Chain stitch hooks · Janome · Knitwear · Wooly knits

Woolly knits – knit, crochet, sew

The weather suddenly turned cold which prompted me to finally sew together two knitted dresses. Officially, they need to be washed before wear to smooth out the yarn, but I need them tomorrow and the day after, so no time for washing… So much for leaving things till the last moment! 😜

The blue dress started its life as a skirt worked in Afghan stitch (Tunisian crochet) – the line that you see around the waist is where it was folded over. The yarn is a mixture of bright cobalt blue cotton and darker Delft blue wool. This is all quite fine – I like very fine yarn so that it could be combined as needed. The resulting thickness was less than 3-ply and I used Tunisian crochet 4mm.

I like Afghan stitch for skirts – it does not stretch, so your skirts don’t get a saggy bottom like with knitted skirts. I wore this blue skirt for four years, so you see it wears well. But now I decided to convert it into a dress. I knitted the top in a slightly heavier mix (a little more than 3-ply) using 3.5mm needles. I like the stretch of knitting in the top! πŸ™‚ The light blue rib is again a little heavier – more like 4-ply, but using the same 3.5mm needles, it gives that extra body to the rib.

Then I sewed the skirt to the top with chain stitch on a sewing machine (more about it further on).

The khaki dress is new. The top is knitted to a jumper pattern, the skirt is again worked in Afghan stitch and attached to the top on a sewing machine (more chain stitch). This yarn is 70% silk, 30% finest merino wool, and it is extremely fine. I had some odd amounts in grey khaki and steel blue, not enough of either of them for a dress, but as they combine well, I combined them. It took 8 strands to make up something close to 4-ply, but a little lighter, and I worked it with 3.5mm needles and 4mm Tunisian crochet.

The skirt looks rather wrinkled because it was crocheted with used yarn. I first knitted a cardigan with it, but when it was all finished and all the pieces washed and dried, I found that I completely botched up all the measurements because my sample stretched very differently in the wash than the final garment did. In fact, the sample stretched out but the garment pieces pretty much went back to what they measured before the wash. So rather than fiddle and fudge and try to fix that cardigan, I frogged it completely and used the yarn to crochet the skirt. So it absolutely needs a wash to make the fibres lie smoothly, but that will have to wait until the next warm spell. ☺️

Both skirts are crocheted sideways, that is I cast on enough stitches for the length of the skirt, then add flare with short rows. The stripes on the khaki skirt are done with reverse Afghan stitch so that they stand out.

The sides of Afghan stitch are very neat, so no hemming is necessary! πŸ˜€

Now for the sewing. All of these seams have to be elastic, so chain stitch is the obvious choice. However, sewing thick woolly knits is not necessarily what the chain stitch machines or chain stitch adapters were designed to do.

I have a choice of three machines: 1) little Essex chain stitch machine – the best chain stitch due to the proper mechanism but the machine does not take thick materials; 2) Kenmore 158.1756 with chain stitch adapter; or 3) Janome’s New Home 609 with chain stitch adapter. Both Kenmore and Janome can handle woolly knits, with some persuasion. They have very different mechanisms though, and their adapters are radically different.

Kenmore 158.1756 was made by Jaguar and has a vertical oscillating hook.

Here is what the hook with the Jaguar adapter looks like (in a different machine):

Janome 609 has a rotary hook and a very different adapter.

The main difference between the two systems is what is required to convert from lockstitch to chain stitch. On Jaguar, it is a special hook, the adapter and a special needle plate; but on Janome all you need is the adapter, to use with the same hook and needle plate. It is recommended to use a foot with a groove underneath, like an embroidery or a buttonhole foot, but it is not strictly necessary. What is necessary however is to thread the machine a little differently: after the take-up lever, the thread has to pass through an extra guide which keeps the thread taught at all times.

If you try sewing lockstitch with this threading, your upper thread will keep breaking and the stitches will appear tight and uneven. But with chain stitch it’s the opposite: try sewing without this guide, and the stitches come out too loose and uneven.

I think the Jaguar system would benefit from such an extra guide! It does have a tendency towards loose chain stitch, in particular on thick materials. I’ll need to investigate. πŸ™‚

I used Janome 609 today because it’s a new-to-me vintage machine and I was looking for a chance to test its chain stitching capabilities. It worked beautifully!

No trouble going over pins at all.

Of course, chain stitch remains fiddly, and you need to watch out because it unravels easily if the thread is not secured, or if a stitch is skipped so that the chain breaks. Yet it gives you a very elastic seam that does not stretch out your material at the same time. The seam not only stretches, it also shrinks, as the knitted fabric does. I tried using zig-zag, but that went definitely wavy! ☹️

So when using chain stitch, I tend to sew each seam twice on such a heavy knit, just to be sure.

Both Jaguar and Janome systems seem to deliver similar quality of stitching, with similar reliability. Yet they behave quite differently, and I wonder whether it has to do with that extra thread guide on Janome.

For example, Jaguar likes silky slippery thread for its chain stitch – this avoids skipped stitches. Janome on the other hand skips more stitches with silky thread and prefers matt or even fluffy thread instead. This has the extra benefit that if the chain breaks, the stitches don’t unravel, or anyhow don’t unravel very far because the thread gets stuck on itself.

There are probably more differences and peculiarities, I feel an investigation coming up! πŸ€“


Buy me a coffeeBuy me a coffee πŸ™‚

19 thoughts on “Woolly knits – knit, crochet, sew

  1. You’ve done some beautiful knitting and crochet as well as wisely reincorporated previously made pieces into new items of clothing. Thanks for the help with the sewing machine tips. I really love what you’ve done with your skirts.

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      1. So true! This is the first time, though, that I’ve seen someone treat their hand knits and crochets like fabric to sew. You’ve got a unique system going on and have a lot of knowledge about knitting and crochet to shape the garment so it’s easier to sew in the machine and then vice versa, too, leaving your handmade pieces “ready-to-sew” as it were. It’s intriguing and makes me think about what to do about some things lying about the house. At the moment I’m updating the afghans around the house, as a lot of handmade blankets have been used to the max. The worn out things might be re-purposed as fabric, for example. You’ve given me lots of interesting ideas.

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      2. Actually, I do all seams on jumpers and such on a sewing machine. Mattress stitch takes too long. πŸ˜‰ I don’t do anything special to the knitted panes themselves – just knit following the pattern.

        My grandmothers would never throw away a knitted thing. Worn bits could be replaced either with another piece of knitting or with a fabric insert, or alternatively the seams could be unpicked to get flat pieces that could then be cut into something else and sewn like fabric. After all, we buy knitted fabric per metre, so why not use something hand-made. πŸ™‚ I remember as a child having a little thermal T-shirt that was made out of great-grandma’s old cashmere shawl. There was still a lot of goodness in between the moth holes and worn out patches!

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  2. Both of the dresses are too cool for words! There are so many features in both that I love. But mostly, both of them looked like they were planned and designed from the start to be what they are; not pieces and raw materials that had prior lives. So glad you shared these!

    I’m also envious of your chain stitch machines. Last year, I did some research into getting a chain stitch machine, but quickly got discouraged and gave up. Someday, I’ll try again.

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    1. Thank you! πŸ˜€ They are also very comfortable. They were kind of planned… just not starting from scratch but rather starting from existing pieces. πŸ˜€

      Chain stitch also exists on some Singers from the 400 and 700 series. They are horizontal rotaries, so very different mechanisms again compared to Jaguar and Janome. I’ve had a Singer 431G for a short time but couldn’t get on with it, so didn’t experiment with chain stitch enough. It wasn’t working well “out of the box”, but may be that just needed tuning. I’m still thinking about installing the proper chain stitch hook on a large machine. That requires a lot of re-designing though – but may be some day my brain will surprise me… Such a machine would be ideal.

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  3. Very nice and not what I was expecting when you mentioned finishing up these dresses. I like the design choice of the skirt style for the khaki dress and the cabling. I’m intrigued with how well the light weight Tunisian hangs, despite it needing a wash. I would say you are doing your grandmothers proud with all your lovely hand work. 😊 How long do you think it took to knit/crochet the khaki?

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    1. Thank you! πŸ˜€ By finishing up I meant sewing them together. πŸ™‚
      For the khaki dress, it took one flu to knit the jumper (about a week in bed), and then it took about a month to crochet the skirt on and off. I’d say about the same time as the jumper.

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      1. It’s amazing what one can accomplish while home sick! I guess I just need to work myself up to bigger/longer projects. A month on and off seems a long time to wait for the payoff. Says the person who made 90% of a complicated blanket and now hasn’t touched it in 10 months. It will be done for Christmas; I’ve gotten it out, reviewed my progress and located the pattern.

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      2. I don’t actually knit things with a particular date in mind – I just see a nice pattern and start on it, and the garment is ready when it’s ready. I knitted this jumper last January, and it’s been sitting in pieces for 8 months, and then I decided to make a skirt for it which was finished a month ago. I’ve got a Fair Isle jumper that is going into its third year, I think – but now nearly done! I hate Fair Isle (to knit, not to wear πŸ™‚) and this was very much an out-of-comfort-zone experience. 😜
        Good luck with the blanket – only a month left!!

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      3. I like the way the khaki turned out, so perhaps there is something to letting things be completed in their own time. I like the blue too, btw. I didn’t mean to ignore it 😊

        I do like to have multiple projects going at once, particularly for sewing. In that case I need to be able to hit pause after certain steps and move to something else. I find cutting out particularly tedious for some reason and always have. Even if a project is simple/quick I highly dislike cutting and sewing on the same day. Unfortunately my habits don’t make for a sense of accomplishment as often. Projects tend to linger.
        Good luck with your 3 year old jumper πŸŽ‚
        The blanket will be completed, oh yes!

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  4. I don’t have a chain stitch sewing machine, and actually ended up sewing a handknitted back and sleeves to a tricot front. To not get the waviness and to keep stretch and also to avoid a folding towards the inside on the seams (the pullover is quite wide) I stitched the handknitted parts onto the tricot knit with a twin needle. that seems to work so far :). I must say though because it was the side seams I have not tested if it gives enough stretch if you would use a twin needle for a horizontal seam.

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    1. I tried this method too, but the seam is too wide with a twin needle and doesn’t lie flat. It is better than zig-zag though! May be if I can find a twin needle with a very small distance between the needles, I would try again!
      Thank you for commenting. πŸ˜€

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      1. yeah, i have two twin needles- one maybe 5mm apart the other just 2 i think- that might work

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