The finest jersey doesn’t do well on a regular sewing machine – you can never get a flexible enough stitch that doesn’t go pop when the jersey stretches in wear. For this reason I normally use one of my long bobbin machines to sew it, and with great success. To me, this is the only option when you need to make flat seams with either overlapping or open seam allowances or French seams – all situations demanding a single straight stitch.
But more often than not, I trim the seam allowances short and overlock them together, so in fact my seams have a width. Aha! – I hear you say – I can use narrow zig-zag on any odd machine here to make a flexible stitch! Yes, narrow zig-zag flexes rather better than straight stitch on most machines, but it doesn’t produce a tight stitch so that your seam looks rather untidy – on the right side of the garment.
Another possibility is to ditch a sewing machine altogether and to only use an overlocker to sew everything. This does make a flexible stitch but it was never meant for sewing – the stitch is too loose, so again you have an untidy appearance on the right side of the garment. Plus, it allows the jersey material to unravel – you get runs in the knitted fabric overtime, which is even worse. And because the stitch is not tight, it also occasionally unravels in the wash leaving you with holes in the seams. All of which is not the best deal in the long run!
I wrote on this topic before – I had many trials with various methods before I discovered the wonders of old shuttles, and in comments to one of those posts someone told me they were sewing jersey with a twin needle. Yes, the stitch had a width, but if you set the upper tension quite low and kept the stitch length quite short, you could get a flexible stitch that stretched with the jersey quite well. The downside was however the cost of twin needles, in particular with jersey point – much too expensive for everyday sewing. I thought it was an interesting idea, but never investigated it properly. Until now.
This is Singer 328K – one of those Singers from 1960s that takes two individual needles for its twin needle sewing. The secret is in the needle slot in the needle bar together with the matching needle clamp.
The slot is more of a shelf than a groove – it takes one or two flat-sided needles, and the needle clamp has the screw mounted closer to the front rather than central, so that the screw pushes the needles against the stop on the left. So twin needle arrangement here adds a needle to the right of the main needle rather than replaces the main needle with a special twin one where both needles are displaced from the centre.
Fantastic! I can experiment without breaking the bank.
I encourage you to read the manual on this! There are subtle differences between machines and between seemingly similar Singer models. For Singer you can download any manual from their website singer.com/support, even for old machines.
For Singer 328K, you have to pass only the right thread through the guide by the needle, and let the left thread bypass it.
I’m afraid I cheated and installed a second guide. 😉 It is important to separate the threads at the needle clamp, otherwise they get entangled, and indeed later models have a second guide just where I put mine. Without it, the loose thread flaps about a bit too much for my liking during sewing.
As you can see in that photo, I’m using a walking foot. This is needed to avoid stretching out fine jersey. It is probably less of an issue with firmer or less stretchy jersey. Mine is a single knit viscose with 3% lycra, so it has 120% stretch across the width, and that gets stretched out if you are using a regular zig-zag foot.
However, a walking foot can lead to more skipped stitches because it holds the fabric in place less firmly than the original zig-zag foot. Try and see what’s best for your fabric.
This type of very soft and elastic jersey is a right nightmare to sew on most machines – you get a lot of skipped stitches. I found that the best needles for it were stretch needles (type 130/705 H-S from Schmetz, a.k.a. “stretch”). The left needle size 75/11, the right needle size 90/14.
These different sizes worked best on 328K, you’ll need to experiment with your machine to see what works for you. It also depends on the fabric.
I wanted to find a way to do both the sewing and the overedging on the same machine as I didn’t have enough spools of the same colour thread for the machine and the overlocker (5 spools needed in total). So I stitched the seam with straight stitch first and then finished it with zig-zag – both with the same double needle setup.
I kept foot pressure at medium, bobbin tension at very low and upper tension at 2 which is actually quite significant with two threads. But all machines vary, so find your own settings first.
Straight stitch settings
Needle position centre, stitch width 0, stitch length 12 SPI. Note that due to the use of a walking foot, the actual stitch length comes out much shorter. But these numbers are marked by the stitch length lever, so it’s a convenient guide.
Sew as close to the edge as you dare, but you do need to have a little material under the right side of the foot for even feed.
Some stitches might still get skipped, but they are dense enough to make a good seam regardless.
I used grey thread on the bobbin to show what’s happening. The amount of skipped stitches is down to this difficult material, so I deem this result acceptable.
Needle position left (!), zig-zag width 2, stitch length 9 SPI – just a little longer than for straight stitching. Zig-zag must not be too dense or it stretches out the jersey.
Stitch so that the right needle strikes over the edge of the fabric. Some stitches will be skipped, but there will be still enough good ones for a passable result.
I got an overedged seam with 90% stretch and without excessive stretching out of the material.
I think a long bobbin machine and an overlocker still produce a better result, but this will certainly work too! 😊