This article has been kindly written by Lucy from Sew Essential a family run business, founded by her husband (Ed) and mother-in-law (Angela) in 2004 out of Angela’s lifelong love of sewing. They stock over 20,000 sewing and craft products on their website catering for all your sewing needs in one place. Everyone in the team loves sewing and craft from dressmaking to patchwork and quilting – their ethos has and always will be ‘for sewers by sewers’.
Sewing with stretch fabrics such as knits, jersey and scuba has become increasingly popular in recent years thanks to their wearable, comfortable properties and the fact they are now much more readily available. The stretch in these fabrics does make them more challenging to work with and one of the best ways to achieve professional results is to sew them on an overlocker.
In this article we share the techniques I used to create a simple wool jersey dress (the Moneta by Colette patterns) using an overlocker to help you get the best out of your machine and make working with stretch fabrics fun! The techniques used can be applied to other garments so once you’ve learned the basics there will be no stopping you!
As with any new sewing project always start with a new needle. You will also need to test your overlocker with your chosen fabric and adjust your differential feed accordingly to make sure your overlocking stitches lie nice and flat.
Sewing Seams on an Overlocker
Sewing a seam on an overlocker is really very simple. Fold a scrap of the same fabric you will be using to make the garment in half to recreate the double thickness you will work with when sewing a seam.
Look at the distance between the left needle and the markings on the machine casing to the right of the needles. Line your fabric up with the marking that looks the about same width from the left needle as the required seam allowance, for example, 3/8″.
Run the fabric through the overlocker lining up the raw edge with your chosen marking.
Take the overlocked piece of fabric and any excess fabric trimmed off by the overlocker blade and lie them next to each other on a flat surface. Measure from the edge of the stitching line to the edge of the excess, trimmed fabric and this is the seam allowance you have created, for example the image below is a 5/8” seam.
If the seam allowance you have created is incorrect line the fabric up with another marking and test again until you get it right.
Stabilising Shoulder Seams
When sewing garments from stretch fabrics it is always advisable to stabilise the shoulder seams to prevent them from stretching out of shape due to washing and wearing. A really simple way to do this is to sew a strip of 6mm wide ribbon into the shoulder seams using your overlocker.
(NB: the ribbon plus the fabric will behave differently to the fabric alone so you will need to test your differential feed with the ribbon and fabric combination before trying this technique and remember to reset it once you have finished.)
Remove the foot from your overlocker and thread the ribbon through the foot as shown in the image below.
Reattach the foot to your overlocker and run some stitches along the ribbon only.
Place your fabric under the foot lining the edge of the fabric up with the relevant marking to create the correct seam allowance and run it through your overlocker.
Trim the excess ribbon off with scissors and you are left with a professional finish to your stabilised shoulder seam, just like you’d see in the shops!
Creating and Attaching a Neck Binding
For a neat, professional finish I would argue it is always worth creating and attaching a neck binding to a stretch fabric project rather than simply finishing with a twin needle.
Measure the full neckline of your garment and cut a length of fabric 1½” shorter than this measurement. To create a ½” wide binding cut the fabric 1¾” wide i.e. ½” will be binding visible on each side of the garment with a 3/8” seam allowance for each side.
Cutting the neck binding shorter than the neckline is crucial – you will stretch the binding as you attach it and this will force it to sit flat once attached as opposed to appearing loose or baggy.
Overlock the ends of the binding together applying your seam allowance technique.
Next you need to ‘quarter’ your garment and binding to ensure the binding is evenly distributed. Fold the bodice of your garment in half and mark the centre points with pins and repeat for the sides (the shoulder seams won’t always be central) and neck binding.
Matching centre and side points of the bodice and the binding, pin your neck binding to the bodice, lining the raw edges up with the binding on the right side of the garment and the pinheads nearest the raw edge. You will need to slightly stretch the neck binding as you pin it in order to match the centre and side points up with the garment since it is 1½” shorter.
Knock the differential feed up two levels before attaching the binding with your overlocker to prevent it from stretching the neckline of your garment.
This next handy tip will help you to start and stop overlocking neatly and negate the need for bulky overlapping at the end.
Before you attach the binding, cut a small snip of fabric a few millimetres wide and about 1.5cm long out of the binding and neckline fabric.
Lift the foot of your overlocker and place the gap in the fabric under the foot lining the start of the gap up with the needles of your overlocker and the raw edge of the garment fabric up with your relevant seam allowance marking.
Attach the binding and guide the fabric so that your stitching lines meet at the end and any excess fabric is trimmed off.
Gathering Stitches on an Overlocker
It is possible to create gathering stitches on an overlocker, although the effects will be more pronounced on woven fabrics rather than stretch fabrics.
To gather using your overlocker knock the differential feed up two levels and adjust the stitch length to the highest (longest) possible. If the fabric isn’t gathered enough simply pull the middle thread to exaggerate the effect.
Also bear in mind that gathering a skirt on your overlocker then using your overlocker to attach it to a bodice would create a double seam of overlocking stitches therefore unnecessary bulk. For this reason I chose to create gathering stitches using my sewing machine then attach the gathered skirt using my overlocker.
I worked with the skirt on top and bodice underneath stopping and checking at regular intervals that the bodice remained flat and used a cable needle to help me ease the gathered fabric through the overlocker to help maintain the gathering (a knitting needle or awl are just as suitable for easing the fabric through).
Hemming using a Coverstitch
Using a coverstitch machine is by far the easiest and most professional way to hem stretch fabrics. It creates a twin needle effect on the right side of the garment and a neat overlocking stitch on the inside of the garment, perfect for stretch fabrics.
Some models of overlocker will include a coverstitch option, but if yours doesn’t there is always the option to buy a coverstitch machine.
Press your hem up to the desired length (I used a Dritz Ezy hem tool, great for working with stretch fabrics) and pin in place from the right side with the pinheads nearest the pressed edge.
Place your fabric under the coverstitch foot using the markings on the casing to create the desired hem allowance and stitch from the right side.
Use the markings on the machine foot to ensure the stitching lines meet at the end of the hem and overlap slightly then stop.
Pull the threads forward and snip to release your garment then tie the loose ends of the thread to secure the stitches.
To hem the sleeves turn them inside out and stitch from the inside on the right side of the garment.
And there you have it – the five simple techniques you can use to create a range of garments on your overlocker just as I did for this Colette Moneta dress in our wool jersey fabric.
To purchase any of the supplies and tools used in this article visit our website where you can view our extensive range of overlockers, coverstitch machines and sewing machines. For more sewing tutorials, tips and techniques follow our blog and social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.