Do you need a serger?

As we get closer to launching Jade, my next pattern for knit fabrics, I thought I’d recommend my (new-ish) serger for those of you looking for a good recommendation. I know it can be a bit overwhelming to wade through all of the options and figure out how much is reasonable to pay. There’s also something quite intimidating about the multiple cones of thread on top and the fact that it has knives (insert silent scream emoji).

Juki MO654DE / serger recommendation from made by rae

I’ve been asked whether you really need a serger to sew knits, and I know that it’s all the rage to say that you can sew knits without a serger, but once you’ve tried it, you wonder why anyone would ever want to. Every knit sewing book and pattern I’ve ever read dedicates a section to patting you on the back and saying you’ll be just fine with a standard machine…but if you’re on the fence and you’re not on a super tight budget, I strongly recommend that you GET ONE. I might even say that if you are on a budget, saving up for a serger makes more sense to me than spending that money on knit fabric, since you can easily harvest knit yardage from thrifted or second hand garments and then you’re off to the races.

I got my first serger (a Brother 1034D, shown below) back in 2009, but my new favorite is the Juki MO654DE (shown at top of post), which I upgraded to a couple years ago, though it’s definitely still not pricey (it’s about $340 on Amazon at the time of this writing) when you look at the range of sergers out there.

Brother 1034D serger

When I got the Brother serger, I was unsure if I would possess the mental capacity to figure out how to operate it, so I went cheap and simple. This is, incidentally, why I still end up recommending this one to people; it really is a nice machine for someone who wants to learn how to use a serger with pretty small investment. I struggle a little bit with this, though, because I normally don’t subscribe to the “buy cheap stuff just to try it out” approach to purchasing in general, since it’s not nice to the earth and clutters up my life, but on the other hand, my Brother lasted quite a long time and is still going, so it definitely isn’t a disposable purchase. Mine is still in fairly good working condition, and that’s with pretty heavy use for almost a decade. I’m just reaching a point where I can tell it wasn’t meant to be used to the extent that it has, if that makes sense. It’s getting temperamental, even after being serviced, (differential feeds don’t seem to work well, tension iffy, etc), and it’s also VERY NOISY, though to be fair it was pretty noisy from the get-go. Like, can’t carry on a conversation while you sew, noisy. The new Juki, on the other hand, is really quiet, and the action is sooooo smooth. I’ve used it for over two years and it’s still just so very lovely.

Note: I chose the MO654DE over the MO644D (which is cheaper that one’s designed for only lighter to medium weights and I wanted it to work with all weights of fabric)

overlock seam sewn with serger

Just in case you need a bit of an intro, a serger is a machine that creates a multi-thread overlock stitch around the edge of the fabric as it sews, using two (but sometimes just one) needles and at least three (but usually four or more) cones of thread. It goes only forward, not in reverse, and it has a pair of knives that trims the seam as it sews. It also has two feed dogs under the presser foot that can be adjusted to go different speeds to can prevent the fabric from stretching out or gathering, which is especially handy for sewing knits.

What I use my serger for:

  • ALL knit sewing. I sew all my knit seams with the serger, with the exception of neckbands or ribbing, which I always baste on first with a sewing machine to make sure it’s even.
  • Finishing edges of delicate and loose-weave fabrics before prewashing. Before I throw my new fabric in the wash (and I always prewash any fabric that will become a garment if I intend to machine-wash it, to prevent shrinking), I like to finish the raw edges so they won’t tangle and fray as they get tossed around in the machine. Usually I just use the zig zag stitch on my sewing machine over the raw edges. For fabrics like linen or double gauze, a serger is nicer because it finishes the raw edges very securely with the four-thread overlock stitch.
  • Finishing edges of delicate or loose-weave fabrics after cutting/before sewing. Similarly, if I’m sewing something really delicate, I sometimes run the cut pieces through the serger to finish all the edges before I start sewing. This helps prevent the edges of the fabric from stretching out while they’re being sewn, similar to stay-stitching.
  • Seam finishing for woven garments. I love a good seam finish (see this Super Seams post for a few examples/tutorials), and it’s super fast to run a seam through the serger after first sewing the seams on the machine (note: I don’t use the serger to sew the seams for woven clothing, though I do for knits). I was recently asked via email why not just sew all woven seams with the serger (a great question!) and the reason is that with woven garments, you often need to be able to adjust fit even after sewing seams, and that is really difficult to do once you’ve sewn a seam with a serger.

Since I use my serger constantly, I’m happy to have one I really love. It’s become an essential part of my process for sewing clothing and I can’t imagine sewing without one. Do you have a serger you love? And if you have any questions about sergers, I’m happy to answer them in comments!

PS. If you can find a local Juki dealer (you lucky ducks in Columbus have Sew to Speak), it’s so worth it if you can purchase a machine at a shop that will also be able to service it. Plan for the inevitable.

PPS. If you want a more thorough review of the Juki, check out Heather’s post.

Where to find knit fabrics

how to find knit fabric

One question I get a lot is where to find knit fabrics (actually: any apparel fabric — but let’s stick to knits for now). Lacking a local fabric shop that carries apparel fabrics is a common issue for many of you, so I’d like to recommend some knit fabrics that would be great for Flashback, Isla, or my upcoming pattern, Jade, and where to find them online and locally.

TOP LEFT: Dana cotton modal jersey (“Dana” by Robert Kaufman)
description: light weight jersey, 55% cotton, 45% modal rayon, a bit of stretch (not super stretchy), soft and light
notes: this one doesn’t have lycra so it doesn’t have much stretch,, but it’s nice and soft and light and has a nice drape. I’d recommend for Jade but maybe not for Isla (due to stretch)
source: Imagine Gnats

TOP CENTER: Striped tencel jersey
description: silky, light weight, super stretchy (4-way stretch), tons of drape
notes: Tencel is an eco-friendly form of rayon, so it has the silky and super-stretchy properties that bamboo rayon and other rayon jersey would have, without the possible horrific processing chemical by-products
source: La Mercerie

TOP RIGHT: Cotton-Lycra jersey (“Laguna” by Robert Kaufman)
description: light weight, usually has a 95/5 cotton to lycra ratio (also called cotton-spandex, same thing), good stretch and strong recovery, curls at edges
notes: Allie of Indie-Sew once described C/L as the quilting cotton of knits; it’s easy to work with and easy to find because manufacturers like Robert Kaufman (“Laguna knit“), Art Gallery, and Cotton and Steel all print their knits on C/L blends.
source: Pink Castle Fabrics

MIDDLE LEFT & RIGHT: Double brushed poly spandex Jersey
description: suuuuper stretchy (4-way stretch), medium weight, thicker than tencel jersey but with similar drape and stretch, very soft (“brushed”)
notes: this stuff really feels like secret pajamas, and it’s very forgiving to work with; I will add the caveat that it’s unlikely to be the most eco-friendly material out there. I can’t wait to show you what I made with that grid jersey!!
source: Raspberry Creek &  Imagine Gnats

MIDDLE CENTER: Indigo cotton-lycra jersey
description: medium weight, lycra gives it nice stretch  curl at edges
notes: when I found this indigo slub knit at Fancy Tiger (see below) it was like spotting a unicorn in the wild; I am always on the look out for slub knits but haven’t been able to find very many out there despite slub being pretty popular in ready-to-wear garments (my favorite JCrew tees are slub knit). Let me know in comments if you have a favorite slub source!!!
source: Fancy Tiger Crafts

BOTTOM LEFT: Stretch bamboo rayon jersey (Telio)
description: light weight but somewhat heavy (I know that sounds like a weird combo but it’s true), super stretchy (4-way stretch), somewhat shiny, silky
notes: While I did not love the solid Telio bamboo jerseys (I made a ton of Jade samples out of various solid colors) because they showed every wrinkle and line from my body and undergarments and were impossible to photograph, I did like the heather gray one shown above (I’m wearing it here). I really love the softness and stretchiness of bamboo knits, but I try to source them from places that sell overstock or deadstock, due to the horrific environmental impacts of the manufacturing process for bamboo rayons.

BOTTOM CENTER: Striped organic interlock (by Cloud9)
description: 100% organic cotton, medium weight, stretchy, soft
notes: so lovely and soft, due to the lack of lycra, this knit has less recovery and is less suited for leggings, for example, as it tends to grow a bit as you wear it until you throw it back in the wash, however, I couldn’t miss a chance to toot the Cloud9 horn a bit as I LOVE this new striped knit they have out, and it’s the same interlock that my Sidewalk knits are printed on (note: NO ATTEMPT TO BE UNBIASED HERE!). See yesterday’s Flamingo tee post as well.

BOTTOM RIGHT: Organic striped baby rib knit
description: 100% organic cotton rib knit, medium weight, stretchy, soft
notes: similar to organic interlock, above, but even more stretchy due to the 1×1 rib weave (2×2 ribs are also nice!). Again, not suited for leggings, but have a nice comfortable ease
source: Organic Cotton Plus

Ready for a closeup?

Double brushed poly jersey:

double brushed poly jersey

These Art Gallery jerseys weren’t shown in the swatch section, but this Isla Dress was made with the bottom one, and the photo gives you a good idea of the curl you get with Cotton/lycra jersey:

Art Gallery cotton-lycra jersey

Organic baby rib knit:

organic cotton baby rib knit

Indigo Cotton/lycra jersey:

Striped Tencel Jersey:

More knit sources
In addition to the sources listed above, a few more places I like to hunt for knits:*
Hawthorne Threads (big selection, cotton lycra and cotton modal jersey, interlock)
Indie Sew (great curated source for overstocks! rayon spandex jerseys, rib knits)
Simplifi (all organic!! interlock, cotton lycra jersey, hemp lycra jerseys)
Stone Mountain and Daughter (huge selection of every kind of knit you could imagine)

*Please note that this list is nowhere near comprehensive NOR is it unbiased as some of these shops were previous sponsors of this blog and/or carry my patterns and/or Cloud9 knits which is the company that licenses my designs. However, I think the best way to do posts like this is probably to keep them simple and do them frequently, rather than try to maintain a current comprehensive resource list.

Learn more
If you’re not that familiar with knit fabric or shopping online, consider taking my Creativebug Trace and Make Tee and Leggings class where I dive into knit fabrics, stretch, and how to sew knits, or check out this “Rae talks about shopping for knits online” post, which covers some basic online shopping tips and information about types, weights, and swatches you might find helpful.

I also like these two posts from Oliver+S: types of knits and where to find knits, and this article all about jersey from IndieSew.

Jess makes: Cobalt Isla Dress

Navy wool Isla Dress by Jess

Hi all! Jess sneaking in to send you into the weekend with a little spring inspiration. This wool jersey Isla Dress is perfect for seasonal transitions. It’s light and drapey, and I was surprised to find that the wool is noticeably warmer than cotton jersey of a similar weight. I’ve worn it with a cardigan and tights all winter, and now it feels good on its own with sandals or clogs.

Navy wool Isla Dress by Jess

I got this cobalt wool jersey from Imagine Gnats close to two years ago. Full disclosure: it took this dress awhile to make its way into regular rotation because every time I wore it, I would turn slightly blue from the fabric. Now that I’ve washed it several times, though, it’s stopped letting off dye, and I love wearing this dress. (I think I was supposed to hand wash this, but it washes wonderfully on a cold, gentle cycle, and I hang it to dry).

Navy wool Isla Dress by Jess

Isla was our first knit pattern for women, and we’re currently in testing phase for Jade, a knit boatneck tee whose sleeves will fit into Isla’s armholes! We’re so excited about all the places we’ll go with that combo.

Navy wool Isla Dress by Jess

Ready to sew your own Isla? Pick up the pattern PDF in the shop.

See more Islas under the tag #islapattern and right here on the blog!

Isla with sleeves + woven skirt

Isla Dress with woven skirt

Sometimes I wish I had more time to show you all of the concepts and variations a pattern goes through before it’s finally released. Originally I thought the Isla pattern would have sleeves, and even went so far as to make this mint striped version with sleeves (I later removed them). As the pattern developed, I decided that Isla needed to be a Presto pattern (basic design, streamlined instructions), and so I tossed the sleeves, which were going to require a fair amount of tweaking and developing on their own yet before I could sign off on them. But in the back of my head I thought, my next knit pattern will have sleeves, and if it does, I want them to work with Isla, too.

So after Isla launched, I started playing around with the sleeve pattern pieces again. By last November, we had it graded and in multiple lengths, and I made this version of Isla with sleeves and a woven skirt.

Isla Dress with woven skirt

Isla Dress with woven skirt

The woven skirt itself deserves a little explanation. The Isla pattern is intended to be made entirely out of knit fabric, but since there’s plenty of ease in the skirt, you can really substitute a woven fabric for the skirt if you want. I even increased the width (this skirt was made with a 1 yard piece of 54″ cotton-linen blend, which I cut down the middle and turned sideways, so the skirt pieces ended up roughly 10″ wider than the pattern piece, each) and it still worked.

Isla Dress with woven skirt

This fabric is a print designed by Melody Miller from Ruby Star Sparkle, a now out-of-print collection from her years as a Kokka designer. Some of you might remember that this is not the first time I have cut a Melody Miller panel on the cross-grain so I could use the raw selvages for the hem of a skirt — the first time was when I made this pre-pattern Ruby prototype out of the arrow print.

Isla Dress with woven skirt

You might wonder how and when someone might wear such an interesting dress. Here’s one way I like to style it in a kind of fun bohemian way:

Isla styled to slay

Hopefully you can see that using a woven fabric instead of knit for the Isla skirt can open a whole new world for this pattern, so if you’re thinking of trying this, do it!! It’s fun! And if you’re wondering where you can get the sleeves, stay tuned! Jade, my next pattern, will have sleeves that you’ll be able to add to Isla for some awesome mix and match possibilities.

Posted in isla
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Jess’ Polka Dot Isla

Polka dot knit Isla

Last summer, Jess came to Ann Arbor for what we call a “workaway” — a week of intense work here in Ann Arbor at my studio (Jess and I live in separate states, so our work is always remote), eating out, playing with the kids, and general cousin-bonding hangout time. That was when we were developing the Isla Pattern, and we made several tops that week. This one for Jess came out especially well; we’d been tweaking the armholes and bodice length, and this was one of the first that fit just right.

Polka dot knit Isla

Polka dot knit Isla

We snapped some photos before Jess left, and then we launched the pattern, and then it got really chilly (we could delve into my angst over never being able to release seasonable patterns, but let’s not get into that right now), so I put these pics on hold. Now that warm weather is here, it seems like the perfect time to post this cute little top.

I’ve been rounding up my favorite summer patterns and your makes in a “Summer Wardrobe” newsletter series over the past few weeks, which has been really fun. Today I sent out the Isla edition, which featured a bunch of your Islas from the #islapattern tag on Instagram (you can see a bunch more on my Made by YOU with Made by Rae Pinterest board as well). You can see past issues of my newsletter or sign up if you’d like!

Polka dot knit Isla

Fabric: Cloud9 Fabrics interlock knits “spots” in citron. Cloud9 sent me this fabric so I could see what their interlock fabric was like (super soft!) when I was designing Sidewalk.

Polka dot knit Isla

Posted in isla
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Isla Dress in Sidewalk Knit

Isla Peplum in Sidewalk Knit

Aww yeah is it Spring yet? This dress is definitely screaming “SPRING” to me! It’s an Isla Dress made with the “Prize Garden” floral print from Sidewalk, my line of knits for Cloud9. This print has been really popular and it’s definitely one of my favorites. Also: cute with my cropped cardigan, no?

Isla Dress in Sidewalk Knit

Isla makes a great template for this showy print.

Isla Dress in Sidewalk Knit

The Isla sewing pattern is the first women’s pattern I designed for knit fabrics. I’m thinking about doing a sewalong for Isla this spring. But I don’t know…Cleo would also make a really fun spring sewalong too. What do you think?

Isla Peplum in Sidewalk Knit

Marble Dyed Isla Top

Isla Peplum

This marble-dyed fabric is fun, isn’t it? This is another Isla top that I wear all the time, even though it was meant to just be a studio sample. We wanted to test if the Isla pattern could be sewn entirely on a sewing machine instead of a serger, and it turned out great! The stitch I prefer to use when sewing knits on with my machine is a zig zag stitch, and I usually set the length a little longer (3-4 mm) and the width pretty narrow (1-1.5 mm). I don’t have an exact number for these because it helps to try it on a sample and play around with the width and length a bit. Every fabric can be a little different.

Isla Peplum

This particular fabric is a rayon jersey that I bought online at a shop that I found on Instagram (unfortunately I haven’t had great luck with the fabrics from that shop so I can’t recommend it), and since I didn’t realize when I purchased it that I should hang dry rayon jersey, it’s since gotten a bit pilly (read more about rayon jersey care via this post). But it’s not too bad for a sample.

made by rae | tie dye Isla top

You can see from these photos if you look carefully, especially at the second one, that this top has some bunching under the arm. I really didn’t notice the issue in my first few Isla samples — they were rayon jersey and therefore super-stretchy — but when we sent the pattern to testers, everyone’s photos came back with big wrinkles at the armpit and the comments were that it felt too tight. So we widened the armholes as a result. I love how testing really helps eliminate problems from a pattern. Anyway, I think it’s kind of fun to hear about the process, hopefully you do too!

Isla can be made as a dress or as a top and is available in my pattern shop.

Posted in isla, knits
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Bamboo Shibori Isla

Shibori Isla Top

Look, a new Isla top for me!

Shibori Isla Top

I bought this bamboo shibori from Fancy Tiger Crafts in the summer when we were churning out Islas in the studio. It’s a 95% bamboo rayon / 5% spandex  jersey that is so flowy and comfortable!! Fancy Tiger still has it in stock (this is navy) as well as a lovely gunmetal color (Shop link here. Full disclosure: FTC has been a sponsor of this blog in the past, also: Jaime and Amber are friends). Hart’s Fabric also has something very similar (maybe even the same?) in a few other colors; I ordered a couple yards of the indigo color from them. The faux-shibori thing is pretty hot right now!

Shibori Isla Top

This fabric was a bit more expensive than your average rayon knit, and the quality definitely shows in person. I’m already impressed with how it feels and how little it has pilled up just during wear. Confirming yet again my theory that paying more for knits is worth it.

Shibori Isla Top

And finally, here’s how I’m wearing my Islas as the weather cools off: under a cardigan. The perfect fall combo.

Shibori Isla

Posted in isla
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Two Islas in Sidewalk

Sidewalk knits

I thought you might enjoy seeing these Isla tops that Jess sewed up for the Quilt Market booth last spring! These two prints are called Fancy Steps and Lawn Ornament, and are both part of my new collection for Cloud9 Fabrics, Sidewalk, which will be printed entirely on knit fabric. I’m very excited about this.

Sidewalk knits

We had a whole section of the Cloud 9 booth dedicated to Sidewalk at the spring show, and we thought it would be fun to show off a couple of the prints with some women’s tops, since the whole line reads “kid” in general, but I think can work for the imaginative or young-at-heart adult.

Sidewalk knits

The sample fabric ended up not being the real Cloud 9 knit; we had to rush order the prints from Spoonflower because we hadn’t even gone through a round of strike-offs yet (those are the samples from the mill that they use to check colors), so there really wasn’t any “real fabric” ready for sample sewing. But Michelle and Gina were so excited about the collection that they wanted to preview it at Market anyway. As a result, these sample tops are a bit stiff and not quite the right colors, a combination of the digital printing, not prewashing the fabrics because we didn’t want them to fade, and the fact that this particular interlock had a pretty low degree of stretch. But that’s how that goes. I do think it’s interesting that many of the clothing samples at Quilt Market are simply not wearable at all, period.

Sidewalk knits

Sidewalk is coming to a shop near you in November. For more peeks at this line, including a look at the Quilt Market booth, check out the sidewalk fabric tag on Instagram.

The Isla sewing pattern can be sewn as either a dress or a top, and is available now in my shop!