How to Sew Beautiful Knit Hems

Smooth hems on knits can be tricky to achieve; with Jade we felt like we finally landed on a technique that REALLY worked (no curling; looks smooth, not stretched out or puckery, stitches that won’t pop with wear, and works with both CURVED and STRAIGHT hem edges).

Since most of us don’t have coverstitch machines to sew the hems we’re used to seeing on our ready-to-wear tees, this method uses a regular home sewing machine. The key elements to success: a wider (1″) hem, and stabilizing the edges using knit interfacing. Adding the interfacing adds a bit of extra time, but it’s totally worth it!

How to: Below, we’ll demonstrate the technique that is incorporated into our Jade Tee pattern. You can use these steps for hems on any knit tee you make!

Step 1. Cut interfacing

Using a rotary cutter, cutting mat, and ruler, cut 1″ strips of knit interfacing, estimating how much you’ll need for your sleeves, front, and back hems.

(PS. Check out my favorite source for interfacing here).

Step 2. Attach interfacing to hems

Use an iron to fuse the interfacing to the wrong side of the hems of your pattern pieces. Jade’s hems are a little curved, and the interfacing is flexible enough to follow those curves easily, but this works just as well with a straight hem (like the one on the Flashback Tee).

Step 3. Press hem allowances

I like to press my hems before I sew the shirt together — it’s not technically necessary to do now, but I find it’s a little easier to press flat pieces than 3D pieces, and I always thank myself later. Just fold the hem up along the edge of the interfacing, and press.

Step 4. Construct your tee

Sew your shoulder seams, attach sleeves, and sew side seams from the end of each sleeve to the hem. (Make sure the hems are unfolded if you pressed them in the last step). In the sample below, I used a serger for one side and a narrow zigzag stitch for the other side — was just experimenting!

Step 5. Pin or clip hems

With the shirt still inside out, fold the hems up and press (skip this if you already pressed in Step 3). Use clips or pins to hold your hems in place before sewing. It’s important not to skip this step; failure to secure the hem before you sew it can cause it to twist while you’re stitching it in place.

If you use pins and plan to use a twin needle, turn shirt right side out first, pinning from the outside and making sure you catch the edge of the hem underneath.

Step 6. Sew the hem

Now that you’ve stabilized and also pressed and secured the hem, you’re ready to stitch. Note that what you did *before* you even did any stitching is the key to getting the hem to lay flat. However, the stitches you choose are also important because they will determine how long the garment will last. There are various stitches to choose from for this step:

  • narrow zig zag: A narrow zigzag is the fastest and simplest. At a very narrow setting of 1.25 mm and stitch length of 3 mm, it barely looks like a zigazag, but it provides a bit of added stretch. It’s not the most durable, though, and those stitches sometimes break while taking the tee off and on.

  • twin needle: Using a twin needle makes for a professional-looking finish, and holds up quite well to wear. You can get twin needles in different widths, and our favorite is 4mm. To use a twin needle, simply replace the regular needle on your machine with the twin needle, and hold two strands of thread together to thread the machine, only separating the strands when you reach the separate needles. (Pro tip: if you don’t have two spools of the same color thread, wind an extra bobbin and use that!).
  • To sew, place your hem right side up (this means you’ll have to use the throat plate to make sure you are at the correct hem allowance; in the case of Jade this is 1″), set your machine to a straight stitch, and sew a quick test on a scrap of fabric to check tension and determine the stitch length you’d like to use. When you sew the hem, make sure both needles catch the folded-under hem. If one goes off the edge, the seam will sometimes pucker. On the other wrong side of the fabric, you’ll see that the bobbin thread automatically makes a zigzag pattern, which provides the stretch for this hem.
  • triple straight stitch: For an easy and very durable, utilitarian hem, I use the “triple straight stitch” setting on my machine (which is a Bernina – circled below, in case your machine has a different name for it). With the stitch width set to zero, this creates a straight stitch that goes back and forth repeatedly as you sew, making a straight line that appears a bit wider than a regular stitch. I love this stitch for knits because it’s super strong and won’t stretch and pop, so it works particularly well on super stretchy knits (like the bamboo knit used in the photo below).

Once you’ve sewn your hem, give it one last press and voila!! You’ve got yourself a beautiful knit hem!

PS. All of the Jade tutorials and mods can be found on the Jade page, and you can buy the Jade tee sewing pattern in my shop!

Summer cropped tops

These four tops have been my most-worn this summer, not just with the high-waisted jeans shown here (eco toothpick from JCrew… it really has been quite a cool summer) but also other high-waisted handmades such as Rose shorts and my white silk noil Cleo skirt, not shown. First up: a cropped Gemma tank.

fabric: Double gauze Atelier Brunette, purchased Oak Fabrics
pattern: Gemma tank (see also:tutorial for cropping Gemma)

Next up, three cropped Emerald tops, turns out this is the boxy cropped top of my dreams. The first one I just cut the pattern horizontally about 10 inches below the armhole, then hemmed it up:

cropped Emerald top / made by rae

Fabric: Alexia Abegg’s Sienna rayon, purchased from Imagine Gnats
Pattern: modified Emerald Dress, available in Making Desert issue

This one was the first Emerald top I made out of green double gauze, not cut on the bias as the pattern indicates, just on grain. This one gets rumply and wrinkled when it’s washed which is how I wear it. I curved the hem which got a bit tricky to turn so for the next one one, I drafted a curved hem facing piece.

Fabric: Kobayashi double gauze, purchased at Pink Castle Fabrics
Pattern: modified Emerald Dress, available in Making Desert issue

cropped Emerald top / made by rae

Fabric: Avery slub viscose-linen, purchased from Shop La Mercerie
Pattern: modified Emerald Dress, available in Making Desert issue

The top version will definitely be included in the pattern when release it in the pattern shop; since it released as a dress pattern this past spring in Making, it’s been quite popular and we’ve had a bunch of requests to release it as a standalone pattern. Once we’ve satisfied the Making contract period we would be happy to release this on its own. For now, you’ll have to buy a copy of the magazine to get the pattern!

PS. Read more tips and info about that slub linen blend (one of our faves!) in this post!

Jess’ silk noil Rose + Gemma set

silk noil Rose and Gemma set

Hi all! Jess here, sharing a Rose Pants + Gemma Tank combo that I’m loving. The fabric I used is silk noil in teal blue that we got from Ewe Fibers here. This silk is easy to care for (machine wash and dry!), easy to sew, and incredibly soft and comfy.

I’ve made three versions of Rose now: one in each length, and each in a different fabric. Throughout this process, I’ve learned a ton of lessons, and this particular Gemma/Rose combo presented the biggest challenges, but possibly the most rewarding results!

silk noil Rose and Gemma set
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When I cut out these pants, I had just finished making a super-drapy viscose/linen pair that required a lot of width reduction and rise adjustment. I mistakenly assumed that the same adjustments would be necessary for this silk noil, so I preemptively took 1/2″ off the width at the hip and took in the back inseam by about a 1/2″ to narrow the leg and reduce the rise. This was *not a good idea*! When I basted the seams and tried the pants on before adding the waistband, the rise was too low in the back, and there was not enough ease at the hip. 

Thankfully, I was sewing at the studio with Rae, and she helped me carve out the back rise seam to make a little more room in the seat. Then I reduced the side seam allowances, which bought me a bit of ease in the hip. My next mistake was to attach the waistband without basting first. I could barely pull them on over my hips! So again, I had to undo some seams and reduce the waistband seam allowances. I was surprised that adding the waistband made such a difference, but I believe that the interfaced front waistband stabilized the fabric and removed the little bit of ease I had actually retained.

Lessons Learned:

1. Don’t make adjustments until you’ve tried on the garment! I have a good set of working pattern pieces because I made a muslin out of a stable, non-stretchy cotton. I should have trusted those pattern pieces and used them without any changes when I tried a new fabric.

2. Only make one change at a time, and try on between adjustments. I didn’t make one change at a time, which resulted in not knowing which alterations made a difference.

3. Baste baste baste! Even though it feels like more sewing, if you use a basting stitch to sew all your initial seams, it’s super easy to try something on, make quick changes, and pull out the basting threads. Once you have a good fit, you can use a regular stitch and finish your seams with full confidence that you won’t have to take all those tedious stitches out later.

silk noil Rose and Gemma set

Now for the Gemma top! I’m probably Gemma’s biggest fan. I have a closet full of them, and I wear them all year around. Now that I’ve finally discovered high-waisted pants and shorts, one of my favorite modifications is to crop Gemma (here’s a tutorial), which I did here. Since I’ve made a thousand of these tanks, I didn’t try it on before I hemmed it. And guess what? *It was a bad idea*! It looked great with jeans, but the whole idea was to wear this tank with the matching Rose Pants, and the hem was just too low to look good.

So, another lesson learned: 

If you’re going to make coordinating garments, try them on with each other before finishing them. In this case, moving the hem up an inch made this combination actually wearable. And now I have a sweet new outfit! 

silk noil Rose and Gemma set

Ready to make your own combo like mine? Grab the patterns in the shop:
Rose Pants
Gemma Tank

And you can always get some inspiration on Instagram with these handy tags: #mbrrose / #gemmatank / #madebyrae

Short sleeved Jade tee

I just got back yesterday from the most lovely visit to Austin where I rented a house with some girlfriends and spent the weekend knitting, chatting, relaxing, and eating great food. After that I drove to Waco to see my sister and her family for a couple of days. Texas was absolutely gorgeous — the wildflowers were blooming and everything was warm and green — and I got to wear this new short-sleeved Jade tee that I made for the trip. Most of my Jade tees have been long or 3/4-length sleeves, so I thought the shorter sleeve would be better for hot weather (the Jade pattern comes with 4 sleeve lengths).

Jade tee / made by rae

The striped fabric is a rib knit that I purchased at La Mercerie a few months ago. I love following shops with a smaller, more curated collection of fabrics (I find it less overwhelming), but the key is to watch their newsletters for new fabrics, since some of the fabrics — like this one — tend to go out of stock faster than others.

I’m starting to really love my rib knit Jade tees the most. My navy long sleeved striped rib-knit one was easily one of my most-worn items this past winter. The rib fabric has a soft and stretchy quality without the thinness of a super-stretchy jersey, which tend to adhere to every wobble and wrinkle of my body. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just sometimes you like a tee to smooth out your fluffy bits a bit rather than showing off every nook and cranny, y’know?

I’d love to sew a few more short sleeve tees to go with my Rose pants, which is our newest, soon-to-be-released pattern! If you want to sew yourself a few Jade tees, you can find the pattern in my shop.

Adding a circle skirt to the Flashback Tee

This weekend I made a twirl dress for Clementine to wear to a friend’s Nutcracker performance. I used the Flashback Tee pattern (size 9/10) and added a circle skirt. She was delighted. Both the fact that it’s pink and it’s got major twirl are big selling points for her. I’ve made her a number of Flashback dresses before, most involving two gathered rectangles, but the twirl skirt was such a big win I’m not sure she’ll let me make another gathered one. We’ll see. 

Here’s a quick how-to just in case you want to make one with your Flashback tee pattern! 

You will need: 

*Additional yardage is absolutely necessary in order to make the circle skirt, especially if you want the circle to have no seams. I purchased 3 yards of this pink double brushed poly knit (see my quick guide to knits for more info on the different types of knit and how they differ), and ended up with about 30″ left over after I was finished (this is a size 9/10). However, if you are making a smaller size or want a shorter skirt (this one was 25″ long), you’d definitely need less than that. My best advice is to sketch out your skirt ahead of time (see the diagrams below) and use that to calculate how much additional yardage you’ll need beyond what the tee calls for. 

**Serger. Do ya need one? My head says no but my heart says yes. Check out my Do you need a serger post for more thoughts on this. Could I have made this dress as quickly without my serger? No. Could it have been more mindful and relaxing process if I had used Natalie Chanin’s hand-stitching knit techniques to sew all of the seams? Perhaps. But I wouldn’t be finished with the dress yet. And that smooth waist seam is easier to achieve with a serger than with a sewing machine.

Step 1: Crop the bodice pattern piece

You need to shorten the tee bodice pattern piece if you want the waist seam to land near the waist and not the hip. 

I first folded the Flashback Tee bodice pattern piece in half from hem to armpit, but the skirt was so heavy (it’s super stretchy poly and has quite a bit of weight) so had to crop it higher up for the waist to land where I wanted it to. This ended up being roughly 1/3 of the way down from the armpit. You may want to start by cropping the pattern halfway between armpit and hem, pin the skirt on, and see how it looks before you sew it. 

Step 2: Sew the tee

Cut out the fabric for the tee (bodices, sleeves, neckband) and sew it together. Skip hemming the tee. I added ruffled cuffs rather than hemming the sleeves.

Step 3: Cut out the circle skirt

Here’s where it gets a little tricky but stay with me.

To make a circle skirt, you cut a big circle with a little circle cut out of the center (for the waist). The radius of the big circle minus the radius of the little circle is the length of your circle skirt (I made mine about 25″ long, though I ended up trimming away a bit of length at the sides and mid-way to the center since she wanted a bit of an uneven cascading look when it was hanging down). 

To get the radius of the little circle, first take the width across the bottom of the finished tee, and divide by 3.14 (that’s right: PI, you math nerds!):

width of tee / 3.14 = X

Now take X and subtract 1/2″ to get the radius of the small circle:

X – 1/2″ = R

“R” is the radius of the little circle, and R in my diagrams below. The reason that you subtract 1/2″ from X before cutting this circle is a safety measure: you actually need the circle skirt waist to be a teensy bit smaller than the tee waist, and it’s ALWAYS BETTER TO CUT THAT CIRCLE SMALLER THAN TOO BIG!!!

Now cut your skirt out. Cut this way if you want side and back seams (I did mine this way); you also save on fabric if you do it this way:

Cut out your skirt this way if you want it to be a continuous circle, no seams:

Step 4: Sew and attach the skirt

You’ll need to sew the sides and back seam together if you cut it out the way I did, then pin and sew the skirt to the tee, right sides together. To achieve a nice smooth waist seam, I sewed them together without pulling or stretching the fabric out at all. I tried it first with my sewing machine on a zig zag stitch (to try it on), then ran it through my serger with the differential set to 1.7 once I was happy with the location of the waist seam.

Twirly dress, achieved!

For extra overachiever points, sew a matching one for the doll. Heh heh heh, yeah. I DID. Not the first time, either. 

Luna Pants with a triple channel drawstring

These pants are easily my most-worn Luna pants this fall. I was inspired by another pair of dark chambray pants that I saw on Pinterest (they’re #14 on my Luna Inspiration list, if you’re interested), so Jess sewed this pair out of Rustica Chambray from Robert Kaufman Fabrics (59% cotton / 41% linen). They are ridiculously comfortable.

Chambray Rustica Luna pants
Chambray Rustica Luna pants

In order to get the narrow drawstring into the wide waistband facing without it swimming around, we made these with a triple channel drawstring. This is so easy to do. Here’s how!

Luna Pants drawstring

HOW TO SEW A TRIPLE CHANNEL DRAWSTRING

  1. After adding the waistband facing but before you stitch down the bottom edge, add two 1/2″-tall buttonholes to the center front of your pant, centering them vertically so that they’ll land in the middle of the waistband (See my other Luna drawstring tutorial if you need more guidance with this).
  2. Stitch down the bottom edge of the waistband, leaving a couple inches open in the back
  3. Mark two horizontal lines 3/8″ from the top and bottom of the facing for the channels, then stitch down around those lines, leaving a couple inches open at the back of the pant so you can thread the elastic through. This will leave about 5/8″ for the middle channel. Before you stitch, double check that the buttonholes will land in the middle of the center channel!
  4. Cut two pieces of 1/4″ elastic to the length needed for your waist (a chart is included for each size in the Luna sewing pattern). Using a safety pin or bodkin, thread the elastic through the top and bottom channels, starting with the top channel. Overlap the ends and stitch them together.
  5. Cut a strip of fabric for the drawstring, 1″ wide by your waist measurement + 1 yard long. Fold the two long edges of the strip into the center so that they meet, press, then fold in half, and press again. Edgestitch around the outside of the drawstring to finish it.
  6. Using a safety pin or bodkin, thread the drawstring through one buttonhole, around the pant through the center channel, and out the other buttonhole. Tie or knot as desired.
  7. Once you have tried on the pants and are happy with the fit of the waistband, stitch the holes for the elastic shut in back.
chambray rustica how-to / made by rae
chambray rustica how-to / made by rae

Voila! Pants with a triple channel drawstring!! Also: I love the hidden Lotus Pond pockets and waistband.

Chambray Rustica Luna pants

Fanciful dress for Clementine

made by rae fanciful dress for clementine
made by rae fanciful dress for clementine

When my Fanciful yardage arrived I asked Clementine if there were any prints that she wanted to wear, and this pale pink print was her favorite. I designed this overlapping back bodice using Geranium as a base pattern, thinking it would be cute to have a black bow in the back. I originally thought this might work as a tutorial or new pattern, but while I was sewing it, it I discovered that the overlap presents an issue with the lining at the spot where the two layers overlap, so if this design is to become anything I’ll have to try it without the lining instead. All that to say: this isn’t a pattern or tutorial; more experimentation is needed.

I still think it’s a fun piece to show off this understated print, which might go unnoticed amongst the more exciting prints in this collection. You can see the entire collection here, and Fanciful is in shops now!

PS. Read my thoughts about sewing garments with quilting cotton.

made by rae fanciful dress for clementine

Hugo’s backpack

Hugo's backpack / made by rae

Since it’s Back To School time again, adorable backpacks made with my Toddler Backpack Pattern have been popping up in my feed, so I thought I’d share these photos of Hugo with the original backpack I designed the pattern from (it used to be Elliot’s). I took these over a year ago but he still LOVES putting it on his back and parading around.

hugo's backpack / made by rae

I love that lots of you are sewing cute little backpacks for your cute little cuties! It’s a fun way to make a backpack that is custom and unique, and since it’s possible to make this pattern for older kiddos too, it’s not just limited to toddlers or preschoolers (when we updated this pattern a few years ago, we included easy instructions for making it large enough for school-aged kids and 8.5×11 binders).

hugo's backpack / made by rae

hugo's backpack / made by rae

hugo's backpack / made by rae

hugo's backpack / made by rae

The canvas fabric I used for this backpack is now long gone and out of print, but the pattern is available in my shop!

Toddler Backpack Sewing Pattern – $8
BUY NOW

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Jess Makes: Cleo skirt with side zipper

Here’s a modified version of the Cleo Skirt that I’ve been wearing a ton lately. Instead of using elastic, I gathered the back skirt to fit into a flat waistband, and added an invisible side zipper. The great news is that adding a zipper doesn’t even interfere with the View A pocket!

Here’s a  how-to:

  • Cut out Front Skirt, Back skirt, and View A pockets according to pattern.
  • Cut out *two* Front Waistbands out of fabric (no back waistband)
  • Cut two Front Waistbands out of interfacing
  • Press and interface BOTH waistband pieces as directed for the front waistband in Step 1 of pattern
  • Attach and sew View A pockets as directed in Step 2
  • Choose which side you want your zipper on, then only sew the side seam of the *opposite* side.
  • Gather front and back skirts as directed in Step 4
  • Prepare waistband as directed in Step 5, but only sew together at one side. Try it on by putting it around your waist and pinning it together 1/2″ from the ends to make sure it will fit (adjust length if necessary)
  • Attach the skirt to the waistband, matching side seams and adjusting skirt gathers to fit the front and back waistbands. Your skirt should look like this:

  • *TRY YOUR SKIRT ON* at this point, you’ll want to make sure the waistband fits you just right, and that it stays where you want it on your waist. Safety pin the open side of the waistband 1/2″ from the edge. Adjust your seam allowance if necessary!
  • Now you’ll install a zipper. I used an 8″ invisible zipper and just followed the package directions. I placed the top of my zipper at the fold in the waistband, with the 1/2″ of zipper tape extending past the fold. Here’s a good tutorial if you need a little guidance.
  • Once the zipper is installed, you can sew the rest of the side seam.
  • To finish the waistband, follow the directions in Steps 7-8; you can sew the whole waistband down at one time here because you don’t need to add elastic! Hand stitch the waistband for a tidy finish at the zipper.
  • Hem skirt as directed, and you’re done!

This version of Cleo has a couple of other modifications: it’s a mashup of the View B length with View A pockets, and the skirt is a good bit more full than the pattern calls for.

First, I cut out my pockets so that I could use almost all the rest of the fabric for the skirt. Instead of folding the fabric in half and cutting pockets out of two layers, I just cut them out separately, end to end, along one selvage of the fabric.

For the front and back skirt pieces, I followed the View B length of the pattern pieces, but made them each the full width of the fabric that remained after cutting out the pockets. (This rayon is 54″ wide, so the finished width of this skirt is well over 90″!)


I’ve had this Anna Maria Horner rayon stashed away for quite some time now (as evidenced by its total unavailability on the internet), and I’m so glad I finally got around to making a Cleo Skirt with it. Sometimes the simplest design is the best use for a lovely bold print like this; and rayon is simply delicious for a Cleo. Let us know if you try it yourself!

Use the tags #cleoskirt #raemademedoit and #madebyrae to share your creations on Instagram. We’d love to see them!

Posted in Cleo, Jess
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