Monday, 10 December 2012

Girls Leggings Tutorial

Today we are very privileged (and maybe it was really just a bribe seen that she works in the shop!) to have Juliet from Tartankiwi guest posting for us today with a fantastic tutorial on sewing with knit fabrics. 

Designer knits are finally making their entry into New Zealand and I love the way the manufactures are bringing out not only knits but laminates & flannels all in the same ranges great  for co-ordination! 

My daughter is a fairly tall and slim four year old. Often when I buy her leggings, they end up looking like baggy, badly fitting pyjama bottoms, so when I saw the beautifully soft the Sweetest thing Multi Knit fabric at the Make Cafe, I thought that I'd try and custom make some leggings for her.

Now, I have never sewn leggings before and I have fairly limited experience of sewing with knits but I love trying new things, doing my homework and generally experimenting with my sewing. I'm the sort of sewer who enjoys working without a pattern and figuring things out. I thought it might be fun to share what I have learnt about leggings making with you.

To make a pair of leggings you will need:
  • a pair of leggings that fit well to use as a template
  • Knit fabric
  • an overlocker/ serger. (recommended, but not essential)
  • a ballpoint needle or a double needle for your sewing machine (I'll discuss this in a bit more detail later on)
  • a walking foot on your sewing machine (again, recommended but not essential)
  • elastic for the waist
Lets get started!

First choose a pair of leggings to use as a template. Fold them as shown in the photo and lay them on top of your fabric. Ensure to lay the long straight side of the leggings along the fold in your fabric.
Cut around your leggings allowing at least 1/2 inch at the sides, 1 inch at the top and however much you want at the bottom.
I left too much fabric at the top and ended up cutting about an inch off it.
Here is one of my leg pieces cut to size.

Next take each leg, fold it in half lengthwise with the right sides together and serged down the inner leg seam. Please note, you don't have to use a serger, but if you have one it leads to great results. Remember that knit fabrics do not fray or come undone if the edges are left unfinished.

Turn one leg right side out, leave the other leg inside out. Insert the leg which is the right way into the other leg, serge around the crotch seam. Ensure that the leg seams are beautifully lined up when you do this.

Turn your leggings the right way out now. They should be talking shape nicely now. The next step is to hem the bottoms. This is when I started experimenting. I was fortunate in that I was able to squeeze two pairs of leggings from one width of fabric. As such I was able to have a play and discover the best methods to use when sewing knit fabrics on a sewing machine.

Here's what I learnt:

For the first pair, I used a ballpoint needle, a walking foot on my sewing machine and a small zig-zag stitch. This was a technique that I had read heard would result in neat stitches with a certain amount of stretch. The results looked neat, but didn't have as much stretch as I had hoped.
For the second pair, I used a double needle, a walking foot and a straight stitch. I do not have a particularly fancy machine, but having read this blog post on the advantages of using a double needle on knits, I decided to give it a go. I was surprised how easy it was to install and by the instantly great results. I placed a bobbin with white thread under the thread reel and taking the two threads together, I threaded my machine as I would normally do. I didn't have to do anything special with the bobbin or the stitch selection.

The stitches have lots of stretch and after seeing the results I was immediately convinced as to the merits of a double needle on knits. To be honest, I'm extremely tempted to go back and unpick the zig-zag hems on the first pair of leggings!

Next, create a casing for the waist elastic. Leave a 2-3 cm gap through which you can thread the elastic.

Place a folded ribbon or a label of some kind in the back of the elastic casing (so that you can tell what is the front and what is the back.
Using a safety pin, thread your elastic through the casing.

I will admit that I used different elastic for each pair. For the first pair of leggings I used 1 inch wide elastic. Once the leggings were finished I felt that the elastic was too stiff and not particularly kind my daughters little tummy.

For the second pair I divided the elastic casing in two and used two lengths of 1/4 inch wide elastic. Its far softer with lots more stretch so its kinder to small tummies. When I make leggings in the future I will either use this technique again or 1/2 inch wide elastic.

Sew the ends of the elastic together.

Close the casing.

Try the leggings on your child (if you are anything like me, keeping your fingers crossed that they fit!) then stand back and admire your handiwork.

If your daughter is anything like mine, she'll love her new leggings! Can you tell from the photos?

I hope that these pointers have helped you and encouraged you to try sewing with knits- its fun and you'll love the result


  1. Great tutorial - love the fabric too :)

  2. 15 years ago when my daughter was little, I used to make most of her leggings. That was before they went out of fashion and came back again. I used to take a pattern off rtw ones as well. They were quick and cheap to make and most of all easy to wear for little people.