Tag Archives: what is an overlocker

How to Sew T-Shirts

Have you been watching the Celebrity version of the Great British Sewing Bee this week? What do you think? Anything that gets more people interested in sewing is a good thing in my book and even better, making t-shirts! If you know me or my blog you will know how I like to evangelise about sewing with stretch knit fabrics, so I was very happy to hear this was to be included in the show.

If you are feeling inspired to start whipping up your own t-shirts, read on for patterns, tips and guides to help you on your way, all tried and tested by my eager sewing students at MIY Workshop, so you can be sure they all work.

T-shirt Patterns

easy t-shirt sewing pattern

Here is the T-shirt sewing pattern from my book (“The Beginner’s Guide to Dressmaking”).  It’s a really quick and easy make for beginner dressmakers.

If you have done a bit of sewing already, are dabbling with pattern hacking* and fancy something a bit more than a plain version, the book comes complete with a whole chapter packed with ideas for how to modify the basic patterns to create more styles:

beginners guide to dressmaking t-shirt make it your own

*Newbie sewers – pattern hacking = modifying an existing pattern to adapt it into a new version of the style.  Something of which I highly approve as it’s creative and empowering to start with a simple version of a pattern and be able to change it a bit to create a new style.

If you don’t want to invest in a whole book and want a t-shirt pattern to just get on with, here’s one from my pattern range, MIY Collection:

easy t-shirt vest dress sewing pattern

Available as a print pattern for £15 or a PDF download for £7, another easy one for beginners and infinitely adaptable for pattern hacking.

Here are just a few of the versions made by my sewing students:

easy t-shirt vest dress sewing pattern

How to Sew T-Shirt Fabric & Where to Buy

Here are some links to some of my most popular posts about sewing with stretch knit t-shirt fabrics:

How to Customise a Plain T-shirt

So, once you’ve started you might want to move on from a plain t-shirt to a bit of pattern hacking, customising and embellishment.

t-shirt customising

Here’s a piece I wrote last year for Sewing World magazine which includes 2 easy ways to customise t-shirts: stencil printing (like on the vest above) and using shirring elastic to change the shape of the t-shirt.


I hope that’s inspired you to go and get busy!  If so, why not sign-up for my newsletter to get regular sewing advice and tips: http://eepurl.com/EVEYj

Should I buy an overlocker?

This is a question I am asked a lot by students.  Sometimes even by students who have only just started sewing!

What is an overlocker?

If you don’t even know what an overlocker is, it’s a separate machine that sews with 3, 4 or 5 threads to join seams, neaten edges and cut off the excess fabric all in one go.  It’s the neat professional looking finish you find inside ready made clothing.  They’re sometimes referred to in American sewing patterns and books as “sergers”, I confess, I’ve no idea why!

An overlocker is a very versatile machine; as well as neatening edges, the construction of the stitch gives it stretch (useful when sewing knit fabrics like jersey), they’re very good at attaching elastic neatly and you can achieve a variety of “fancy edges” or hems.  They can look quite daunting if you haven’t used one before and threading and balancing the tensions of each of the threads can be time consuming at the beginning.  Here’s my lovely beast:

Questions to ask yourself before you rush out shopping…..!

So, if you’re thinking about an overlocker, my advice is to start by asking yourself a few questions:

  • Why do you want an overlocker?  Do you do lots of sewing or are you sewing lots of stretchy knitted fabrics?  If you’re starting to do lots of sewing and have a dedicated sewing area set up, an overlocker might be helpful – they’re quick and give a neat professional finish.  However, don’t assume that you can only sew stretch knit fabrics with an overlocker (see more about sewing knit fabric on your sewing machine here– you can do a lot with a domestic sewing machine with the use of a ball point needle and a few “stretch” stitches like these on your machine (the ones on the right in orange),:

  • Are you a confident sewer?  Be honest!  You don’t want to be making mistakes with an overlocker; the stitches can take an age to unpick and remember it cuts off the edge at the same time as sewing….no going back once something’s been cut off!
  • Do you have at least £250+ to spend?  This is the minimum you will need to spend to get a good quality overlocker from a reputable brand.  Buying a cheap overlocker from somewhere like a supermarket will instantly put you off using one, I guarantee.
  • Do you have the time and patience to invest in learning to use it?  Remember, each thread has to be threaded individually and each thread has its own tension control – you have to balance the tensions across all the threads to get a nice stitch which is likely to change for each fabric you use.

If you’re still thinking about investing, the next questions will be; which brand to buy and where to buy?

Which brand of overlocker?

I’ve used a few overlockers, in my experience brands making the best ones are: Juki, Frister Rossmann, Husqvarna, Elna and Babylock.  My first overlocker which lasted 20 years was an Elna and my current one is a Juki, who purrs!  Babylock have the reputation as making some of the better overlockers, however, when I went shopping for my new overlocker I found it difficult to find a Babylock that had a straightforward manual threading system (vital, see why later!)

Where to buy an overlocker?

Where to buy an overlocker can be more tricky as they’re not sold in as many places as sewing machines and it’s very difficult to find a retailer which offers much choice; often they just have the one overlocker alongside a whole range of different sewing machines.  Don’t buy it, you need to use a few first to see which you like best.  You wouldn’t buy a car given a choice of one would you?!  Go to a specialist retailer, ok you might have to travel a bit further, but if you want to buy an overlocker and enjoy using it, it will be worth the trip and you will always be able to go back to them for help.  Not so with supermarket and online purchases.

Locally in Brighton I found the choices limited (but remember I do a lot of sewing and am not a beginner) and chose to have a day out at World of Sewing (I love that name!) in Tunbridge Wells.  They had 8 different brands and several models all available to play with.  The staff in there are very knowledgeable (they seemed to be sewing machine engineers that had worked in industry) and despite spending a long time in there using several machines I felt under no pressure to buy.

So, what to look for in an overlocker? 

  • Vital is a clearly labeled manual threading system, personally I would avoid fancy threading systems using things like hydraulic jets of air to “make threading easier” I think that’s just more to go wrong(!)
  • a free arm for sleeves, and narrow tubes
  • a nice smooth sound when being used
  • and last but not least it MUST have a differential feed so you will be able to sew a wide variety of fabrics successfully.

There you go – that’s as much advice as I can give, now it’s up to you.  Good luck, happy shopping and happy overlocking!!

ADDED 7/7/13 – if you end up deciding not to buy an overlocker, try and get an overcasting or overlock foot for your sewing machine to get a neater finish on seam allowances.  See my post about them here: http://miyworkshop.co.uk/2013/07/07/neat-seams-your-secret-weapon/