Sewing Fails: Jalie Dolman and Ottobre Statement Tee

Whenever I take a long break from either sewing or knitting, I experience a lot of stumbling and fumbling when I pick it back up again. It’s like I haven’t forgotten how to “ride the bike,” so to speak, but I’m pretty wobbly for a while. This wobbliness resulted in two failed projects (one of which didn’t even get finished) when I started sewing again mid-March.

The first failed project was a version of the Jalie Dolman Top (Jalie 3352) that I made with a really nice marled sweater knit—I’m fairly certain the fabric is a cotton/rayon/Spandex blend. It’s soft, lightweight but still opaque, has great drape, and washed and dried really well. I originally bought it with the intention of making a long-sleeved Concord Tee so that I would have just a basic, lightweight sweater in my closet. I’ve been kind of kicking myself for changing plans, but whatever.

Jalie Dolman

I don’t like this pullover. I’ve worn it a couple of times and it just feels sloppy to me. I think there are two primary issues at play: first, the fabric has substantially more stretch than the pattern calls for (~75% vs. 40%); and second, I made some ill-advised sizing choices in the hopes of getting something that would be more wearable during the spring as I moved into my second trimester and then again in the fall in the middle of unpredictable post-partum fluctuations. (This was also the logic that led to the pattern switch—I thought the looser style of the Jalie Dolman would be more wearable than the fitted style of the Concord. The overall lesson here has been that it really isn’t worth it to try to predict what my body will do or what I will want to wear in the future.)

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Given the stretch in my fabric, I think I would have been best off cutting a size down from my measurements. But what I actually did was cut a size larger than my measurements. The result is something that just doesn’t feel good on me and that I don’t enjoy wearing. The body feels completely shapeless and dowdy and the sleeves are too loose and long—it basically looks nothing like the pattern photos or other people’s finished projects suggest it should look like. To add to the frustration of this project, my twin needle gave me a hell of a time and kept skipping stitches and breaking threads, which really made me feel like I had no idea what I was doing at my sewing machine anymore.

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The twin needle issue was easily solved—I realized about a week later that I just needed a new needle. I ordered one and all my twin needle problems are magically gone. As far as the pullover goes, it’s still hanging in my closet, and I think at some point I will take apart the side and sleeve seams and either recut it as a smaller size or just take the whole thing in. But there’s no sense in even trying to do that right now. And who knows—maybe it will actually fit well in the fall and I’ll get a lot of wear out of it.

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My second failure was the Statement Tee pattern from the Spring 2017 issue of Ottobre Woman. I was drawn to this pattern for the relaxed fit and because it is drafted for more stable jersey fabrics. However, I didn’t even end up finishing the first tee I made because I hated the fit on me. I found that the neckline on this is really wide. I added a neckband instead of the binding called for to get a bit more coverage and still ended up with a neckline wide enough to allow for frequent peeking bra straps. The sleeves are also quite long (which, to be fair, is more or less indicated by the fact that the pattern photos show the tee worn with the sleeves rolled up) and I would have to cut off ~2″ to get the length I want. Plus, I think it is too short in the body for this style—something I found especially surprising since I have a long torso and Ottobre tops are still usually a bit on the long side for me.

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The unhemmed tee

There were enough issues and frustrations with the fit and style of this pattern that it just didn’t feel worth finishing right now. The failure of the project is mostly due to the pattern, which just wasn’t what I was expecting it to be. The real clumsiness on my part as a sewer was the fact that I cut out two of these tees before testing the fit of the pattern in any way. This gray fabric is no great loss at all since it is boring and inexpensive. But I cut the second tee from a really nice black and gray pinstripe cotton-rayon blend jersey from Mood that is super soft and lovely. So I’m really kicking myself for now having sacrificed two nice cuts of fabric to failed projects.

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The sadly cut up pinstripe jersey

Ultimately, I think I’ll have enough of the pinstripe jersey leftover to be able to get something out of the fabric, although I don’t know what that will be yet. And again, maybe I’ll pull this t-shirt out of my project basket at some point in the future and find that it’s totally wearable and worth finishing. Either way, I’m happy to report that this was basically the end of my sewing wobbliness and I’ve had a lot more success at the machine since.

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.