How to Get Knit Neckband Ribbing the Perfect Length Every Time

I’ve tried various methods for calculating the length of knit neckbands. I did not get good results with the methods I used. First I looked for neckband calculations online, and then when I realized different people gave different advice, I started looking in patternmaking books, and found . . . the same varying advice. I hate trying to unpick a serged seam in knit fabrics, especially around a curved neckline, so I really wanted to get my neckbands right the first time.

The methods for calculating neckband lengths that I found online and in books are just approximations, and they don’t work for the full range of band widths and neckline lengths, but the other problem is that each fabric needs a different band length to account for how much it stays stretched out after you pull the garment over your head. This recovery factor varies a lot from fabric to fabric.

As home sewers, it’s difficult to find a rib knit fabric that matches or coordinates with the main garment fabric, so we usually make knit neckbands from the same fabric as the rest of the garment. Rib knits, which have a lot of stretch and require very little force to stretch, are the perfect fabric for knit neckbands, but you can get pretty good results with less than ideal fabric if you stick to using narrower neckband widths (the less stretch your fabric has, the narrower the neckband has be to get it to lie flat). Knit fabrics with a spandex content, even ribbing, are also not ideal fabrics for neckbands, so stick to narrower neckbands when using spandex fabric, too. When you are using less than ideal fabric for a neckband you really need to get it exactly the right length.

I dusted off the corner of my brain that holds my high school algebra, geometry, and trigonometry and I figured out how to get knit neckbands the right length every time, for any fabric, and any neckband width or neckline length. The neckband length also needs to be adjusted for your particular fabric, though. You should always make your own neckband pattern rather than using the one that came with a pattern. Who knows what the patternmaker did to draft it anyway.

If you just cringed when I mentioned algebra, geometry, and trigonometry, don’t worry, you can actually figure out the perfect length for your knit neckband without doing any math at all! First I’ll show you the “no math” method, then I’ll show you how you can measure and calculate the perfect neckband length. Finally, since I’m going so far as to state that all of the published patternmaking and sewing books I’ve read are wrong on this subject, I’ll use some math to prove why.

Neckband Width

Before you can figure out the length you should cut your neckband, you need to decide on a finished width. The amount of stretch and the recovery factor of your fabric will affect how wide you can make the ribbing and still have it lie flat around the neck.

To get an idea of how your fabric behaves, cut a strip of your fabric that has a width of twice the desired neckband width plus two seam allowances (I recommend using 1/4″ (6 mm) seam allowances around the neckline), with the direction of greatest stretch along the length of the strip. Pull on the ends of the fabric strip to stretch it out a bit, fold it in half lengthwise with wrong sides together, and press.

On your ironing board, bend the fabric into a curve that approximates the shape of a quarter of your neckline and see if it will lie flat with a single pin holding it in place at each end. If it won’t lie flat, choose a narrower band width, use different fabric for the neckband, or live with the fact that your neckband will probably ripple along the edge and pucker at the seamline.

If you use a narrower neckband than your pattern was designed for, you may want to add the width removed from the neckband to the neckline so the finished neck opening does not end up larger.

Here I cut a 1 3/4″ (4.4 cm) wide strip of cotton jersey. With 1/4″ (6 mm) seam allowances, the finished neckband width would be 5/8″ (1.6 cm). This fabric will not lie flat when cut this wide.

However, when I cut a 1 1/4″ (3.2 cm) wide strip of the same fabric, for a 3/8″ (1 cm) finished neckband width, it bends smoothly around the neckline curve.

I describe the methods below in a lot of detail, so they are not really as time consuming or complicated as I make them look. Figuring out the perfect neckband length definitely takes less time than unpicking a neckband that was the wrong length!

Neckband Length Method 1: The “No Math” Method

If your pattern includes seam allowances, draw in the stitching lines on the shoulder seams and around the neckline. You will want to work with half patterns, so if your patterns include both left and right sides together, draw in the center front and center back lines.

Note: If your pattern has a seam allowance of more than 3/8″ (1 cm) around the neckline, you need to reduce the seam allowance to be able to sew on the neckband correctly, especially if your fabric does not have a lot of stretch. A 1/4″ (6 mm) seam allowance is best, especially if you will be sewing the seam with a serger. On some sewing machines it can be difficult to sew a 1/4″ seam, so you can use a  3/8″ (1 cm) seam allowance if you have to, but trim the seam allowances to 1/4″ (6 mm) after sewing.

Align the front and back pattern pieces at the shoulder stitching line and tape them together. Place another piece of paper under the neck area of the pattern and hold it in place with a couple of pieces of tape.

Extend the center front and center back lines up a bit. From the neckline stitching line, measure out the width of the finished neckband and draw in a line where the finished neckband edge will be. Do this as accurately as possible. When drawing or measuring a curve, if you are even slightly off, it will affect the length of the line quite a bit.

Cut out a rectangular piece of paper that is a little longer than the length of the neckline and has a width of twice the finished neckband width plus two seam allowances (the same seam allowance as you used around the neckline). Make sure you square off one end, then on that end draw in the seam allowance you want to use to sew the ends of the ribbing together. This rectangular strip is going to become the neckband pattern.

Fold your rectangular strip in half lengthwise. Place it on edge along the line you drew for the finished neckband edge, lining up the stitching line you drew at one end with the center front line.

Walk the rectangular strip all of the way around the line for the finished neckband edge until you get to the center back line. Make a mark on the neckband pattern where it crosses the center back line.

Fold the neckband pattern at the mark you just made on the neckband where it met the center back line. Trim off the excess length on the end that sticks out (or add on a strip of paper if you cut your pattern too short).

Fold the short folded edge up to the stitching line (not the end of the pattern) to quarter mark the pattern. Clearly mark the quarter marks on the pattern.

In the next step you will transfer the quarter mark to the neckline. I do this because it is nearly impossible to accurately find quarter marks on a curved neckline in knit fabric by folding it – even if you try not to stretch the fabric, the curved neckline stretches differently on different sections because of the fabric grain.

Unfold the neckband pattern, but leave it folded lengthwise. Line up the stitching line at the end of the pattern with the center front line again. Walk the pattern around the finished neckband edge line until you get to the first quarter mark. Make a mark at this location on the neckband line, then extend the mark out into the actual pattern seam allowance. When you cut out your fabric, mark this quarter mark on your fabric. Since your seam allowance is narrow, use a marking tool such as marker or chalk to mark this notch on the fabric rather than clipping the fabric with scissors.

On the finished garment, you want the neckband ribbing fabric to be either in a relaxed state or slightly stretched around the inner folded edge of the neckband. When you stretch out knit fabric, such as when you pull a top over your head, it usually stays stretched out a bit. Every fabric is different, so it doesn’t make sense to guess what the recovery factor is. To account for poor recovery, when you cut out your neckband, cut out a rectangle of fabric a little bigger than your neckband pattern, pre-stretch it, then let it relax again before cutting out the neckband from the pattern. Don’t stretch the fabric as hard as you can – just think about how much it’s likely to get stretched when the garment is being pulled over the head, and stretch it that much or a little more.

Clearly mark your pattern piece so you don’t forget to pre-stretch the fabric for the neckband.

If you are going to be cutting out many garments from the same fabric, you may want to adjust the neckband pattern so you don’t have to pre-stretch your fabric. That will require a little bit of measuring and math, and I’ll discuss how to do that at the end of Method 2.

You will also need to check that your neckband can easily stretch enough to sew onto the neckline, and that the neckband will stretch enough to fit over the wearer’s head. This is especially important to check in children’s garments. If your fabric neckband does not have enough stretch, either try making a narrower neckband and re-calculating the length (it will be longer), or use different fabric with more stretch for the neckband. If the neckband didn’t fit over the wearer’s head and neither of the above was enough to fix the problem, you could also draw the entire neckline larger and make a new neckband pattern.

You can also use this method to make a band pattern for armholes. Place the shoulder seam stitching lines together, extend the side seams along the stitching lines, and draw in the stitching line around the armhole. Measure out the desired band width from the armhole stitching line and draw in the line for the finished edge of the band. The length of that curved line will be the length of your pattern (then add seam allowances). Place quarter marks on the armhole, if desired. You will need to pre-stretch your fabric before cutting it from the pattern as for a neckband.

You can also use a similar method to find the length of a V-neck neckband. I don’t feel like demonstrating exactly how you would do that at the moment, since this blog post has gotten awfully long and has taken forever to write. If you can’t figure it out, leave a comment, and maybe someday I’ll write another blog post showing how to make a neckband pattern for a V-neck or square neck.

Neckband Length Method 2: The Measuring and Calculating Method

With this method, you don’t have to draw in the finished neckband edge. Instead, you measure the length of the neckline at the stitching line and the angle between the center front and center back lines, then do some math. As long as you don’t make an error in your measurements or calculations, this method is just as accurate, or even more accurate, than the previous method. It is not a rough approximation – you are actually getting the right answer, as crazy as it seems. I’ll go through how I derived the formula later in the post for those who are interested.

This calculation method only works for rounded necklines, not V-necks or square necklines, or any other shape that comes to a sharp point. The rounded neckline can be any shape or size, though. The neckline needs to meet the center front and center back lines at a right angle (which all rounded necklines should).

The first couple of steps are the same as with Method 1: If your pattern includes seam allowances, draw in the stitching lines on the shoulder seams and around the neckline. You will want to work with half patterns, so if your patterns include both left and right sides together, draw in the center front and center back lines.

Note: If your pattern has a seam allowance of more than 3/8″ (1 cm) around the neckline, you need to reduce the seam allowance to be able to sew on the neckband correctly, especially if your fabric does not have a lot of stretch. A 1/4″ (6 mm) seam allowance is best, especially if you will be sewing the seam with a serger. On some sewing machines it can be difficult to sew a 1/4″ seam, so you can use a  3/8″ (1 cm) seam allowance if you have to, but trim the seam allowances to 1/4″ (6 mm) after sewing.

Align the front and back pattern pieces at the shoulder stitching line and tape them together.

Use your favorite curve measuring method to measure the length of the neckline seamline from center front to center back. We’ll call this measurement N. Try to get an accurate measurement – don’t do something awful like try to measure it with a flexible ruler.

Divide the length N by 2. From center front, measure this distance along the neckline stitching line and make a notch. This will be a quarter mark, which you will mark on your fabric with a marking tool when you cut out your fabric.

Place straight edges along the center front and center back lines, placing them so they cross each other. Hold them in place with weights. If you prefer, you can tape another piece of paper under the pattern and draw in the extended center front and center back lines instead.

Links in this post identified by an asterisk (*) are affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you).

Use a protractor to measure the angle between the center front and center back lines. We’ll call this angle A. You want to measure the interior angle – the smaller one that is closest to the pattern. I prefer to use a 360° protractor*, since when measuring for a armhole band, the angle is greater than 180° (I’ll show you how to calculate armhole bands in a bit, too).

If you don’t have a protractor and want to try out this method right away, you can print out one of these printable protractors. If you print out the 360° protractor, cut out half of the small circle in the center so that you can align the center mark.

In the formula below,

N = The distance you measured around the neckline stitching line from center front to center back (which is half the total neckline length, since you measured a pattern for only one side of the body)

A = The angle you measured between the center front and center back lines, measured in degrees.

W = The desired finished width of the neckband

The full unadjusted length of the neckband pattern = (2 × N) − (0.0349 × W × A)

The first time you do this, I suggest checking your answer by also using Method 1. Your answers should be within a millimeter or so if you measured accurately. Slight differences are likely due to rounding and measuring errors, but larger ones probably mean you made a math error. If the two lengths differ by more than 3 mm (1/8″), check your measurements and calculations.

Now all you need to do is adjust for poor fabric recovery, then add seam allowances.

If you will only be using the pattern once with each particular fabric, you can simply label your pattern to indicate that you should pre-stretch your fabric before cutting out the neckband, as described in Method 1.

Here is how you can adjust the neckband pattern so your fabric does not need to be pre-stretched, which you may want to do if you will be using the pattern multiple times with the same fabric, or if your fabric is delicate and becomes distorted when you stretch it. You would also make this adjustment if you are making a pattern to sell, in which case you will have to estimate the recovery factor.

Fold your ribbing fabric a bit away from the cut edge, with the direction of greatest stretch running along the fold. Place two pins near the fold 10 cm apart.

Stretch the fabric just a little more than you think it will be stretched when the wearer puts on the garment. Let go of the fabric and let it relax. Measure the new distance between the pins in centimeters, to the nearest millimeter. We’ll call this measurement D.

To calculate the recovery factor (let’s call that R), divide the unstretched length by the length after stretching:

R = 10 cm ÷ D

To adjust the length of your pattern for poor fabric recovery, multiply the previously calculated neckband length by R.

To get the final length of the pattern piece, add two seam allowances to the length. The final width will be twice the finished neckband width plus two seam allowances (the same seam allowance that you used around the neckline).

You will also need to check that your neckband can easily stretch enough to sew onto the neckline, and that the neckband will stretch enough to fit over the wearer’s head. This is especially important to check in children’s garments. If your fabric neckband does not have enough stretch, either try making a narrower neckband and re-calculating the length (it will be longer), or use different fabric with more stretch for the neckband. If the neckband didn’t fit over the wearer’s head and neither of the above was enough to fix the problem, you could also draw the entire neckline larger and make a new neckband pattern.

Method 2A: Calculating Ribbing Length for an Armhole Band

The only real difference when calculating the length of an armhole band is that you are working with the full length around the armhole instead of half of the neckline.

Note that this mathematical method will only work if your armhole curves meet the side seams at right angles. They may not on some garments. In that case use Method 1 instead, and treat the underarm point as you would a V-neckline, sewing the band ends together at an angle to match the garment shape.

Mark the stitching lines around the armhole and on the side seams of the garment. Tape the front and back pieces together at the shoulder stitching lines.

Measure the distance around the armhole along the stitching line, making sure you start and stop at the side seam stitching lines (don’t include any seam allowances in the measurement). We’ll call this length around the armhole L.

Place straight edges along the stitching lines of the side seams, extending them until they intersect. Alternatively, you can put paper under the pattern and draw in these lines. The point where the lines intersect might end up inside the pattern, which is not a problem.

Measure the larger angle formed by the side seam lines (the angle closest to the pattern). We’ll call this angle B.

In the formula below,

L = The distance you measured around the armhole stitching line.

B = The angle you measured between the side seam stitching lines, measured in degrees (it should be greater than 180°).

W = The finished width of the armhole band.

The length of the armhole band pattern = L − (0.0175 × W × B)

Now adjust the length for fabric recovery, add seam allowances, etc. just like you did for a neckband.


The Math Behind it All

Here’s how I came up with that mysterious formula for calculating the neckband length. I assumed that with the garment laid out flat, the neckband fabric should be it’s natural length (neither stretched nor rippled) at the finished folded edge. (The additional adjustments for the fabric recovery factor are done as a separate step after this length is calculated.) The other edge of the neckband will stretch to fit the neckline seam. So what I really need to find is the length of the finished neckband inner edge.

Let’s start with a simplified case and represent the stitching line and the finished neckband edge with two circles. The outer circle, with a radius R and a circumference N, represents the neckline stitching line. The inner circle, with radius r and circumference n, represents the finished neckband edge. The distance between the edges of the two circles is w, which represents the finished neckband width.

I’m going to write down a few known equations to relate the different variables labeled on the circles.

R = r + w

N = 2πR

n = 2πr

I can use algebra to re-arrange a couple of those equations to get

r = R − w

R = N/(2π)

What I want to find is n in terms of N and w.

Doing some substitutions and simplifications:

n = 2πr = 2π(R − w) = 2πR − 2πw

Substituting N/(2π) for R,

n = 2πR − 2πw = 2π(N/(2π)) − 2πw = N − 2πw

Now I have what I wanted:  n = N − 2πw

However, necklines or armholes are not full circles. Let’s say they are arcs – fractional parts of circles. In the figure below, N1 is the outer arc length, n1 is the inner arc length, w is the distance between them, and A is an angle measured in degrees.

So now,

A/360° = N1/N = n1/n

n1 = An/360°

N1 = AN/360°

so N = 360°N1/A

Substitute N − 2πw for n, simplify,

n1 = An/360° = A(N − 2πw)/360° = AN/360° − 2πwA/360° = AN/360° − (π/180°)wA

then substitute 360°N1/A for N:

n1 = AN/360° − (π/180°)wA = A(360°N1/A)/360° − (π/180°)wA = N1 − (π/180°)wA

If we calculate the decimal approximation of the equation to three significant digits, we get

n1 = N1 − (π/180°)wA ≅ N1 − (0.0175)wA

When we are calculating the arm band length, this is the equation we use. We know the width w and we measure the arc length N1 and the angle A.

When we are calculating the neckband length, we know the width w and we measure the arc length N1 and the angle A. However, in this case since we are measuring half the pattern, what we really want to find is 2n1 so we multiply both sides of the equation by 2 and get

2n1 = 2N1 − 2(π/180°)wA = 2N1 − (π/90°)wA ≅ 2N1 − (0.0349)wA

Now you probably are waving your hand in the air and saying, “But wait, Leila, my neckline and armhole shapes are not perfect arcs! How good of an approximation is that, really?”

It’s either an exact answer or a very close approximation. I’m not a mathematician, and I never learned about this in school, so I can’t tell you for sure. I checked it with the Inkscape drawing program I have, which is not as exact as a CAD program, and when I compare measured lengths to calculated lengths for various curved shapes, I get very close to the same answer.

To see why this formula works for shapes other than circles, let’s start with a circle, cut it in half, and insert four line segments of equal length between them to stretch the circles out into oval shapes. N is now the perimeter of the outer shape, and n is the perimeter of the inner shape.

Because the line segments that were added to the inner and outer shapes are the same length, the perimeter of the inner shape can still be calculated with the formula n = N − 2πw.

We can keep splitting apart the circles and adding more pairs of equal length line segments to get all sorts of rounded shapes. Since the length added to the outer shape still equals the length added to the inner shape, we can still use the same formula to calculate the difference in the length of the perimeters.

If we keep making the line segments smaller and smaller, and inserting more of them, eventually it all blends together into one smooth shape. If you have access to a CAD program, you can draw various rounded shapes, offset them a specified distance, measure the perimeter of the inner and outer shapes, and verify that the formula still holds true. You can even have concave curve portions – the length lost going around the inner curves is balanced out by the extra length on the convex portions. You just can’t have a sharp bend anywhere. As you start to get tight curves that are close to a sharp point, the results are less perfect, but the same equation is still a close approximation even for these shapes. It’s kind of mind blowing that such a simple formula can work for complex shapes.

This fact has other applications in sewing, such as when you are adjusting a pattern to be used with thicker fabric.


What everyone else is saying

I don’t really blame sewing bloggers or home sewers who have passed on bad advice about calculating neckband length, because they had to have gotten their information from somewhere, right? And often bloggers add a little apologetic, “Well, this seems to work most of the time,” comment at the end of their posts about calculating neckband length, so they at least hint that the method they are showing you does not work perfectly (unlike patternmaking books, which just say “use this formula”). After using various methods for calculating neckband length I found online and not having success with them, I pulled out all of the sewing and patternmaking books I could get my hands on. Sadly, these books give the same advice as I found online. I guess that’s not surprising – these books and others like them are where the information is originating from. Here’s what I found from a few different sources:

The Practical Guide to Patternmaking for Fashion Designers: Juniors, Misses and Women* by Lori A. Knowles. Multiply the finished neckline length by 0.75 to get the neckband length.

Patternmaking for Fashion Design* by Helen Joseph Armstrong. She basically says to use trial and error to find the correct neckband length, which I guess I can’t really say is wrong, but it is a waste of time.

Patternmaking with Stretch Knit Fabrics* by Julie Cole. Measure the length of the neck seamline then reduce this by 1/7 to get the neckband length. There is a footnote indicating that Designing and Patternmaking for Stretch Fabrics* by Keith Richardson was the source for this formula.

Sew Knits with Confidence* by Nancy Zieman. Make the ribbing length 3/4 of the neckline seamline measurement.

Sewing with Knits* by Connie Long. Here is the exact quote from the book: “To cut the ribbing length, measure the neck opening along the stitching line. Divide this measurement by two-thirds, and add two seam allowances.” In case your math skills are as rusty as Connie’s, I’ll remind you that “divide by 2/3” means the same as “multiply by 3/2”. So technically what the author is telling you is to make the ribbing 150% of the neckline length. I’m 100% sure she actually meant to tell you to “multiply this measurement by two-thirds”. It could have just been a typo. Maybe.

Pattern Making for Kids’ Clothes* by Carla Hegeman Crim. Make the ribbing length “about 3/4 the size of the neckline”.

Craftsy Class: Sewing Knits That Fit with Dyanne Marte. She says to make the neckline banding three inches shorter than the neckline length, and to always make the neckline banding a half inch finished width or wider. Quote: “You should always work with at least a half inch and up for banding because if it’s too thin what’s going to end up happening is that it’s going to roll over because it’s not going to have enough of a control.” (FYI – I have a t-shirt I made with a 1/4″ (6 mm) wide neckband, and it lies perfectly flat. Maybe she was having problems with narrow bands because she’s making them the wrong length. She was also discussing using bands on sleeves and in place of shirt hems, though, and yes, those bands should be wider, but narrow neckbands are fine if you cut them exactly the right length.)

The methods listed above are approximations, and will not always give you the right answer. The percentage reductions listed above vary from 67% to 86%, which is quite a wide range. If you want accurate results, you can’t make the neckband a percentage of the neckline length or reduce it by a fixed amount to get the right length for a neckband. Mathematically it just doesn’t work. Rib knits are pretty forgiving, so you will probably get OK results most of the time even if you use one of these estimates. However, if you are using neckband fabric with less stretch, you will need to use one of the methods I described. Also, if your neckline is especially long or short, or if your ribbing width is narrower or wider than typical, your neckband length can be way off using the percentage calculations.

I was curious where these percentage calculations most other people reference came from. I guessed that maybe they work for certain combinations of common neckline lengths, neckline widths, and fabric recovery factors.

Cutting the neckband to 75% of the neckline length is mentioned frequently. I put together a table using my calculations to see what neckline lengths, band widths, and recovery factors might result in a neckband measuring 75% of the neckline length. I adjusted the recovery factor until I got some results near 75%:

Neckband length as a percent of neckline length
(Assuming angle A = 150°, and recovery factor R = 0.8)

Neckband width (cm)
  0.5 1 1.3 1.5 2 2.5
Neckline length (cm) 50 78% 76% 75% 74% 72% 70%
52 78% 76% 75% 74% 72% 70%
54 78% 76% 75% 74% 72% 70%
56 78% 76% 75% 74% 73% 71%
58 78% 76% 75% 75% 73% 71%
60 78% 77% 75% 75% 73% 71%
62 78% 77% 76% 75% 73% 72%
64 78% 77% 76% 75% 73% 72%
66 78% 77% 76% 75% 74% 72%
68 78% 77% 76% 75% 74% 72%
70 79% 77% 76% 76% 74% 73%
72 79% 77% 76% 76% 74% 73%
74 79% 77% 76% 76% 74% 73%
76 79% 77% 76% 76% 74% 73%
78 79% 77% 77% 76% 75% 73%
80 79% 77% 77% 76% 75% 73%
82 79% 77% 77% 76% 75% 74%
84 79% 78% 77% 76% 75% 74%
86 79% 78% 77% 76% 75% 74%
88 79% 78% 77% 76% 75% 74%
90 79% 78% 77% 77% 75% 74%
92 79% 78% 77% 77% 75% 74%
94 79% 78% 77% 77% 76% 74%
96 79% 78% 77% 77% 76% 75%
98 79% 78% 77% 77% 76% 75%
100 79% 78% 77% 77% 76% 75%

When I made the major assumption of setting the recovery factor to 0.8 for these calculations, the 1.3 cm (1/2″) neckline bindings are close to 75% of the neckline length. If you are using a rib knit, I can see how most of the time you could get away with making your band 75% of the neckline length. HOWEVER, keep in mind in this chart I was assuming R = 0.8, and in reality it will vary widely from fabric to fabric. If I change the recovery factor to something else, the percentages no longer fall in this range.

Look what happens when I change the recovery factor to 0.9. Now 75% is not a good estimate to use for any of the common neckband width/neckline length combinations:

Neckband width (cm)
  0.5 1 1.3 1.5 2 2.5
Neckline length (cm) 50 88% 85% 84% 83% 81% 78%
52 88% 85% 84% 83% 81% 79%
54 88% 86% 84% 83% 81% 79%
56 88% 86% 85% 84% 82% 79%
58 88% 86% 85% 84% 82% 80%
60 88% 86% 85% 84% 82% 80%
62 88% 86% 85% 84% 82% 80%
64 88% 86% 85% 84% 83% 81%
66 88% 86% 85% 85% 83% 81%
68 88% 87% 85% 85% 83% 81%
70 88% 87% 86% 85% 83% 82%
72 88% 87% 86% 85% 83% 82%
74 88% 87% 86% 85% 84% 82%
76 88% 87% 86% 85% 84% 82%
78 88% 87% 86% 85% 84% 82%
80 89% 87% 86% 86% 84% 83%
82 89% 87% 86% 86% 84% 83%
84 89% 87% 86% 86% 84% 83%
86 89% 87% 86% 86% 85% 83%
88 89% 87% 87% 86% 85% 83%
90 89% 87% 87% 86% 85% 83%
92 89% 87% 87% 86% 85% 84%
94 89% 87% 87% 86% 85% 84%
96 89% 88% 87% 86% 85% 84%
98 89% 88% 87% 86% 85% 84%
100 89% 88% 87% 86% 85% 84%

As for the 3″ (7.6 cm) that Dyanne Marte said to reduce your neckband? To get even some of the numbers to come out close, I had to set the recovery factor to 0.92. The numbers in the chart change drastically with slight changes in the value of the recovery factor R, and the fixed amount only comes close to working for a small number of neckband width/neckline length combinations. I would say subtracting a fixed amount from the neckline length is never a good strategy for calculating the neckband length. Come to think of it, on the example t-shirt Dyanne Marte showed in her Craftsy class, the neckband looked really loose and ripply. Note that the numbers in the chart below are in centimeters.

Neckline length minus neckband length
(Assuming angle A = 150°, and recovery factor R = 0.92)

Neckband width (cm)
  0.5 1 1.3 1.5 2 2.5
Neckline length (cm) 50 5.2 6.4 7.1 7.6 8.8 10.0
52 5.4 6.6 7.3 7.8 9.0 10.2
54 5.5 6.7 7.5 7.9 9.1 10.3
56 5.7 6.9 7.6 8.1 9.3 10.5
58 5.8 7.0 7.8 8.3 9.5 10.7
60 6.0 7.2 7.9 8.4 9.6 10.8
62 6.2 7.4 8.1 8.6 9.8 11.0
64 6.3 7.5 8.3 8.7 9.9 11.1
66 6.5 7.7 8.4 8.9 10.1 11.3
68 6.6 7.8 8.6 9.1 10.3 11.5
70 6.8 8.0 8.7 9.2 10.4 11.6
72 7.0 8.2 8.9 9.4 10.6 11.8
74 7.1 8.3 9.1 9.5 10.7 11.9
76 7.3 8.5 9.2 9.7 10.9 12.1
78 7.4 8.6 9.4 9.9 11.1 12.3
80 7.6 8.8 9.5 10.0 11.2 12.4
82 7.8 9.0 9.7 10.2 11.4 12.6
84 7.9 9.1 9.9 10.3 11.5 12.7
86 8.1 9.3 10.0 10.5 11.7 12.9
88 8.2 9.4 10.2 10.7 11.9 13.1
90 8.4 9.6 10.3 10.8 12.0 13.2
92 8.6 9.8 10.5 11.0 12.2 13.4
94 8.7 9.9 10.7 11.1 12.3 13.5
96 8.9 10.1 10.8 11.3 12.5 13.7
98 9.0 10.2 11.0 11.5 12.7 13.9
100 9.2 10.4 11.1 11.6 12.8 14.0

I had to make a lot of assumptions when I made the charts above – don’t try to use them for calculating your own neckbands! I made the charts to show you why using an approximate formula will not work well in general.

* Links in this post identified by an asterisk (*) are affiliate links. They are links to the US Amazon site. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you).



Posted in Patternmaking

Labor Day Sale

All of the half scale dress form patterns in my Etsy and Craftsy shops are 20% off from August 31 through September 4!


Posted in Half-Scale Patternmaking and Sewing

DIY Dressmaker’s Tracing Cloth

Back in the day when I started sewing, the dressmaker’s tracing paper available to home sewers was waxy, similar to professional waxed tracing paper. It made good marks, but they were permanent. The wax-free tracing paper commonly available to home sewers these days washes out better, but it barely marks fabric, it comes in small, thin sheets, it doesn’t last very long, and the marks often brush away before you are done with them.

Links in this post identified by an asterisk (*) are affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you).

Because of these issues, I rarely use tracing paper for marking my garments. I usually use tailor’s tacks, washable markers*, or a chalk wheel* . However, there are times when I want to use tracing paper, such as when I trace patterns onto paper or mark the stitching lines on muslins.

Since I can barely see the marks left by my wax-free tracing paper, I’ve been using the same raggedy strips of waxed tracing paper I’ve had for the last 25 years, but those little scraps aren’t going to last much longer. I’ve been meaning to get some professional tracing paper for a while, but it hasn’t made it to the top of my wish list yet. There’s always something else I need first, like some fabric, or a new pair of scissors, or another vintage sewing machine . . .

I had just been thinking about the problems I have with tracing paper when I stumbled across the vintage patternmaking book Modern Pattern Design* by Harriet Pepin. You can also find pdf versions of this book online. The book begins with a list of tools and materials you need for patternmaking. The author describes how to make a “chalk board” (used like we use tracing paper to mark fabric) by painting a water/chalk mixture onto a paper surfaced board and covering it with cheesecloth.

That got me wondering what sort of pigments I could use to make colored tracing paper. Maybe something waxy, like crayons? I decided to try washable crayons, since they can be dissolved in water and they wash out of fabric. Instead of using paper, I used a piece of quilter’s cotton. I figured fabric would hold up better than paper and would hold the pigment better. Also, by using fabric I could make a double-sided tracing cloth, so I could sandwich it between two layers of fabric to mark both layers at once.

I asked my kids to get out their boxes of old crayons, and luckily they still had a few jumbo sized washable Crayola crayons left over from their toddler days.

Crayola washable crayons* are made out of water-soluble polymers instead of wax. They dissolve easily in water and melt at a low temperature (don’t leave them in a hot car!). I chopped up half of a blue crayon and half of a purple crayon, added two tablespoons (30 mL) of water, then microwaved the mix 10 seconds at a time until I could stir it into a smooth mixture.


This experiment reminded me of my high school science teacher. He frequently made fun of the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. He’d say “She was dissolving, not melting!” My washable crayons were simultaneously dissolving and melting, which is kind of unusual.

The thick, slippery crayon mixture felt like finger paint. I got my 4.5″ by 12.5″ (11 cm by 32 cm) piece of fabric wet, wrung it out, and dunked it into the goop. I flattened out the fabric on a flexible cutting board and smoothed out the layer of crayon mixture. I had plenty of crayon mixture left over. I probably could have coated two pieces of fabric that size with the equivalent of one jumbo sized crayon. It was a bit messy, but cleanup was easy, because hey, it’s washable.

I hung the fabric up to dry. After letting it dry for a day, I briefly ironed it between two sheets of paper with a barely warm iron, just to flatten it a bit.

I was worried that the crayon would flake off of the surface and make a mess, but it doesn’t at all. The cloth just feels stiff, like oil cloth.

And . . . it works! I tested it by tracing onto both paper and fabric. I sandwiched it between two layers of fabric, and got good marks on both layers. I’m still going to get some professional waxed tracing paper one of these days, but I think I’ll also get some more washable crayons and make a larger piece of tracing cloth. I can use my tracing cloth when I want marks that wash out, or when I want to mark two layers at once. The tracing cloth should last a really long time. When the cloth needs more pigment, I can always paint on a bit more washable crayon mixture to rejuvenate it. And I can make tracing cloths in lots of colors, too!

I’m thinking a sewing notions company needs to team up with Crayola to make us some better washable dressmaker’s tracing paper!

* Links in this post identified by an asterisk (*) are affiliate links. They are links to the US Amazon site. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you).


Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

Brother 2340CV Cover Stitch Machine Survival Guide

I’ve had my Brother 2340CV cover stitch machine for about a year. I wanted a cover stitch machine that could make wide cover stitches, narrow cover stitches, and could use a binder attachment. Buying a cover stitch machine was already a bit of a financial stretch for me, so I only looked at cover stitch machines at the lower end of the price range. The Brother 2340CV was the only stand-alone cover stitch machine that met all of my requirements.

I live out in the middle of nowhere, and unfortunately the nearest Brother dealer is a three hour drive away, so I had to order my cover stitch machine without testing it out. The Brother 2340CV gets mixed reviews, so I was a bit nervous about taking a chance on it. You can find reviews ranging from “This is the greatest machine ever and I’ve never had any trouble with it,” to “No matter what I try I can’t get it to work and I want to throw it out the window.” I read every review I could find, I read a bunch of advice from people on the Patternreview forum, and I decided to take a chance on it. I thought I’d use the machine for a while, get the machine figured out, then write a quick blog post with tips for sewing with the Brother 2340CV. Ha.

The tips I found for using this machine were all over the place. I found some good ideas, some useless suggestions, and some really bad advice. Plenty of people gave different advice about the same problem. For every bit of advice I give, you can probably find someone else that suggests doing the opposite. I know it is easy to get confused when troubleshooting this machine. I kept thinking I’d found a solution to a problem, only to later realize that the real solution was something else entirely. There are a lot of variables involved in keeping this machine from throwing temper tantrums.

Well, I’ve had my cover stitch machine for a year, and I JUST NOW feel like I have this machine’s little quirks figured out. I spent more money on this machine than any other sewing machine I have, and unfortunately it’s the wimpiest, most finicky one of the bunch. I’ve never wanted to throw it out the window, but I did spent quite a bit of time being frustrated with all of the skipped stitches, broken needles, and broken thread. I really, really wanted to like this machine, so I persevered, and I eventually figured out how to keep it happy. I can’t say I love my Brother 2340CV, but I can get it to do what I need it to. I do love having beautiful strong, stretchy hems and topstitching on my knit garments. That makes me happy.

Links in this post identified by an asterisk (*) are affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you).

Now that I’ve gotten my Brother 2340CV* figured out, I don’t know how I ever lived without a cover stitch machine. I’m writing this post for anyone who has this machine and is in the “I’m about to throw it out the window” category, for anyone who has just purchased one, and for those of you considering buying one. You CAN make it work. It just takes some knowledge and effort.

This ended up being a ridiculously long blog post, but I wanted to get all this information out there in one place. Here’s a table of contents in case you want to jump to a different section:

The bottom line: Would I buy a Brother 2340CV again?

Other machines to consider

My additions and corrections to the manual

Miscellaneous tips and tricks

Accessories for the Brother 2340CV

Other cover stitching resources

The bottom line: Would I buy a Brother 2340CV again?

If I was given a choice between the cover stitch machines that were on the market at the time I bought mine? Yes, I would buy the Brother 2340CV again. If I could choose between the cover stitch machines on the market now? No, I wouldn’t.

Soon after I bought my Brother 2340CV, Juki came out with the MCS-1500* cover stitch machine. It costs a bit more than the Brother, but it’s still a fairly reasonable price compared to many other brands, and it’s getting really good reviews. I absolutely love my Juki MO-654DE serger*, which is reliable and just works no matter what – and that’s what people are saying about the MCS-1500 cover stitch machine. Also, it sounds like the Juki MCS-1500 will handle thicker fabrics than the Brother 2340CV does. I would have saved up longer and gotten the Juki instead if it had been on the market when I bought my cover stitch machine. If I ever upgrade my cover stitch machine, it will likely be to the Juki MCS-1500.

My recommendations: If you need a cover stitch machine right now, you don’t need to sew thick fabric with it, and you only have enough money to buy the Brother 2340CV*, go for it. With the information in this blog post, you should be able to use it successfully. If you can afford the Juki MCS-1500*, or can wait a little longer until you can save up for it, look into the Juki MCS-1500.

If you plan on doing a lot of topstitching on the interior of a garment (more than just shoulder seams and necklines) you might want to look at the Janome CoverPro 1000CPX*, since it has a large harp space. Like the Brother 2340CV, the Janome cover stitch machines get mixed reviews. Some people love them and some people have nothing but trouble with them. I read that one of the common mistakes people make with Janome cover stitch machines is using the wrong needles. The Janome cover stitch machines use ELx705 needles, not regular household sewing machine needles. I looked at Schmetz ELx705 needles, and it looks like the ball point version might be hard to find. I only saw Schmetz ELx705 needles for sale with a universal point (also called “light ball point” or “slight ball point”), although apparently Schmetz does make the medium ball point version. Universal point needles punch holes in many knit fabrics (especially cotton), so you’ll want to get some ball point ELx705 needles, too. Organ makes them*. Look for “ELx705 SUK”. SUK is the code for medium ball point, which is what you want to use for most knit fabrics. Some of my tips for the Brother 2340CV, such as using strong thread in the needles, making sure the thread is unwinding smoothly, making sure your tension is not set too high, hammering seams before you sew over them, and using smaller needles, might help with the Janome machines as well.

Other machines to consider

Here is a list of the cover stitch machines I found at the lower end of the price range. If you have more to spend, you have even more choices for stand-alone cover stitch machines, or you could buy a serger/cover stitch combo machine. If you need a really reliable machine, and have the money and space for it, consider getting an industrial cover stitch machine.

Consew 14TU858*: This is the least expensive cover stitch machine I saw. It only does a two-needle cover stitch and a two thread chain stitch, and it has a plastic piece that looks like a serger knife cover taking up the harp space to the right of the needle. This machine might be OK if you only want to use it for hemming and topstitching very near the edge of the fabric. It doesn’t look like you can use a binder attachment with it. I couldn’t find a single review for this machine.

Singer 14T968DC*: This is a serger/cover stitch combo machine, not a stand-alone cover stitch machine, but it is priced low enough that you could buy it just for the cover stitch feature. It gets surprisingly good reviews considering its low price. Most of the complaints are that it is a complicated machine and it takes a while to figure out how to use it.

Brother 2340CV*: This machine does a wide two-needle cover stitch, a narrow two-needle cover stitch, a three-needle cover stitch, and a two thread chain stitch. This machine gets mixed reviews.

Janome CoverPro 900CPX*: This machine has a lot of harp space for easy topstitching down the middle of a garment, but only does a wide two-needle coverstitch and a two thread chain stitch. I consider having the option of a narrow cover stitch an essential feature in a cover stitch machine. Like the Brother 2340CV, this machine gets mixed reviews.

Janome CoverPro 1000CPX*: This machine does a wide two-needle cover stitch, a narrow two-needle cover stitch, a three-needle cover stitch, and a two thread chain stitch. Like the 900CPX, it has a large harp space. This machine is popular, but gets mixed reviews.

Juki MCS-1500*: This cover stitch machine appears to be a clone of the Bernina L220, just with a different brand name and a 50% lower price. It does a wide two-needle cover stitch, a narrow two-needle cover stitch, a wide three-needle cover stitch, and a two thread chain stitch. It gets very good reviews. It sounds like a reliable, high quality machine. I would like to upgrade to this Juki cover stitch machine some day.

My additions and corrections to the manual

Overall, the Brother 2340CV manual is inadequate. It’s actually 90% good, useful information, although it’s poorly translated into English and is sometimes hard to understand. Unfortunately the other 10% is just wrong. Also, there is a lot of missing information that you will need. If the manual is your only source of information for how to use this machine you will probably never be successful with it. But lucky for you I’m going to tell you the other stuff you need to know.

I’ll go over each section of the manual and add my clarifications, additions, and corrections. You can download the Brother 2340CV manual if you don’t have a copy of it and you’d like to follow along.

The manual starts out with the usual warnings – don’t use your sewing machine while in the bath, etc. Basically, don’t sue Brother if you do something stupid.

Pages 3 and 4 describe the parts of the machine. Read that.

Now onto Page 5. Stitch length: I usually leave the stitch length at 3 mm. I read some advice suggesting setting the stitch length shorter, so I tried that, but it ended up not helping anything. Shorter stitches leave you with a lot of thread bulk on the under side, so don’t shorten them unless you have a good reason to. I would not recommend setting the stitch length longer than 3 mm.

Differential Feed: Most of the time I leave the differential feed set to one click past the 1.0 mark (about 1.1). This seems to work well for most knit fabrics.

Page 6. Presser foot pressure: I haven’t actually changed mine. I did read that increasing the pressure might help prevent skipped stitches, but with everything else I figured out, I hardly ever get a skipped stitch any more. If you want to change your presser foot pressure, use a permanent marker to make matching alignment marks on the knob and the sewing machine. Count how many turns you make and make a note of it so you can get the pressure back to the default setting later.

Page 7. Needles. Pay attention here, because this is one of the places where the manual goes horribly wrong. It suggests a size 90/14 needle. DO NOT EVER use a size 90/14 needle in this machine. If you ignore my advice and try it, please wear safety glasses. The needles will break frequently. I had a chunk of needle hit me on the nose, and I was very glad that I wear eyeglasses.

This machine takes regular home sewing machine needles. Size 75/11 is best (for all fabric, no matter how thin or thick), but you can use size 80/12 if that’s all you have on hand. I found that both Schmetz and Organ needles work fine in this machine, but Singer needles don’t work as well. If you are sewing on woven fabric, fleece, dense knit fabric, or thick knit fabric (such as sweatshirt fleece), use universal point needles. Also, stick to size 75/11 needles for thicker fabric, since the needles will pierce the fabric more easily (I know, your gut is probably telling you to use bigger needles for thicker fabric. Don’t). Use ball point (jersey) needles for most knit fabric, including fabric with spandex in it. I don’t think stretch needles are necessary with this type of machine. Ball point needles work fine for me.

It may seem counterintuitive that smaller needles are less likely to break. I think the problem is that it takes a lot of force to push two or three large needles through fabric (Try pushing two size 75/11 needles through a piece of fabric by hand. Now try two size 90/14 needles. You can feel that it takes a lot more force to push the larger needles through the fabric). For size 90/14 needles, the force needed to push the needles through the fabric is almost as large as the force needed to break them. Size 75/11 needles are small enough to slip easily through the fabric, so they rarely bend or break.

Removing or inserting needles: Before step 1 listed in the manual, place a scrap of fabric under the presser foot and lower it. This will give you more room to work and the fabric will keep you from dropping a needle down inside the machine.

Page 8. Thread spool. Cross wound thread, whether on cones, tubes, or spools (such as Gütermann or Mettler spools), unwinds straight off the top and does not need a thread cap. Stack wound thread spools (such as Coats) needs to be used with a spool cap. Bobbins are also stack wound and need spool caps. I find that I can just jam a Gütermann spool down on the post and it stays in place on its own. The commercial sized Gütermann thread that Wawak sells needs a little help to stay in place. For now, until I come up with a better solution, I just put a ball of poster putty* on the top of the tube, and it keeps it in place.

Use thread nets whenever possible to get better quality stitches. Check your spool or bobbin for any rough spots or cracks the thread could catch on. Rough spots will cause the thread to break. After you have your cone or spool set up on the thread stand, put it through the thread guides 1 and 2, then pull some thread out to check that you have it set up so the thread will pull off smoothly. Even the slightest snag can cause the thread to break.

Lets talk about thread selection. For the looper thread, any semi-decent quality serger thread is fine. Don’t use old rotten thread or cheap black thread (black thread breaks more easily – use dark gray instead if you can). I tend to buy whatever serger thread is on sale, so I have a mix of Maxi-Lock, SureLock, and Toldi-Lock. I compared the breaking strength of the three brands. Maxi-Lock was the strongest, and Toldi-Lock was the weakest, but they all work OK in the cover stitch looper. Just to see what would happen, I tried using the weakest thread I could find in my stash (it was black Toldi-Lock) in the looper. I sewed for several yards, and the thread broke once. That was the only time I’ve ever had the looper thread break. I threw that thread away, because it was probably not strong enough to use in my serger, either.

If you want a softer looper thread that isn’t as scratchy (especially when topstitching necklines) use textured polyester thread such as Polyarn* in the looper. Textured polyester thread looks similar to wooly nylon, but do not use wooly nylon thread! Wooly nylon shrinks like crazy, and you will end up with a horrible puckered mess after you wash your garment (ask me how I know).

Textured polyester thread is widely used in the garment industry – it was used on over half of the ready-to-wear t-shirts I checked – but so far it is not widely available to home sewers (in the US, anyway). Polyarn is available from Superior Threads and through Amazon*. It is a bit on the expensive side, but if you only use it in your looper when you are topstitching necklines or shoulder seams, you really only need one or two colors, since it won’t show on the right side at all. The only other textured polyester threads I’ve seen available to home sewers (Prolock and Gütermann E382) are thicker than Polyarn, so they are probably not the best choice for coverstitch looper thread, as they would be more bulky.

Another benefit of using Polyarn in the looper is that your needle threads are less likely to break. This is because you will have the looper thread tension set low. For some reason, lowering the looper tension, not just the needle thread tension, reduces needle thread breakage.

Here’s a close-up of a strand of Polyarn (top) and some all-purpose thread for comparison:

When you are threading textured thread in the looper, skip thread guide #2 and the second part of thread guide #3. See the note box on the bottom of page 10 of the manual. Set the looper tension lower than usual. I set mine all the way to zero. Be sure to use a thread net on the thread cone.

This machine is very picky about needle thread. The needle thread is under a lot of tension, so it is best to use strong thread. I recommend Gütermann Sew-All polyester thread for the most trouble-free sewing. Mettler Metrosene is OK, too, but I don’t think it’s quite as strong. Coats All-Purpose thread is strong, but rather thick and wiry, so it leaves large loops on the under side, which can be scratchy if the stitches are in direct contact with your skin, especially around necklines.

If you only have one spool or cone of needle thread, you can wind thread for the other needle(s) onto bobbins. I haven’t had the greatest luck with this, probably because my bobbin winder doesn’t wind perfectly. The bobbin needs to be wound smoothly under even tension for it to work well. Wind your bobbin at the lowest speed possible. As you wind the thread, try pinching the thread between your thumb and finger a few inches past the spool (but before the tensioner) to add more tension and keep the tension more even. Your bobbin also needs to be perfectly smooth around the edges. Use a thread cap with bobbins.

Another option to split up a single spool is to wind some thread onto a cardboard cone or an empty serger thread cone. This way you can use a thread net on the cone to get better quality stitches. You have to wind the thread under an even tension, wind evenly, and swipe the thread quickly back and forth as you wind it for as close to a cross-wound effect as you can get. Your cone or cardboard tube needs to be smooth, with nothing for the thread to snag on. It does take some skill to wind the thread properly. Much to my surprise, my homemade toilet paper tube cones have been working well for me for needle thread.

If you use thinner thread, such as serger thread, in the needles, you get better looking stitches with smaller needle thread loops that lie flatter and are thus not as scratchy. Serger thread breaks frequently, though. I have to admit, a lot of the trouble I’ve had with my cover stitch machine has been because I stubbornly keep trying to use serger thread in the needles. I did figure out that if I lower both the needle AND looper tensions by about a number, I can sometimes get away with using serger thread. The needle thread still breaks now and then, but I figure that’s the price I pay for being too cheap to buy good thread. I did just buy a box of assorted Gütermann thread*, so with more thread colors on hand, hopefully I’ll be less tempted to use serger thread in the needles.

In the picture below, the top row was sewn with serger thread in both the looper and needles. The bottom row was sewn with Coats thread in the needles and serger thread in the looper.

Here’s a close-up of the stitches. The Coats needle thread is on the left; serger thread in the needles is on the right. Even with the needle tension lower while using serger thread in the needles, smaller loops are formed. The larger loops really stick out and feel scratchy against my skin. The loops can’t be made much smaller by increasing the tension – the thread just breaks when the tension is set too high.

Back to the manual. Pages 9-10 are about threading the machine. I think the manual makes it pretty clear how to thread the machine. I didn’t have any problems. This machine is harder to thread than a regular sewing machine, but easier than a serger.

You should completely re-thread the needle threads when you change threads. Don’t tie on the new needle thread and pull it through, because the needle threads follow the same path at one point and the threads could get twisted together. This is another potential cause of thread breakage.

Tying on the looper thread is fine, though. Cut the old thread near the cone, put the new cone in place, tie the end of the new thread to the old thread, then hold down the tension release button while you pull on the end of the old thread to pull the new thread through. It’s a quick and easy way to change the looper thread.

Pages 11-14. Types of stitches: With this cover stitch machine you are probably not going to get perfect looking stitches that look like the drawings in the manual. I find that no matter what I do, the left needle thread loops tend to be larger and irregular in size. Using thread nets helps a lot, but the stitches are never perfect on the under side. Regardless of how the under side looks, the stitches look fine from the right side, though. Also, when you are using needle and looper thread that matches, you won’t notice any slight irregularities in the needle loops on the wrong side.

When I first got this machine, I kept turning up my tension trying to get the needle loops to be smaller, until my tension would be too high and my thread would break, but my needle thread loops still weren’t as small as they show in the drawings in the manual. My stitches always look more like the “Needle thread is too loose” pictures in the manual. Like I mentioned when talking about thread, using thinner thread will give you smaller needle thread loops, but thinner thread is more prone to breaking. If you want absolutely consistent, perfect looking stitches, this is not the machine for you.

The manual says the normal tension setting is 4 (except for chainstitching). I suspect that the tension dials are not adjusted consistently at the factory. This could be one of the reasons some people have so much trouble with this machine and it works fine for others. When I first got my machine, with my tension settings at 4 I would get broken needle thread no matter what thread I used. Turning the tension down to 3.5 stopped the thread breakage. Remember that having the looper tension too high also causes the needle thread to break, even if the needle tensions are reduced enough.

Here’s how I would suggest you check your thread tensions. (If your threads are not breaking and your stitches look good, your tension settings are fine, so don’t mess with them.) Using whatever type of thread you usually use, thread your looper and all three needle thread paths (with different colors in each, if possible), but don’t thread the needles. Set your tension dials to 4 to start with. With the needle threads coming out from under the last thread guide before the needles, pull on each needle thread one at a time and then pull on the looper thread. If the thread pulls out smoothly and your thread doesn’t feel like it is about to break, your tension is probably fine. If you can barely pull out the thread and/or it jerks or breaks as you pull it out, the tension is set too high. Adjust the tension dials until the tension on each thread feels about the same, then thread the needles and try sewing on a double layer of knit fabric. If the needle thread loops on the underside are big and sloppy, increase the tension slightly on each thread. If one needle obviously has lower or higher tension, adjust the tensions as needed. Keep in mind the left needle thread loops just tend to be larger, especially if you are not using thread nets. If your needle thread is breaking, lower every single tension knob, including the looper, 0.25 at a time until your thread stops breaking. When you have figured out the tension settings that work well, write them down or note them on stickers on your machine.

If it bothers you that 4 is not the default tension, or your tension dials are way off, the tension dials can be adjusted so that “4” is the normal tension. You should be able to have your dealer adjust the tension dials. I don’t live near a dealer, so I found a copy of the Brother 2340CV service manual online, and it describes how to adjust the tension dials. Here’s an example of which way to turn the dial: If the tension is correct with the dial set to 3, turn the tension knob to 4, use a thin hook (I used a 1.5 mm crochet hook, which just barely fit – the service manual shows using a 0.5 mm thick flat hook) to pull up on the plastic tab on the right side of the tension knob, and while the tab is still pulled up, turn the tension knob to 5. Release the tab. Now when the dial is turned to 4 the tension will be correct. Another example: If your correct tension was with the dial set to 5.5, you would adjust the dial from 4 to 2.5 while holding the plastic tab out. If you have a large adjustment to make, you will have to do it in a couple of steps. Just keep in mind that if you damage your machine by working on it yourself, you will void the warranty. There are some very thin, flimsy looking plastic parts inside the tension dials, so be very careful if you choose to adjust them yourself.

Page 15-16. Removing the fabric from the machine: Do not attempt to read the instructions in the manual. Draw a big red X through these instructions. Not only is the translation incomprehensible, the method described does not work well. The machine also comes with alternate fabric removal instructions provided on a loose sheet of paper. That method doesn’t work well, either.

There are good ways to remove the fabric and release the thread, however. I made a cheat sheet of the fabric removal instructions below that you can print out and slip into your manual. If you print at actual size and cut along the rectangular border, the sheet will be the same size as the manual.

Here are two good ways to remove the fabric and release the thread:

Fabric Removal Method 1:

This is the usual method when ending a hem or seam. It pulls the needle threads to the back of the fabric so that the seam does not start unraveling as you remove it from the machine. This method seems complicated when you read about it, but once you get the hang of it, it only takes about five seconds. It works every time, and there is virtually no chance of your thread breaking, unlike with the methods shown in the manual.

If you are sewing in the round, overlap the starting point of your stitches by about 1.5 inches (4 cm). If you are sewing up to the edge of the fabric, stop at least a stitch length away from the edge of the fabric.

Pull out some slack on the needle threads after thread guide 2. If you do not have nets on your needle thread, you might be able to skip this step.

Raise the needles to the highest position. Push back on the presser foot lifter to raise it to the extra-high position while you insert a thin, narrow tool (the needle screwdriver will work) behind the needle threads. Let go of the presser foot lifter.

Hold down the needle thread tension release buttons while you use the tool to pull the needle threads out to the front edge of the machine.

Transfer the needle thread loops onto a pair of scissors and clip the needle threads at the edge of the machine.

Hold down the looper thread tension release button while you pull your fabric straight to the back.

Cut the looper thread, leaving a tail on the fabric.

The needle thread is now magically pulled to the back, and you have thread tails that you can tie in a knot to secure them.

Note: The tension dials sometimes turn a little when you push the tension release buttons, so check that you did not inadvertently change your tension settings as you removed the fabric. Yes, this is an annoying “feature” of this machine.

Fabric Removal Method 2:

This method does not secure the needle threads, so the stitches might start unraveling as you remove the fabric. This method is useful if you mess up and want to remove your stitches, or if your thread breaks or jams.

Open the door on the front of the machine to expose the looper. Pull the looper release knob to move the looper to the right. If you have a thread jam you might need to gently push the looper to the right while you pull on the knob.

Hold down the needle thread tension release buttons while you pull back on your fabric. Check that your tension settings are still correct.

Push the looper back into place and close the front cover.

Cut the threads.

Miscellaneous tips and tricks

Starting a seam: Right when you start a hem or seam, the machine tends to skip a couple of stitches. To prevent these skipped stitches, gently pull back on the needle thread tails as you start sewing.

Hemming: On a coverstitch machine, you have to sew a hem from the right side, which takes a bit to get used to. Here’s how I sew a hem.

Before sewing anything, I mark the hem on the right side of the fabric with washable markers* or a chalk tracing wheel*. The hem needs to be marked accurately, so I use a quilting ruler to measure it.

I press up the hem along the marked line.

I hold the hem in place with washable glue stick*. I stop gluing 2 to 3 inches away from the fabric edges where the seams will be so I will be able to sew the seams. I try to keep the glue close to the fold and out of the area where I will be stitching, but a thin layer of glue doesn’t usually cause problems. To set and dry the glue, I press with steam, then without steam. If I have a long hem, I only apply glue to a small area at a time so the glue does not dry before I can get it pressed in place.

Then I sew the seams in my garment. I press up the hem in the seam areas, and use more glue stick to hold the hem in place if needed. I use a hammer to flatten the seams. I recommend getting a soft face hammer* and keeping it in your sewing area. You can also use a regular metal hammer, but you will need to be careful not to hit your fabric too hard with it, or you will damage the fibers. Hammers aren’t just for sewing jeans and cover stitching – I use mine all the time, and it’s amazing what a difference it makes. I almost never need to shim up my presser foot to sew over a bump, and the stitches stay the same length, even when sewing over fairly thick seams.

With the Brother 2340CV, hammering your seams greatly reduces skipped stitches, broken needles, and broken thread. It also keeps the stitch length consistent as you sew over a bump. The machine just glides over it like it’s not even there. I recommend hammering your seams even on lightweight fabric. On thicker fabric, it’s absolutely necessary.

It helps to use an edge guide. Some people recommend peeling off the backing from a stack of sticky notes and using them for an edge guide. I have a short piece of quilting ruler that I accidentally broke off that makes a perfect edge guide. I hold it in place with poster putty*. With the wrong side of the garment up, I position the edge guide so the left needle is right on the edge of the fabric. Then I flip the fabric over and sew the hem from the right side.

If you want to have the edge of the fabric marked on the right side for added insurance, you can use wax-free tracing paper* and a tracing wheel to mark it. The marks tend to brush off, so make them right before you sew the hem.

Accessories for the Brother 2340CV

When I bought my Brother 2340CV, I got a package deal that included all of the accessories. Of these, there are only two that I think are worth getting: The topstitch foot set and the binder.

With the topstitch foot set*, you get two clear feet. They have a groove on the under side that sits over a seam to help you sew a straight line of topstitching. There are two feet included – one for thick fabric and one for thin fabric. I recommend getting these feet if you do a lot of topstitching.


Brother only makes one size of binder* for this machine. It creates a half inch wide finished width binding, with the edges folded under on both the top and bottom. It comes with the “TB” binder foot to use with the binder attachment.

The binder works pretty well, but it is way overpriced. You can get about four generic industrial binders for the same price. The Brother 2340CV does not have the standard screw holes for attaching a generic binder, but you can tape the generic binder onto the machine bed with blue painter’s tape, which works just fine.

The binder foot is a little shorter than the standard presser foot, and it has an edge guide on the right side. It works well, and I’m glad I have it, but the machine comes with an “LC1” presser foot that is the same length as the binder foot, but narrower and without the edge guide, and it seems to work OK with a binder, too.

The only way to get the binder foot is to buy it along with the Brother binder. If you don’t want the size of binder that Brother offers, but you want the binder foot, if you bought the binder foot set you would be paying an awful lot to get a plastic presser foot that probably costs a few cents to manufacture. I’d suggest trying a generic binder in the size you want (you can find them on ebay) and trying it out with the “LC1” presser foot or maybe even the standard presser foot. If it works for you, just skip buying Brother’s binder kit. If you want more information about binders, Debbie Cook wrote up some good info on cover stitch binders.

I read through the instructions for the other accessories, but they sounded so ineffective I didn’t even try them out. The belt loop guide* requires you to pre-press under 1/4″ along the edge of the fabric. RIGHT THERE, at step #1, using the belt loop guide is more difficult than the method I use to make belt loops without a coverstitch machine. I serge one edge of the fabric strip, fold the raw edge to the middle (by eye) and press, fold the serged edge over not quite to the other side and press, then edgestitch on my sewing machine using a blind hem foot as an edge guide. Plus the Brother 2340CV is a light duty machine, so it might not work on denim or other heavy fabric that I make pants out of. And who knows what would happen if I used topstitching thread, which would require a size 14 topstitching needle. I’m worried I’d break my cover stitch machine just testing it out, so I’m not even going to try it.

The hemming guide* sounds equally superfluous. Again, step #1 is to press up your hem. If you have to press your hem anyway, what’s the point of the guide? It seems like it would be likely to stretch out and skew your hem. Just use some sort of edge guide, like a stack of sticky notes, instead.

The bias tape binding set* looks like it would probably work fine. I don’t know when I’d ever want to apply ready-made bias binding with my cover stitch machine, though. This attachment only works with pre-pressed bias tape.

The bias tape folder* is for stitching pre-pressed bias tape down flat onto a piece of fabric – I guess to cover a seam or make a stripe? It’s just not something that I would use.

Other cover stitching resources

Brother 2340CV reviews on Patternreview

Brother 2340CV reviews on Amazon*

A Brother 2340CV review

How to unpick a cover stitch seam

General advice on cover stitch machines and binders (lots of good information here!)

A Guide to Coverstitch Machines

Coverstitch binder attachment tips & tricks

* Links in this post identified by an asterisk (*) are affiliate links. They are links to the US Amazon site. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you).

Posted in Sewing, Sewing machine reviews

Miniature Arm Pattern


I’ve created a new arm pattern for my DIY miniature dress forms. A couple of people asked about an arm pattern for the half-scale dress forms recently, so I figured it was time to make one.

The arm attaches either with ribbon ties or with pins, or you could modify it to attach some other way if you like. The arm pattern includes three sizes to match the dress form patterns I have for sale: half scale, one third scale, and quarter scale.

The arm pattern and dress form patterns are available in my Craftsy and Etsy shops.

Posted in Half-Scale Patternmaking and Sewing

Half Scale and Full Size Alder Dresses

I bought Grainline’s Alder shirtdress pattern a year and a half ago, but I didn’t get around to sewing this dress until last winter, when it was too cold to wear it. It’s finally starting to feel like summer around here, so I got a chance to wear my Alder dress and take some pictures.

Alder dress sidefront cropped

I got the pdf version of the pattern, so I thought it would be fun to print the pattern at half scale and sew it up to try on my DIY half-scale dress forms. Plus it would give me the opportunity to insert a shameless plug for my mini dress form patterns – which you can buy on Etsy and Craftsy.

Before I sewed the dress for myself, I sewed View A in half-scale. I used fabric from an old silk shirt, since I knew I would need thin fabric to sew a collar and other details that small. Getting that collar sewn on was a bit of a challenge, not to mention the armhole bias binding done at half scale. My treadle Singer 201 did beautifully sewing the thin silk with tiny seam allowances.

I was determined to sew everything at true half scale, and I had even planned on putting tiny buttons on the dress. However, by the time I got to the buttons I was just ready to be done, so I cheated and used size 14 Kamsnaps instead of buttons.

The dress turned out pretty cute.

It was a blustery day when I took pictures. The wind was blowing most of the time, but then there would be a few seconds of calm when I could quickly snap a picture.

Half scale alder dress windy

I wasn’t really sure if the Alder dress would look good on me or be my style. After seeing the half-scale View A, I decided it was too tent-like for my taste, so I thought I would sew up View B with the gathered skirt for myself. I bought some rayon challis to make the dress from, but then this crinkly rayon fabric I’ve had in my stash forever caught my eye. I’d never been able to figure out what to make with it.

The fabric shrinks up along the crinkles when it’s washed, but it can be ironed mostly flat. I wondered what would happen if I ironed the fabric flat before cutting out the dress, then let the wrinkles shrink back up in the wash on the finished dress. My hope was I would get a dress that was more figure hugging and less tent like. I barely had enough fabric to sew View A (without the gathered skirt), so I didn’t make View B like I had planned. I had no idea if this experimental dress would work or if my dress would be too tight, but I wanted to see what would happen.

Alder dress sidefront

I had so many problems sewing this dress because of this fabric. I ironed it, decided which was the right side and wrong side, and marked the wrong side. After I cut out one of the front pieces I decided I had somehow gotten the right and wrong sides mixed up. I don’t know how many times I flipped the fabric over trying to figure out which was the right side. In retrospect, I think both sides look the same! After all of that confusion I ended up with the button placket on the wrong side. Oh well.

Despite my marks on the wrong side of the fabric, I kept getting the wrong side and right side of the dress mixed up as I was sewing, too. The dress is also so nicely finished on the inside it wasn’t obvious which was the inside of the dress. I sewed the collar on the wrong way TWICE! This fabric doesn’t handle seam ripping very well, and the second time I’d actually trimmed my seam allowances before I realized my mistake. I almost gave up on the dress, but I decided to give it one more try.  With the help of some Fray Check on some little holes, I finally got the collar on the right way. Now I’m glad I didn’t give up on it.

I came to the conclusion that marking the wrong side of the fabric doesn’t work for me. Somehow my brain just can’t handle it. For me, it makes more sense to mark the right side. That way my marks don’t get enclosed inside yokes and collars. Next time I’ll mark the right side. And definitely no sewing fabric that doesn’t have a clear right and wrong side when I’m tired!

Since this dress was an experiment, I just sewed up the size that matched my bust measurement without any alterations at all. I’m 5’2″, so the hem ended up about knee level. It would probably look better if I shortened it a bit, but I’m always afraid of short skirts. Mid-thigh on a short person doesn’t cover as many inches of leg as it does on a tall person!


Here’s a close up of the fabric. I used linen for the undercollar to give it more stability.

Alder dress detail

I’m calling this experiment a success. I like the Alder dress in this fabric, and I expect I’ll wear it a lot this summer, but I don’t think I’ll use this pattern again. Shirt dresses with defined waists are more my style. I got McCall’s 6696 for my next shirtdress. Hopefully it won’t take me another year and a half to get around to using it!


Posted in Half-Scale Patternmaking and Sewing, Sewing

3D Printed Sewing Machine Parts

I decided to attempt to make a 3-step zig-zag special disc for my Singer 411G. In my opinion the 4-step zig-zag that is built in just isn’t a substitute. I usually use a 3-step zig-zag when I’m sewing through elastic, and the fewer stitches you put through elastic, the better.

Time for a little analog computer programming. I carefully measured one of my existing special discs, deciphered the “code”, and drew up a 3-step zig-zag disc. I decided to draw up the design in Tinkercad, since it’s free and has a short learning curve. In Tinkercad you basically stack a bunch of geometric shapes together to make more complex shapes. I used Inkscape to draw the more complicated shapes that could be extruded, then imported the .svg files into Tinkercad. Hooray for free software.

After I finished the 3-step zig-zag disc, I decided to make a few more things while I still remembered how to use the software. The only Singer slant needle to standard snap-on foot adapter available is a simple plastic one, and it’s not that great, so I decided to try to improve the design a little. I also made some tension stud sprockets for my Singer 237, and the two missing template sizes that were never made for my buttonholers.

I had the parts printed by Shapeways. The only low-cost, high resolution option they offer is their “Strong and Flexible” plastic (nylon). I figured ABS would be better for strength and abrasion resistance, but I couldn’t find a 3D printing site with reasonable prices for high resolution ABS that would also allow me to sell the parts to other people. I figured after going to the trouble of making these parts, it would be nice to be able to make them available to other vintage sewing machine enthusiasts.

At least initially, nylon seems to be OK for these parts. The parts are thick enough that they are rigid, not flexible. They are very lightweight, but seem strong enough. Only time will tell how they hold up under use.

The 3-step zig-zag disc was a little tight. I had to file one of the holes a little larger to get it to go on my machine.

Here’s my 3-step zig-zag disc next to an original Singer special disc. These are for the Singer slant needle machines with model numbers in the 400’s, 500’s and 600’s that take the top-hat stitch pattern discs. (I’m not sure about model 690, which I think might take a later style of discs.)

The stitch quality is not perfect, but the disc works! I’m pretty sure the crooked stitches are due to minor math and drafting errors on my part, not a printing problem, since it looks like the stitches are shifted the same amount on each set of stitches. I showed the stitches to my husband, and he thought they looked straight, so maybe it’s not that noticeable. I think I’ll use this disc for a while, and if it doesn’t wear out too fast, I’ll correct the design and make it available for others to purchase. If it does wear out, I can try having it printed locally in ABS plastic for myself, at least.

Here’s the 3-step zig-zag compared to the 4-step. For the top two rows, I unthreaded my sewing machine and sewed on heavy paper.

The plastic snap-on slant needle adapter I previously purchased isn’t designed very well. The presser foot sits too far to the right, and it’s a bit crooked:

I designed my version so the foot would sit a little further to the left, but it ended up not being far enough. It’s kind of hard to measure what shape it should be. At least the foot is sitting straight now. This is my version:

I usually only use my slant shank snap-on adapter with my blind hem foot, which is wider than the feed dogs, so the foot being shifted over doesn’t really matter.

I can’t manage to make a manual buttonhole, and I have no interest in buying a modern machine that I’ll have to pay to get serviced, so I make my buttonholes with vintage buttonholers. I have one (OK maybe I actually have three) of the older style Singer buttonholers that don’t take templates and can make any size buttonhole, but you get skipped stitches with these buttonholers if you don’t stabilize your fabric really well, so I usually prefer to use the template type buttonholer.  I’ve collected all of the template sizes that were made for the Singer/Greist buttonholers, but there were two possible sizes that were never made. Until now!

These templates actually came out just about how I intended, so I set up a shop on Shapeways so you can buy them too, if you like. Mine are a bit snug in the buttonholer, but still fit just fine. The 3D printing process seems to create products that vary in size a little, so if yours are too tight, you could sand the outer edges a little with fine grit sand paper.

The Singer buttonholers were made by Greist, so they take the same templates as Greist buttonholers. These templates are about 1 3/4″ long and 3/4″ wide, and will fit Singer buttonholers 160506, 160743, 489500, and 489510. Greist made buttonholers to fit many different brands of sewing machines. I don’t have the model numbers for the Greist buttonholers these templates will fit, but I think they should fit all of the Greist buttonholers that were designed to work with straight stitch machines (or zig-zag machines set on straight stitch). These templates will not fit in buttonholers that only work with zig-zag machines, such as the Singer Professional buttonholers and the Greist buttonholers with a “Z” at the end of the model number.

While looking up model numbers just now I learned there was an adjustable Singer buttonholer made in the UK, model 86718, that has a stripper foot (to prevent skipped stitches) like the template buttonholers do. Great, now I’m going to want one of those, too. At least buttonholers take up less room than sewing machines.

Now I can make perfectly sized buttonholes for those buttons that I bought a whole bag of at the thrift store!

As for those tension stud sprockets . . . they weren’t quite what I’d hoped, but I think they’ll work OK. The resolution on the 3D printer isn’t high enough for the inner diameter to come out exactly as designed. These sprockets are available for sale on various sites that sell vintage sewing machine parts (sometimes they call it a “gear”), but the hole on the inside is too small, so the parts have to be drilled or filed out. Well, mine had to be filed out too, but I happen to have a chain saw file that worked just fine to enlarge the hole. Next time I’ll just buy a sprocket instead of having it printed – it’s probably better quality plastic. Here are some pictures of me replacing the sprocket on a Singer 237:

The future is here! Pretty cool, right?








Posted in Vintage Sewing Machines

My Singer 411G

For the last couple of years I’ve been searching for the perfect zig-zag sewing machine that can be treadled. I haven’t found one that meets all of my requirements, but I’ve found several that come close. My Singer 328K is all metal, it makes most of the stitches I need, and it is easy to treadle, but it skips stitches on stretchy knit fabrics. My Janome 712T does well on knit fabrics but is hard to treadle and has plastic parts that I worry about breaking when I sew thick fabric. I found a Fleetwood F-5000 free-arm machine that I was able to convert to treadle. It is all-metal, handles knits well, and is easy to treadle, but only does straight stitch and zig-zag. Also I prefer to sew on a flat bed machine most of the time.

In the back of my mind I kept wanting a Singer 411G. I knew it wouldn’t be quite what I wanted, since it doesn’t do a 3-step zig-zag (it’s multi zig-zag stitch is 4-step), and it is almost impossible to find one with a treadle balance wheel. However, I know some people have managed to treadle the electric version by shimming out the balance wheel, using a string or spinning wheel drive band instead of a leather belt, or cutting a groove in the balance wheel, so I figured that with some effort I should be able to treadle the electric version. And as for the 3-step zig-zag, I think I can design a new cam and have it 3D printed [which I did].

I finally decided to just stop buying fabric for a while so I could save up for a 411G. They are fairly rare, especially in the US where they were never sold, so I had to buy one on ebay, which I hate doing. It survived being shipped, but some idiot (probably the seller, who claims to be an expert at servicing sewing machines) had squirted massive amounts of grease in most of the places that should be lubricated with sewing machine oil. That took a while to clean up.

I kept getting irritated because the “nearly perfect condition” machine I paid too much for was a greasy mess, the tension assembly needed fixing, it was missing a screw, one spool pin was broken off, the other spool pin was stuck in place with epoxy, and the motor needed servicing. Then I would remind myself that those were the reasons I swore off buying sewing machines on ebay. Right, right.

At least the only shipping damage was the broken off spool pin. Although I can’t really count that as shipping damage, since the plastic pin was superglued in place and would have broken the first time I used it anyway. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a 411G locally, so ebay was my only option.

My 411G is the electric only version:

There is a version of the 411G that was made to convert between treadle and electric. Maybe one day I’ll find one. There is a groove for a regular leather treadle belt on the balance wheel. It has a belt cover on the front and a different type of clutch knob on the handwheel:

I tested out my machine on some cotton/spandex fabric that my Singer 328K,  Singer 401A, and other vintage sewing machines had a hard time with. The 411G did great on this fabric. Yay! It seems to work better on tricky knits with Singer size 90/14 ball point needles, though. I also tried Schmetz stretch needles and Organ ball point needles, but I got a few skipped stitches. I can live with having to buy Singer ball point needles for this machine. Organ universal needles work fine in this machine for sewing woven fabrics, which is good, since they are cheap and I have a lot of them.

Another reason I wanted a 411G is that it chain stitches (if you have the chain stitch needle plate, part #503599). I have a Singer 604E that I got for chain stitching, but it doesn’t produce a very consistent stitch. The 411G’s chain stitch is a bit better, but I’m still getting the occasional giant thread loop or broken thread. Maybe I can get it to work more consistently if I play with the tension and stitch length.

I decided to clean and lubricate the motor, just to see if I might be OK using it as an electric sewing machine (directions for cleaning a Singer slant needle motor can be found on this page). I also cleaned the motor commutator with a pencil eraser. I put the motor back in, and it sounded better and might have had a little more power. For a vintage machine, it’s pretty nice. It was a top of the line machine in it’s day. I still couldn’t handle sewing on an electric machine, though. It’s too loud, it’s too hard to control the speed, it’s hard to push the button on the foot controller, and it makes that annoying electrical humming noise when it gets stuck on a thick seam. So I promptly took the motor back out.

It took some work to get this machine into a typical Singer treadle base. Maybe this machine will fit in the newer (1950’s and 1960’s) Singer treadle cabinets, but the older one I have needed some modifications.

First I had to take out the metal plate on the right side of the opening for the sewing machine. It is attached to a giant spring, which also had to come out. With a mirror and a light, I was able to see the screws I needed to remove.

I’m not sure I would be able to put that spring back in. It was under a lot of tension, and I’m not sure how it all fits together. Here are the parts I took out:

I tried putting my 411G in place, but the ledge on the front sticks out too far and hits the machine:

I sawed off 4 mm from the edge of the front piece of wood.

Now the machine fit into the opening, but I discovered I couldn’t lower it completely to shut the cabinet!

I couldn’t fix that, so I just put a plastic cover over the sewing machine and tip up the left side of the table against it when I’m not using it. I can’t leave the cabinet open all the way since it sticks out into the middle of the room and gets in the way.

The Amazon product links in this post are affiliate links. If you click on these links and purchase something, I will earn a small commission.

Now I had to figure out how I was going to treadle my 411G. First I thought I’d try using size 2/0 candle wick in the little notch on the left side of the balance wheel. I ordered some, but then the next day (after it was too late to cancel my order) I decided I’d rather try using a flat urethane belt over the flat part of the balance wheel. I got 1/2″ wide, 0.062″ thick belting. I don’t think anything thicker would fit over the balance wheel without scraping against the body of the machine.

I had several options lined up to try – candle wick, my spare urethane spinning wheel belt, and flat urethane belting. There is a piece of 3/16″ leather treadle belt in the picture below for reference. I decided to try the flat belt first, and it worked so well I didn’t try the other options.

I cut the belt lengthwise into 7 mm and 6 mm wide strips. I used the 7 mm wide strip. I joined the belt by melting the ends near a candle flame then pressing them together. After it cooled I cut off the bead at the join with a razor knife. After practicing a couple of times, it’s not hard to do.

Here’s the join:

The flat belt works pretty well. It doesn’t slip at all, even when I sew over thick seams. Most of the time it rides at an angle on the drive wheel:

Sometimes the belt works its way part way over the edge of the drive wheel, and it looks like it is going to pop off, although it hasn’t actually come off yet. I shortened the belt a little to see if more tension would help, but it didn’t make any difference. [Edit: Actually, shortening the belt did help. The belt has been staying on the drive wheel.] It sews fine, though, and if I notice the belt working its way over the edge, I just give it a little nudge to get it back in place.

I really like that the urethane belt never slips, even on the thickest fabrics, so even though I have to nudge it sometimes, I’m happy with the flat belt. Cutting the belt narrower, maybe 5 mm wide, would probably help keep it on the drive wheel, but I was worried a narrower belt would stretch out too much or get wedged into the notch on left side of the balance wheel. I do have that other piece of belting I could try cutting narrower if the belt does ever start coming completely off the drive wheel.

I don’t like that the spool pins are on top of the upper cover. You have to open the cover to see the stitch pattern chart, which is hard to do without knocking off the spool of thread. Since the one remaining spool pin is too short anyway, I decided to use a separate thread stand.

This Superior Threads stand is pretty cute, but considering how much I just spent on this machine, I decided I’d better just make my own thread stand for now. I made one from an old yardstick, a skewer, an old plastic food container, half of an old knitting needle, a bag of sand, a pair of nuts and bolts, and some tape. Not very pretty, but effective.

I was having problems with the spool spinning too fast causing the thread to wind around the knitting needle, but wrapping the thread twice around the thread guide seems to have solved that problem.

I like the mismatched drawer pulls on my treadle cabinet. Kind of shabby chic, or in my case, just shabby. Maybe I’ll replace those when I get around to refinishing the cabinet.

I’m really hoping I can manage to stop buying sewing machines now. My fleet of sewing machines is feeling pretty complete. I have six treadle machines, which are the machines that I actually use (The electric machines sit on a shelf. Or on the floor. Or up in the storage loft). My Singer 201-3 is my most frequently used straight stitch machine. I have my Singer 15-88 set up for jeans topstitching thread. I probably won’t use my Singer 328K much now that I have the 411G, but my kids use it sometimes. I have a Fleetwood F-5000 free arm machine that I mostly use for hemming jeans. My Janome 712T only gets used for sewing bras and underwear, but if I can get the 3-step zig-zag special stitch disc made for the 411G, I probably won’t use the Janome much.

In addition to the treadle machines, I have a Juki MO-654DE serger, which I really like, and a Brother 2340CV coverstitch machine. I also have a portable electric walking foot machine that will sew material up to 3/8″ thick. So I’m all set to sew just about anything from lightweight silk to a teepee. I can stop now. I don’t need any more sewing machines. This time I really mean it. Seriously. Well, except maybe if I find a treadle version of the 411G . . .

Posted in Treadle Sewing Machines, Vintage Sewing Machines

Measuring Body Width

Body width measurements aren’t commonly used when altering sewing patterns or patternmaking, but they do come up occasionally. I’ve used body width when drafting pants and locating princess seams. The problem is, how do you accurately measure body width? I checked to see if there is a tool for this and found a body caliper, which would not be long enough to measure larger people, and this expensive tree caliper, but neither were viable solutions for me.

In Kenneth King’s Jean-ius Craftsy class, he uses two L-squares attached together with rubber bands to measure body width. I have one L-square, and I looked into ordering another one, but I couldn’t find the exact model number I had, and I was afraid the width would be different on another model and it wouldn’t fit together with the one I had. Pattern drafting L-squares are fairly expensive, so I certainly wouldn’t want to buy two more. Carpenter’s squares are less expensive, so buying two matching ones would be another option (but I already found other solutions that didn’t cost me anything).

Here’s a picture to give you an idea of how the L-squares go together. There is an imaginary light blue L-square behind the real one, and they are held together with hair bands. I tried using rubber bands, but the sharp edge of my square broke them immediately. You adjust the L-squares to match the width you are measuring, then set down the squares on a table and measure the distance between them with another ruler or a tape measure.

I decided to try to find a solution that wouldn’t require me to buy additional tools. I remembered seeing body width measured with a ruler held up to an L-square:

I guess this works OK if you are measuring another person, but it’s hard to hold the ruler steady and keep it perpendicular to the square. If you want to take the measurement by reading the numbers on the square, you have to judge by eye that the ruler is held perpendicular to the square, then remember to subtract the width of the square. It’s also difficult to measure yourself this way. I thought about buying a T-square to use up against the L-square, but then it occurred to me that I could wrap some narrow elastic around the point where the ruler crosses the square. This would hold the ruler in place, but still allow it to slide back and forth. This worked well and allowed me to measure myself.

The elastic is wrapped tightly in a criss-cross pattern and pinned in place.

My L-square isn’t all that long, however, and I wanted to make sure I had an option for measuring wider people I might be sewing for. I tried using two rulers attached to a meter stick with elastic, and that worked, too.

After the measurement is taken on the body, you set down the rulers and measure the distance between them with another ruler or tape measure. Since the rulers will not be perfectly perpendicular to the meter stick, you have to be careful to measure the width at the same point where the rulers touched the body. I decided to always take the body width measurement at the ends of the rulers, just to be consistent.

At this point I had some viable options for measuring body widths, but I was annoyed at the thought of having my rulers literally tied up and having to take the elastic off to use them.

Since you don’t actually use the markings on the rulers, I found some wood scraps and made a semi-permanent body caliper, which I’m quite happy with. The nice thing about this solution is you can make it any size you want.



Posted in Patternmaking

Pretty Tiffany

Whoops, I did it again. I bought another vintage sewing machine. This is a Singer 115 with Tiffany decals, made in 1919. I don’t typically name my sewing machines, but I think I’ll call this pretty lady Tiffany.

Singer 115 front

I had made a few rules for myself in an effort to keep my vintage sewing machine addiction somewhat in check:

  1. Only buy machines that I want to actually sew with. Since other than my serger and coverstitch machine, I can’t stand to sew on electric sewing machines, that means I also have to be able to treadle the sewing machine.
  2. I have to have a specific reason for buying it. The sewing machine has to perform at least one task better than the machines I already have.
  3.  I have to be able to figure out a place in my house to put it. I have six treadle bases squeezed into my house, and I can’t fit in any more, so I have to be willing to displace one of my other machines from its treadle stand in order to use a machine regularly. I’d rather not swap out machines frequently, and it seems like six machines should be enough for one person.

So how did I justify Tiffany’s purchase? Well, the Singer 115 has a full rotary hook, which means no vibration at high speeds, and I was hoping it would treadle with very little effort (which it does), making it a good machine for quilting. Never mind that I hardly ever sew quilts, and when I do they are usually small and made from large squares. The other reason I bought this machine is that I really like the Tiffany decals. I figured I’d keep this machine out as a decoration even if I couldn’t get it sewing. So, OK, maybe I mostly bought this machine because it’s pretty. I’m allowed at least one machine in that category!

I did the most thorough cleaning and polishing job on this sewing machine that I’ve done yet. I found a series of blog posts about cleaning up a Singer 15-30 that were very helpful. I did all of the cleaning and polishing by hand with the help of Evaporust and metal polish, so it took me a couple of days. This machine deserved it, though.

Here are some before and after photos:

Singer 115 front before

Singer 115 front after

Singer 115 back before

Singer 115 back after

Singer 115 left before

Singer 115 left after

Tiffany was locked up at first, but the problem ended up just being a bit of ancient-looking thread caught in the bobbin area. I’m guessing the previous owner decided their machine was broken, put it in the back of the closet (where it sat for over half a century), and went out to buy a new modern sewing machine with advanced features such as reverse and zig-zag. Ha, and I fixed it in a few minutes just by jiggling the balance wheel until the piece of thread came into view and I could pull it out.

I found a manual for the Singer 115 on Apparently Singer reused the model number 115, because if you look up 115 in the manual search on the Singer site, you get the manual for a different machine.

Tiffany did not come with a bobbin case, which was a bit of a problem. The original bobbin cases are really hard to find. You can easily find inexpensive replacement bobbin cases advertised to fit the Singer 115, but they don’t actually work well with the 115. I got a bobbin case and L type bobbins from SewClassic, and although they seem to be high quality items, they were designed to fit other machines that take L type bobbins, not the Singer 115.

The first problem I ran into was that the bobbins would not fit on the bobbin winder. They went onto the shaft OK, but the finger that is supposed to go down inside the bobbin would not fit into it. I think my bobbins have thicker edges than the originals did. I decided to file down the sides of the finger until it fit into a bobbin. This took forever, since I didn’t have the right tools, but I got it to work. I really need to get a Dremel one of these days.

Singer 115 bobbin winder

When I started to sew, at first I thought everything was fine, but I kept getting thread snarls every few inches. I watched what was happening in the bobbin area, and the thread was getting caught on the edge of the bobbin case in two places. There were corners there that the thread was getting hung up on, so I used a diamond knife sharpener to file those corners off and smooth out the curves. After that I sanded the area with 1500 grit sandpaper and polished it with metal polish, and I think the area I worked on ended up smoother and shinier than it was originally!

Singer 115 thread caught on bobbin case

Singer 115 file bobbin case

I tried sewing again, and now the thread slipped right around the bobbin case with no problems. I sewed for a bit, and things went well for a while, but then I got another thread snarl. I figured out that the bobbin case was gradually rotating counterclockwise, since there is nothing to hold it stationary. The machine would sew fine until the bobbin case rotated to about an eighth of a turn from horizontal, then the thread would get caught on the bobbin case.

I tried to find pictures of what the original 115 bobbin cases look like. I could only find this blurry picture and this picture of a broken one that show the top of the bobbin case, but it looked to me like the original bobbin cases have some sort of protuberances at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock to keep the bobbin case from rotating. My bobbin case did not have those, so no wonder it was turning around. There is a stationary piece on the sewing machine that the little bumps sit on either side of.

I thought it would be easy to find some little things to glue onto the bobbin case to keep it from rotating, but I couldn’t find anything around the house that was small enough. I ended up cutting 2.5 mm by 2.5 mm by 1 mm thick pieces of metal from the corners of a hinge. I have a small hack saw, but I don’t have a setup appropriate for working with tiny objects, so this was a bit of a challenge. At one point I dropped one of the tiny pieces on the floor and had to crawl around on the floor for a few minutes to find it. That was fun. I rounded down two adjacent edges on each piece to help keep the thread from getting caught on them, then I glued them onto the bobbin case with JB Weld.

Singer 115 bobbin case with tabs

The next day after the epoxy had cured, I tried sewing, and it worked! No more thread snarls! I really hope the JB Weld holds. I’ve been having problems with it on other projects, and I think it might be because I didn’t get the proportions of the two components right or the hardener had separated too much. I have a milligram scale now, so this time I weighed the two components to make sure I got equal amounts. I cleaned the parts with alcohol before I epoxied them together, but I’m not one hundred percent sure I got all of the oil off, which would also cause problems. At least the little tabs aren’t under much stress.

Singer 115 Sewing Machine 32

One other problem I had with this machine was that the tension would not release when the presser foot was lifted. I finally figured out that the tension release pin was slightly too short. I found a longer pin on one of my parts machines, filed it to the right length, and now the tension release works perfectly.

When I was looking for my 115, it took me a while to figure out how to tell the difference between a Singer 115 and the very similar looking and much more common early model 15’s. The simplest way to tell the models apart is to open up the slide plate or look at the underside and see what the bobbin area looks like. There are some side by side pictures of the bobbin areas of a 115 and 15 on this quiltingboard thread.

Here are some tips if you are trying to identify a Singer 15 or 115 from pictures and you don’t have a picture of the underside:

•  The first thing to look for is that the tension assembly is on the left side of the machine. 115’s, 15’s, and 15 clones all have this feature.

•  Look for the typical rounded, curvy body shape of a model 15. There were quite a few variations of the model 15 over the years. Some versions of the model 15 have the exactly the same body shape as the 115, and some are different.

•  If you know the serial number, you can look up the model number in the ismacs database. I think all 115 serial numbers start with G followed by a seven digit number. Many model 15’s have serial numbers that start with G too, though. The “G” may be smaller than the numbers, right on the edge of the serial number plate, and/or covered by grime, so it can be easy to miss.

•  Model 115’s were never made with reverse. Model 115’s and early model 15’s have a round knob that slides up and down to change the stitch length. If the machine has a stitch length/reverse lever with a round plate around it, it’s a later version of the model 15.

• Look at what type of balance wheel (handwheel) the machine has. If it is solid, that doesn’t tell you anything, but if it is spoked, count the number of spokes. If there are 9 spokes, it could be either a 115 or a 15. If there are 6 spokes, it’s a 15.

•  If the sewing machine is not in a cabinet or case and is sitting on a table, a 115 will sit level. A 15 will be tilted at an angle, with the left side up a little higher.

•  Model 115’s only came with either the “Gold Wings” (aka “Wings”) or “Tiffany” (aka “Gingerbread”) decals. If the machine has Gold Wings decals, it’s a model 115. If it has Tiffany decals, it could be either a 115 or 15.  If it has some other decals, it’s a 15. Of course this only helps if the machine has the original decals. If the decals are bright and perfect looking, it’s possible the machine was repainted and new decals were applied.

I couldn’t help taking a lot of pictures of Tiffany, since she’s so pretty. I didn’t want to overload this blog post with them all, so click on over to Flickr if you want to see more pictures.

Posted in Treadle Sewing Machines, Vintage Sewing Machines
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