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Hemming garments requires skills that range from old-fashioned hand sewing, to knowing how to manipulate your sewing machine or serger to give you the look you want.

How to 'coverstitch' on the sewing machine

Those of us who like to sew knits, but don't have a serger with a coverstitch capability, can still get that 'ready-to-wear' coverstitch look by using a twin needle on our sewing machines.

There are some special techniques you need to know, however, in order to prevent the 'tunneling' effect that twin needles often produce on knits:

  1. use a 4.0 stretch twin needle
  2. reduce the presser-foot pressure
    On my Viking Lily, the normal setting is 4. This setting must be reduced to 2 or, sometimes, 1.
  3. lengthen the stitch length
    The Lily's normal stitch length is 2.5. This must be lengthened to 3.5 or 4, depending on how stretchy the fabric is. In general, more stretch = longer stitch.
  4. reduce the upper thread tension
    This takes some playing around on scrap samples to get it right, because every knit is different. You want just enough tension on the upper thread to lock the stitches while keeping the zigzag on the underside lying flat.
    -- OR --
    leave the bobbin thread out of the bobbin case thread guides
    (thus putting no tension on the bobbin thread). In this case, you would leave the upper thread tension at normal, or only slightly reduced.

I keep samples of every fabric I use, with notes on both serger and sewing machine settings and stitches, which I write on an address label as I test, and stick directly on the fabric/stitching sample when I've got it right.

This takes a little extra time when first using a specific fabric, but has saved many a headache when coming back to the same (or a similar) fabric weeks or months later.

Other tips from the lists

Rowena says: "you need to use stabilizer underneath the stitch, i use whatever i have on hand that seems like the right weight.

Faith from southern NJ says: "You can even spray starch the area and prevent tunneling

Lynne Harrington says: "Another technique which can improve twin needle hemming is taking the left thread OUT of the last guide prior to threading the needle. This is helpful when just the left needle thread is skipping -- evens the playing field on the tension.

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The Quick-Fused Hem

This can be a real-timesaver, as well as adding weight and a crisp edge to the hemline.

The photo is of a long corduroy skirt I made last winter, with an inverted front pleat and an A-line back. I really did not want to hand-stich this hem!

  • Cut a bias strip (or strips) of interfacing the width of your desired hem.
  • Lay the interfacing, fusible side up, on the wrong side of the garment, with raw edges matched. Serge, or zigzag the interfacing to the raw edge.
  • Turn the hem up to the wrong side. Press, with lots of steam, and time -- remember, you are fusing interfacing.
  • 'Stitch in the ditch' of the vertical seams -- side seams, centre front and/or back.
  • Voila! -- a completed hem.

If you want a 'clean-finished' edge to your hem, but don't want to serge or overlock the raw edge, simply stitch the interfacing to the hem edge, with the glue side down against the right side of the fabric. Finger press the seam open, then turn the interfacing to the inside, turn up the hem and fuse.

quick fused hem

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