Welcome to Day 4 of the Ali Sweatshirt Sewalong! My favorite part of this sweatshirt, besides the utter coziness, is the topstitching on the yoke and sleeves. The topstitching highlights the design lines and gives it an extra sporty feel. It's is also a great place to play around and get creative, to try out different stitches or thread colors. For today’s installment of the sewalong we are going to assemble our yoke and sleeves and topstitch the center seams of each. This topstitching is totally optional but I encourage you to give it a try. You might like it so much that you want to topstitch even more seams.
For the seams that are topstitched, I use a slightly different method of stitching, to give us a nice flat seam to topstitch. To start, we’ll stitch the seam using a conventional machine. Then we’ll finish the seam allowance together without trimming and press the seam allowance to the side. Now it’s all ready to topstitch. The method is the same for the yoke and the sleeves.
Now let’s get our machine ready. On your conventional machine, insert a ballpoint or jersey needle and thread with a matching color. If you have a walking foot I recommend attaching it as well. The walking foot will help move the fabric under the presser foot. You can also put scraps of tissue paper between the feed dogs and fabric or use a awl (or other sharp device) to manually feed the fabric. Select either a narrow zig zag stitch (1-2mm wide, 2.5mm length) or stretch stitch (aka lightning bolt stitch). Personally, I like to use the lightning bolt stitch but you can use whatever you prefer. Now’s a great time to test a few stitches and find what you like best.
Grab a scrap of your fabric, fold it in half and give your stitches a test drive on two layers of fabric. Take a look at the stitches and check that there aren’t any skipped stitches. Stretch your fabric and test that the stitches stretch and don’t pop. You may want to try different stitch lengths and widths until you find the one you like best. Now is also a good time to test your seam allowance. I like to put a piece of washi tape on my machine as guide for the seam allowance. We will be using a .5 inch (1.3 cm) seam allowance.
Today we’re going to work on the yoke and sleeves. You should have two mirror image yoke pieces and four total sleeve pieces (again mirror images). Let’s start with the yoke. Place the yoke pieces right sides together and pin at the center back. Stitch the center back seam using your selected stitch.
Next take two mirror image sleeve pieces and place them right sides together. Pin along the notched center seam and stitch. Repeat for the second set of sleeve pieces. (Sorry the image above already has the seams finished. But this will give you an idea of which fabric pieces we’re working on.)
Now, let’s finish the seam allowances. I do this using my serger but you can also use an overcast stitch on your conventional machine. Again, I highly recommend testing a few stitches on a scrap of fabric before throwing your garment under the machine. If you are using a serger, I recommend turning off the knife or only cut off about 1/8 of an inch. In the image above you can see the switch to turn off the knife on my Brother 1034D. Also, if you are having trouble with wavy seams, try adjusting the differential feed (dial on the far left here) or the tightness of the pressure foot. Getting serger settings perfect (or just satisfactory), can take some time but it’s worth. I highly recommend keeping you machine manual nearby and consulting it frequently.
Once you have your settings just right go ahead and finish the seam allowances. Press your seam allowances to the side. For the sleeves, press one seam to the left and the other to the right to create mirror images. The finished seams will look something like the above.
Finally we are ready to topstitch. If you were finishing seams on your serger, head back over to your conventional machine. Topstitching knits can be kind of intimidating but it’s worth it to spend the time finding a method that you enjoy doing and like the look of.
The tricky thing about topstitching knit fabric is that you want the stitching to stretch or else you will end up with popped stitches. The easiest stitch to do is a zig zag. It will stretch with your fabric and is super easy to sew. You can also try a three step zig zag or a triple stretch stitch. Again, I recommend getting some scraps of fabric and testing out different stitches. For this we will be stitching through three layers of fabric and I recommend using the same fabric setup to test your stitches as you will be doing on your actual garment.
If you’re looking for a stitch that’s more similar to ready-to-wear, then I recommend trying a twin needle. With a twin needle, you’ll have two threads on the top that loop around the single bobbin thread on the bottom. It’s kind of magical. :) The first time I tried to use one it didn’t work at all and I didn’t try again for probably a decade. But now I use it all the time and love the look. The twin needle is worth mastering.
If you haven’t used one before, I recommend consulting your machine’s manual and googling your machine to see if anyone has tips for your specific machine. I use a Brother 6000csi (affiliate link) and it has specific threading instructions for a twin needle. Following those instructions is key to getting a good result. I also have a post here on my method of topstitching knits with a twin needle. I thread the machine with matching thread on top (I use the original spool for one needle and a bobbin with matching thread for the second needle) and use wooly nylon thread on the bottom to add more stretch and prevent a ridge between the two rows of stitching on top.
And that’s it for today. For the remaining seams, I usually do not add topstitching and just stitch them with a serger. But this is your sweatshirt so feel free to get creative and make it your own.
If you haven’t picked up your copy of the pattern, you can find it in the shop here. Next week we will start up again and sew the body of the sweatshirt. Full schedule below.
DAY 4 Sewing the Yoke & Sleeves – Thursday, Sept 20
DAY 5 Assembling the Body – Monday, Sept 24
DAY 6 Neckline Binding – Tuesday, Sept 25
DAY 7 Sewing the under arm seams, cuffs and hem band – Wednesday, Sept 26