Learning to sew stretch: French Terry co-ord set with Good Fabric

I was gifted this fabric in exchange for a blog post on my experience sewing with it. All views are my own.

I’m turning 30 this month – yikes, now it’s out there. Before Covid, I had a list of things I wanted to do before 30 and they mostly included travel ….well, things have changed and my goals with them. Now, before my fourth decade starts I have decided to face my fears and start getting to grips with knits…

I’ve had an overlocker (Janome 9200D) for nearly two years now but only recently have been brave enough to finish my edges with it, and still prefer zig zagging my viscose hems. But I know there’s so much more I can do and have been determined to branch out into the cosy, stretchy, fabulous world of jersey and knit fabrics.

Polina from Good Fabric stocks a beautiful range of knit fabrics and when we discussed collaborating on a blog post I was initially really cautious of sewing with stretch in case I messed it up. Polina was really encouraging and knowledgeable about her fabrics and suggested I start out with a simple pattern and a french terry, which has proven to be the perfect fabric for a stretch beginner like me!

Polina kindly gifted me this beautiful forest green beauty – the quality is stunning and as a mid weight fabric it has a great structure for all kinds of garments from tops to dresses and trousers. I had 2.5m and immediately got to planning.

For my first jersey make I wanted to use a TNT pattern that would be really versatile in my wardrobe and comfy for working from home as so many of us are doing. I really love the look of a jersey co-ord outfit which are so in style right now – they usually feature either trousers or a tube skirt with a loose top that grazes the hips. I think they’re gorgeous for both hanging out at home and nipping to the shops or on our socially distanced walks. However most of the versions I’ve seen are in a ribbed knit and super form fitting which does not fit with the chilled out, loose waistband WFH comfy vibe I am currently going for.

My inspo for this make – but I won’t be wearing heels!

To recreate this look, naturally I turned to the Queen of Stretch Tilly and the Buttons who has quite literally written the book on sewing with stretch fabrics. Her Nora pattern is super popular on Instagram and I love how many variations you can make with it; I went for the long sleeve polo neck version.

As always I wanted to toile before cutting into my special fabric so used a really cheap kids jersey from the local market. A cotton jersey, it has a similar weight to the french terry but wasn’t as soft and supple.

Before starting I did some research on sewing with knits to ensure I had all the right tools. I found this Love to Sew episode particularly useful as well as this Seamwork article and the Nora hack blog post on Tilly’s blog. All her patterns have a blog post on styling and fitting which is so useful! By the end of this research I had garnered the following essentials

Walking foot – this should come with most machines and helps feed the fabric steadily through your machine without stretching it. This made SUCH a difference and was so easy to use. Remember that you should use a zig zag stitch on your seams (mine was 2.5 long, 2.5 wide) and straight stitch for top stitching

Overlocker – not a necessity but really speeds up the process and makes for such a neat finish. I was today years old when I realised the small marks on the foot show where the stitch will start and by lining up with the seam allowance marks on my machine I could keep the stitches pretty straight. If you are still getting used to your overlocker, there are lots of videos on YouTube that are really helpful – it took me a few goes to get the threading and tension right but my machine seems happy at a 2.8 tension across all the threads.

Aligning my edge with the 5/8 marking on the overlocker

Jersey/stretch needles – I can thank Love to Sew for this one. I bought a set of jersey needles and used them in my machine and overlocker. Jersey needles are much finer and slide through the fabric more easily, meaning less pull and less skipped stitches.

Twin needle – I think this was my favourite discovery of the jersey journey. The twin needle makes for neat top stitching around the neckline and again was very simple to use. I even found a jersey twin needle which made the sewing even smoother! As the french terry is slightly thicker, it went through my machine and overlocker really nicely and I felt in full control, something I’d been worried about if working with a slippy viscose jersey for example.

Feeling very proud of my topstitching!

Note: I bought my needles online here in the Netherlands and at my local market but am linking to old faithful John Lewis here as they deliver all over!

The Nora top was surprisingly quick to sew up and I managed to get it out of just over a metre of fabric. My toile was a size 4 and although really comfy did feel a little big. The Nora is intended to be oversized and it’s suggested you size down or take out excess under the arms and at side seams if you prefer a closer fit.

My toile – comfy but a bit big for what I was after

For my co-ord outfit, I added 15cm to the length of the bodice pieces and sized down to a 3. I evened out the length of the pieces so that there was no ‘step’ but kept the split at the side. It is honestly the comfiest thing to wear! Having toiled the top and with new confidence under my belt, I sewed the Nora in an evening and the skirt in an afternoon, one of the quickest sews ever!

For the skirt I just wanted a simple elasticated waist tube skirt and was amazed how fast this was to make. You could even draft your own piece for this by taking a few measurements -check out this great tutorial here.

In my stash I had the Simply Sewing Leila dress which matched exactly my measurements and I’ve used plenty of their woven patterns before so trust their sizing. I cut two of the back piece which has no darts, just shaping at the waist from the hip. I then cut a waistband by cutting two pieces on the fold. They were the same width as the top of the skirt and just 1cm more than double the height of my flat, wide elastic. It was a quick matter of overlocking the side seams, sewing together the waistband (leaving a gap to thread the elastic through) then folding it WST and overlocking it to the top of the skirt (right side up). Then I hemmed the skirt with my twin needle and was good to go!

If you’ve been wanting to start sewing with jersey but feel too nervous to try, I would really recommend this fabric and pattern combination. The french terry was super soft but sturdy to sew with and washes really well retaining its shape. Polina has some gorgeous plains and patterns in stock which would look fabulous in a co-ord, or how about the new Tilly pattern the Billie dress? Here are some of my favourites from her store which would look fantastic in a WFH outfit (click the images to see more)

This challenge has taught me that with research, planning and confidence my sewing skills will keep growing and my confidence with it! With working from home looking like the status quo from now on, I’ll be prioritising more comfy secret pyjama makes for my thirties….

Have you sewn with stretch yet? What have been your best tips/what would you like to learn? Let me know either here or via instagram; I’d love to hear from you.