Tiramisu Three-Ring: Threads, Feet and Stitches

(I’m late tonight, I am sorry!  Youtube decided to take 320 minutes to upload 2 minutes of footage for some reason.)

In tonight’s circus, we have three rings: Threads, Stitches and Feet used in knit garment construction! This is a step up from the Beginner’s Chat.

As in the previous Knit Stabilizer portion of The Circus, rather than simply telling you my preferences for sewing knits, I tested the feet and documented my results so you can judge how the feet handle my fabric.  The test fabric tonight is a very mischievous but gorgeous and comfy linen jersey.  It felt like cheating to use a well-behaved interlock.  Please try these yourself, I’d love to see how it works for you.

But first- a very short word on threads used to sew knit fabrics:

Ring 1: Threads

Threads play the opening act tonight- not the main event, but worth mentioning.  Construction threads are the ones used in the sewing machine to stitch the construction seams.  I strongly suggest not buying cheap anonymous multi-colored packs of thread so often seen in big box sewing shops.  Thread creates the seam, the very little bit of fiber that binds the fabric together to make a garment.  Don’t cheap out. It’s just not worth it in the long run.

Wooly nylon thread is often used in the lower looper of an overlocker/serger and sometimes in the bobbin.  (Insert teaser for an upcoming act)  It’s soft, and “expandy” meaning it has a great deal of stretch.  Up close, it’s- wooly.  Nifty unrelated tip: it works great for rolled hems on delicate fabric of most types, the “thick” quality of the thread fills in little gaps in the stitching.

Serging/Overlocking thread is usually used 3, 4, or 5 threads together.  To create a lighter thread, they are spun finer and often of lower quality fibers.   This works out well as long as the threads are used 3, 4, or 5 together- it is not a good idea to put serger/overlocking thread into a domestic sewing machine.

Ring 2- Stitches!

I mentioned the lightning bolt stitch and the triple-stitch zig zag in the Knit Beginner’s Chat.  Sewing machines create two other types of stitches commonly used to sew knits- a top-stitch and an overlocking/serging stitch.

I am using a Janome 4900.  Some feet and stitches shown may vary brand to brand.

This video is a quick demonstration of how I stitch a nice even line of top-stitching along a seam.  A regular straight stitch with a length of 3.0 works well as a top-stitch.  I don’t find they pop, I usually top stitch any seams I want to secure in place through wash and wear.  I don’t always top-stitch but when I do, I generally top-stitch the shoulder seam and any binding seams.

I have two overlocking/serging feet that came with my machine.  Several stitches are designed to be used with these feet.  It’s an interesting idea, and works best with dense or heavy wovens.  They chew my knits more often than not.  The other overlocking foot is documented here.

Honestly, I barely use the overlocking feet.  I have an overlocker which creates a quick, clean finish.   When I want to use another finish to stabilize a knit seam, I use a reliable old triple-stitch zig-zag.  But in the name of science, I thought I’d mention them.

Ring 3: Oh How Many, Many Feet You Meet

I like feet.  Some of them revolutionize my sewing process.  Some of them aren’t worth their weight in tin.  Keeping in mind my new-to-sewing best friend (and other newbies) who are reading, I’ll just quickly label a few feet that are often used / marketed to sew knits.  If you have another to add, please leave a comment.

Most machine have feet that look like this for regular sewing.  The foot on the bottom (F Foot)  is intended for use with fancy stitches because the “toes” of the feet are wider so as not to disturb the embroidery.  The entire foot is clear to aid visibility.

These are the two overlocking feet I used in the videos above.  I want to like them, and I do like them for dense, heavy or thick wovens.   However, they’re usually pretty bad at finishing delicate seams or any but the stablest knits.  (I’d love to see some other experiments!)

I have a walking foot, I use it for quilting, some jeans stitching and sometimes bag-making.  I don’t usually use it in my knit sewing, mostly because I’m too lazy to unscrew the foot shank:

I learned early on that it’s important to make sure the lever on the walking foot rests on the needle screw.  This might vary machine to machine, but the general setup is much the same.

Feed dogs pull the fabric through the sewing machine.  A walking foot places feed dogs above the sewing, too, allowing for an even feed of slippery or bulky seams.  Check it out in action:

I stitched a regular lightning-bolt stitch seam on lightweight linen jersey.  Like I said, it doesn’t want to behave.  After that, I stitched another seam from a scrap of the seam jersey cut to the same length using a regular sewing foot.  Then I stitched a third identical sample seam using a regular foot and the lightning bolt stitch, but I released the presser foot pressure.  That’s the pressure that pushes the presser foot into the fabric, and releasing it to its lowest setting for lightweight or heavy/bulky fabrics works wonders.

I know many knit sewing resources bid us to sew our seams with a walking foot to prevent rippling, but I don’t find that it does prevent rippling. Releasing the pressure on the presser foot does seem to prevent rippling.  I’d be fascinated to see other “experiments” comparing the three types. (Psst- using paper as a stabilizer beneath the stitches works well, too!)

Of course, for many construction seams this hardly matters, because the seam will stretch as you wear it.

Tomorrow: Time Trials for Seam Finishes and Overlockers/Coverhem Guide.  Do you need one?  What’s differential feed?  Can I make a useful buyer’s checklist to help you get the best match machine if you decide to go shopping?  Why yes, yes I can.

Click to visit the pre-sale! $11 pre-sale, $17 retail. Ends October 5th

Thank you SO much for supporting the Tiramisu Pre-Sale.  We’re at nearly 300 Tiramisus!  I’m so thrilled!  If you’d like to pre-order one for your own, please visit my Etsy shop.  Pre-sale closes October 5th, Local.

Also, be sure to enter the Red Stripe And Red Spot Tiramisu Jersey Giveaway!  I decided to randomly give away 3m of red-striped jersey, and added 3m of a red polka-dot!  Ends on Friday, October 5th!

What do you think?  Questions?  I’m really interested to hear other experiences with these threads, feet, and stitches so let me know what’s up…


  1. I wonder.. my machine is a Pfaff 1222E. And I learned to sew on a Pfaff 1222. Both are vintage machines that are almost all metal. They’re old, mechanical machines and are workhorses. The thing is, the foot that originally came with the machine is labeled as a “walking foot”, but it looks nothing like yours. I’ve sewn a few knit things with it, and never had a problem with rippling seams–though I use the elastic stitch to prevent stitch breaking. Do you think that they’re essentially the same foot? Mine looks just like a regular high-shank foot… it’s not even quite the same shape!

    • I would love to see what it looks like! :) There’s some variation between brands to be sure, which is why I’d love to see others stitch up some samples to compare rippling. Very interesting.

      If it works for you, then it’s right. :) But seriously, I’d love to see what yours looks like.

      • I took it off my machine for pictures. :) here and here are pictures of what Pfaff called a walking foot. I may stitch up some samples a bit later–I’m waiting for my Fashionable Stitch order to show up before I start on the girls’ knitwear. (I’m hoping it’ll get here before next week’s Kids’ Clothing Challenge week!)

  2. Walking foot:
    When I first started sewing with knits, I thought I needed a walking foot. Someone at my local shop said that wasn’t necessarily true. Well I started sewing knits without a walking foot and my garments have turned out just fine. No need to invest in a walking foot unless you want one but I suspect it may have to do with your machine. For reference, I use a Brother xl2600i sewing machine. It’s not the most expensive or innovative machine but I love this machine! Granted, it’s also the first I’ve ever owned so my experience is only based on this one machine; although I did use a Viking once at Joann’s. The Viking had a smoother feel to it.

    I purchased a serger not to long ago and I love it. When I sew knits in it, I DO switch out the needles to ballpoint needles. I also found that ballpoint needles may work for thinner fabrics (realized this while sewing my Clover pants using a thin woven cotten and it seems to make a smaller hole than the regular needle)

    On one of my first excursions to buy thread, I was reaching for the cheapest thread when my sister slapped my hand and said “Don’t you dare buy the cheapest. Buy Gutterman”. Not sure if I spelled that right but so far Gutterman has worked for me and I’ve been using it ever since. Has not been a problem in my machine at all.

    Hopefully this is helpful to someone. These are just the things that I’ve learned and experienced since I began sewing.

    By the way Steph, I will be sending you an email about those *^&%* Clovers :)

    • Oh! I am glad you like your machine! They don’t need to be fancy to be useful.

      Thank you for the tips! You are quite right. :)

      And yes, let’s tackle those clovers. You know where to find me. :D

  3. I do not own a walking foot. Nor can I easily reduce pressure on the feed dogs. My solution to preventing ripply seams and hems in knits is to crowd the fabric with my left index finger, quite firmly, against the back of the presser foot. I periodically release the built-up pleats, only to jam my digit right back against the presser foot for the next couple of feet of seam. Saw this illustrated on a Sandra Betzina sewing show — I think that Margaret Islander recommended the technique to her. Accomplishes essentially the same thing as lowering pressure on the feed dogs.

  4. Thanks for all the knit tips. I hate to be a ninny, but what is a “lightening stitch”? I have been sewing for a long time, but have always used a 1970’s or earlier Singer. I have just recently upgraded to a 1980’s era Pfaff (Tiptronic 1170, I think). It has a lot of stitches, but I have no idea what they are called. (The user’s manual is less than helpful for this machine.)

  5. I suppose that there are different results with different machines too. I have a Bernina 1000 (basic, pre-computerized). The overlock foot works quite well and the seams are surprisingly strong. (I also use a technique similar to LinB’s in order to avoid stretching out the seam edge). I’m open to new things, and so I think I’ll do some experiments myself as well.

    Thread is definitely important. I rarely have problems with my machine, but when I do it is almost always the thread (or an invisibly blunt needle). Because of proximity to NYC’s garment district I have access to a fairly wide range of thread. One particular top stitching thread, for whatever reason, results in skipped stitches no matter what I do, no matter the tension. It’s a good brand, but the Bernina just doesn’t like it! But yes, good thread and new needles are really important with knits. I’ll just mention that I usually use Schmetz “stretch” needles, which seem to be an ultra ballpoint (maybe).


    • Excellent. I love collecting this kind of knowledge, thank you! Yes! Experiment!

      Yes, that happens sometimes with threads and machines not getting along. I’m surprised about the Bernina doing that, though. Usually Bernina is rock solid. Oh well, small thing isn’t it?

      Thanks, Jen!

  6. Just wanted to put in a good word for walking feet and knits, I have a Bernina 1008 and a generic walking foot, and I like the results much better than anything else I’ve tried, although I have not tried the “overlock” foot. It might help that I can change back and forth without a screwdriver on this machine. :)

    • Ah ! Do cut some sample scraps the same length and take a few pictures! I’d love that. :) I’m sure the walking foot works great for some, but it just doesn’t work that well for me so I’m just putting it out there. :) But I figured it has to work for someone or the advice to use one wouldn’t be so wide-spread. Thank you!

  7. I really like my walking foot, there are very few fabrics that I’ve had more trouble with the walking foot than a regular foot. And on my bernina it’s pretty easy to switch the feet out.

  8. I lurve my F-foot. I use it for everything, even top stitching because I can line up the ditch or whatever with that little slot in the foot. I really should actually *try* my proper stitch-in-the-ditch foot sometime though… I’ve been eyeing off a walking foot for a while now… maybe I’ll ask for one from Santa :)
    Being a total newbie to sewing when I bought my machine, I bought an el cheapo, bottom of the range one. Had I known better – I would have got one that allows you to adjust the tension of the foot (mine does not). Next time I suppose!

  9. You have definitely given me inspiration to do my own experiment. I own a newish Bernina and the walking foot is very easy to take on and off and the overlock foot works well- but, and a big but, I haven’t tried this machine with knits. And I have never used ball point needles on my 20 odd year old overlocker. So now I intend to do some trials of my own. Steph, this is great preparation for when we receive our Tiramisu pattern as I am sure I wouldn’t be the only one to just use their old methods (with a little swearing added too). Now to buy some stretch fabric.

  10. I’m a walking foot convert (bernina) but possibly as I never worked out how to adjust the pressure on my old Bernina (1008) so when I upgraded (550QE) 12mths ago I just continued with what I knew. Of course on the new machine its very easy to adjust the pressure tension so I’ll give it a go and email you sample photos.

  11. I never knew that an F foot is called that! Thanks for the knowledge as usual! :)
    I just thought it was a “clear” zig zag foot, but it never sounded right because of the wider width and fancy little teeth – which incidentally I love. Judy -my semi-industrial Jones machine- came with one of those and I think it’s brilliant, although perhaps it makes things a little too easy for a beginner. Not that I like making things hard for myself, but just in terms of picking up bad habits.

    Now that Judy is off on her way to the shop for a service I am using a 1971 Singer with a normal width, metal zig-zag foot, which is possibly my least favourite part of an otherwise very good machine. Sadly I can’t swap feet as the Singer is low shank and Judy is high shank, so the latter’s extensive collection of presser feet is waiting in a box – but we’ll be back with a vengeance!

    I think said box also contain a walking foot, but it looks like a completely separate machine and that’s a little daunting, so I am saving it for the right occasion.

    Overlocking feett always look a little too complicated to my inexperienced eye, and I have found that if I can combat laziness enough to run a quick zig-zag along my raw edges that’s usually enough.

    I have a bit of an addiction to bias binding however, and often wonder whether those bias-binding presser feet are worth bothering with?

    PS Forgot to say how lovely the red Tiramisu is. I was looking at the pictures while I was sat in a very cold house with a man trying to fix the heating! It’s fixed, but still no dress weather for a few months over here ; )

  12. hmm, i was looking at buying an overlock foot for my brother machine asi don’t have a serger (or any likelihood of getting one!). maybe i won’t bother. my overlocking stitch on the machine sort of puckers the edge up a bit as though it is a bit chewed so i don’t usually finish seams like that (but i would like something to give a cleaner finish on knits). i was also considering a walking foot as i can’t adjust the presser foot pressure but they are so expensive! maybe i’ll try the tip posted by LinB above first.

  13. Pingback: Tiramisu Circus: Seam Finish Time Trials! « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  14. Pingback: Serging Savvy Series: Differential Feed « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

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