Twin needle light bulb moment

You know how twin needle is supposed to mimic cover stitch & give you stretchy hem with just a sewing machine? Well I’ve never managed to get it to work. Not only do mine come out with an ugly ridge between the two rows of stitches they were never stretchy enough either.

But with my failed mock ribbing experiment came an eureka moment for my twin needle stitching. The Threads article on mock ribbing showed examples of how changing tension affects the twin needle stitching. Loose tension makes the ridge go away. Now I’m sure I’ve tried this before but ruled it out because it also make the zigzag of the bobbin thread disappear. But this time I had left long starting & ending thread tails, & stretched the sample afterward to see how much it’ll stretch. The thread tails got pulled in & gave me a bit more zigzag in the bobbin thread. Best of all the sample then stretched as much as the fabric would stretch!


Now I’m not sure if this is how you’re suppose to sew it. The loose tension & bobbin thread that pulls easily worry me a bit. Would it be strong enough? But I reckon that as long as I secure the ends this properly stretchy hem surely must hold better than less stretchy ones that pop. Maybe it’s like willow in the wind – wimpy looking but in fact holds up better for going with the flow?

Anyway, I’ve tried it on the Crouching Batwing Hidden Python top. To make stretching in the bobbin thread easier I sewed the hem in two halves leaving  thread tails at both side seams. Maybe one day I’ll feel deserving of a serger with cover stitch (separate machine is not an option in my cramped home). For now I’ll give this new trick a few more chance to prove itself. What about you? What’s your favorite way to sew a stretchy hem?

Designer Love Child Wannabe Python peplum top

With pretension to be the Love Child of Vivienne Westwood & COMME des GARÇONS it’s no wonder this last snake was a Diva from the very start. After the first few seams it all became a blur. So forgive me for just jutting down what I remember & not making much sense.

Style Shots & Mug Shots

WORN WITH: 1-3 Burda 2011-08-121 skirt; 4 Altered drindl skirt; 5 TopShop skirt.

The Design & Pattern

So here are the inspirations…

I’ve always loved Vivienne Westwood’s adaptation of historical costumes & traditional tailoring with a twist of punk. I had this top bookmarked in a book on VW I own for ages. I thought the drape might be a great way to feature the New World Snake. Forgive my ignorance about the different types of corset…Is this 18th century corset style? Anyway, I was hoping it’ll give me some cleavage along with ever enticing cowl drape. Sleeveless wouldn’t be so practical for me since I’m a tropical baby. And waist length again would leave too much cold inducing belly airing. So I decided to add this side peplum detail from my early love – Comme des Garcons S/S 1987 collection. I had attempted a Wannabe before (shown by the sketch, the very wearable result long lost in the move across the Pond). I like how the peplum emphasizes the waist where it’s most visible – at the sides when viewed from the front/back. And I like the extra kinks of drape on either side of the center panels.

For the pattern, I adapted the instruction in Waisted Efforts: An Illustrated Guide to Corset Making for a 1690 style corset. The reviews for the book on Amazon weren’t great. But I bought the book in a bookshop way before Amazon. And I’m glad I did. I like the fact that it’s written for theatrical costume designer / patternmaker & focuses on pattern-drafting. I like that while it covers historical info it’s practical, taking into account that actors need to be comfortable enough to move & perform. And that actors come in different sizes & shapes. So creating a custom “French Block” (looks exactly the same as a Moulage!) is key. The patterns are derived from the “French Block” so again customized. I don’t think French Block is the same as sloper drafting taught in fashion schools as one reviewer said because most sloper instructions include wearing ease and seem to be drafted for standard (ie idealized) shapes. The French Block shown is skin tight and designed to fit all shapes & sizes – eg there was one showing rounded upper back adjustment. The inclusion of the French Block also makes these gridded patterns different from those found in other historical costume pattern books I’ve seen. Those give only one size. Here if you put in the effort you can figure out how to draft your own custom fit patterns based on your French Block rather than just scale up the gridded pattern. And the heavily punctuated, phrasy style of writing does not bother me at all. In fact, I find it much easier to understand than very very long sentences with no punctuation marks. Different strokes I guess.

Block Used:

My Kenneth King Moulage of couse!

Design Changes Made

I think this is a case of pictures worth a thousand words. So have a couple!

Fabric & Notions Used

Construction Notes

Sorry, following are really just notes for myself & not intended as proper sewing instruction for you guys. The construction order for this was rather complicated to figure out.  So if I don’t write down what I do remember it’ll be a royal pain to recreate something like this again. If they happen to be useful to you too that’s great. The usual pressing, grading, neat seam finishing along the way applies if you want to try it yourself!

  1. Shell:
    1. Stabilize CB with interfacing. Sew CB invisible zipper, then CB seam above zipper.
    2. Sew & top-stitch Inner Front Princess seams, Back Princess seams.
    3. Sew Sleeve & Cuff Underarm seams, then Cuff right side to Sleeve wrong side. Turn cuff out & tack/stitch in the ditch at Underarm seam.
    4. Stabilize Front & Back necklines, Back shoulder seams with interfacing and/or Vilene bias tape.
  2. Lining: Overlock Inner Front Princess seams, Back Princess seams, CB seam above zipper.
  3. Back Neckline: Sew Back Neck Facing lower edge to Lining, then Facing-Lining neckline to Shell neckline right side together. Understitch SA to Facing-Lining.
  4. Front Neckline: Sew Feature Panel cowl facing edge right side to Lining right side to Shell wrong side, stretching cowl facing edge to match neckline especially at curves near bust. Understitch SA to Facing-Lining.
  5. Feature Panel: Turn Feature Panel out over the Shell Front. Baste Feature Panel shoulder pleats. Vertically ruch/gather Feature Panel between bust & waist on both princess seams. Baste Feature Panel to Shell at shoulder, armscye, outer front princess seams.
  6. Shoulder Seams: Sew continuous seam from Shell armscye edge to Lining armscye edge.
  7. Outer Front Princess Seams: Sew & top-stitch Shell Front to Side, overlock Lining Front to Side.
  8. Peplum: Baste Peplum to Shell right sides together, aligning Peplum upper edge corners with Front/Back Panels hemlines. The Peplum goes up the side of of Front Panel, then across the bottom of the Side Panel, then down the side of the Back Panel.
  9. Bagging Lining: Baste Lining to Shell right sides together from CB hemline, along the Peplum basting, across CF hemline, along the other Peplum basting, & finally the other half of the CB hemline – only CB zipper length is left open.

    Be careful not to baste the wrong way like I did initially! Test by turning the garment right side out. The wrong way looks enticingly tidy wrong side out, but is impossible to turn right side out! Go with the weirdly twisted right way. Sew along basting. Turn right side out. Top-stitch Side Panel waistline seam to CB hemline.

  10. Armscye: Overlock Sleeve to bodice armscye (Shell & Lining).
  11. Finishing up: Slip-stitch Lining CB to zipper tape. Understich CF & CB hem by hand (pick-stitch) to keep Lining from peaking out. All done!

The Verdict

What I like:

  • The cowl! I like the asymmetry. It looks more natural. I like that there’s a fair bit of drape, but from the side it doesn’t give me a middle heavy look, and the attachment to the fitted lining keeps it from exposing too much!
  • The peplum! Especially how it disguise my droopy bum by breaking up that long stretch of hollow small of the back.

What didn’t quite work:

  • The corset idea didn’t really work. The stretchy fabrics undid all the good work! (But makes the top much more comfortable to wear!) So no heaving bosom this time. Any cleavage will have to come from additional shapewear & chicken fillets beneath.
  • The top feels a bit too short. I can only wear it with high waisted skirts & pants if I don’t want to catch a cold. I think the negative ease might have caused the top to contract vertically while stretching side-ways. I still haven’t gotten my head around stretch fabric tension lines, hence this oversight. I think next time I will make it 0 ease (rather than negative ease) and/or add a tad more length.

Overall though I think it’s a good effort and a pretty top. So much more could have gone wrong! But taking the time to baste & try on saved my bacon even if it meant Ms Diva missed the Jungle January Party. I’ve been let off only after Photoshopping her into a lush Jungle with her her own pet snake. Phew.

D&G Wannabe Python cardi

This one did make it to the party. It almost didn’t. I was still sewing the buttonholes at the eleventh hour. And this isn’t even like the Great British Sewing Bee. I had a whole month, not a meager couple of days for 3 projects. Again this should have been an easy make. But things didn’t go according to plan as I was trying new techniques that didn’t quite pan out.

Style Shots & Mug Shots

WORN WITH: 1 Burda 2011-08-121 skirt; 2 Burda 2012-05-113 skirt; 3 Altered Victoria Secret dress; 4 TopShop Martha jeans; 5 Modified Burda 2012-04-128 camisoleSelf-drafted skirt.

The Design & Pattern

Dolce & Gabbana cardi featured in Vogue US This one is a double agent: It’s a wearable muslin for all the cardis I planned to sew. But I’ve also wanted to make a feature panel cardi ever since I clipped this inspiration photo from Vogue US. Didn’t realized at the time that it’s a Dolce & Gabbana design. So it’s only incidentally a designer wannabe.

Block Used:

Stable Knit Fitted Top Block (Bodice & Sleeve)
Drafted using Stretch Pattern School‘s One-Piece Swimwear + Tankini + Sleeve  instructions using 0% negative ease. Note that the Tankini instruction does add a little bit of ease to the waist and hip. So this block does already have positive ease there.

Design Changes Made


  • Added extra ease to CF & CB, side seam, sleeve seam because this is suppose to go over other tops so can’t be too tight.
  • Lowered underarm slightly for the same reason.
  • Lopped off necklines & CF where I’m going to use binding for neck band & button placket.
  • Lopped off lower portions of bodices & sleeve where I’m going to use cuff ribbing.
  • Neck band & button plackets are rectangular binding pieces. They’re double layered with the fold at the neck / CF edge. The neck band length is length of the folded neck edge stretched at the seamed edge to match the bodice necklines to ensure that it’ll lie flat & smooth.
  • Bodice & sleeve cuff ribbing were originally going to be rectangular pieces as well. But I didn’t have matching ribbing fabric and my experiment with mock ribbing (see below) didn’t work. So I had to draft shaped bands instead. They’re also double layered with the fold at the bottom edge. I reduced the width a little bit to simulate the snug fit of real ribbing.

Things I’d do differently next time

  • I went waist length with the feature panel instead of the longer length in the inspiration because I thought blouson lower down wouldn’t work with my shortness & short-waistness. But as my mock ribbing idea didn’t work I think I might have gotten a better result if I had abandoned the blouson cardi idea and just made a fitted cardi top with the bottom band as a design feature.
  • 2-sew-details-3For this make I kept the bust dart. The font bodice is a layer of the thinner / drapier / stretchier New World Snake over a layer of the thicker / stiffer / less stretch Snake Bite Bandage. I was worried that the top layer might sag over time. So I sandwiched the dart seam allowances between the layers and tacked along the dart leg as extra insurance against downward migration of the New World Snake. Although my recent experiment with dartless stretch block didn’t work I might try again and see if I can get a dartless block for the other cardis.
  • I might also add more ease to the bodice & sleeve where they join the cuff ribbing for a more visible blouson effect. Otherwise the seam allowance shows through and the seam just look like a cutting mistake – like I cut them too short and had to patch with a band.

Fabric & Notions Used

Construction Notes

  • 2-sew-details-1I had hoped the mock ribbing technique that the Sewing Diva tried and described in details in Threads issue #64 Apr-May 1996 would work for me too. So that I can make sweaters & cardis from more variety of fabrics without having to find matching ribbing. But mine came out really stiff. Too stiff even to use single layer, which I wouldn’t want to anyway as it’s made with parallel rows of twin-needle stitches, so the back side has threads that could easily be snagged. It also curls up if left single layer. Maybe my fabric which is mid-weight like ponte is too thick for this technique. Maybe it would work for thinner, drapier knits. In any case, I had to switch to plain bands. And I think I will have to abandon the cardi idea for my SWAP blue sweater knit because it’s again a bit thick and stiff already. And I don’t have a matching ribbing.
  • I’ll have to rethink the construction order as well. A couple of areas were made more difficult to stitch because I went on auto-pilot:
    • I couldn’t figure out how to top-stitch the cuff seam allowance to the sleeve after the sleeve has been sewn together. The Walking Foot that I rely on to make sewing knit easier is really bulky, so can’t handle the claustrophobic narrow sleeve. So I didn’t top-stitch any of the cuffs & bindings. Hopefully the seam allowances won’t flip the wrong way and create unsightly ridges.
    • 2-sew-details-2I couldn’t use my machine’s one-step buttonhole this time because once the placket/binding was sewn to the front bodice & the seam allowance hidden in the placket, it became too uneven layer-wise for the one-step buttonholer to feel its way around where to start & stop. I had to resort to manual buttonholing with zig-zag stitches. The result wasn’t pretty.
  • The button spacing on this one wasn’t ideal because I was one button short. If this snake didn’t have a party to catch I would have waited until I can find another set of suitable buttons. As it is, the CF gap a little at crucial points like bust & waist, especially when I move.

The Verdict

Despite the warts I still quite like the result. Definitely worth making again with tweaks.

Stretch Pattern School Block Experiments

Before I show you the next snake I need to show you the Block it’s based on. This is like my Nth experiment to come up with a dependable Knit Top Block. I’ve tried:

The problem is that I didn’t really know what I was doing. And with so much variation in stretch fabrics, one minute I think I got it the next I get a wadder when I try to design from it. So my quest continues. And (Stretch) Pattern School website impresses with the theory, the background info, and the clear drafting instructions. So I thought it’s worth a try.

Well thank goodness for the Web Archive. By the time I was ready to take advice the website had disappeared. Seems like the author Stuart had retired and finally let his web hosting lapsed in Aug 2013. A real shame since he seemed like an industry expert with experience designing both RTW & custom swimwear in a commercial environment as well as teaching pattern drafting to fashion design students. The site even had automated customized block & pattern generator for the ‘Lazy Person’. Sadly I was too late and Web Archive could not archive this dynamic feature. So I had to draft the blocks the old fashion way.

To be on the safe side I’ve printed all the pages I’m likely to use just in case the internet police decides to shut down the Web Archive. A tip if you want to do the same – if a page is missing illustrations (and Stuart did provide step-by-step illustrations for the drafting instructions), then use the date navigation in the top menu bar to go back to a previous “capture”. You will eventually get a version of the page that has the complete page capture with all the illustrations.


Wouldn’t it be great if he had converted his website into an eBook? I’d gladly buy a copy. Anyway, on to the experiment. For not all theories works for everyone all the time. Theories need to be tested, especially when it comes to anything to do with infinitely variable human beings!

The Theory

For this experiment I tried Stretch Pattern School‘s pattern drafting instruction for…

  1. One-Piece Swimwear Block for Stretchy Knit (75%+ stretch, 12% horizontal/0% vertical negative ease)
  2. Tankini Top Pattern based on 1 + variation for Stable Knit (0%/0% negative ease)
  3. Sleeve Block for Stretchy Knit

supplemented by

The Findings

One-Piece Swimwear Block (12%/0% negative ease)

(Made with Matt Lycra from Tissu Fabrics / Tia Knight with 40%H/40%V stretch)

The first muslin came out quite well. But there were a few small issues…

  1. My Front side seam came out longer than the corresponding Back side seam, even with the dart.
  2. There are some sway-back type draglines in the back.
  3. I got some draglines underarm and gapping in the armholes.
  4. The front neck chokes a bit.
  5. The crotch is a mess. My front gusset length came out longer than the Back.

1-pat1-1pHaving worked out what my key figure quirks through fitting wovens, I applied the advice from the Tweaking for Larger Sizes page for Front/Back Waist Issues and The Bigger Bust. Shifting the side seam towards the back at the waist solved #1 and mitigated #2.

Adjusting for sloping shoulder helped with #3. And forward head adjustment (raising back neckline & lowering front neckline) helped with #4.

#5 I haven’t solved yet. Not having sewn such garment before I don’t know if one has to insert the leg elastics first before one can check the crotch fit. It might also be possible that I have the “in thigh” figure quirk mentioned on the Tweaking for Larger Sizes page. Or the fact that I’ve put 4 big snaps in the gusset seam as temporary closure. In any case swimwear / bodysuit isn’t a priority, so I’m leaving this alone for now.

But I think in general wherever the instruction calls for “X cm +/-Y mm per size from size 10″ it would be wise to check if the relevant Australian size 10 measurement he used matches yours. Eg going by the size 10 measurement the front gusset length is in fact 0.5cm shorter than the back. I had calculated my back gusset length using the Wais-to-Waist (crotch length) and Waist-to-Crotch (crotch depth) measurements. But the front gusset length wasn’t given as a formula, so it came out longer than my back gusset length! Shortening this to back gusset length minus 0.5cm helped with #2 and #5 a bit.

Made with Matt Lycra from Tissu Fabrics / Tia Knight with 40%H/40%V stretch.

Tankini Top Patterns  + Sleeve Block

If this works it will become my new Fitted Knit Top Block. I’m hoping to have a set for

  • Stretchy Knits with 70+% stretch (12% negative ease)
  • Moderate Knits with 40-70% stretch (6% negative ease)
  • Stable Knits with 10-40% stretch (0% negative ease)

I used my adjusted One-Piece Swimwear Block as the starting point. Since I’m not making a tankini, I only followed steps 4-5, adding ease from bustline downward & shaping the hemline. I extended the hemline down to the One-Piece Block’s hip line, then superimposed my woven Pencil Skirt Block to mark where my high hip and hip levels are. These two are the most likely hemline references for tops I’d want to design from the block.

I drafted patterns for all three types of knit and muslined the Stretchy Knit and Stable Knit version. Both came out OK I think…

Stretchy: Made with Matt Lycra from Tissu Fabrics / Tia Knight with 40%H/40%V stretch.
Stable: Made with Shimmer Jersey from Minerva Crafts with 10%H/5%V stretch.

The bust dart on the Stable Knit version seems too high up. But the bustlines are exactly the same level on both version. Maybe the almost non-existent vertical stretch of my worst case scenario ‘Stable Knit’ test fabric is at fault. And to be honest I think I will avoid making fitted stretch tops out of such minimum stretch fabrics and instead use my Moulage with darts / princess seams for shaping and the minimum stretch for wearing ease.

The sleeve I only muslined for the Stretchy Knit. It came out rather long! Also the default instruction doesn’t cater for my twisted arms. I shortened the sleeve & shifted some width at bicep / underarm from front to back and at wrist from back to front. So now it looks asymmetrical like my woven Sleeve Blocks but feels more comfortable.

Going Dartless

1-pat3-top-dartlessFailThe holy grail of knit block of course is the dartless yet smooth fitted T for the busty gal. Is it possible? Stuart advise against it. So does the book I have on pattern drafting for stretch fabrics. But then in the Tankini instruction he did ofter the option of easing the dart into back side seam…provided that you also include a shelf bra which does have a bust dart.

Naughty me thought I’d try my luck and see if I can pivot out the dart here like I did for the woven Tunic Block. The result wasn’t pretty…

Made with Matt Lycra from Tissu Fabrics / Tia Knight with 40%H/40%V stretch.

Maybe it’s the fabric. I might try again with a stretchier and/or heavier weight spandex knit. But for now I will work with the dart and try to incorporated the shaping into the designs rather than risk crow feet around my bust!

Barely There Python ruched panel skirt (Burda 2011-08-121)

This should have been an easy make. But my fabrics conspired against me. So this snake missed the  Jungle January 2015 party.

The Pattern

Again this pattern wasn’t my first choice. When I thought I’d go ruching & front panel I had in mind the skirt portion of Burdastyle 2014-05/115 asymmetric dress. But I wasn’t sure the one-sided ruching would look as nice in a plain pencil skirt. It might have appealed to me initially because one shoulder bodice drive home the asymmetry point. Without that it might lack conviction and look like a mistake. Plus it would eat up my precious print. So I went with this simpler symmetrical rusching skirt.

Style Shots & Mug Shots

WORN WITH: 1 Self-drafted Alexander Wang S/S 2010 Wannabe sweater, tote v2; 2 Burda 2013-11-111 shrug, Burda 2012-05-109 top ; 3 Burda 2013-11-117 jacket ; 4 Self-drafted Martin Margiela SS 1997 Wannabe top / jacket ; 5 Self-drafted Vivienne Westwood – Comme des Garcons Love Child top ; 6 Burda 2013-12-119 top ; 7 Self-drafted Dolce & Gabanna Wannabe cardi

Size Used

34 as it was closest to Psychedelic Leopard 2: Burdastyle 2012-05-113 draped skirt I made previously which fitted well.

Changes Made


Fitting changes
  1. Tweaks in widths which probably weren’t necessary.
  2. Sway-Back Alteration: Lowered waistline at CB tapering to nothing at Side Seam.
Design changes
  1. Extended the length to below knee, which is almost the same length as #122. I checked the ruching length. It was about 1.5 times longer than the corresponding front panel length. So I increased the ruching panel length accordingly.
  2. Pegged the side seam for a more shapely skirt. Hem is 2″ smaller.
  3. Omitted the vent. My fabric had enough stretch to accommodate walking.
  4. Added a facing to the lining instead of edge to edge lining. Wasn’t necessary, but since I didn’t manage to squeeze a snake into the front ruching panel I had to sneak the snake back in this way!
  5. I also ended up removing the extended waist. The high waist wasn’t doing anything for my short-waisted torso. More importantly I screwed up on the ruching so it started too low and looks really weird. Plus I stretched the skirt through over-handling. Lowing the waist hid these mistakes.

Fabric & Notions Used

Construction Notes

  • Pencil skirts are so easy so I didn’t really follow the instruction, especially as I made some design changes like extra top-stitching along the princess seams & omitting the vent.
  • 2-sew-details-2But I did follow the instruction for facing the upper skirt edge. I’ve had trouble getting a clean finish to the zipper opening at the waist before. This instruction gave me a tidy finish there. So thumbs up – I will be using it again.
  • I kept the zipper even though it might not be necessary in a knit skirt, especially with my narrow hip. I like my waist snug. So I didn’t want it stretched out of shape with fabrics of questionable stretch recovery rate.
  • 2-sew-details-1My New World Snake might not have been the ideal fabric for the ruched panel. Despite the narrower pattern (presumably the horizontal stretch would keep the ruching under tension & help it fight gravity) my snake sagged. While some might like the sweep the floor drape look, it’s not my cup of tea. I don’t like my drapes too low. So I had to tack the ruching in place along the CF at multiple points.
  • 2-sew-details-3My lining gave me hell. I originally chose a lighter weight tricot. But it doesn’t seem to have much stretch, but when sewn up the stitching lines all seem too tight. The fabric would sag between the vertical seams with draglines pointing to the seams. I could have tried my serger. But I was too crossed with the fabric to give it a second chance. I went with the same lining fabric I used for the Turquoise Leopard skirt and this time overlocked the seams. But no luck overlocking the hem. Twin needle stitch was NG as well. I resorted to hand blind catch stitch.

The Verdict

Despite the hassle this snake gave me I’m chaffed with the result. Not sure I can wear it over tights or anything bulky or bumpy. But nothing like a knit skirt to give a straight up & down girl some shape right?