Four Favorite Seam Finishes for Sweater Knits

There's more than one? I don't need a serger? These are some of the reactions I sometimes get when I bring up the topic of seam finishes for cut and sewn sweater knits. Regular readers of this blog and students of my How to Cut and Sew a Sweater course know that you don't always need an overlocker or serger. In fact, though it's quick and neat, an overlocked seam may not be the best finish for your project.

I don't believe that any one finish is right for everything. Here are my four favorite seam finishes in random order. The best one is the one that works with your project, your time, and your style.  None of these methods could work in the garment industry, but they're perfect for sewn sweaters in your handmade wardrobe. Remember each finish must be tested on scrap fabric to get machine settings just right.

1. The Stretchy Hong Kong Finish

I've done tutorials for this one and videos in the Sweater Knit Sewing group on Facebook, too. The bound seams are neater than the typical overlocked seam and look fabulous on the inside of a cardigan. This seam is created with a home sewing machine.

Choosing the right binding material is crucial. The binding fabric, cut into strips, is what encloses the seam allowance. It must be lightweight and stretchy. I've used both flyweight cotton rib and a very lightweight linen jersey for this purpose. Both of these fabrics can be somewhat difficult to find and come in a limited range of colors.

Stretch mesh is easier to find and is available in a wide range of colors. It also has great recovery, which will keep your seams from stretching out or becoming wavy. One drawback is that synthetic nylon mesh may not work aesthetically with your natural sweater fiber. But as with any of these finishes, you get to decide what the inside of your sweater looks like.

The Stretchy Hong Kong Finish works well on a cardigan where the insides sometimes show. It takes three passes under the machine to sew this beauty. It's not the finish to use if you're in a hurry.

2. Overlock with Stretchy Nylon in the Loopers

I first wrote of this technique awhile back and used it again in a recent project. I had been using Maxi-Lock Stretch textured nylon in the loopers of my serger, which I really like. It plays nicely with my serger, and the thread seems to expand a little in width once it's sewn. It provides a nice coverage on the seam allowance.

Using it is not very different than using serger thread in the loopers. Machine settings are the same. If you find the look of an overlocked seam allowance acceptable, you’ll be even happier with a seam allowance finished with textured nylon.

I happen to love when the thread color matches the fabric. But let’s be real: Maxi-Lock Stretch textured nylon thread has only 36 shades, which are not enough.  I was less than happy with the color selection when I decided to sew a cardigan in rich dark chocolate Washington Square fabric. I couldn't find a matching color, and there were no contrasting colors that worked for me. I returned to a technique that I hadn't used in years….

3. Overlock with Yarn in the Loopers

This method will only work if you have access to matching yarn, of course. Machine knitters, this technique is for you!

I've now experimented with this overlock technique with yarn in the upper looper (pictured above), yarn in the lower looper, and yarn in both. Adjusting the looper tension on the serger is key to a successful finish. The best tension is sometimes tricky to adjust and may depend on the texture of the yarn.

I like the look of all three possibilities of looper yarn threading. After washing, the looper yarn (I've only tried this with wool) really seems to blend in even more with the seam allowance.

For people who sew sweater knits purchased from a shop, using method 2 with stretchy nylon is a great alternative. Tension adjustment is easier too.

Both of these overlocking methods can be combined with the next finish.

4. Catch Stitch to Hold Down the Seam Allowance

Used with a hem in this example, a catch stitch for a seam allowance must be combined with overlocking either with regular serging thread or specialty thread or yarn. I believe it could even add a little panache if zigzag-and-trim is your seam finish of choice.

A catch stitch does take time. Whether it's executed with thread, textured nylon, or yarn, the stitch will keep the seam allowance close to the sweater, thereby flattening and neatening a seam allowance that's inadvertently wavy.

When the catch stitch is sewn with thread, it can be worked as a blind catch stitch, sewn between the seam allowance and the sweater so the stitches don't show. My preference is to sew the catch stitch, so it is visible. A neatly sewn catch stitch with the right contrasting color can make a special and secret design detail.

These methods are my favorite finishing touches you can use on your self-sewn sweater. I'd love to know which ones you've tried.

If you'd like more tips about creating well-executed seams on sweater knits, especially when dealing with wavy seams, check out my Roadmap for Improved Sweater Knit Seams. Happy seaming!


Susan Guagliumi's Open Spaces

Instructions for this swatch can be found in Open Spaces (Ladders Module) Lesson 27 beginning 05:42. My variation is on a standard gauge machine using a pattern of 3 needles working and 2 needles out of work.

[This live event has passed. Click here to view the replay.]

I hope you're pleasantly surprised seeing a pretty sweater knit swatch at the top of this post! It's been a long time since you've seen a swatch I knitted on this blog, but I've recently been machine knitting swatches from Susan Guagliumi's new course Open Spaces. The course so far has been wonderful, intriguing, and fun, and I'm happy to say I'm an affiliate for the course. On Monday, December 30th at 5:00pm EST, I'll be interviewing Susan Guagliumi live. Yes, we'll be discussing sweater knits, and yes, we'll be talking stitches. Register here if you'd like to join us.

Though I don't consider my Crafting Fashion blog a machine knitting blog, in real life I am always researching stitches and hunting knitting inspiration. If you happen to be a sewist, who doesn't machine knit, I hope you'll find this post interesting. (Perhaps you'll take up machine knitting one day?) If you're a machine knitter reading this, I think you'll be as excited as I am about what this course has to offer.

Susan Guagliumi is not only a machine knitter; she is an educator, and author.  Her career in the machine knitting industry spans over 30 years. She's held positions with three knitting machine companies, culminating with the position of Education Director for Studio by White Knitting Machines. Susan's garment designs and technical articles have appeared in machine knitting magazines, including Machine Knitters’ Source, Knit Words and Machine Knit America; hand knit publications like Fashion Knitting, Knitters Magazine, Vogue Knitting and Family Circle Easy Knitting. Susan is my colleague at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and I'm happy to call her a friend.

As a teacher of machine knitting I believe that in order to truly understand the concepts of the machine knitting and stitch formation, nothing beats practicing and understanding hand manipulated, textural stitches. The course Open Spaces dives deeply into building openwork fabrics that are amazingly beautiful, sometimes challenging, and really fun to knit. The course is a companion to Susan's book of the same name, though the online course works well as a standalone. Knitting even a few swatches in each module will bring a deeper understanding to the knitter who has previously been machine knitting by rote.

I like having my tablet with Susan, her explanations, and suggestions for possible variations near, while I work at my machine. Recently, I learned of a knitter who enjoys video courses by watching, taking notes, and later tackling the knitting on her machine. A video course will usually accommodate your particular style of learning.
From Lesson 12, 00:45, I'm experiknitting with a 5-needle ladder variation of Susan's pattern.
Now don't laugh. Once I understand the overall concept of the stitch pattern and after I set up the needles, my favorite way to actually knit these repeating patterns of hand manipulated stitches is to compose a song. (Well, it's more of a chant, I suppose). My chant includes all of the steps needed to knit the stitch pattern. Sometimes my chants are long and a little hard to memorize; sometimes the chants are short and easy. Please tell me I'm not the only one who does this?

Charts are essential for grasping the sequences of knitting. Susan provides them as downloads in the last lesson of the stitching modules: Creating Eyelets, Ladders, and Super Slits.

Susan reviews the foundation techniques used in the lessons -- bridging and transferring stitches -- in the very first module. The course concludes with knitting machine patterns for six openwork sweaters! It's a complete program. Click here for further information.

And don't forget! I'm interviewing Susan Guagliumi live on December 30th at 5:00pm EST[This live event has passed. Click here to view the replay.]


Teaching and Crafting

I've posted my in-person teaching calendar for the beginning of 2020! If you're interested in learning to machine knitting (in Brooklyn) or improving sweater knit sewing skills (at Stitches United in Hartford CT), I'd love for you to join me.

All techniques covered fall comfortably into the crafting fashion category. Yes, Crafting Fashion, as in the name of this blog, chosen because it communicates that it’s not just design that’s important in fashion. I consider the act of crafting the garment of prime importance in the best fashion.

There are so many ways to enjoy the crafting process. I love figuring out the most effective and efficient ways to create a desired stitch pattern. 

Screenshot of O! Jolly! Off Kilter Plaid in the Design a Knit application
Selecting quality materials is one of my favorite parts of the process. What maker doesn't enjoy fondling the raw materials or browsing through catalogs?

The act of constructing the sweater is a most satisfying part, making sure the craftsmanship is neat and accurate. I often enjoy the process far more than the final product. In fact, I have several projects temporarily halted in the process phase (a.k.a. UFO, unfinished objects) at the moment.

Lately I've been doing lots of teaching. More teaching means less crafting, so I squeeze crafting in wherever I can by making samples and doing demos of specific techniques. Teaching is my excuse for breaking a project down into its smaller elements, a process I love. Teaching means observing exactly how and where my students grasp, or perhaps struggle, with a technique. Teaching means I'm always editing, always refining the presentation. Students bring a fresh perspective, and I get to see old standards through new eyes.

Teaching Since 16

Did you know I've been teaching since I was 16 when I taught pre-ballet to 5-year-olds! I was so proud of my class. I am not exaggerating when I tell you my fives were the best fives in the recital!

In my early 30s I taught commercial acting and modeling (after a brief career in show biz). Surprising as it may sound, it was a very satisfying job. We were located in a small and very scenic market, experiencing a boom in production during those years. A good 25% of my students booked jobs within 6 months of completing my class. A few students booked before they finished the course! This is unheard of in larger markets, where there's greater competition. It also helped that the school was attached to a talent and modelling agency.

In the 90s and early 2000s I helped craft an independent education for my son. By that, I mean we homeschooled. I prefer to call it an independent education because that phrase more accurately describes the process. Many people consider a 40-hour week full time work. It is not. Learning can happen at anytime and not only when sitting at a desk. Can you imagine the number of museum classes, soccer games, Broadway theater, off-off-off Broadway theater, classical guitar lessons, recitals, swim lessons, sailing lessons, nature walks, beach trips, and play dates we participated in or attended in the name of "home" schooling? We educated from birth through pre-college. Son later majored in computer science at a top-tier university and currently works his dream job as a game developer.

On a field trip with my favorite student! Sweater was a gift, designer unknown.

Current and Upcoming

My students' creativity at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design continues to be invigorating. The knitwear courses I teach at each school are part of the fashion design departments. But as stated earlier, it's never just about design, it's also about the crafting.
Knitting studio at Parsons
Two or three times a year I teach at the Textile Arts Center. It’s a beautiful, large space in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn. Though I teach only machine knitting at the school, a variety of fiber related crafts such as weaving, sewing, dyeing, and more can be explored there. This place is a textile crafting wonderland, open to the public.

March will be my first time joining the teaching crew of Stitches United. Well known for their large hand knitting conventions and markets, Stitches opened up a couple of their events to other fiber-related crafts. I’m presenting an introduction to cut and sew sweaters and also teaching a class on making the perfect crew neck for your cut and sew sweater. My class sizes are limited to 20 people each, so you're sure to get your questions answered at the presentation plus individual attention in the class. And of course there will be lots of other classes you can attend. I hope you can make it!


P.S. If you can't join me in person next year, perhaps you can join me online? Let's craft sweaters together!