Coverstitch Alternatives

I tried really hard to convince myself I didn’t need a coverstitch machine. I tried every method I could find to hem, topstitch, bind, and apply elastic to knit fabrics with a regular sewing machine. I wrote lists of pros and cons. I visualized all of the fabric I could buy with that money. Ultimately, I couldn’t stop obsessing about getting a coverstitch machine, so I saved up and finally just bought one.

Some of the conventional sewing machine methods I tried actually worked pretty well, though, so before I forget everything I learned, I thought I’d share them. Also take a look at my last post if you need some ideas for preventing skipped stitches while sewing knit fabrics.

There are four main tasks a coverstitch machine is used for on knit fabrics: hemming, topstitching, applying elastic, and binding. Here are some ways to accomplish these tasks with a conventional sewing machine. This is not a comprehensive list, just some of the things I tried.


I tried all sorts of methods to hem knits, but this first method is the one I used the most. It produces a strong, comfortable, stretchy hem on just about any knit fabric. From a functional standpoint, it works as well or better than a coverstitched hem; it just takes a little longer and doesn’t look the same. While I didn’t mind the look on my clothes, I thought the zig-zags looked too girly and/or homemade for something I’d sew for my husband or son.

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.

Use a rotary cutter and ruler to cut strips of Sticky Solvy water soluble stabilizer the width of the hem. Peel off the backing and stick down the stabilizer on the wrong side of the fabric close to the edge to be hemmed. If you need to use multiple pieces, overlap them an inch or so on the ends.

Sticky solvy on edge of hem

If you have a serger, set your differential feed to neutral and serge along the edge with a 3-thread overlock stitch (a 4-thread stitch isn’t stretchy enough), guiding the knife right against the edge of the stabilizer. If you don’t have a serger, trim the fabric even with the edge of the stabilizer. If you think your fabric will ravel (most knits won’t), you can overcast the edge with a zig-zag stitch.

Hem edge serged

Fold up the hem and press it with a dry iron. Never get steam or moisture on the Sticky Solvy – it will shrink like crazy. Optionally, apply a thin stripe of washable glue stick on the stabilizer, fold the hem in place, then press it dry with your iron. Work on a small section at a time, since the glue dries quickly. The glue holds the hem in place so you don’t need pins, and is especially helpful on thin or stretchy fabric.

Washable glue stick

Position the hem wrong side up under the presser foot (but don’t start sewing) and put a hem guide in place. If you don’t have an edge guide for your machine, a stack of Post-it notes with the backing removed makes a great edge guide.

Position hem guide

Flip your garment right side up and start sewing. I found a wide, 1.2 mm long 3-step zig-zag produced a strong, stretchy hem. You could also use a regular zig-zag stitch or a twin needle. In the picture below, I tried pinning my hem in place rather than using glue stick, and the top layer of fabric rippled and stretched. If you don’t glue your hem in place, using a walking foot helps keep the layers together.

Hem on right side

Here’s a 3-step zig-zag hem from the front . . .

3-step zigzag hem right side

. . . and the back. It looks a lot better when you use matching thread!3-step zigzag hem wrong side

If you use water soluble stabilizer, either soak your garment and rinse it in plain water or put it in your washing machine on the rinse cycle before washing it, or the detergent may react with the PVA stabilizer to make a gooey surprise.

If you just have to have the look of a coverstitched hem, you can use twin needles. Wide twin needles will give you a hem with more stretch, but you’ll have less problems with tunneling using narrow twin needles. Just about every garment I hemmed with twin needles eventually ended up with popped stitches, so twin needles are not my favorite option.

Stretch twin needles

There’s all sorts of conflicting advice on how to use twin needles. Tighten your upper tension, loosen your upper tension, loosen your bobbin tension, use woolly nylon in the bobbin, etc. I found leaving my tension settings at the same settings I use for regular straight stitching worked best.

In order for the stitches to stretch, you have to have some of the upper threads pulled to the back, and the bobbin thread needs to form a zig-zag stitch, so use whatever tension settings produce that result. Stabilizing your fabric can help reduce tunneling (the two rows of stitching pulling together so the fabric forms a ridge).

Twin needle stitching front and back

I tried using hand-wound woolly nylon in the bobbin, but it caused more tunneling and made the bobbin thread more likely to break. The zig-zag formed by the bobbin thread already provides stretch, so I say skip the woolly nylon thread. Although here’s a post from someone who had the opposite results, so maybe I just wound the bobbin too tight? I found it difficult to hand wind the bobbin with even tension.

Other things I’ve tried, with varied results, are starching the fabric before hemming, using a walking foot, Wonder Tape, and fusing knit interfacing to the hem. I’m not a fan of any method that permanently stabilizes the hem, such as using knit interfacing or Steam-a-Seam. If you ask me, the hem on a stretchy garment needs to stretch! I wear my homemade clothes all the time, so they need to be comfortable and durable. I guess a stable hem would be OK on something like a full skirt, where it’s not likely to be stretched.

Wonder tape wash-away double sided tape actually works quite well to both temporarily stabilize your hem and hold it in place while you sew, and many people swear by it. I chose not to use it because the cost adds up quickly when you are sewing a lot of knit garments, and it seems to leave a sticky, fibrous residue. Maybe the residue goes away after multiple washings, and even if it doesn’t, it’s probably not hurting anything, but it still bothers me for some reason.

Another option for hemming knits is a stretch blind hem. My machine doesn’t have a stretch blind hem stitch, so I sewed a blind hem on some velour using the 3-step zig-zag stitch, and it worked quite well.


I have to admit, I never did come up with a great way to topstitch knit garments. Twin needles work pretty well if you can keep your fabric from stretching out too much as you sew. Since you are typically sewing through several thicknesses of fabric when you topstitch, there is more stretch in the twin needle stitching, and the threads are less likely to break than when twin needles are used on a hem. The previous stitching on the seam and multiple layers of fabric also help stabilize the seam so it’s less likely to stretch in the first place.

I’ve tried starching the seam before topstitching, but if you starch too much, the fabric threads end up getting cut by the needles since they can’t slide out of the way of a ball-point needle, and you get holes in your fabric.

Once, even when I was using a walking foot, my fabric stretched out so much I had to put strips of Sticky Solvy on the underside of the fabric. The Sticky Solvy kept unsticking and the whole thing was just a mess, but I eventually got my seams topstitched, and they mostly looked OK.

I’m just going to refer you to this twin-needle topstitching tutorial, and I hope you have better luck than I did.

Applying Elastic

Elastic is often sewn directly to a garment with a coverstitch, such as on a waistband or lingerie. The conventional sewing machine alternative is a no-brainer – just use a zig-zag stitch instead. Here is a good tutorial for applying lingerie elastic. When applying wide waistband elastic, I like to use two parallel rows of zig-zag stitching, then trim the extra fabric away.

Some people apply elastic with a twin needle, but I think the threads are less likely to break if you use a zig-zag stitch. If you stretch both the elastic and fabric as you sew, the twin needle threads won’t break later, but the stitches will look loose and uneven on the right side.


Knit bindings are applied commercially with binding attachments used with coverstitch machines. There are many tutorials out there for different methods of attaching knit bindings with your sewing machine. Here are a few:

How to bind knit edges: the ultimate guide

Knit Binding Tutorial

How to sew knit binding in the round

But that’s not what I want to talk about. Because I’ve discovered something really cool. You can use a coverstitch binder with your regular sewing machine! And unlike the bias tape binder you may have for your sewing machine, the industrial coverstitch binders work really well. Once you know what you’re doing, anyway.

There is a pretty steep learning curve for using a binder, but they are so worth it if you do a lot of binding. If you are considering getting one, the first thing you need to do is go and read everything Debbie Cook has to say about coverstitch binders:

The Basics

The Difference Between A & B Style Binders

General Binder Set-Up Info

Adjusting a Binder

I got the idea of using a coverstitch binder on my sewing machine after reading Sewing with Knits by Connie Long. There is a page in the book discussing using binders on knits, with a picture of a Bernina binder. The Bernina binder says it’s for unfolded bias tape, and the tape guide comes in at a 45 degree angle to the presser foot, not a 90 degree angle like coverstitch binders designed for knits, but apparently it works for knits, too. I don’t have a Bernina sewing machine, and I thought, huh, that binder looks a little bit like a coverstitch binder. Maybe I could just tape a coverstitch binder to my sewing machine? The generic coverstitch binders don’t cost all that much, so I thought it was worth a try, and if it didn’t work, I could use the binder on a coverstitch machine if I ever got one.

The binder in the front in the photo below was the first one I got. It is smaller than typical coverstitch binders and the description said it could be used on both home sewing machines and coverstitch machines. When I bought it, there were several sizes available, but as of now there are only 12 mm finish size binders left. I contacted the ebay seller, and they didn’t plan to restock these. You can’t adjust the fold guides on this binder, so you are probably better off with a regular coverstitch binder anyway.

The binder in the back in the photo below is a double fold coverstitch binder I bought on ebay. If you buy a binder, make sure you get one that attaches to the machine bed. If the description says “post mount” that is NOT the kind you want.

Coverstitch bindersThe smaller binder has a slot on the back that is supposed to be where it attaches with screws into the seam guide holes on the sewing machine bed. I found it works way better positioned further forward, so I attach it with painter’s masking tape, which keeps it quite securely in place. Don’t worry if you don’t have screw holes on your machine bed – you won’t be using them anyway.

To be able to put a binder on your sewing machine, you’ll either need a flat-bed sewing machine or a free arm sewing machine with a flat extension table. If you don’t have a flat area in front of the sewing machine foot, you won’t have room to hold the binder in place.

Below you can see how I positioned the smaller binder on my sewing machine:

Position binder on sewing machine

I tried just about every sewing machine foot in my vast collection, and none of them worked well with the binder, but I figured out that I could easily “modify” my standard presser foot to work better with the binder. I just wrapped a piece of tape over the front of the foot:

Presser foot taped to use with binder

Here’s a picture of the small binder in use. I just happen to have a spool pin on my sewing machine bed in the right place to set a spool wrapped with the fabric strip on it. It really helps to not have to constantly adjust the strip of fabric as it goes into the binder – you can just keep your attention on feeding in the fabric that is being bound.

Using binder on sewing machine

Below is the larger binder in use. It was too big for my machine bed, so I angled the right end out a bit, and it still works fine. The serpentine guide on the end can also be folded out of the way if necessary.

Position coverstitch binder on sewing machine

You can use a twin needle or zig-zag stitch to attach the binding. I haven’t had problems with threads breaking when using twin needles on bindings – just like when you use twin needles for topstitching, the extra thickness of the binding gives the stitches more stretch. A straight stitch might even work OK with fairly stable knit fabric.

Narrow knit binding sewing machine twin needle front

Twin needle binding – front

Narrow knit binding sewing machine twin needle backjpg

Twin needle binding – back

Binders won’t work with fabric strips made from thick fabric. Thin or stretchy knit fabric may need to be stabilized with starch or spray stabilizer before you cut out the strips.

When you get your binder, you will need to adjust the position of the fold guides. With mine, the fabric was bunching up and not folding right, and I realized that both guides needed to be adjusted out further to give the fabric more room. After that adjustment it worked perfectly.

Using a binder does take a bit of practice. Don’t expect perfect results at first. I cut up an old t-shirt, cut the bottom half into strips, and practiced binding the neckline over and over. I just kept cutting off the previous binding and trying again. Here are a few more binder tips that might help.

Posted in Sewing

Avoiding Skipped Stitches on Knits

I’ve been having problems with skipped stitches when sewing on all types of knit fabrics. I looked up tips for avoiding skipped stitches, and I thought I was doing everything right, but nothing I tried helped. I was starting to worry that my vintage sewing machines just weren’t up to the job, and maybe I needed a modern machine? I really don’t want a modern machine, though! I like being able to service my machines myself, and knowing my sewing machine can sew through just about anything without breaking.

Well, I finally figured out what I was doing wrong. Both my needle and thread choices were causing skipped stitches.

You know how everyone says to match your needle size to your fabric? Well, in my case, that doesn’t work for knit fabrics. I have to use a size 14/90 ball point or stretch needle regardless of fabric thickness, even on the sheerest knits. I do remember reading somewhere that vintage machines were designed to work best with size 14 needles, so if you have a modern machine, other sizes may work OK, too. I can’t test this, because I gave away the only modern machine I had!

I tend to use serger thread or cheap cone thread for most of my sewing. I do use stronger thread on high stress seams, but since I haven’t had any problems with my seams failing, I use the cheap thread for most things. As I was pondering my problem with skipped stitches, I remembered how my old serger would stop skipping stitches when I used thicker, high quality thread in the needles. I also remembered a relative complaining about how her expensive, high end sewing machine only worked with high quality thread, even after being serviced.

So I did some testing. These tests were done on my Singer 328K, using the needles and thread I had on hand. I started with a piece of nylon/spandex techsheen fabric and tried various thread and needle combinations. Here are the results:

knit stitch test 1

Row 1: Singer size 14/90 ballpoint needle with cheap serger thread.
Row 2: Singer size 14/90 ballpoint needle with “spun polyester” thread purchased on ebay from seller superiorsurestitch (I definitely won’t be buying more of that!)
Row 3: Singer size 14/90 ballpoint needle with Coats & Clark Dual Duty XP thread.
Row 4: Singer size 14/90 ballpoint needle with Gütermann thread.
Row 5: Singer size 14/90 ballpoint needle with Gütermann thread.
Row 6: Singer size 14/90 ballpoint needle with Coats & Clark Dual Duty XP thread.
Row 7: Schmetz size 14/90 stretch needle with Coats & Clark Dual Duty XP thread.
Row 8: Organ size 11/75 ballpoint needle with Coats & Clark Dual Duty XP thread.
Row 9: Schmetz size 11/75 stretch needle with Coats & Clark Dual Duty XP thread.
Row 10: Schmetz size 14/90 stretch needle with Gütermann thread.

From that sample, I can conclude that I need to use a size 14/90 stretch needle on fabric with spandex in it, and I definitely need to use high quality thread. Coats & Clark thread looks like it did a little better than Gütermann, but I’d have to do a larger sample to be sure. I think maybe black thread doesn’t work as well as lighter colors, too.

I made another sample on thin cotton jersey, this time using black Gütermann thread and only varying the needle type:

knit stitch test 2

Row 1: Singer size 14/90 ballpoint needle
Row 2: Organ size 11/75 ballpoint needle
Row 3: Schmetz size 14/90 stretch needle
Row 4: Schmetz size 11/75 stretch needle

The size 14/90 needles obviously worked the best, even though it was thin fabric. Since there is no spandex in this fabric, the ballpoint needles work fine – there is no need to use the more expensive stretch needles.

I picked out a couple of sheer knit fabrics to see if the size 14/90 ballpoint needles would still work. I tested 15 denier nylon tricot and 40 denier nylon tricot, and got no skipped stitches. The fairly large 14/90 needles seemed to work fine on sheer knit fabric, too.

knit stitch test 3

Note: You only need to use high quality thread in the needle. You can still use up your cheap thread by using it in the bobbin (if it is strong enough for whatever you are sewing).

So, when I sew knits, I’ll have to remember to use good thread and size 14/90 ballpoint needles for most knit fabric, or a size 14/90 stretch needle if I’m getting skipped stitches on spandex fabric. I’m glad I finally figured this out!


Posted in Sewing, Vintage Sewing Machines

Another Way to Re-Tip Underwires

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.

When I first started trying to make underwire bras way back sometime early this century, I learned of two options for re-tipping shortened underwires: Beverly Johnson at that time recommended Household Goop, and the book Sewing Lingerie that Fits suggested dipping the tips in a two part epoxy like J-B Weld. I used J-B Weld, since I thought it sounded like the better option – that stuff is practically indestructible.

With the recent popularity of bra making, it seems like everyone is using heat shrink tubing to cover the tips of cut underwires, and I haven’t seen any tutorials for using epoxy, so I thought I’d throw this out there as another option. I can’t say how epoxy compares to heat shrink tubing, since I haven’t tried using heat shrink tubing. When using epoxy you have to plan ahead since it takes a day to cure, but I’m happy with the results, and I don’t have to worry about the tips ever coming off, so I’ll probably stick with this method.

Here’s my method for cutting and re-tipping underwires:

You need to use large, heavy duty wire cutters. Don’t try to use your typical household needle-nose pliers – you might hurt your hand or damage your pliers! I use fairly thin gauge underwires, so my 9-inch pliers work OK, although I have to squeeze them fairly hard. If you are cutting really sturdy wires, have weak hands, or shorten underwires frequently, you’ll want even larger wire cutters.

Wire cutters2

You’ll also need a metal file and some two part epoxy glue such as J-B Weld.


Before you get started, make sure you have a place prepared to hang the wires while they cure, since you won’t be able to set them down once you get the epoxy on them.

Place to hang wires

Mark your wires where you want to cut them.

Mark wires

Place the wire cutters on a mark and squeeze part way down, place the wire and cutters under a piece of fabric, then finish cutting the wire. Underwires are made of spring steel, so when you cut them the ends go flying across the room, which is why I cut them under cover – I got tired of hunting for bits and pieces of underwire all over the place. If you don’t cover the wire as you cut, make sure you are wearing safety glasses.

Next you need to roughen up about 3/8″ to 1/2″ (10-13 mm) on the ends of the wires. If your wires are painted, use a file to scrape off the paint on the ends. If your wires have a plastic coating, cut around the plastic on the end, remove it, then scrape the ends with a file. You need to remove any residue or metal oxide and roughen the surface to make sure the epoxy will stick permanently, so scrape the ends with a file even if your underwires are not painted or coated. You don’t need to try to round off the sharp ends – the epoxy will cover those just fine.

Squeeze out equal amounts of each epoxy component onto a disposable surface and mix them together.

Use a Popsicle stick or something similar to spread J-B Weld onto the ends of the underwires. Work quickly, since the epoxy gets harder to work with as it starts to cure. Make sure you get plenty over the sharp ends, but you don’t have to try to get it perfectly smooth.  The epoxy will smooth out a bit on its own, and you can easily sand or file off any extra lumps and bumps after the epoxy has cured overnight.

Jbweld on underwire

Hang up the wires to cure, and that’s it! Re-tipping underwires seemed like a lot of work the first time I tried it, but now that I’ve done it a few times, it doesn’t take me long.

hang up underwires to cure

Posted in Bra-making

Adventures in Bra-making Part 2: Epic Underwire

I finally did it! I made myself some bras! For the first time in my life, I have bras that ACTUALLY FIT! They provide good support and they are pretty comfortable.

Ready-to-wear underwire bras are not an option for me – the wires are too narrow. I was professionally fitted years ago, and although the cup volume was correct on the bra I bought, the wires dug in at both the center and sides. I wore that bra all of one day. I loved the support of an underwire bra, but ouch, I’m just not willing to suffer that much. I’ve been wearing soft cup bras, but it’s hard to find a non-wired bra in my size, so I get them with cups that are too small. My old bras are worn out, I got tired of falling out of my bra when I bent over, they really weren’t providing much support, and the bands cut into my sides, so I decided to give bra-making another try.

I’ve been trying on and off for over a decade to figure out how to make an underwire bra to fit me. I’d make a few bras, get frustrated and quit, then try again in a year or two. I tried making soft cup bras, and that didn’t turn out well either. I made a couple of semi-wearable soft-cup bras, but they didn’t provide much support and weren’t comfortable.

I finally had the time and motivation to make a successful underwire bra. It only took twelve muslins over two months to get the design and fit right. Every time I thought about quitting, I’d just think, what will I do if I quit now? It’s not like I can just go buy a bra, and I don’t want to go bra-less all of the time. I took breaks for a day or two when I needed to, but I made sure not to start any other sewing projects. After about the fifth bra, I entered a sort of zen state and I stopped being impatient with the process. There’s nothing like bra fitting to teach you patience.

I thought I’d “artfully” drape all of the bra muslins over my dressform and take a picture. When I had all of the bras on the dressform, I had to laugh. Yes, there is a dressform under there somewhere!

Bra muslins

I learned a lot and I want to document what I learned, but I just want to be done with bras for a while, so I’m going to jumble a bunch of stuff together into one long post. I’ve gotten some really good tips from other bloggers, so maybe something here will help you if you are making bras.

I looked at available bra patterns, and I almost bought the Pin-Up Girls Shelley pattern, but then I remembered what a nightmare it was the last time I used a commercial pattern. Not only are my breasts atypical in shape, but I have a flared rib cage and narrow bridge, so I knew I would have to significantly alter every single pattern piece. I decided it would be less frustrating to just make my own pattern. I briefly considered drafting a pattern from measurements, but I’ve had bad results drafting anything from measurements, so I decided to essentially drape a bra pattern over my old bra.

The first step, whether you are using a pattern or making your own, is to choose an underwire. I had a really hard time finding the right size and type of underwire. It’s not as simple as just holding up a wire to your breast. The wires flex wider when they are in a bra, and the wire gauge; underwire diameter, length, and width; tightness of the bra band; bra style; etc., all determine how much the wire flexes. The frame (and possibly cup) have to be adjusted to fit the flexed wire shape, so it’s an iterative process. I started out assuming the wire sprung out the recommended 1.5 cm. After making a bra, I bent a flexible ruler around my wire line while wearing a bra, and discovered the wire was actually flexing 2 cm, so I adjusted the pattern to match that shape.

The other reason I had a hard time picking a wire size is that I can’t tell where the sides of my breast tissue is visually. My breasts look like they gradually blend into my underarms. There is a definite edge to the tissue there somewhere; I just can’t see it. After wearing wires that are too narrow for a couple of hours, they started to hurt on the sides, so I kept going up a size until they didn’t hurt.

When I finally got the right wire size, all sorts of fit and comfort problems went away. The wires stayed in the right place instead of getting pushed downward. I’d been having to constantly readjust my bra when I had the wires too small, but now my bra “magically” stays put.

I started out with vertical (aka Bliss) underwires, because I thought they would fit my narrow bridge. They did, but I need really wide wires, which means they have to bend around the sides of my rib cage, so I eventually switched to the flexible Flex-Lite wires, which ended up fitting my bridge fine, too.

Flex-Lite wires are thin gauge spring steel wires with a plastic coating. I was really confused about them, since I couldn’t find adequate descriptions of them online. The description on the BravoBella site implies that they are not steel wires – they are steel, they just have a plastic coating so the edges aren’t so sharp. They will flex to bend around your body, since your rib cage probably isn’t a perfectly flat plane. They are easier to bend than other underwires, but still provide decent support. You just have to treat them gently so they don’t accidentally get bent in the wash or something.

Flex-Lite wires are sold on BravoBella and Sew Sassy, but the two sites label the same size wires with different numbers. Add 6 to the Sew Sassy Flex-Lite sizes to get the BravoBella size. For example, a BravoBella size 54 is the same wire as a Sew Sassy size 48. BravoBella also sells some smaller sizes that Sew Sassy doesn’t carry. I would trust the Sew Sassy sizes more, but go by the wire measurements when choosing a wire, not the bra size listed (and buy a wide range of sizes to try). The sizes listed on the BravoBella site assume you will bend the wires wider or narrower to fit. I don’t think that’s a good idea, and it didn’t work for me. There’s no way I could get two wires to end up the same shape, and I bent them back and forth so many times trying to get the right shape that I was worried the wires were ruined. I never did get the shape quite right, either. I needed the wire to curve more near the ends, but the wire wouldn’t bend there. Instead of bending the wires to shape, I’d suggest selecting the size with the right diameter, then shortening the wires as needed like you would any other wire.

Here’s how I finally found the right size wire. It wasn’t until bra #10 that I figured this out. I put Flex-Lite wires into my current bra muslin, bent the wires until they felt right when I was wearing it, then held up different sizes of wires to the bra until I found the curve that matched the bent wires. I was surprised at how large of wires I needed to avoid having wires dig into my breast tissue on the sides. I used different size underwires on my left and right sides, and I had to shorten both ends of the wires quite a bit. Short, wide wires don’t provide as good of support, so I made a full coverage bra and kept the wires as long as I could at the center and underarm.

To make the bra pattern, I put larger wires into the bra I still had from getting fitted years ago. It has stretchy seamless, non-padded cups, so it worked well to give me a fairly natural shape to work with. The band was too large, so I sewed tucks in it until it fit right. I also sewed a tuck in the bridge to make it narrower. While wearing the bra, I covered the cups with a combination of Glad Press’n Seal and tape. The Press’n Seal conforms to curves well, but additional tape, especially where there will be seams, keeps the pattern from stretching out when it is removed. I drew seam lines on the tape, then peeled it off and cut apart the pieces. I also traced the bridge and band.

Making bra pattern 1 Making bra pattern 2

When converting curved shapes to flat patterns, I kept ending up with cups that were too small, so I should have just graded up the pattern pieces right away. It’s easy to pinch out extra to make the cups smaller during fitting, but not so easy to make them larger.

Making bra pattern 3

For my first four bras, I tried making a partial band bra. Finally I realized that my wires were too flexible to work in a partial band bra, and I needed to make a full band bra. At least in my size, neither vertical wires nor Flex-Lite wires are rigid enough to make a partial band bra work. I started completely over with a new full band pattern for the fifth bra.

I made the second version (starting with bra #5) with non-stretch woven cotton for the lower cups and the powerbar side panel. The grainline on the side panel is vertical, and the two lower cup pieces are cut on the bias. I have a rounded upper cup, so I used two-way stretch knit fabric for the upper cup with the greatest stretch in the horizontal direction.

I started out with an angled seam between the upper cup and lower cup, but the non-stretch lower and side portion of the cups pushed my boobs to the center and gave me a weird bulge on the lower part of the stretchy upper cup. I switched to a horizontal seam, and the shape was much improved. The upper cup to lower cup seam is just above the apex so the woven fabric covers my nipples for a little more modesty – the knit fabric would outline every contour. I actually put the seam there by accident, but it worked out so well I’m pretending I did it on purpose.

I’m extremely sensitive to pressure and I don’t have much fat over my ribs, so I started out with thickly padded underwire channeling. It kept me from feeling wires cutting into my bones, but then the channeling itself was so thick that it made an uncomfortable ridge. I tried putting the wires into channeling sewn onto the outside of the bra, and that made a huge difference in comfort. I put non-padded channeling (really just folded bias tape) made from muslin on the inside to cover the seam allowance and the trimmed band elastic, then I topstitched padded channeling onto the outside for the wires. It looks a little weird, and it’s more work, but it is SO MUCH more comfortable. I don’t think I could tolerate wearing wires otherwise, but now I barely feel them.

Here’s the first bra that really fit me (bra #12). The wrinkling on the upper cup in the pictures below is not a fit issue. I used nylon tricot for the upper cup lining and stretchier fabric on the outside, so the lining pulled tight before the outside did. I’ll have to remember to make the outer cup a little smaller if I use that combination again. Right now I don’t care about the wrinkles, because THE BRA FITS. I can’t believe I can say that now.

Here’s the last bra I made (bra #13). Now I have two wearable bras. The lower cups on this bra are made from a remnant I had left over from the first dress I sewed as a teenager. There’s definitely a late 1980s look to that print. I think I’m going to have to make some bras with larger cups to account for monthly size fluctuations. The one below is pretty snug at the moment, but I can still wear it.

Here are some other random things I learned:

  • The only thing I learned from my second bra is that nylon tricot shrinks! A lot! I couldn’t even assess the fit of the bra, because I washed it to get glue out before wearing it and it shrunk at least a cup size. I drew a square on a piece of tricot, washed it on warm and dried it on low heat, then checked the size of the square. It took two wash and dry cycles to finish shrinking, and it shrunk 7% in each direction. Even the polyester fabric I was using to line the tricot shrunk 2%, so I’m going to pre-wash all of my fabric from now on, regardless of fiber content. Anything that shrinks a lot I will pre-wash twice. Even a tiny bit of shrinkage affects the fit of a bra. Lesson learned the hard way.
  • Nylon tricot stretches out significantly when wet. I used it for the upper cup on my final versions, but I wouldn’t want to rely on it for support on the lower cup. Imagine a miserable hot summer day, you start to perspire, and then your boobs sag.
  • Elmer’s washable school glue works well to stabilize nylon tricot and stop it from curling when cut. I mixed a teaspoon of glue in a cup of water, then sprayed it on the fabric. I dried it with a hair dryer, then ironed it. It’s much cheaper than the spray stabilizer you can buy, and works great.
  • I made non-stretch bra straps, but didn’t interface them. They stretched out. Duh.
  • Non-stretch bra straps with a section of adjustable elastic at the back provide good support, reduce bounce, and hold the bra in place while still allowing you to raise your shoulders. I make my straps adjustable, since I notice even a tiny difference in tension, and I like them to feel just right.
  • My sewing machine tries to eat my fabric when I start a seam on knit fabrics or lightweight wovens. To keep my fabric from getting chewed up, I start sewing on a scrap of paper, then place the fabric over the paper so there is paper under the first half-inch or so of the seam. The paper tears right off. It only works with straight stitched seams though, unless you want to spend an hour using tweezers to pick bits and pieces of paper out of a zig-zagged seam (AMHIK).
  • I tried stretching unmeasured plush elastic by eye as I sew like some people recommend, but after practicing on 10 bras in a row, I still had different lengths of elastic on the left and right. Now I pre-measure the underarm and neckline elastic, making it 90% of the length of the fabric edge (measured off the pattern). The band elastic length I determined by trial and error – it ended up just slightly shorter than the back band fabric.
  • Full band bras, even those with a narrow band, are much more comfortable and stable than partial band (frameless) bras. With partial band bras, the channeling tends to twist around, and if you don’t have really sturdy underwires, the wires bend outward too much. I’m not sure how to describe the difference, but as soon as I switched to a full band bra, the bra just felt like it was staying firmly in place instead of shifting around and the pressure from the wires was distributed better.
  • Firm powernet band fabric keeps the band elastic from digging into you as much. I found that a stretchier band initially felt more comfortable, but then after wearing the bra for a bit I noticed the elastic digging in.
  • I started out using what I thought was 1/2″ elastic on the lower band. It stretched out and stayed stretched out. I finally measured it and discovered it was actually 3/8″ elastic with 1/8″ scallops. It works fine for the upper band and cup edges, fortunately, so I don’t have to waste that pretty elastic.

    Next I went completely the other direction and tried some 1″ plush band elastic from my stash (purchased a while ago from Sew Sassy), and it was too firm (it went from too loose on one bra hook to rib-cracking tight on the next – my rib muscles are still sore from wearing that bra for a day or two). The 1″ elastic still stretched out a bit after an hour or two of wear.

    Then I bought good quality 3/4″ elastic from ArteCrafts on Etsy. It worked well, and it was so much softer and more comfortable than the low quality stuff that pills up and gets scratchy after you wash it. It is fairly firm, so I have to get the length exactly right, but it gives good support. Even a 1/4″ difference in length takes the band from too tight to just right on my short band. I think I’ll stick to ordering my band elastic from ArteCrafts. It’s hard to judge the quality of elastic from a picture, and quality varies so much from seller to seller. Low quality elastic really doesn’t work for the band. You can get away with cheap elastic on the upper edges, but not the band.

    I’m still not used to wearing a firm bra band, but I’m hoping my rib muscles will strengthen and I’ll adjust. Narrower elastic is stretchier, but I’m afraid narrow elastic will cut into me more and also have poor recovery. If I can’t get used to the 3/4″ elastic, I might try two parallel rows of 1/2″ elastic, or 1/2″ elastic on the bottom with 3/8″ elastic above it.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to for the last couple of months. I’m definitely ready to sew some other things now!

Posted in Bra-making, Patternmaking, Sewing

Adventures in Bra-making Part 1: Lounge Bra

My mother sent me her favorite bra that she wanted me to try to clone. She completely wore it out, and of course these bras aren’t made any more.

I guess you’d call this a lounge bra – I don’t think it’s supportive enough to be considered a sports bra. There are two layers to the cup. The outer cup is partially molded but also has gathers at the front and sides.

Original bra front

The cup lining is completely molded to shape with no seams.

Original bra inside

I spent a lot of time staring at this bra and scratching my head, but I finally figured out how to make a pattern from it.

For the front cups, I marked a grainline down the center, then drew lines 3/4″ away from the gathers at the front and sides.

Outer cup marking

I taped over the cup with a combination of clear box sealing tape and masking tape.  I taped just up to the lines marked along the front and sides.

Outer cup taping

After carefully peeling off the tape, I added 3/4″ to the front and side edges. I cut the tape where the gathers will be to allow it to lie flat, stuck it on a piece of paper, and traced the pattern.

Outer cup pattern

For the cup lining, I folded the bra where I wanted to make a seam, then marked the fold line.

cup lining seam line folded

cup lining seam line

I used clear tape to make patterns for the upper and lower cup lining pieces.

cup lining tape pattern

Here are the cup lining pieces stuck onto paper, along with the front band attached to the lower cup.

cup lining patterns

After trueing up the pattern, I sewed up a test bra. I was a bit worried about trying to fit a bra long distance, but although our cup sizes are different, my mother and I have the same band size, so I was able to put on the bra and judge the fit on myself to some degree.

The first bra was too tight around the rib cage and the straps were too short. I made the mistake of stabilizing the front of the band with knit interfacing and using regular 3/4″ knit elastic for the band. I thought 3/4″ bra band elastic would also be too firm, so for the second bra I used some gentle stretch elastic I had in my stash. It was pretty thin and wimpy, so I used two layers to get a firm enough stretch and skipped interfacing the front band.

Amazingly, my mother was happy with bra #2! I think the best I’ve ever done when making a bra for myself is getting something wearable on the third try.

Finished lounge bra front

Finished lounge bra back

My mother has sensitive skin, so all seamlines are enclosed. The elastic is either enclosed or on the outside.

Finished lounge bra inside close up


Posted in Bra-making, Patternmaking, Sewing

Nothing says “I love you” like a vintage sewing machine (or three)

Singer 201-1 15 66 Hearts2

My husband surprised me with three vintage sewing machines and two treadle stands for Valentine’s Day. These will last so much longer than flowers or chocolates! They definitely made me happier, too. I’m still smiling.

Singer drop-leaf dressmakers treadle stand

The dressmaker’s treadle stand has a larger wheel for faster sewing.

Last week I mentioned to my husband that I’d seen exactly the sewing machine and cabinet that I’d wanted on Craigslist – a Singer 201-1 treadle in a drop-leaf dressmaker’s stand. Last fall I had given up on ever finding a treadle 201 and instead converted a 201-2 to be used on a treadle base. So I certainly didn’t need the sewing machine, and I was expecting my husband to try to talk me out of it, since he’s been complaining that my sewing machines take up too much room and I really need to justify any future sewing machine purchases. Instead he said, “I’ll pick it up for you.” He’s such an enabler.

We left a message with the seller, but after not hearing from them for a couple of days, I figured they must’ve sold the sewing machine and were too lazy to return calls or take down their ad. Well, it turns out they had just been out of town for a few days, and they got back to my husband Saturday night. He didn’t tell me this, though, because he figured it would make a good Valentine’s surprise.

The people selling the sewing machine were over an hour drive from our house and many miles down gravel roads in the middle of nowhere. When my husband got there, he found out they had two complete treadle sewing machines plus another sewing machine head listed on Craigslist. He didn’t know which one was the one I wanted. I’d previously sent him an e-mail with a link to the ad but there was no cell service that far out, so he couldn’t check. His solution was to buy them all!

Singer Treadle Cabinet

Missing some drawer pulls, but otherwise in pretty good shape.

So now I have an antique Singer 66 and a Singer 15 in addition to the 201-1. I have a total of six treadle stands, I don’t even know how many vintage and antique sewing machines (I think about a dozen complete machines, plus a few parts machines), and I have to figure out where to put them all in my little house. What a problem to have. I keep thinking that a few generations ago in the US, or in a third world country now, I’d be very lucky to have one of these sewing machines.

I feel sort of guilty for owning more than my share of sewing machines, but at least I rescued them. Every vintage sewing machine I’ve acquired looked like it had been sitting unused for decades. And hey, if the zombie apocalypse hits and we no longer have electrical power, I’ll be all set to open a sewing business!

The sewing I had planned for this week will be put on hold as I rearrange the house and clean and oil sewing machines. The model 15 is completely locked up, so it will be satisfying to get it working again.

Posted in Treadle Sewing Machines, Vintage Sewing Machines

DIY Cure for a Slipping Treadle Belt

The leather treadle belt on my Singer 328K was slipping when I sewed over anything thick or used twin needles. I tightened up the belt, but even with the belt tight, it was still slipping. I think there were a few things causing it to slip. The main reason is probably because the treadle belt is scraped up from when I was using the belt with the original balance wheel and there wasn’t quite enough clearance for the belt. Another factor is that I have it on a treadle base with a large wheel to make it treadle a little faster. Also, it is a zig-zag sewing machine, which requires more force to turn than a straight stitch machine.

Someday I’ll replace the leather belt with urethane belting, which I think will work better than leather for this machine, but for now I just wanted to put something on the belt to make it stickier. I figured violin rosin would work. I planned to buy some, but then I thought, hey, rosin is made out of pitch, right? I live in a house surrounded by pine and fir trees, so maybe I could make some rosin? Rosin doesn’t cost much, but I thought it would be a fun project to try to make my own.

A Google search gave me an idea of how to make rosin. Basically, you boil pitch, then add beeswax and other secret ingredients. I didn’t find any actual recipes (I guess that’s top secret info), so I just winged it.

There is snow on the ground at my house and it’s been raining, so I didn’t really want to go tramping around in the slush looking for pitch. I remembered that I had some pitchy firewood, so I decided to try scraping the pitch off of it, since I only needed a little bit of rosin.

Pitchy Wood

I put the pitch in a metal measuring cup and set it on the wood stove to melt and boil a bit. I added a couple of small chips of beeswax and stirred them in.

Pitch in cup

I made a mold out of pieces of a manila folder, poured in the hot pitch, and let it cool.

Rosin mold

I regretted using my good measuring cup when it came time to clean it up. I had to heat up some rubbing alcohol in it to dissolve the pitch then rub the cup with coconut oil, but I got all of the pitch residue out of my measuring cup.

The rosin came right out of the mold. And what do you know, it kinda looks like a tiny piece of rosin!

Mini rosin

I rubbed the rosin on the leather belt as I treadled until the belt felt just a bit sticky.

Rosin on treadle belt

The belt is slipping a lot less now. I had fun making the rosin, and it didn’t cost me anything to make it, so I got double enjoyment out of the project.

Posted in Treadle Sewing Machines

An Accidental Science Experiment


I’ve been sewing up Cashmerette Appleton knit dresses for myself and a couple of other people, and I used a fair amount of Solvy and Sticky Solvy wash away stabilizer while sewing the hems. After washing the last dress in my front-loading washer, I reached into the pocket formed by the rubber door seal to clean out the lint and whatnot that collects in there, and got a bit of a gooey surprise.

I freaked out for a few seconds, then got up the courage to pull the thing out. It was a perfectly clear glob of firm slimy stuff. It took me a minute, but I figured out what it was, since it looked just like the slime I made in chemistry class when I was in school. The PVA stabilizer reacted with my laundry detergent (Charlie’s Soap powdered detergent) to make slime! Amazingly, it came out perfectly clear even though the dresses are black. I dissolved some more stabilizer in a bowl of water and added a little laundry detergent just to check that that’s what had happened, and yes, it solidified into a gooey ball.

I wonder if this has anything to do with the intermittent error messages I’ve been getting on my washing machine?

Posted in Uncategorized

Favorite Sewing Tip of 2015

UltraCleanMarkersNote: Since I wrote this, I got another set of markers, and did a quick test on cotton, this time letting the marks dry for two days, and the colors didn’t seem to wash out as well. The green and blue washed out better, exactly the opposite of my previous results. So do your own tests before marking all over the right side of your fabric!

For all of the years that I’ve been sewing, I’ve struggled to find a good fabric marking tool. I’ve tried pencils that break as soon as they are sharpened and sometimes don’t wash out. I’ve tried air-soluble markers that fade too soon and can’t be ironed or the marks become permanent (how can you avoid ironing your marks?). Traditional chalk isn’t too bad, but you have to sharpen it frequently to get a fine line, and it’s difficult or impossible to use on some fabrics, like stretchy knits and fleece.

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.

Well, thanks to Lauren’s blog post last May, I found the perfect marking tool for most fabrics: Crayola Ultra-Clean Washable Markers.  The Ultra-Clean markers wash out even better than regular washable markers, and are better than any marker I’ve found in the notions aisle of a fabric store. I used them to mark all over white t-shirts I sewed, and the marks washed out without a trace.

Now that I have a marking tool that I’m confident will wash out, I find myself marking all sorts of places that I wouldn’t have before. My favorite use for these markers is marking hems. I mark the crease line on the right side of the fabric using a marker along the edge of a quilting ruler. It makes pressing the hem much easier to have it marked first rather than trying to measure as I press.

Lauren did some testing on these markers, but I accidentally discovered that they don’t wash out of silk as well as cotton, so I did some further testing with fabric I had on hand.

I didn’t have white fabric in every fiber I wanted to test, so I just picked the lightest colors I had. I tested cotton, nylon, polyester, rayon (viscose), silk, linen, and wool. The eight geometric shapes on the upper portion of the swatches were drawn with each color of Crayola Ultra-Clean washable markers. The three ovals below them were done with regular Crayola washable markers for comparison.


I basted the ends of my swatches together into a tube to keep the fabric from twisting up in the washer (that was last year’s tip). I let it dry for a couple of hours, then I threw it in the washer with some towels and washed it in cold water.


For all fabrics except silk and wool, all of the marks from both the Ultra-clean and regular washable markers disappeared without a trace. On the off-white silk swatch, I could just barely detect marks from the Ultra-Clean markers, but the blue and red regular washable markers left noticeable pink stains (they look worse in person than in the picture). On the tan colored wool, I could just barely see a pink stain from the red regular washable marker.

Even after this test, I wouldn’t hesitate to use Crayola Ultra-Clean markers on light colored silk and wool. I wouldn’t use the regular washable markers on silk or wool, though. Surprisingly, black seems to wash out better than red or blue, so on silk or wool I’d stick to the black marker and mark sparingly. Also, on the back of the package the markers came in, it says that it may take several washes to completely remove stains, so I bet that a couple more washes would get everything out.

These markers are great, but they won’t work for everything. Obviously, you can only use washable markers on fabric that will be washed. Since I never sew anything that will be dry cleaned, that’s not an issue for me. Markers will of course not show up on really dark colored fabrics. For dark colors, I use white tailor’s chalk or a chalk wheel for marking fabric and a white china marker for tracing around patterns.

Don’t use washable markers on fusible interfacing or on fabric that will be interfaced. The ink mixes with the glue on the interfacing and becomes permanent.

Posted in Sewing

2015 Unblogged Sewing Projects

I sewed quite a few things last year that didn’t make it onto my blog. Some items I just never got around to writing about and some just weren’t worth their own post. So here they all are in one quick and dirty post. Well, not literally dirty (although there are plenty of wrinkles). I had to do a lot of laundry to get everything clean for the pictures, since most of these are items that my family’s been wearing frequently.

Last summer I sewed up cotton thermal long underwear for the whole family so we could all stay nice and warm this winter. I bought a 15 yard lot of pink cotton thermal knit fabric, and sewed it all up at once. I was really sick of pink by the time I was done! I dyed my husband’s long johns a more masculine color, but my son opted to leave his pink.

For myself, I based the pattern on my self-drafted pajama pattern, for my daughter I made a pattern based on a RTW long sleeve tee and leggings, and for my son and husband I used Jalie 2328.

A winter storm knocked out our power for a couple of days when I was behind on laundry, and my son needed some new underwear anyway, so I sewed him a couple of pairs of knit boxer briefs on my treadle zig-zag sewing machine while wearing a headlamp. That was pretty fun. After the power came back on, I sewed up a few more pairs using my serger. For the pattern, I copied his RTW underwear and graded it up to fit.

I turned four yards of purple cotton knit into long sleeve and 3/4 sleeve Grainline Lark Tees for me, a long sleeve tee for my daughter, an SBCC Tonic Tee for me, and a pair of underwear for me.

I upcycled a couple of my old maternity tees into a shirt for my daughter and a pair of underwear for me. The neckline binding on the shirt was made with my new industrial-style binding attachment that fits on a regular sewing machine. I’ll do a post about the binder once I’ve practiced with it a bit more.

I made myself a crushed velour Lark tee for the holidays. When my daughter saw the fabric, she wanted one too.


Here are a couple more Lark tees. They are made from thin wool/rayon blend jersey. They make a nice inner layer in the winter.

I made a Watson-ish bra. The bra below was my third try. For the first version, I used the long-line Watson pattern without alterations, choosing a size based on my measurements. It was too small and tight. I have this problem all of the time – since I have wide breasts, my measurements don’t give a good indication of my cup size – so I don’t fault the pattern. But I had to start somewhere, so I started with the size I measured for. On the first test bra, the cups were way too small, the band was too tight, and the band was too long. The lower edge of the band cut into me below the ribs, I imagine since I’m petite and have a short ribcage. For the second version, I used a cup pattern several sizes larger and a larger band size, but it still cut in below the ribs. I guess I just can’t wear a long-line bra. By the third version, I had completely re-designed the band to match the band shape from a self-drafted pattern I was working on. The bra is reasonably comfortable and I wear it occasionally, but the only support comes from the straps, so I don’t know if I’ll make any more. This bra design would have been a good one for me a couple of decades ago before I actually needed support.

I made a quilt for my husband for Christmas. I used Quilter’s Dream wool batting, which seems to be pretty good stuff. It survived the first washing without any problems, anyway.


And finally, I made a wearable muslin of the Cashmerette Appleton dress. I graded down to a size 10 for most of the dress, but I went up to a size 14 at the back hip. After comparing the pattern pieces to my personal block pattern, I decided to shorten the pattern 1/2″ at the bust level. In retrospect, I’m not sure that was a good idea.  I think I also need to cut a larger size for the front hip and below, since it doesn’t overlap enough. Next time I’m going to try interfacing the vertical hems on the wrap skirt edges to see if that helps prevent the sagging and lack of wrapping problems, too. This is a flattering and comfortable dress, though, so I’m going to put in the work to get the fit and length right, and then I’ll get some good fabric to make more Appletons.


Here are some overexposed pictures of the Appleton, so you can see the details:

Posted in Sewing
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