I attempted to sew some knit garments last year. My results were mixed. This Lady Skater dress was a reasonable success and is currently being worn by my step-daughter (fabric purchased at Girl Charlee).But I wasn’t thrilled with the results I got using my regular sewing machine. When Rae launched the Isla Pattern, I decided to give knits another try but first I did research. And I got some great tips from Instagram friends and from Rae herself (check the comments on Rae’s instagram posts on this pattern-a wealth of info!) So this weekend when I had a bit of time, I decided to try making an Isla dress using some of these tips. I started this project after lunch and had the dress version finished before dinner. Based on my measurements I cut a Medium and added an inch both to the the bodice length and to the skirt. I am 5’9″ and I generally wear a Medium in Rae’s patterns and add 2 inches to most dresses so I thought I would try that and see how the fit was. The fabric is a jersey knit blend from Girl Charlee purchased on sale last year. I bought 3 yards for $6.60 each. This dress takes 2 yards. I will likely also make the top with this fabric-only takes 1 yard- and may try lengthening the bodice further to see which fit I prefer. I have found that it is worth it to make a wearable muslin and then actually wear it for a day to be sure you have the right fit. This fabric, while inexpensive, is actually something I will wear and it feels amazing to have a new dress and top for less than $20.
I didn’t iron the fabric before cutting it out, I just lay it as flat as I could straight out of the dryer. I tried a stretch stitch on my machine based on this post by Susan. It took a minute for me to get used to the stitch because the stitching process is much slower. The machine goes back over certain areas so I am not able to zip the fabric through the machine as I would with a straight stitch but once I got used to it, it worked really well. I used hand-wound stretch thread in the bobbin only, a stretch needle and polyester thread in the needle. And since I had issues with the fabric feeding in an uneven way with my regular foot, I took the plunge and bought a walking foot for my sewing machine. I found a simple tutorial online that showed me how to change the foot to the walking foot. There are many on You Tube. I cut my notches as triangles to make them easier to see. This is what the test sample of the stretch stitch looked like on a scrap.These are the settings I used for the stretch stitch which I used for all my seams. And here are the settings I used for the zig zag stitch that I used around the arms and neck to tack down the seam allowances after attaching the binding.Here is a close up of the arm binding with the zig zag sewn about 1/8th inch from the seam. The walking foot worked really well feeding the fabric in evenly and helped the machine handle the bulk where seams were joined.I used the same tension I always use for all of the stitching, even the gathering stitch with elastic thread, and it worked fine. The gathering technique is magical. Using elastic thread in the bobbin and a zig zag stitch, the skirt was gathered exactly the right amount. I have learned after sewing many MBR patterns to just trust Rae. She knows. Her instructions are straightforward and work great when followed.
I ended up making a mistake and sewed both shoulder seams and then realized that you aren’t supposed to do that until you add the neck binding. Oops! Luckily, I had recently read this tutorial by Erin which saved me. I don’t think I stretched the neck binding enough while sewing because it did start to gape a bit as the day wore on as seen below:
but that may also be because I am very small busted. I will try to make the neckline binding a bit smaller next time ( I find that it usually takes me 2-3 tries to get a pattern down,) but I am overall really happy with my first version.
Although Rae doesn’t include it in the pattern, I zig-zagged a narrow ribbon to the shoulder seam allowances after sewing the seams for stability.I used a twin needle with stretch thread in the bobbin to sew the hem. I ironed the hem before sewing. I used wonder clips to hold the hem in place for sewing.Test fabric showing the twin needle hem.I used the presser foot edge as a seam guide and got really good results with the twin needle.Hem as stitched below.Hem seam as seen on the inside. It lies pretty flat but I think I will have even better results with a slightly heavier knit. This is pretty thin fabric. Twin needle settings below. (I take pictures so I remember for the next time.)Finished dress below. The bodice looks a little wonky on the hanger but it seems less so as worn. I think the next time I make this, I will sew my elastic gathering seam a bit farther away from the edge because my machine was chewing up the edge. It is actually amazing how well it ended up considering. I did not take out the stitches or redo the gathering or the seam where I joined the bodice to the skirt and it looks relatively even.And as worn. I am not sure if I want to keep the bodice this length or shorten it or lengthen it. This is with an added inch so you can see that it is pretty short as drafted. I have a really long torso and I haven’t decided which would be the most flattering.I am very happy with the fit around the arms and the neck.Back view.And with a cardigan which is how I will be wearing it this winter.This pattern is a quick sew. What I loved about it: gathering the skirt with elastic thread. Brilliant! I used a zig zag stitch, not a stretch stitch for gathering and sewing the bodice to the skirt with elastic thread in the bobbin. I highly recommend this pattern and the little knit tricks I learned above which enabled me to have a really nice result with a regular, inexpensive, sewing machine. Next time I will use the twin needle instead of the zig zag around the neck and arms, but otherwise, I am really happy with the results. This pattern is a keeper!
12 thoughts on “Sewing with Knits 101: The Isla Dress by MadebyRae”
Oh, this is so cute on you! Love that fabric… I haven’t shopped at girl Charlee in a long time, but I may need to check it out!
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Thanks Erin! I am planning to make a couple of other versions in some Art Gallery knits but you can’t beat the prices at Girl Charlee.
Very nice on you! While I love the simplicity of Rae’s patterns, most have that short bodice/empire waist seam that I don’t find very flattering on a lot of body types. I made one Washi that I had to refashion into something more wearable…Definitely too maternity-like on me! Her patterns always look great on you! Yes, I’m envious 🙂
Great to read your tips on experimenting with knits. I’m in the same boat, still learning and trying out tips as I find them. They are very quick projects to sew!
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Nice work! It’s so much better finding the right settings and tools to get the job done. But a bit of testing here and there and you’ve got it!
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