A Better Paper Tape Dress Form: Part 1 – Intro and Materials

This is the first post in a five part tutorial for making a paper tape dress form that truly matches your measurements and body shape.

Part 1: Introduction and Materials List
Part 2: Preparation
Part 3: Taping the Outer Form
Part 4: Making the Final Form
Part 5: Marking the Form and Making a Cover

Every few years I make a new custom dress form. I started out with duct tape forms, then upgraded to paper tape forms. Each time I make one I learn a bit more. The last paper tape dress form I made is the best one yet, and since I made a second dress form inside the initial outer paper tape mold, it matches my shape and measurements almost exactly.

Paper tape forms made with water activated kraft paper tape are inexpensive, and if you do it right, are a very accurate way to make a custom dress form.  It costs less to make a paper tape dress form than a plaster and poured foam form, plus you don’t have the mess of plaster and the worry of the foam expanding too much and cracking the form open. And it’s definitely less expensive than having a dress form made from a 3D body scan.

I’ve come to the conclusion that duct tape dress forms and paper tape dress forms made the traditional way are not very useful. The thickness of the tape and the T-shirt under it typically adds at least an inch, but often more, to the body measurements. The shape of the shoulder area changes, too. People say, oh, that’s OK that your dress form measures a little larger than you, because your garments need ease anyway.

The truth is that on a garment the ease at your bustline and hips is added at the side seams, not evenly all around the body as it is on a paper tape or duct tape dress form. So if you shape darts to fit the dress form, they will be too large, and you will get garments that poof out over the bust, bum, and tummy. I really hate how too-large darts look. They make me feel like I’m a little girl playing dress up in my mother’s clothes. If you only wear loose fitting garments, you might be OK with doing your fitting on a duct tape or traditional paper tape form, but it does not work for me. Even my knit T-shirts that fit me won’t fit on a dress form made this way.

I solved this problem by using my initial paper tape form as a mold to make another dress form inside. I put plastic tape on the inside of the outer form, oiled it lightly, put a couple of layers of paper tape on the inside, then used some expanding foam inside to keep it rigid. After I took off the outer form, I added a layer of paper tape on the outside of the final form so I wouldn’t have the sticky side of the paper tape exposed. Then I sewed a cover for the form. The final form is very lightweight, yet perfectly rigid. You have to add several layers of paper tape on the inside of a traditional paper tape form to keep it rigid anyway, so this really wasn’t that much more work than making a regular paper tape form.

I’m detailing how I created my dress form in a series of blog posts. This is going to be a long tutorial, so I’ve broken it into five parts.

Note that I describe the process for an adult female figure with a bust, but the same basic procedure works for men and other figures without a bust – except it’s easier because you have fewer curves to deal with. Just ignore all the steps regarding the bust if your model does not have a bust.

Also, it might seem weird that I’m calling the person the dress form is being made for a “model” but I couldn’t think of a more appropriate word. As far as I know, there is no word in the English language that means “the person being fitted.” It would be awkward to say “the person the dress form is being made for” frequently and I don’t want to use a made up word like fittee or wrapee because I find that annoying.

Materials List

Let’s start with the materials you will need. You may not need all of these things depending on the options you choose, and you will need a few additional things I don’t specifically list (sewing equipment, for example), so I suggest you read through the tutorial before deciding what you need to purchase.

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).

  • Water activated non-reinforced kraft paper tape*. A 600 foot roll should be more than enough to make a dress form for most people. If the model is large, you might want to get two rolls to be on the safe side. The tape comes in different widths. You might want to use 2 inch wide tape* used full width for a large or not very curvy person, or 2.5 inch* to 3 inch wide tape* cut in half lengthwise for a smaller/curvier person. If you have extra tape you can always use it to make a dress form for a friend or save it to make another dress form in a few years. You can also use it to seal up packages and as a less messy paper mache substitute in crafts. Note: Don’t use the kind of paper tape that is reinforced with fiberglass fibers – it won’t produce a rigid form.
  • Large kitchen sponge*
  • Dinner plate or other flat dish
  • Two bowls of water, if you are not doing your taping near a sink. One is to wet the sponge in, and one is for rinsing glue off of the taper’s hands.
  • Towels
  • Hair dryer
  • Plastic packaging tape* (preferably in a color other than clear)
  • Thin 100% cotton rib knit fabric* You’ll need enough to sew a mid-thigh length T-shirt from, so the amount needed will depend on the size of the model and the width of the fabric. You can use thin cotton/spandex blend knit fabric instead, but make sure the fabric is not pulled tight around the body, or it can cause the dress form to buckle after you remove it. Do not use synthetic or cotton/polyester blend fabric – the paper tape will not stick to it well.
  • Large sharp pair of scissors that you don’t mind using to cut paper. An old pair of dressmaking shears is a good choice. These angled shears* look like they would be good to use for cutting off the dress form (I haven’t tried them myself, though).
  • Fine point permanent marker*
  • Chain necklace to mark the neckline. I suggest using a ball chain necklace*.
  • Manila folder or similar card stock paper
  • Sheet of poster board. You can substitute a manila folder or thin paperboard such as from cereal boxes for the poster board.
  • Corrugated cardboard for closing up the holes in the dress form
  • Plastic wrap (cling film) and/or Glad Press’n Seal*
  • Yard stick or meter stick*
  • It is really helpful to have a self-leveling laser level*. My laser level is one of my favorite sewing tools – it’s great for marking hems, too.
  • Large gap expanding foam* (optional). I am fairly small, and I used an entire 20 ounce can. I would suggest having at least two cans on hand, more if the model is large. If you use foam you will also need disposable gloves, paper or plastic sheeting to protect your work area, and old clothes to wear while you use it. If you don’t want to use expanding foam, you can just add several more layers of paper tape on the inside of the dress form to strengthen it.
  • If you want to pad out a bra to create the bust shape instead of taping the bust with paper tape, you will need a foam cup bra that fits the model.
  • Something to use for a stand. You can make a stand, just set your dress form on a table, or purchase something like an IV pole*.

Up Next: Part 2 – Preparation

* 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).

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

Sewing Podcasts

I’ve recently become a podcast-aholic. Previously I’d listen to an occasional sewing related podcast episode when a blogger I follow would mention it, but I didn’t subscribe to any podcasts.  It just seemed like too much of a hassle to find the podcasts, and I wasn’t all that interested. Also, I have satellite internet so I have to watch my data usage.

Then along came the Love to Sew podcast. After seeing it mentioned a couple of times on blogs, I listened to one episode, then that night during my free data usage hours I downloaded the rest of the episodes. Ever since I’ve been hooked and eagerly anticipating Tuesdays when the latest episode comes out.

It was getting to be a long wait from Tuesday to Tuesday, so I started looking for other sewing related podcasts to keep me occupied while I waited for the next Love to Sew episode, and I found quite a few.

I’d been downloading podcast episodes on my computer and copying them over to my iPod nano, which took a few minutes for each episode, so when I started listening to more podcasts, I had to switch to using a podcast app on my phone to keep track of them. I realized that my internet data usage is still in the free zone early in the morning when my husband gets up to go to work, so I turned off automatic updating in my podcast app and I download new episodes manually first thing in the morning.

If you are new to podcasts, there are different ways to listen to them. Usually podcasters will have a link on their website that you can use to play an episode, so you can just click on that if you only want to listen to an occasional episode.

If you want to listen to a lot of podcasts, you’ll want to either subscribe to them in iTunes or use a podcast app on your smartphone or tablet, such as the Podcast app for iPhones, Stitcher, or various other apps. I’ve been using Stitcher, which I like pretty well. I also used the iPhone Podcast app to get the earliest episodes of Maker Style, since those episodes are not on Stitcher. Here’s a beginner’s guide to podcasts if you want more help.

I like to listen to podcasts when I’m doing housework or while sewing something simple. Folding laundry or washing dishes becomes a lot more interesting, and if I have a lot of seam ripping to do, listening to a podcast while I do it makes it a lot less painful!

Listening to podcasts has opened up a whole new world for me. I’ve gotten behind-the-scenes info on bloggers and indie patternmakers I follow, gotten sewing advice, and discovered new-to-me bloggers and websites (how did I not know about The Fold Line?!). I feel more connected to the sewing community even though I’m sewing by myself.

Here are the sewing related podcasts I’ve been listening to. Some of the podcasts in the list don’t have any recent episodes, but if you haven’t listened to them before, there’s still lots to listen to there.

CRAFT-ish

Clothes Making Mavens

Crafty Planner Podcast

Elise Gets Crafty

Love to Sew

Maker Style

Modern Sewciety

Seamwork Radio

Sewing Out Loud

Sewing Together

Thread Cult

Threads Magazine Podcast: “Sewing With Threads”

While She Naps

allgrownupnow’s podcast

Update: Here are a couple of new ones:

Stitcher’s Brew

Making Podcast

What about you? Do you listen to podcasts? Do you have any podcast recommendations (sewing/craft related or otherwise)?

Posted in Sewing

Bra Update

When sewing bloggers post about the pretty new bra they just sewed, I always wonder if the bra actually fits, if it’s comfortable, and if they are actually still wearing it months or years later.

So here’s an update on the bras I made a couple of years ago. Those bras no longer fit, but I wore the smallest three up until recently anyway. In fact, after all that work sewing 20+ bras in a row, the final bras I made only fit me for a few weeks. On the whole, my weight is usually stable, but somehow I decided to sew bras during one of the few times in my life my weight was fluctuating. First I gained weight, and then I changed my diet and lost weight. I kept wearing the bras I made even though they were too large because I was too tired of sewing bras to work on revising my bra pattern yet again, and they still fit better and were more comfortable than anything I could buy.

I recently decided my weight had been stable for long enough that I could face working on my bra pattern again. I realized I’d been holding back on sewing everything else I wanted to because I was afraid the garments wouldn’t fit right after I finally had a correctly fitting bra. So I really needed to make some bras. I’m highly motivated to maintain my current weight, because I really don’t want to have to adjust my bra pattern again for a long time!

This time adjusting my bra pattern was much easier. I put on my bra that was too large, marked a new wire line for the smaller wires I need now, carefully pinned out the extra fabric in the cups, and adjusted the pattern to match. Sizing down is definitely the way to go. It’s hard to see how much larger you need to make a cup that is too small, but pinning out extra on a too large cup is not too difficult.

Then I made a bra muslin. I was shocked – it only needed a few small tweaks to fit perfectly! It’s almost like I actually know what I’m doing. Which I would hope would be the case after sewing so many bras.

The second bra was wearable, but the fabric stretched out as I wore it, so I added a lining and an extra support piece to the bottom of the lower cup on the next versions. By the fourth bra I had a bra I was happy with, so I made a couple more. Unfortunately, these bras only fit me well for half of each month, so I made a second slightly larger “PMS” version of my bra pattern and sewed a couple more bras in that size.

Since every different fabric affects the fit of a bra, I decided to make things easy and just make a bunch of boring white bras.

However, after sewing a few white bras I started to get really tired of all of that white, so I made one bra using a scrap of yellow polka dot fabric, and I dyed another one red. The problem with dyeing is it’s a hassle and the colors bleed in the wash.

I absolutely cannot stand to hand wash bras, so I put them in my front loading washer on the delicate cycle, and it seems a waste to run the washer just for one bra. With my last batch of bras I washed my red bras with the white ones and let the white ones turn pink, which I don’t really want to do this time. Maybe I’ll pick one white bra to wash with the red one, so I’ll just have one that turns pink.

I do like the polka dots. The lower cups and sides of the cups are made from cotton shirting, so I have lots of fabric options for that part of the bra. Maybe I can find some more polka dot cotton shirting with colored dots on a white background. Then I could have a little bit of color, but I wouldn’t have to worry about it bleeding in the wash. Stripes might be fun, too. I kept telling myself I was perfectly happy with white bras – I just wanted some bras that fit! However, in keeping with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as soon as I had a few white bras that fit, I started wanting some pretty ones, too.

Since my bra pattern is now fairly complicated and takes a while to sew, I was wondering if I could simplify my pattern if I made the cups out of duoplex, which does not need a lining. I had been avoiding duoplex because heavy-duty polyester fabric just did not sound appealing. I bought some duoplex, adjusted my pattern, and sewed up another version. The cups on this bra came out a bit pointy, almost like a bullet bra, and um, you can really tell when I get cold.

I could work on the duoplex version of the pattern to get a better shape, but I’m not going to, because I don’t like wearing duoplex. It feels cold and clammy sometimes and too warm other times. It feels like wearing plastic (which it is). It also generates static electricity. It’s hard to pinpoint why I don’t like wearing polyester, but I feel slightly on edge and out of sorts all day when I wear it. I can see why people like duoplex for making bras, though. It’s really sturdy and supportive, it has just a little stretch for comfort, and it is easy to sew. I’ll wear this bra occasionally, when I’m behind on laundry, but it’s definitely not my favorite.

I make the upper portion of my bra cups out of nylon tricot, but this doesn’t bother me like duoplex does. It probably helps that it’s a smaller piece of synthetic fabric, not the whole cup. Also, nylon breathes better and is softer than polyester.

The key to comfortable underwires for me is to topstitch a second set of channeling on the outside of the bra and put the wires in the outer channeling. That way the wires don’t dig into my ribs.

Here’s an inside view. With the lining, it looks almost as nice as the outside.

Close up of the channeling on the outside:

It took me a while to figure out which fabric and notions I like for bra making. Unfortunately the supplies I like come from several different online shops, so I end up paying a lot in shipping costs. I’m not sure whether I should stock up on more supplies now while items are still available, or wait in case I want to make a different type of bra next time.

I should at least stock up on 5/8″ band elastic from Bravo Bella, because this is absolutely the only type of band elastic that works for me. 1/2″ band elastic is too narrow. I’ve tried several different kinds, but they all cut into me at first and then stretch out over a couple of hours so I lose support. I’m baffled as to how anyone can make bras with it. All of the 3/4″ elastic I tried was so firm that when it was under any tension at all I had difficulty taking a full breath and got sore intercostal muscles. I imagine firm 3/4″ elastic is good for larger band sizes, but it doesn’t work for me. The 5/8″ elastic from Bravo Bella has a high enough spandex content to be comfortable and hold its shape for a whole day and the width is just right.

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).

Here are the supplies I used:

  • Lower cup, cup sides, and bridge: Mercerized cotton poplin left over from my husband’s white shirt
  • Cup lining and underside of straps: Cotton lawn*
  • Upper cup on both outer cup and lining, and outer straps: 40 denier nylon tricot. Needs to be pre-shrunk.
  • Back band fabric: Power net from Porcelynne. Sadly, no longer available. This is the best power net I’ve ever had – it’s thin, but provides good support.
  • Interfacing for straps: Pellon EK130 Easy-Knit*
  • Underarm elastic: 3/8″ elastic from Bravo Bella
  • Band elastic: 5/8″ elastic from Bravo Bella
  • Neckline elastic: 3/8″ elastic from BiasBespoke on Etsy (it’s listed as 1/2″ but the actual elastic width excluding picots is 3/8″). The neckline elastic is not under much tension, so I find pretty much any elastic works there. I just used this elastic because I had some and it’s pretty.
  • Strap elastic: PE 580 3/4″ strap elastic from Sew Sassy. This is very high quality strapping elastic.
  • Strap inner padding: I used Moisture Wicking Diamond Knit (I have it in white, which appears to be no longer available). If I run out of this, I’ll probably use 1/16″ bra foam instead.
  • Strap sliders: 3/4″ Nylon covered metal sliders. I got these from a couple of different places (I think Sew Sassy and Porcelynne), and the quality was the same. I use a second set of sliders instead of rings to connect the elastic strapping to the non-stretch straps. I think in the future I’ll get silver colored sliders so I won’t have to dye them and can use them on any color bra.
  • Bridge stabilizer: I used silk organza on some of the bras and nylon sheer cup lining on the others. They both work equally well.
  • Channeling: CH909 – White Flat Bra Channeling from Sew Sassy. I like this better than any other channeling I’ve purchased, but it needs to be preshrunk really well before using it (I learned that the hard way).
  • Underwires: Flex-Lite underwires from Bravo Bella or Sew Sassy. The sizes are labeled differently on the two sites. Add 6 to the Sew Sassy Flex-Lite size to get the BravoBella size.
  • Hook and eye closures: I like these high quality three-hook sets from Porcelynn on Etsy

I’m happy with my current me-made bras, but I thought it would be nice to also have a foam cup bra for occasions when I want a smoother look. I know you can buy pre-made foam cups and cover them with stretchy fabric, but I imagine I would have to buy several different sizes of cups to find the right size, and they are not cheap. Plus I just don’t want to have to start over and learn how to make a different type of bra fit me. It finally occurred to me that since I can make a bra from scratch, I could probably alter a ready-to-wear bra to fit me, too.

I looked for a full frame bra with a foam cup. Full frame bras are kind of hard to find. Most ready-to-wear bras are partial band bras. The flexible wires I use do not work in partial band bras and the band just doesn’t stay in place as well on that type of bra, so I did not want a partial band bra. I thought I’d try ordering a bra online, so I’d at least have a larger selection to choose from. I can never find both the style and size I want in a store, so I didn’t see how purchasing online could be any worse. Plus many sellers offer free returns.

Calculating my bra size from my measurements puts me in a 32D, but I know from experience a size 32 band is way too tight, so going up a band size and down a cup size would put me in the sister size 34C. However I also know from past experience that 34C bra cups are too small for me. So I thought I’d try size 34D. I’m one of those people whose measurements don’t put me in the right size. Not that there is a ready-to-wear size that fits me.

The first bra I tried was the Hanes Ultimate T-Shirt Soft Foam Light Lift Bra*. When I first tried it on, the wires were significantly too narrow, and I did not fill out the upper part of the cups. I took out the wires and replaced them with ones that fit me. These wider wires pushed the sides of the cup outward, making the upper part of the back band too long. Rather than doing a complex alteration and taking the bra apart, I decided to just sew a dart in the band. When I put on the altered bra, the wires fit, but the cup volume was now a little too small, since the cup was pulled into a wider shape with the wider wires. The wires did not touch my chest in the center, and they poked into me on the sides. I cut some wide plush elastic and hand sewed it in place on the inside to pad the ends of the wires and cover the lump caused by the dart. This bra is now wearable, even though the fit is not perfect and it’s not as comfortable as the bras I sewed. I can wear the Hanes bra for a full day without experiencing pain, so I’m calling it a success.

I thought since the cups on the 34D were too small after changing the wire size, I would try a 34DD, but the Hanes bra was not available in that size, so I bought a size 34DD Bali One Smooth U Ultra Light Embroidered Frame Underwire Bra*. When I tried on this bra, to my utter astonishment and delight, the underwires were the perfect size. The band fit, too. However, the cups were much too large.

The cups on this bra are made from 1/16″ foam that is an even thickness and is easy to sew through. I pinned out a 1″ wide dart in each cup to see about how much I needed to take out. Then I took apart the bra, cut off 1/2″ all the way around the wireline edge of the cups, and sewed everything back together.

This alteration was almost as much work as sewing an entire bra. The bra now fits and is reasonably comfortable. I don’t really care for the shape of the cups, though. They flatten my breasts and push them out to the sides like a minimizer bra does. I don’t think that this shape is just because I altered the cups, since it looks like the same thing is happening on the model in the product photos. I’m calling this bra a success, too. I wear it more often than the Hanes bra, but less often than the bras I made.

Although I’m not officially entering, my bras fit in well with the SMYLY (Sewing Makes You Love Yourself) challenge currently going on. After making this batch of bras, for the first time in my life, I have a drawer full of supportive bras that fit. It was a ton of work to get to this point, and I’m proud of myself for finally getting this done.

Being able to wear an underwire bra is a big deal to me. I’ve always wanted the support of underwires and been jealous of other women who could wear them, but I’ve never been able to find an underwire bra that fits, so I’ve always resorted to wearing poorly fitting non-wired bras. The bands on non-wired bras always cut into me painfully on the sides, so I’ve found that a correctly fitting underwire bra is actually more comfortable than a non-wired bra. My underwire bras are just as comfortable at the end of the day as when I put them on in the morning. Yay!

The underwires take the weight of my bust off of my shoulders, so I feel so much lighter and my posture is better. Plus it no longer bothers me that I’m getting older and saggier, because when I put on one of my bras, I feel young and perky again. I look down at my chest and I’m like, “Hello, girls, nice to see you back up where you used to be!” It’s amazing how wearing a comfortable, supportive bra improves my whole outlook on life.

* 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 Bra-making, Sewing

More DIY Dressmaker’s Tracing Paper

After making a double-sided tracing cloth using washable crayons, I decided to try making single sided tracing paper as well, since commercially available wax-free paper just doesn’t mark well, and professional waxed tracing paper is expensive and makes permanent marks on fabric.

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).

My initial idea was to just color on paper with washable crayons, but that seemed like too much work, so the first thing I tried was melting and diluting Crayola washable crayons* and painting the mixture onto the paper side of plastic-backed freezer paper*. Painting on melted crayon didn’t work well at all. I got thick clumps of crayon, the paper rippled, and the crayon ended up flaking off in the too thick areas.

So I went back to the idea of coloring on freezer paper with washable crayons. This worked great! Can you get any simpler than that? It wasn’t nearly as messy as trying to paint on melted crayon, and was actually faster when you count clean-up time. It took me about 10 minutes to color in a 9″ by 18″ piece of paper. You have to press firmly while coloring to get complete coverage, so my arm got a little tired (especially since I was already worn out from shoveling snow), but it was totally worth it.

You can actually use any kind of paper, by the way. I used freezer paper because I happened to have some and I thought the plastic backing would make it last longer without tearing. You can also put plastic box sealing tape on the back of any tracing paper to keep it from ripping.

My tracing paper makes excellent marks on both paper and fabric.

I tried the yellow tracing paper on dark colored fabric. The marks are a little harder to see on dark fabric, but still visible. And the marks don’t brush off!

So far the marks seem to wash out fine, but if you try this yourself, I’d recommend doing your own tests before you use it anywhere the marks might end up showing on the right side of a garment. Ironing might also set in the marks – I haven’t tested that yet, since I usually only use tracing paper for marking the stitching lines on muslins and for tracing patterns onto paper.

I have two sides of me that are constantly at odds. On the one hand, I want to have the best tool for every job, but on the other hand I also like to be frugal and make do with what I have or can get cheaply. Since I have a limited sewing budget, I end up doing some of each when it comes to sewing notions and tools.

In this case, I think my tracing paper is a win for both sides of me. It was inexpensive, I made it myself, and it works well. In fact, since I used washable crayons, the marks wash out of fabric, which makes it even more versatile than waxed tracing paper! Also a plus is that I can make it in many colors.

* 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

3-Step Zig-Zag Disc for Singer Slant Machines

I’ve made 3D printed 3-step and 2-step zig-zag discs for vintage Singer sewing machines that take the top hat style fashion discs. The only multi-step zig-zag stitch these machines come with is a 4-step zig-zag, which in my opinion is useless.

A 4-step zig-zag? What were they thinking? Those stitches are tiny. That’s way too many small stitches to put in elastic or knit fabric. I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted to use a 4-step zig-zag stitch. I use a 3-step zig-zag all the time, and occasionally I thought a 2-step zig-zag stitch would be nice, but not a 4-step zig-zag.

I love my Singer 411G, but it really needed a 3-step zig-zag stitch. I made a 3-step zig-zag disc a few months ago, but it wasn’t quite right, so I fixed the design for this version. I decided I might as well make a 2-step zig-zag disc while I was at it.

I’ve made the 3-step zig-zag disc and 2-step zig-zag disc available for purchase in my Shapeways shop. If you are not sure if your vintage Singer sewing machine takes this style of discs, take a look at this Singer disc comparison chart. My discs are type “B” in that chart.

I chose “White Strong & Flexible” nylon for the material, since it seemed like the best option in terms of print resolution and price. I’ve had my first version of the disc for about six months, and it’s held up fine, but I don’t know yet how these 3D printed parts will hold up long term. 3D printing technology is still evolving rapidly, so I’m hoping that by the time my discs wear out, there will be a better material available.

The print resolution is not high enough to get perfectly consistent results, so the two holes in the disc may be a little too small on some discs. The holes can easily be sanded larger, though. You can use a small round file or rolled up pieces of sandpaper to slightly enlarge the holes. The disc should sit snugly on the sewing machine, but it shouldn’t be so tight it is difficult to remove.

 

Posted in Vintage Sewing Machines

Girl’s Jalie Jeans – A Happy Accident

A lot of my recent sewing projects have been for my kids. Jeans and t-shirts, mostly. I can’t believe the lengths I will go to to avoid clothes shopping. I would so much rather be doing selfish sewing, but then my kids need clothes and I end up sewing them.

I do have a good reason for sewing jeans for my kids, though. They both inherited my round rear end, and I don’t want them to end up with the posture problems I have have had from wearing poorly fitting clothes.

I am convinced that growing up wearing poorly fitting jeans is one of the major reasons I have such a bad swayback. I’ve always had a generous, round rear end, so ready-to-wear pants are always too tight across the seat, with lots of extra room at the back waist, but pulled tight at the front waist. I realized that I tilt my pelvis to relieve the tightness across the front of the pants at the waist, which resulted in my swayback. I remember standing like this at a very young age and having my mother tell me to stand straight. I just couldn’t do it, though.

One day I was thinking about how my mother has a similarly shaped bum, but she has better posture. I realized that the reason she doesn’t have a swayback is probably because, despite being a tomboy, she grew up wearing dresses! She wasn’t allowed to wear jeans to school until some time in high school. It’s too bad I didn’t like wearing dresses as a child – maybe I would have better posture now.

I just made two pairs of Jalie stretch jeans (#2908) for my daughter. I love the incredible size range Jalie has on their patterns. Jalie patterns are so good when you are sewing for growing children. I made a pair of these jeans for my daughter just a few months ago, then already had to go a size up for the ones I just made. Also Jalie doesn’t skip those tween sizes that are hard to find in big 4 patterns.

I learned the hard way that even kids need to have their clothes fitted. I made a muslin before I made my daughter’s first pair of jeans, and had to let out the waist at the sides and take in the back yoke. It is so much easier to make alterations on someone else! Usually I’m struggling to fit myself.

I also made the waistband narrower and changed the leg style – instead of flares, I made them straight from the knee down.

When I was sewing on the front pockets on one of the pairs of jeans late at night, I accidentally swapped the left and right pocket backing pieces and sewed them in wrong side out. I had serged the pocket edges before I noticed, and I didn’t feel like unpicking them, so I asked my daughter if she was OK with the flowered pocket lining fabric facing outward. She was, so I decided to pretend I’d done it on purpose.

Do you know what she just told me? This pair is her favorite pair of jeans! I’ll have to make some more jeans with contrasting pocket backings – on purpose this time.

Posted in Sewing

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. Draw in the shape of the finished edge of the neckband and measure the length, then copy the shape at the point of the V onto your neckband pattern.

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.

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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
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