of answers you get! I've made only one stretchy dress...the vogue wrap. I didnt use elastic in the seams because I don't even know what that is. I'd really like to hear the answer to your question. Is it really necessary? My dress seems okay without it...

    1. So nice to hear that I'm not alone, and reassuring to hear that your dress is holding up ok without the clear elastic. Yes watch this space!

  7. My serger has a seam guide on it, but I rarely use it. I usually sew seams with my regular machine and then finish with the serger. I've been sewing with my serger for years and have never been able to get the tension right where the stitches don't show through to the outside. So yea, that also makes it so you don't have to worry about the seam allowance as well.
    I fold my knit dresses, not hang them, just so they don't stretch out as much. If you have a good waist in it with some elastic, it shouldn't really affect the look or structure of the dress too much.
    Super cute dresses! I don't have the pattern, but I've never seen a lady skater made up that I haven't liked!

    1. Thank you Nikki for your reassurance about the seam allowances :D I'm sorry to hear about the tension -- once I rethreaded (making sure the threads go right into the tension discs (and hence the "flossing")) my stitching was ok. But I'm guessing you have tried this already!

      Thank you also for sharing your storage solutions :)

  8. Awesome dresses! Knits aren't as scary as they seem at first.. Great job!

    1. Thank you! Yes indeed! I wish I had tried it years ago!

  9. Welcome to the "knit side" MWAHAHAHA

    I got a seam guide for my Bernina 1150MDA overlocker for Christmas a few years ago, and it is really easy to use. It is mounted on the metal plate in front of the knife and is adjustable.

    1. Thank you! Oh that sounds interesting - I'm off to see if I can get a seam guide for my machine. Thanks for the tip!

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