Sew and Serge a Knit Dress

December 17, 2018By Joanne BankoGarment, Serger, Sewing 4 Comments Opinion by Paid Consultant

When used in tandem with one another, your Brother sewing machine and serger make a powerful pair in your sewing space! While sergers are fantastic for speedy sewing and a finish that matches ready-to-wear, the sewing machine shines when it comes to more precise and detailed sewing. This knit dress is an example of a project that benefits from assets that both machines provide. Follow along as I guide you with some tips, tricks, and techniques for making a knit dress in little more than a day. A knit dress in a simple style is great for time saving sewing. Pick a knit that has some sheen for a dress that’s perfect for parties, date night, and more! Are you ready? Let’s go sew!

Materials and Supplies

  • Brother Sewing Machine.
  • Brother Serger, the Brother 5234PRW is used in this example.
  • SA538 Brother adjustable seam guide for accurately stitching hems. This is optional but helpful and you can also use it to set seam allowances on the sewing machine.
  • Three cones of good quality serger thread for serging seams and finishing edges.
  • Basic sewing notions including a wash out marker or chalk, ball point pins, and thread to match fabric.
  • Stretch needle size 11 for sewing knit fabric seams on the sewing machine.
  • 4mm twin needle specifically for stretch fabrics. This is recommended for stitching sleeve and bottom hems on the sewing machine.
  • Pattern for a pullover knit dress, plus fabric and notions as per pattern envelope. Please see additional tips for selecting fabric and pattern below:

Choose a pattern with minimal seams for a knit dress that is quick to complete. A dress that can be slipped on without the need for a zipper closure will speed up the sewing process. It’s very important to pick a knit that is suitable for your intended pattern. Be sure to check the envelope for specific stretch requirements. Important note: If you’re unsure of the fit, it’s best to make a trial garment. Adjust pattern as needed and then cut and sew from your selected fashion fabric.

Note: This dress is made from synthetic stretch panne velvet and features a cut-on dolman sleeve for fast, easy construction. Featured dress pattern is Simplicity 8688, view A. See Figure #1.
Figure #1
Disclaimer: Pattern is a product of Simplicity Pattern Company Inc. and Brother International Corporation makes no representations or warranties regarding such products.

Guide to Creating a Serge and Sew Knit Dress

  1. Cut fabric using required pieces and mark as per pattern directions.
Tip: Be sure to transfer all notches and other important points with a washout marker or chalk, marking all the way into the seam allowance and slightly beyond it. In most cases the majority of seams will be a standard 5/8-inch. When serging, you will be trimming away 3/8-inch of the seam allowance. Marking beyond is helpful since you may need some markings for further construction as you progress. Always test your marker for removability on a remnant before using.
  1. Prepare to construct the dress. Thread serger for a three-thread balanced wide stitch. See Figure #2a.
Figure #2a

I prefer a stitch length set between 3 and 4. Depending on the style of your dress and the fabric itself, you may need to set the differential feed for a number higher than the number one. See Figure #2b.

Figure #2b

Standard seam allowance on commercial pattern is 5/8-inch for most seams. When you use the serger to stitch a 5/8-inch seam, you will want to trim approximately 3/8-inch and have the needle line of the serger stitch fall on the 5/8-inch line. There are markings on the serger to indicate the distance for seam allowance. However, if you make adjustments with the cutting width dial, this position could change. For this very stretchy knit, I used a cutting width setting of six. Once I had the cutting width adjusted, I measured a distance of 5/8-inch from the needle on the serger and put a piece of sticky paper on the cover plate to use as a guide for the raw edge of fabric. See Figure #2c.

Figure #2c

3/8-inch of seam allowance is trimmed away when raw edge of fabric follows this marked guideline. This leaves a final serger seam measuring approximately 1/4-inch wide. See Figure #2d.

Figure #2d
Tip: Pins and serger blades are mortal enemies! To keep seams together while serging I like to use ballpoint pins with large, colorful heads. Place pins perpendicular to the seam for the best hold but remember to remove each pin well before you reach the area where the cutting blades are located on the serger.

Prepare the sewing machine for sewing. You can sew knit seams with a standard straight stitch, the triple stretch stitch, or my favorite stitch which is the stem stitch. I like to call this the lightning stitch as it resembles a lightning bolt. The slight slant of this stitch gives it flexibility. You can press these seams to one side or press them open. See seam and settings in Figure #3.

Figure #3
  1. Sewing order for constructing dress will vary depending on your pattern. With knits it’s a good idea to sew as many pieces as possible while they are still flat. My dress pattern includes dolman style sleeves, so the shoulder seam and top sleeve seam is stitched in one continuous seam. Here is an example of the construction order I generally follow for a knit dress with a neckband such as the one featured here:
  • Serge each shoulder seam and press toward back. My dress pattern includes dolman style sleeves, so the shoulder seam and top sleeve seam is stitched in one continuous seam. If your pattern has set-in sleeves, you can sew sleeves into each armhole next, or sew sleeves after you apply the neckband. You can use the serger to sew these seams if the sleeve cap is very flat. If there is more shape to the sleeve or it needs to be eased slightly, I prefer to use the sewing machine first, and then serge finish the seam, trimming excess seam allowance so seam finishes at approximately ¼-inch. Press set in sleeve seams away from shoulder.
  • Sew neckband seam(s) on sewing machine. Press seam(s) open.
Note: some neckbands will have one center back seam, others will have two seams with one at each shoulder. Fold band in half with wrong sides together and press lightly.
Tip: Use a long, narrow zigzag stitch to secure the raw edges together. This makes it easier to apply the band to the neckline. See Figure #4.
Figure #4
  • Sew band to neckline, matching all pattern marks and stretching band to fit. The neckband seam allowance is usually 3/8-inch. I prefer to sew this seam on the sewing machine first, and then use the free arm option on the serger to trim a scant 1/8-inch and finish off seam allowance. See Figure #5a and Figure #5b.
Figure #5a
Figure #5b
  • Press neckband seam toward bodice. Serge sleeve seams and side seams. If your dress pattern is all one piece you can serge this seam from the wrist all the way to the hem.
Note: This pattern has a separate skirt and bodice, plus a waistband between the two. I sewed the waistband on the sewing machine, serged the bodice and the skirt side seams, attached the three sections together with the sewing machine, and then finished by trimming and serge finishing seam allowances on waistband.
  • Select two spools of matching thread and a 4mm twin needle. See Figure #6.
Figure #6

Set machine for twin needle straight sewing following instructions in your machine manual.

Tip: Make certain your machine is set for a center needle straight stitch and increase the stitch length for a setting of 3.5 to 4.0. For most fabrics it is best to decrease the upper tension by one whole number. Test the stitch on a remnant of fabric before you begin hemming. See Figure #7 for an example stitched with contrast thread.
Figure #7

To complete dress, press up sleeve and bottom hems and topstitch hem using a twin needle on the sewing machine.

Tip: After folding and pressing hem allowance, measure and mark the spot where the leftmost needle will catch the hem. Use the seam gauge to sew a consistent distance for the hem. Be sure to remove pins as you stitch. See Figure #8a and #8b.
Figure #8a
Figure #8b

When your hemming is complete you are finished! Enjoy your beautiful new dress!

See closeup of bodice and hemline below:

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4 Comments

  • Beautiful dress! Did you wear it for Christmas?

    Also, do you let it hang for 24 hours unhemmed? I’ve heard it is a good idea to do this with knits, or with anything sewn on the bias.

    • Hi Sandra!

      Thanks for your nice comment! Actually the dress was a bit tight on me so I sent it to my friends at Brother to be used for display purposes. I do plan to make another one. I just need to ajdust the pattern a teeny bit. To answer your question about the hem, no I just went ahead and stitched it. Hanging before hemming is most important for a garment made from woven fabrics where the skirt is either all or partially on the bias. It can also be used for knits that stretch out a bit but this knit would not requie that.

    • Thank you Mary! The dress is even prettier in person. The fabric is a rich dark blue with beautiful drape and perfect for this flowing dress style. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment 🙂

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