How To Hem Knits Without A Coverstitch Machine

November 2, 2016

Recently I had a few readers ask how I prefer to hem my knits since I don’t own a coverstitch machine and don’t plan on buying one anytime soon, or probably ever. Though many people have one and swear by it, there are several other options for a perfectly nice finish on your stretchy garments that don’t require any fancy equipment. I have several different coverstitch alternatives to discuss and maybe one of them (or a combo of a few!) will become your go-to favorite.

Let me start by saying I do have a basic serger that I sew the majority of my knit projects on. I only ever use one setting and I love how quickly I can whip through garments with it. If you’re getting serious about sewing with knits and don’t have a basic serger yet, I definitely recommend trying one! I bet you’ll fall in love with knits even more because of it. I seriously did! If you’re curious, I have the Brother 1034D model that I bought on Amazon. I’ve had it for a few years now and I personally have zero complaints about it.

p.s. if you’re not sure what a coverstitch machine is, here’s a great article by Melissa Fehr for Seamwork Magazine on the subject.


So what’s one of the simplest hems you can do without a coverstitch machine? A serged hem! It’s perfect if you need to conserve length on your hem and it also looks pretty cool as a decorative accent if you use a contrasting thread. But don’t worry, if you’re looking for something a little more polished than a plain serged hem, or if you don’t have a serger, then keep reading and I have more suggestions šŸ™‚

The first method I’d like to mention, and at the same time sort of dismiss, is the twin needle. Let me start by saying this is totally my personal preference, you guys! Tons of people love theirs and won’t sew knits without it. However, I bought a twin needle and I tried it on several projects. I’m just not that impressed with it.


Here’s why: I like sewing with knits because it’s quick for me. When I don’t have a lot of time, but I really feel like sewing something, I reach for a jersey knit and probably the Lark pattern. I don’t want to waste any time fussing with extra machine set-up, threading a second bobbin, changing my needle to the twin, and then fussing and fussing with the tension before I can finish my project. I know, I know, it’s not that difficult of a task and it’s really not that time consuming but the bottom line is it’s not worth the fuss for me, even when that fuss is pretty small.


Another reason why I’m not impressed with the twin needle is the fact that even when I DO take the extra time to set it up and fuss with tension and get everything set to where I “think” it’s just right, I’ll wash my garment once or wear it once and the threads break! I realize I could do some tweaking and probably correct that but as I originally stated – I simply don’t want to take that extra time. I don’t care that much about a double topstitch treatment on my clothes.

If you’re dead-set on having that twin needle look but you’re also not happy with a twin needle, then maybe the coverstitch machine is for you after all!

But for me? Here’s what I’ve come to prefer in my journey sewing with knits: The lowly zig-zag stitch.


Shown above on the left is my machine’s default zig-zag stitch, in the middle there’s a skinny zig-zag that I’ve custom set (shown in action on a project further down), and the stretch tricot stitch on the right.


Here’s an example of the default zig-zag stitch on my machine shown on a neckline. Some people shy away from this one because it looks “too homemade” …welllllll, I don’t subscribe to that. I’m proud of my homemade garments and you should be too! Wear that zig-zag stitch with pride! I doubt most people will even notice or care so don’t let that defeat you if that’s your only option for sewing stretchy fabrics. Undergarments and swimsuits are constructed with obvious zig-zag stitches so why not dresses and t-shirts?


If the wide zig-zag stitch isn’t for you then try a skinnier one. In the above photo I’ve done exactly that. In fact, the stitch is so narrow that it looks like a straight stitch unless you look very, very closely. This is the finishing stitch I use most often now. It doesn’t eat up a lot of thread, I don’t have to fuss with the tension of my machine, I get enough give and stretch so that my threads don’t break with wear, and it looks very tidy in my opinion.


For very slinky knits that have a tendency of rippling or getting eaten by your machine, try the stretch tricot stitch if your machine has that option. You may also see this setting called the “lightning stitch” because it resembles little bolts of lightning. I’ve seen other online sources call any stitch with a dashed zig-zag effect “a tricot stitch” so I’m not convinced there’s any one right answer there as far as proper name. Basically any multi-step zig-zag, whether it’s called the tricot stitch or lightning stitch or elastic/triple zig-zag/stretch stitch etc, will give you more stretch and recovery on a hem if you need it.

The one thing I don’t like about the multi-step zig-zag stitches is how much more thread they can eat up. It’s not a speedy stitch either. With this particular tricot setting on my machine it feels like it’s taking one stitch forward and two stitches back. It’s much, much slower going which can be a little frustrating if you’re trying to finish a project as quickly as possible.


I’ve used the tricot stitch on the two hems above but it’s hard to really see what’s going on. For a better example of what this stitch looks like, scroll up to that yellow fabric photo with the purple thread for a second look.

When I first started sewing with knits I really wasn’t that confident with ANY kind of topstitching at all so I used bands of fabric (just like you do with a neckline) to hem EVERYTHING, then I pressed them flat and left them as is. I still do that sometimes if I want the absolute maximum amount of stretch that my serger can give me. I used this method on the neckline of my Hemlock Tee (shown below) because I liked the option of wearing it off the shoulder and didn’t want to risk my topstitching getting snapped or distorted if I wore it like that.


All in all I’m still a huge fan of a plain old zig-zag stitch! I really am. That’s what I use most often for hemming – nothing too fancy for me. So for those who asked how I hem my knits, I hope this helped! If you have other tips or suggestions that you use and love please leave a comment and share them! šŸ™‚

If you have more general questions, check out my first post where I share some beginner tips that I picked up while learning to sew with knits.