Twin Needle Grievances

I’m pretty sure Aidan doesn’t want to listen to my reflections of the twin needle as a method for hemming knits, so I figured I’d take it to the blog.

I said not so long ago that I was giving up on using a twin needle to hem my knits because I just wasn’t satisfied with the results. But I wound up giving the twin needle another go. My thanks for this effort was an irresolvable struggle with skipped stitches and hems inelastic enough that I popped the hem on one of the sleeves of my new t-shirt the first day that I wore it. And this isn’t the first time I’ve had a twin needle hem pop early into it’s life.

I have read and tried all of the twin needle advice I can find. I’ve tried multiple sizes of needles. I’m using stretch-specific twin needles. I have played around with stitch length and tension. I’ve used wooly nylon in the bobbin. I’ve used knit stay tape at the hem. I’ve tugged on the fabric to loosen the bobbin thread before tying the ends off. None of them actually alleviated my problems with the twin needle, and some of these suggestions actually made things worse. If only you could hear my machine complain about wooly nylon!

At this point, I’m not looking for anymore suggestions because I’m feeling even more done with the twin needle than I was a few weeks ago. I don’t have problems actually managing a twin needle hem—I can do that. My problem is with the performance of the twin needle hem. In blogs, I constantly see people praising the twin needle for producing a stretchy hem, but when it comes to sewing with knits, “stretchy” is a term that needs to be pretty roundly contextualized. A twin needle may produce a hem that stretches more than a straight stitch, but it certainly doesn’t compare to the flexibility of a cover-stitch hem and, in my experience, doesn’t even approach the level of stretch you get with a medium-width zigzag. A lot of the jerseys I’ve been using have a bit of Spandex in them, but even on the more stable knits I’ve used, I’ve found that the twin needle hem feels overly firm.

(I’ve also noticed a number of blog tutorials that demonstrate the stretchiness of a twin needle hem on a flat swatch of fabric. The problem with this is that the hem actually has more stretch than it would, say, as the hem of a sleeve because the bobbin thread is loose and can expand more than it would ever be able to once you’ve tied those threads off.)

The plus of the twin needle is that it gives the look of a cover stitched hem that can only be achieved in ready-to-wear or with a special machine, so it lacks the handmade look of a zigzagged hem. But it seems to me that short of actually using a cover stitch machine, I’m in the position of having to privilege mimicking either the look of the commercial cover stitch hem with a twin needle or the performance (that is, the significant stretch) of a cover stitch hem by using some other kind of stitch or technique for hemming with my standard sewing machine. I think what I’m realizing is that stretch matters more to me than looks. My preference for stretch probably has something to do with the kinds of clothes that I wear and the way that I treat my clothes—I want them to move with me without having to conscious of a hem that feels too firm. I’m not 100% sold on the look of a zigzag hem, but I’ve found that I’m less self-conscious of my zigzagged hems than I am of my twin-needled hems.

Plus, if I’m being honest, I think that a twin needle hem doesn’t always do the greatest job of mimicking the look of a cover stitched hem—it can look kind of sloppy. And the more you try to do to keep the hem looking really nice from the outside (tightening up the tension to keep the stitches looking clean, using stay tape to prevent tunneling), the more you limit the amount the hem will stretch. It’s a real win-some-lose-some situation.

Maybe I’m getting it all wrong and the twin needle really is the magical solution to hemming knits that the blog world says it is. But more and more, the idea of using a twin needle to hem my knits feels like not being able to eat bacon and having someone feed me turkey bacon while saying, “You can hardly tell the difference!” But I can definitely tell the difference. And the alternative isn’t terrible, but it still pales in comparison to the real thing. Some day, I’ll be able to save up for a cover stitch machine. Until then, I’m giving up the twin needle ghost, and I’ll focus my attention on learning to love the practicality of my zigzag stitch and experimenting with hem bands.

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8 thoughts on “Twin Needle Grievances

  1. I feel your pain! I’ve had some really mixed experiences with twin needles and find it really hard to get the tension just right for them. On the one hand, I have gotten near perfect results from using them to hem and sew the neckline of one knit dress BUT they completely ate the hem of another after seeming to work perfectly on the sleeve cuffs. I think the ol’ zigzag stitch is much more reliable!

  2. This is why I recently purchased a Singer Coverstitch (14t968dc). Affordable and a great machine. No more popped hems or wonky looking sleeves for me!

    • Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll have to look more into that machine. I was already planning to buy myself a serger as a graduation gift when I complete my PhD program next spring, so maybe a serger/cover stitch combo is the way to go.

  3. Thank you for justifying my purchase of a cover stitch machine. I thought I was the only one who failed to bond with the twin needle. When I got the cover stitcher home, I plucked out or cut off every hem, neckline, and armband I could, and redid the whole pile in a couple of hours.

    Wish we were neighbors. We could share. Who needs a cover stitcher but for an hour or two a month?

  4. I shared this problem till I upgraded my machine recently. Now I use a twin needle with the triple straight stitch (on a Pfaff Ambition) and I get a lovely finish. I had a the same stitch on my previous machine in theory but in reality, it wouldn’t sew any stretch stitch without the bobbin jumping out of the case and making huge knots, getting in a terrible tangle etc. so for years I just avoided knits. I decided to get a new machine, precisely for its ability to sew knits. It was much more expensive than my first one, but so worth it. Has your machine got a triple straight stitch? That may work.

  5. Pingback: Ottobre Faded Stripes/Foxes Shirt | Sweet Alchemy

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