Problem Solvers

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We have talked about sewing with knits and the drape of certain fabrics.  Once you have chosen your stretch stitch and practiced on your test scraps you may notice you're running into a few issues. So what are some solutions?  Let's go over two common issues and adjustments you can make to help troubleshoot them.  Each sewing machine is different and adjusting your particular machine for the best results may be a process of trial and error.  I cannot count the timeless times I had to mess with my machine and all the settings.  Even experienced crafters run into these problems now and again, so don't give up!  Just give it a little practice. 

Wavy Seams

Is that the ocean I see?  Oh no, it's just my seams...how frustrating is it to spend the time carefully selecting just the right pattern and corresponding fabric, carefully assembling the pattern, and cutting out your fabric, only to begin sewing and end up with wavy seams.  What did I ever do to deserve this?  Here we will discuss the reason for this issue and ways to combat it. First, let's understand the issue. The way your machine works is that the feed dogs are located below the fabric and do the work of pulling the fabric forward and past the needle. The trouble with knits is that often the bottom layer can become impatient and try to leap ahead, resulting in it being pulled through faster than the top layer, resulting in wavy seams. Now, what can we do about it?

  • Adjust Your Presser Foot Pressure – Not all machines offer this option, but if yours does it can be a simple solution to the problem. Adjusting your pressure foot pressure will stretch the top layer of fabric less, often eliminating the wavy seam issue. Check your machine’s manual to determine if and how this adjustment can be made.
  • Walking Foot – This is my holy grail of sewing tools.  Well worth every penny.  Especially if your machine does not have a presser foot adjustment dial.  A walking foot can be purchased separately and attached to your machine. It is designed with an extra set of feed dogs to help feed the top layer through at the same rate of speed as the bottom. Just be sure to determine which walking foot is compatible with your specific machine.
  • Tissue Paper – I always try to keep tissue paper on hand as it can be a solution for a variety of sewing issues. The standard tissue paper that you use to accent gifts will work for this technique. Simply slide the tissue paper beneath your fabric while you feed it through your machine. It will act as a temporary stabilizer and when you are finished sewing it can easily be torn away.
  • Do not stretch your fabric – It is important to ensure that you are not stretching your fabric as you sew. Stretching can be inadvertent and can happen in several ways.  Gently guide your fabric and allow the feed dogs to feed it through the machine. Do not pull the fabric from behind the needle or stretch it as it approaches the needle. I am plenty guilty of breaking multiple needles by accidentally pulling my fabric.  I realized I was almost doing it subconsciously.  Always work on a surface large enough to support the weight of your fabric. The weight of the fabric hanging down is often enough to stretch it and cause those wavy seams we talked about before.
  • Steam – If you have already sewn your seam and it turned out a little wavy, steaming the seam can often help smooth it out. Steaming is different than ironing. Do not move the iron back and forth. Simply leave it in place, apply the steam, and then lift straight up. Remember if you are working with a synthetic fabric to adjust your temperature setting accordingly to avoid melting your fabric. You can also use a pressing cloth to help protect your delicate fabrics.

Fabric Pulling Down Into The Throatplate

We're going to talk about my least favorite thing ever...all the painful memories.  You begin sewing a seam and the first few stitches push the fabric down into the throatplate.  You try a couple more stitches, maybe even pull on the fabric a little.  Hoping and wishing that it slides right out...and yet what you’re left with is a tangled mess. And if you're lucky, a huge hole in your fabric from tugging.  Below are a few quick suggestions to ensure that this never happens to you again.  And no, tugging it out isn't an answer.

  • Choose the correct needle – Ensure that you are indeed using a needle specifically for stretch fabrics. A ball point, jersey, or stretch needle is designed with a blunt tip that pushes the fibers aside rather than piercing through them. If you are using a light weight knit fabric, using a smaller needle size will help it slide through the fabric rather than pushing it down into the machine.
  • Tissue paper – Again with the tissue paper! It's so much more than just a pretty face.  Simply, placing a piece of standard tissue paper beneath your fabric will help stabilize your project and prevent this issue. You need not stabilize the entire seam, only the first few inches. Tear away the stabilizer after the seam is sewn.
  • Begin further down the seam – Many sewists swear by this technique. Simply begin sewing a half an inch down the seam rather than at the very beginning. You can either backstitch back to the beginning or once the seam is complete go back and sew in the opposite direction.  This has been a go to for me at times, it seems like my machine just doesn't like beginnings, it wants to get straight to the good stuff at the end.  

Tunneling 

Tunnels are fun right?  Not these kinds.  Although great for when I'm trying to do pin tucks, tunneling is the worst finish to a project.  I've worked so hard putting my garment to gather.  Hem it only to see that my hem is tunneling worse than any mole I've ever seen.  So what are some ways to fixe this?  This mostly happens when you are sewing with a twin needle.  Tunneling is when the two lines that form the visible hem on the right side of your fabric are tight, creating a ridge between them. This issue can show up more on lighter weight fabrics.

  • Increase your top thread tension. - Do this in small increments as increasing it too much can result in a hem with a lower stretch percentage.
  • Decrease your bobbin tension. - Each machine is different, so check your manual on how to adjust for this. Often a small flat head screwdriver is needed to loosen the tension screw located on the bobbin casing. Some prefer to invest in a second bobbin casing that they can easily switch out when needed.
  • Apply Interfacing. - If the above adjustments do not correct the issue, interfacing can be a great solution. There a various types of interfacing and hem tapes that will work. Be sure to either use wash away or knit interfacing so that you do not loose the stretch of your hemline. 

Bobbin threads that Break

Often you will finish a garment and everything appears perfect, and then after a few wears, you notice that the hem is coming unraveled because the bobbin thread has snapped.  And now I'm in public trying to cover up the fact that my shirt is coming apart.  

  • Use stretch thread - Stretch thread or Wooly Nylon is exactly what it sounds like: a thread that stretches. It is durable and less prone to breaking. Many recommend winding your bobbin by hand to prevent the thread from stretching during winding. You only need to use the stretch thread in your bobbin and use standard polyester for the top two spools.
  •  Before you begin sewing pull your thread tails through your machine until they are several inches long. After you are done sewing the seam, gently stretch your hemline and the thread tails will draw up inside the seam. This will allow the seam a little extra “give” and help prevent breakage.

Ever had one of these problems before?  What are some of your favorite tips for them?

      4 comments

      • Mary: November 14, 2019

        Great info!

      • marg Campbell: October 30, 2019

        Thank you for this informative article It answered a few of the sewing questions that I never knew who to ask for help.

      • Carol: October 30, 2019

        This is a great post. I have a combo serger/coverstitch machine. It is easy to thread, but I am lazy and don’t want to change it to the other one. I end up using my sewing machine to sew my seams. These are great tips.

      • Bonnie Lancaster : October 30, 2019

        Omg, this is such great information. As much as I sew, I still get tunneling with my double needle. So I will definitely be trying these. Thanks for all the great info you share with us!

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