No matter what kind of sewing you do; garments; home décor; quilting; crafts; tote bags, etc. we all deal with sewing multiple layers together. Our friends at Sew4Home have prepared this excellent article filled with tips and tricks for dealing with thicker layers. Be sure to check out their helpful links, as well!
Not every project is just two layers of quilting cotton! Often times, overlapping layers, bulk, and thickness abound! With the right presser feet and accessories, an understanding of seam grading, and the patience to go slowly and carefully; you can sew like a pro through thick and thin. Our examples detail some very common techniques you’re likely to come across – especially in garment sewing, but of course, the solutions outlined are applicable to a range of circumstances.
If we boil it down to the top three machine things to remember, they are:
- Keep your presser foot flat, and level
- Make sure your needle is sharp
- Slightly lengthen the stitch
However, the machine operator (that would be you) is just as crucial. Don’t forget to:
- Go slowly and carefully
- Let the machine do the majority of the work – don’t aggressively push or pull the fabric
- Practice on layers of scraps first to confirm stitch settings are correct for the situation
That hefty flat felled seam along the side of your jeans is the king of thick layers! The key is to keep the foot parallel to the bed of the machine as the foot is lowered. When the needle penetrates the fabric, it enters at a 90° angle to the foot. If the foot is parallel to the bed of the machine, the needle enters the fabric straight down. If the foot is at an angle, tipping forward or backward, the needle enters at an angle, which can cause the needle to break or skip stitches. We have two favorite solutions: the Janome Little Black Button and a Hump Jumper, or, as Janome calls it, the Button Shank Plate.
Thread the machine with all purpose thread and insert a jeans/denim needle. The needle size for our sample was a 90/14 jeans needle. Slightly lengthen the stitch. We used 3.0mm. The presser foot is standard.
The Janome Little Black Button
For our jeans hemming example, we used a ½” double-fold hem. To do this, simply press back the raw edge ½”, then press back an additional ½” to encase the raw edges within the double fold.
There are two seams to stitch across when sewing a jeans hem. One is a serged or overlocked seam, and the second one is the bulky welt seam. Start at the serged seam to use the little black button.
Place the folded hem under the foot. The foot should be just behind the seam so the needle drops in before the bulk of the seam (don’t try to start right on top of the seam). Press and hold the black button to level the foot.
Still holding the button, lower the foot. The button will hold the foot in position parallel to the bed of the machine.
Start stitching. As the machine moves forward, the button will release. You will glide up and over this first thick seam.
The Hump Jumper aka Janome Button Shank Plate
Sometimes you need even more leveling help. For this, a hump jumper, or, as Janome refers to it, the Button Shank Plate (also used for sewing on buttons by machine) is your friend. This handy plastic foot accessory tool looks like the letter “L.” L is for level! It has a slot for the needle in the center and a choice of two thicknesses to level the foot.
Continue sewing from that first seam you successfully conquered until you are close to the scary welt seam.
Stop with the needle in the down position and lift the presser foot. Place the hump jumper/ Button Shank Plate, under the foot at the rear of the foot. Because this is a super thick seam, we inserted the thicker side of the hump jumper/ Button Shank Plate. With the tool in place, notice that the foot is now level and parallel to the bed of the machine.
Continue stitching until you reach the other side of the welt seam.
Stop, and with the needle down, raise the foot. Remove the hump jumper/ Button Shank Plate from the rear of the foot and re-position it under the front of the foot. Lower the foot. The foot should again be level and parallel to the bed of the machine.
Continue sewing until the foot is completely past the bulk of the seam. You are sewing up into that slot in the center of the hump jumper/ Button Shank Plate. You obviously need to stop prior to reaching the end of the slot.
Stop and remove the hump jumper/ Button Shank Plate, then continue sewing to complete the hem.
Seams and Topstitching with Multiple Layers
This technique again uses a garment sewing example, but thick layers and overlapping seams occur on many, many projects. We’re working with a jacket front that has four separate pieces plus a front button band. All these sections must carefully match up so they are even at both the top and bottom edges.
How on earth do you keep all those layers from shifting as they’re sewn? Double up on your feed dogs!
Your machine already has lower feed dogs under the presser foot – those little teeth right in the center of the needle plate.
An Even Feed foot (also called a Walking foot) or a built-in fabric feeding system (we use the AcuFeed™ Flex fabric feeding system built-in to many of our Janome studio models) incorporates upper feed dogs into the mix so both the top and bottom layers of fabric are moved through the machine in unison, keeping seams straight and edges even.
Below is a Janome Even Feed Foot (also commonly referred to as a Walking foot) in two sizes: Standard Even Feed Foot, high shank (left) and Open Toe Even Feed Foot, low shank (right).
In this photo you see the standard components of the AcuFeed™ Flex system.
We used the Narrow AcuFeed™ Flex Foot Holder with Narrow/Single Foot VD Foot in our sample. This foot and foot holder comes with some machines, but it available separately for those machines which are AcuFeed Flex compatible.
Since we are again working with denim, we threaded the machine with all purpose thread in the top and bobbin, used a 90/14 jeans needle, and lengthened the stitch to 3.0 mm.
Pin together the sections of the jacket, matching the upper edges.
Even feeding from the bottom and top top allows you to easily stitch the seam through all the layers.
For topstitching, we used the same foot but changed to a topstitching thread in the needle. The fabric continues to feed evenly, making the topstitching more accurate and less subject to individual stitch wobbles.
For more helpful information on seam grading and topstitching check out these additional Sew4Home tutorials:
Topstitching and Edgestitching Techniques
By: Liz Johnson, Senior Editor, Sew4Home – a Janome Exclusive Studio