double the troubleshooting

[Quick recap to set the scene. Our protagonist Susan loves to sew knits. She possesses no coverstitch machine. She thinks zigzag for hemming is okaaay, but it doesn't look ready-to-wear.]

TWIN NEEDLE: [Enters stage right, with a dramatic flourish.] Here I am! I will hem your knits beautifully, for just a few bucks and none of the table space you’d need for another machine!! I ROCK!

SUSAN: Oh twin needle, thank you!! You’re everything I ever wanted!

[TWIN NEEDLE and SUSAN exit stage right, into the sunset, and sew happily ever after.]

———

Not so much. In reality, my first (second, sixth…) attempt to use a twin needle resulted in a headache and a desire to hurl myself out of my first-floor sewing room window. I would have given up many moons ago, but I had developed a bit of a stubborn vendetta. (You’re shocked, I know.) I was acutely determined to figure this thing out. Flash forward about a year later, and I’ve discovered quite a few tidbits that can help. I love twin needle hemming now; it’s fast and easy, as sewing with knits should be!

Important note: I have a Brother PC-420 PRW sewing machine, so some of these notes may or may not be applicable to your machine. Regardless, they could give you points to ponder in your own twin needle exploration. Since this is a popular machine, I wanted to point it out.

stock photo of Brother PC-420 PRW

image source: Brother International Corporation

 

potential troubles

The main issues I had with twin needle stitching boiled down to two things: skipped stitches & tunneling. There are a couple of other minor things that I address in the fixes below, but these were the worst of it.

Skipped Stitches. This happens when one (or more) of the needles passes through the fabric but doesn’t lock with the bobbin thread. Looks like this:

twin needle skipped stitches sample

A few skipped stitches may not be the end of the world, but too many begin to look sloppy. Even more importantly, a line of stitching is far more likely to snap where there’s a skipped stitch. Just like a 5.0mm stitch isn’t as strong as a 2.5mm, when you have skipped stitches, the hem is weaker.

Tunneling. When the two rows of stitching pull towards each other, they create what looks like a loose pintuck. It’s kind of hard to capture a good picture of this, but hopefully this shadow helps to clarify:

twin needle tunneling sample

As an aside, some folks do this intentionally to work pintucks! However, it’s nice to be able to avoid them if that’s not the look you’re going for.

So what to do? I did a lot of reading and researching and found a couple of helpful twin needle tips. (Make sure the threads are unwinding in opposite directions! Increase stretch with wooly nylon thread in the bobbin!) However, I wasn’t able to find anything that helped me get these two main issues in check. So I engaged in my own path of trial and error. Here are the results.

potential solutions

Stretch vs. Not. When I sew knits with a non-stretch twin needle, I get skipped stitches. Period. Some knits (less stable ones) make this happen worse than others, but it always happens at least a little. Stretch twin needles can be slightly harder to find, but find them you can, and since I really only use them for hemming, one “pair” lasts a long time.

one of these things is *not* like the other

Needle Position. This is one of those things applicable to the machine I use but may be for others as well. The Brother PC-420′s default needle position is left (instead of center), and to my knowledge there’s no way to change this programming. [Fortheloveofpeter, if you know how, please tell me.] I typically don’t have an issue with this, and I happily sew along in the left position until I find I need to move to the center for something. It took me a while to figure it out, but twin needle stitching is one of those somethings. Because the stitches aren’t centered between the feed dogs in the left needle position, I found the skipped stitches — and my control of the hem overall — to be much worse. Changing the needles to the center position helped a LOT.

Tension. Because my machine has automatic tension adjustment, it is rare for me to have to play with this setting, especially with a normal weight fabric and thread. However, I find that left to its own devices, the upper thread tension is too loose for a twin needle. See what happens? (bobbin thread is orange)

twin needle tension too loose sample

Sure we’re missing the bobbin zigzag prettiness, but the real issue is the strechability — the less pronounced that zigzag is, the less give the hem will have. Slightly tightening up the tension of the top threads will correct that. (I move it from 4 to 4.5-5, depending on the fabric.)

twin needle tension ok sample

NOTE: I’ve sometimes read that loosening the tension will help the tunneling issue. That’s true, but it may also decrease the stretch. This won’t matter much in some cases, but in others — say, the hem of a slim-fitting maxi dress — it will matter a lot. I usually prefer to maintain the stretch of the hem and tend to the tunneling in another way.

Fusible webbing. My friend Miss Lulu gave me this tip when I couldn’t seem to get the tunneling whipped. She likes the crisp edge this provides for knit hems, and I have to say that it has really grown on me too. I don’t use it every time, but when I do, it sure makes those hems act like they’re new graduates from Miss Manner’s School for Well-Behaved Knits. I like the results with Stitch Witchery Ultra-Light. I press up the raw edge about 3/4″, then slip in a piece of the webbing (which is 5/8″), then fuse. Proceed with hemming. The finished hem may not stretch quite as much as it would without the webbing, but it will still stretch, and I find the trade-off worth it. It may feel a little stiff when first applied, but after a spin in the washer/dryer, I can hardly tell it’s there.

using stitch witchery in knit hemming

insert fusible webbing into hems before twin needle stitching

Distance of stitching line from raw edge of fabric. When I began twin needle hemming, I tried to get the two lines as close to the raw edge of the turned-under fabric as possible, sometimes even straddling it, like this:

twin needle stitching straddling raw edge

With experimentation, I found that this sometimes exacerbated the tunneling. If you move just 1/8″ away from that raw edge, the flatness of the fabric helps keep tunneling to a minimum. If you’re working with a single knit, keep in mind that this edge will roll, so you may want to trim the excess if there’s a lot.  (I would trim the excess in the below pic, if it weren’t just a sample…)

twin needle stitching away from the edge

Stitching speed. Even if you normally like to see smoke coming off the spool, slow down a tad when using a twin needle. I’ve seen this reduce the skipped stitches somewhat, though many of the above tips helped me more.

Stitch length. If nothing is eliminating your skipped stitches or tunneling, try changing the stitch length. Decreasing it or increasing it slightly can help, depending on your fabric. My only caveat is not to make the length too long, since doing so will weaken the hem.

Lessen that pressure! This is not just applicable to twin needle stitching, but it is the single best tip I have for sewing knits. Also, it was a big selling point for me on my sewing machine — the ability to decrease the pressure of the presser foot. With lighter pressure, I never end up with wavy seams or hems, because the fabric isn’t being stretched as it goes under the presser foot. Huzzah!

Do you have any tips that make twin needle hemming a raving success on your projects? Do tell!

≡≡≡≡≡≡≡≡≡≡

Update: I just finished my best knit hem ever, using these techniques plus some… Check out a new tip on my Cabarita post!

40 thoughts on “double the troubleshooting

  1. Thank you! I am new to sewing knits. I think a few problems have been solved before I even encounter them. I love sewing blogland. :)

    Me too! I can’t imagine having learned to sew without it. I call myself self-taught, but really, bloggers taught me. :) ~Susan

  2. Thank you, what a helpful post! I have never, in 50 years of sewing, used a twin needle. So I have lots of them still in the package, the ones that come with a new machine :-) Think it’s time I give it a go. BTW, I use steam-a-seam in the same way you use the stitch witchery. Life saver…not just for knits, but for those tricky curved hems anywhere!

    I use steam-a-seam too, for other stuff! It’s funny — I have at least half a dozen types of fusible webbing in my possession, and they’re likely all practically the same thing, but I use them each for different things. I have no idea why — I probably just keep going with what works in each application. :) Good tip on using it for curvy hems, too!

  3. My one try with a twin needle soon after I got my machine was fairly dismal, but I may well try again armed with these handy tips. Thanks!

    Believe me, I know. My initial tries were awful! Let me know how it goes. :)

  4. Thanks for all the details, Susan. This is awesome. I truly love my double needles as well, but I seem to break at least one per project. Its getting pricey! I’m always having trouble with skipped stitches, I’ve found that REALLY slowing down helps, but I’m going to try some of these tips also. I was just finishing up a fleece jacket for a man friend (really need to get that blogged) and I MIGHT have had a few beers and a few girl friends over while I was trying to put in the hem with the double needle. I was cursing up a storm, I couldn’t get it to work at all! Somehow I got the hem in, but I took the needle out the next morning in the light of day and one of the needles was totally bent. No wonder the bobbin thread wasn’t catching properly. Lesson learned- never rule out the easiest solution to the problem (what, you thought the lesson was don’t drink and sew?)!

    It’s crazy how common bent needles are! I was helping a friend with her serger the other day and that was exactly the issue — even though the needle was new, right out of the package! And you’ll never catch me saying not to drink and sew…sometimes that’s the only way it makes sense. ;-)

  5. I have yet to try twin needle stitching… something about it just scares me. Hehe… I will need to give it a try though and bookmark your page for easy quick reference for when I do. Thanks for the tips!

    You’re quite welcome. Don’t be scared! What’s the worst that can happen?? :)

  6. Great tips and thank you for sharing… fusible hemming tape sure does come in handy and really makes a difference with knit fabrics for sure!

    They totally do make a big difference! Thanks Chris!

  7. This post is perfect. I tried twin needle hemming when I first learned to sew knits and I had skipped stitches, tunneling, and no stretch. So I switched to zig zag. Thanks to you I’ll try again. Thanks!

    I’m glad to hear that you’ll try again, and I hope these things help you as much as they have me!

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  9. Thanks a tonne for this – I bought some twin needles when I was in the US, and have been looking for tips and advice on using them. I’ve only used them for pintucks so far, but your post has inspired me to do more..

    Thanks and you’re welcome! :) I really need to use them for pintucks one of these days…

  10. When using Twin Needles, use stretch needles for knits. Period. Also, if you use Wooly Nylon in the bobbin, it “gives” to avoid popped stitches. Remember, that bobbin is servicing TWO needles. Another tip, if there is tunneling, try Twin Needles that are closer together. I prefer 4.0 but sometimes I must resort to a 2.5 depending on the type of knit.
    I hope these hints help! ;)
    Alison

    Thanks Alison! I also prefer the wider needles but what you’re saying makes sense; I will try the more narrow ones in the future!

  11. I have three Brother machines and could not get one of them to sew correctly with the double needles. But I looked all over for info on the net and could not find any. Thank you for these tips. I sure needed them.
    PS. Between we, I do have a serger but sometimes the sewing machine is a much better option. And I have wanted to do twin top stitching but have not been able to to date. Thanks Again.

    Thanks for your note Donna, and I hear you — that’s exactly why I wrote this, because I could not find any information to help with the issues I was having! Let me know how it goes. :)

  12. I have the same machine so thanks for mentioning it. I never thought about the centering concept! Wow, I’ll have to experiment with that. Well, I don’t recommend this necessarily but on my last project I actually resorted to stretching on either side while twin needling to avoid tunneling. It worked! Left hand pulling on left side, right hand pulling right side! In retrospect, stitch witchery would have probably done the trick too.

    It’s good to have tips like this for when we’re fresh out of the other notion/gadget stuff like the webbing!! :)

  13. I tried twin needleing a couple of weeks ago when I made a bathing suit, but gave up because I had too many skipped stitches. It turned out just fine using zig-zag, but now I think I will retry on some scrap fabric, before I attempt the next one. That said, have you used twin needles on nylon/lycra?

    I haven’t tried that Donna, but would be interested in hearing how it goes for you!

  14. Such a good post. Thank you so much .. I am just learning to sew with knits [after sewing for 40 yrs,ha].. This is the most informative info, I have found. thank you so much. I am saving it.

    I’m glad it’s helpful, Judy! Good luck with your learning process… knits are awesome! :)

  15. I’m really glad to find this post. I also have a Brother PC-420 though I haven’t yet used the twin needles. I’m taking a Craftsy class in sewing with knits and will be using the twin needles for hemming knit fabric. But I noticed in the Brother PC-420 manual it says to only use the twin needle (part code X59296-051)–presumably this is the one that came with my machine. But I don’t believe it’s a stretch twin needle. I’m happy to see that you have had success with using other needles. (I’m reading that right, aren’t I? You did use other twin needles that are stretch twin needles.) Thanks for the post–much appreciated.

    Hi Kim, thanks for your note. It’s my understanding that the primary concern is to ensure that any twin needle you use is not too wide for the machine (i.e., no wider than you’re able to zig-zag stitch), as that could cause damage. I have shopped the BrotherMall website before for machine feet and such, and I just looked there for these replacement twin needles and they don’t have them, which seems odd if that is the only twin needle able to be used with the machine??

    I actually have not used the twin needle that came with the machine, but I pulled it out to look at it after reading your comment. Comparing to the Schmetz ones I use, the shank is the same, but the point of the right needle is a little higher, and I do not know what difference this makes. I may have to run some tests! I will continue to use the readily available Schmetz needles (and yes definitely, the stretch ones!), but everyone should make the decision that’s best for her and her machine! :)

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  17. I’ve had the same twin needle struggles and have occasionally resorted to a zig-zag on light fabrics that wouldn’t cooperate! All of what you described is great (I must try that Stitch Witchery!) but I found that the walking foot also helps on my sewing machine, so the two layers of fabric aren’t trying to move at different rates. (Unfortunately the walking foot for my Viking Platinum 730 cost me almost $100, but it does help with knits a lot).

    • It is great to hear that works! You know, I heard about the walking foot helping and I tried it early during my knit hemming experience, but I made an absolute mess of it. I think it depends on your machine, and definitely on the knit. It could have also been my inexperience! Ouchie, $100 is steep, but the good tools are often worth it… :)

  18. Hi Susan, A couple quick questions I hope you can help me with. I’ve torn out about half of the hair on my head with this double needle process. I love the way it looks so I’m just stubborn enough to keep trying until I’m bald!
    It’s the skipped/loose stitches. Can’t find the original pkg. the needle I’m using came in, so not sure what kind of fabric I should be using it on. However, after much trial and error, I did find another double needle: Schmetz twin needle 130/705H ZWI 2,0/80. What it doesn’t say is for what kind of fabric. Knit or Woven nor does it say if it’s a ballpoint or ?. I’m going to try it after I send this email.
    The needle I have been using that skips and makes loose stitches works good for about an inch or 1/2 inch of sewing, then the loose & missed stitches start. Additionally, I’ve **tried each side of the twin needle individually….no skips, no loose stitches. I’ve also tried: **adding an additional spool pin so that I’m not stacking two spools of thread, **not running the thread from one of the spools through the last eyelet (which is closest to the eye of the needle).
    Your thoughts?

    LOVE your website!!!!

    • Hi Debbie! They can be so frustrating can’t they?? The needle you’re describing is a regular (I think “universal”) — it has the red plastic thingie on it like the left one in the pic above? If it’s a “stretch” needle, it will say so, and that’s the one I’ve had far better results with for knits. Having said that, it does depend a little bit on the fabric itself. If you’re hemming a stable ponte, the universal twin will probably work fine, but for a slinky rayon knit forget it. Especially if you’re using a universal, I’d *really* recommend using the fusible webbing.

      I’m not sure where you are or what stores you have access to, but here’s an Amazon link to the ones I use. You can also get ones with the needles closer together, but this one is my favorite: http://amzn.to/155YPlt I am able to get these at a local independent fabric store, but I’ve never seen the stretch ones at Jo-Ann.

      I hope this helps! I’ll be interested to hear if you were able to resolve it.

      • Dang, you’re good! Thanks ever so much for the speedy response.

        This morning I went to Walmart and bought the fusible webbing. I have never used it before, but everyone online talks about it. Just getting back into sewing after a 40 year semi-hiatus.

        As for your recommended website at Amazon, :) I’m one step ahead of you! Checked it out this morning and learned it’s near my brother (sewingmachinesplus.com) in San Marcos. He says it’s close by Eleanor Burnes (Quilt in a Day) digs. I have visited her quilt shop and have actually met her! Was exciting for me, everyone else says “Eleanor who”. Anyway, I’m sending my brother and sister-in-law shopping, and preparing to apply the fusible webbing.

        Thanks again for taking time to reply, and so quickly! I’m looking forward to your blogs.

        • Oh good! I think you’ll love the fusible webbing as a aid to knit hemming. It makes such a difference. Don’t worry if it feels a tiny bit stiff at first, that will go away with the first washing. Did you get a “light” one? Those are best — I’ve had great results from both Stitch Witchery Ultra-Light or Steam-a-Seam 2 Lite.

          And hey, your brother is close to me! (I’m in Georgetown.) :) I’m glad you found a source for the stretch ones; you won’t regret it!

  19. I frequently use twin needles to do alterations on t-shirt hems. I find if my needle starts skipping that I need to support the fabric in front of the needle and behind the needle with my hands, sewing about an inch or two at a time before repositioning my hands. I also creatively thread the left needle behind an eye or two to separate the threads for a longer distance as they come out of the tension assembly. If you use your twin needles to go thru fusible web clean it frequently with a scrap of cloth or a cotton ball dipped in alcohol, if you use vodka you can sip on it in between cleaning ;)

  20. Thank you so much for your post on this subject. I have tried using my twin needle multiple times, but always get the tunneling effect. I will try your tips.

  21. Thank you for this. I found it on Pinterest and felt brave enough to give it a go. My MIL asked me to shorten a knit shirt for her. I warned I am not good w knits but she swore it wasn’t an “important” shirt. It isn’t perfect but definitely passable, even by MIL standards. I’ll definitely try again. :)

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  23. Avoid using pins or pull them out before stitching as each of the twin needles tend to slip over pins at different rates and can also end up breaking or buckling the needle = destroyingthe precious twin needle. Thanks for all the tips!

  24. thank you so much for this column, i use twin needles for pintucks but never was able to make a hem on a t shirt without stretching everything out of whack so i do them by hand, dont laugh. Now will give this a try! thank you for sharing!!

  25. Just found your blog whilst searching for twin needle troubleshooting. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU> This article has saved me a lot of heartache :-)

  26. No one seems to have an answer to my twin needle problem. Top stitching is beautiful, no tunneling or skipped stitches. However, the bobbin thread simply pulls out no matter what tension/settings/fabric I use (and I’ve tried a million combinations). HELP! This is only a problem with twin needles.

  27. Fantastic blog on hemming knits. I had to google “twin needle hem for knits” and there you were!

    I’ve tried all the techniques from the sewing gurus, some of which are awful! Hem with a tiny zig zag? Yuck. Your steps were beautifully photographed and worked for me. A bit of tunneling still, but I’ll try the narrow twin needles next time.

    I always use my walking foot when sewing knits, I assume you do too.

    Thanks for doing all that testing for us.

  28. Ahhh, this saved me from ripping my hair out! I have been trying to sew more with knits but every time I start, the fabric gets stuck and thread bunches up like crazy. I used a few of your tips and they worked! Thank you, again :)

    • I’m so glad it helped, Amanda! One other tip about that starting point… Behind the presser foot, hold on to the threads (both upper and bobbin), and use them to pull the fabric gently until you’re a few stitches in. That really helps me with both sheer fabrics and knits!

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