What is a Coverstitch
A coverstitch machine, like the Brother CV3440 or CV3550 creates a 3- or 4-thread stitch that is much more flexible than a regular machine stitch. On the top or right side, the stitch looks like two parallel rows (or three) of straight stitches. On the bottom or wrong side is a crisscrossed pattern that gives a smooth finished look. This also allows the coverstitch to expand and contract without breaking.
What is a Coverstitch Used for
A coverstitch machine is not used for the construction of your garment. It is only used for finishing the edges such as a hem or cuff. It can also be used as a decorative stitch on the top of garments such as sports wear. Cover-stitching is especially practical and shines when sewing with knits. Because the looper thread weaves back and forth across the back, the finished stitch will stretch and relax with the fabric as it is worn. Since knits will stretch a lot during use, a regular stitch would simply pop and break. Without a coverstitch, it is usually best to use your zigzag stitch to provide that same flexibility for knits, both in hemming and construction. (For garment construction with knits, you can also use a serger).
A coverstitch machine can be used on all fabrics – wovens such as cotton or knits. I love the look and finish of the coverstitch and use it on all the garments needing a hem. In fact, what I love about the machine is the look of the stitch. I find the zigzag stitch thick looking and unfinished. The coverstitch is a beautiful finish in my opinion.
However, as with all machines, you have to tweak the settings for each project, but I seem to go through a ton of fabric just trying to get the result close enough with a coverstitch. I also find the casting off process to be clumsy and hacky. You have to go through this routine of tugging and snipping that seems to mess up the threads and distort your fabric. Coverstitch machines are just frustrating to me – your mileage may vary – but I still love the results when it works well.
Do You Need a Coverstitch?
In order of importance for a home sewist, I would say first a good basic sewing machine with at least all the essential functions such as sewing on buttons, straight and zigzag stitches. You will be able to more-or-less sew anything from construction to alterations to costumes, etc. After that, the next machine to up your sewing game is definitely a serger. This type of machine creates beautiful and functional finishes to all your seams, but that is just a start! Next up, if you are still sewing, you may want to add a specialty machine or two depending on your focus. If you like bag making or quilting, you may go with a quilting/semi-industrial machine. Looking for create decorative embellishments? That’s an embroidery machine. If you want to produce professional finish for your knitted hems, look at the coverstitch machine.
The Janome CPX1000
If you want to see the review of my first coverstitch machine, the Janome CPX1000, see this post from December 2017. For the record, I didn’t hate the Janome, but I just never really got to love it. My results were always unreliable and mixed (ex. many skipped stitches). When it worked for me, it was beautiful, but more often than not, I couldn’t get good results. Eventually it seemed I spent more time just dusting it rather than turning it on. When I switched my sewing focus to making bags and purses, I needed the desk space for my new Juki TL2010Q and my unused Janome coverstitch was re homed in 2019.
Funny old world eh? It turns out my world was changing again as suddenly we became grandparents. OMG!!! Babies REQUIRE knits and guess who doesn’t have a coverstitch machine? Grandma didn’t. eek!
Brother Coverstitch CV3440
During the pandemic, we are quarantining so no shopping. I decided to opt for the Brother this time because I didn’t want to carry any negative baggage from my experience with the CPX1000. After much research, I finally settled on the CV3440 (I might have gone with the almost identical CV3550, but I couldn’t find one anywhere). The Nova sewing centre (Hamilton, ON) had a CV3440 including delivery. Actually, REALLY fast. Excellent “no contact” experience there.
So, a new coverstitch machine is now in my sewing room as I remembered why I didn’t use the last one, but also determined to love this one. A coverstitch machine is particularly unforgiving about your choice of thread and needles. If these are not appropriate to your fabric, you will get skipping and other issues. I must emphasize that the thread and needles will make a difference in using this machine!
The threading is itself is actually relatively easy. I have had a serger for a few years now and have never shied away from re-threading it so I find the coverstitch process quite easy in comparison. Be sure your foot is up before threading! Follow the path for each thread and ensure they are sunk well into the tension dials. I only need 3 spools for the coverstitch (possible to use 4 for a 3 -stitch top stitch) so 2 needles and only one looper. When using knits, the little lever inside and directly below the back thread should be up and down with wovens.
For the looper (back thread), I use maxi-lock stretch thread.
When I sew clothing – even knits – I will typically use my regular machine, my serger AND the coverstitch. So, 4 spools of thread for the serger, 1 for domestic and 3 for the coverstitch. All in coordinating colours. Can be a bit of a challenge, especially since I love getting just the right colours for coordination. As a workaround, I have been known to spin up a bobbin or two just to use in the coverstitch (though I have had a few fly off the spindle mid-sew so do this with caution).
The Right Needles for your Fabric
For best results with your coverstitch, you will need to use the ELx705 series of needles. For knits, you need ballpoint needles, designated by SUK, SES or BP which will slide between the fabric threads rather than stabbing or piercing the threads. SES- is a light ballpoint, or SUK- is a medium ballpoint and either will work well for knits.
Usually, your machine will come pre-loaded with non-ballpoint needles which are fine for wovens only. Chrome Finished or CF is best and both Schmetz and Organ ELx705 needles are CF. In Canada, I purchase these needles from Wawak.ca.
Another consideration is size. Typically for sewing machines, the size of the needle you select is dependent on the thickness of your fabric. However, I have seen advice that size 14 is best for coverstitching, which is slightly larger than the average of 12.
Finding the Right Coverstitch Settings
Honestly I just refused to give up on cover stitching, because it is such a nice finish but you should know that it can get frustrating initially. Usually the coverstitch comes at the end of a sewing project. So, if I have managed to produce a rather nice little outfit with few mistakes, I hate the idea of potentially messing it all up at the final step of hemming.
The best advice I can offer for the coverstitch machine is to slow down, focus on the right thread and needles and then just keep adjusting your settings for your project. Start off with all the tension dials at 4 and adjust only one at a time. If you are using just 3 threads, turn the empty dial to 0. You can also adjust the foot pressure with the knob on top. Finally, if you have the right needles, thread and settings, but still experiencing difficulties with light knits, you may want to try using double sided tape or a water soluble stabilizer like Madeira Avalon Plus stabilizer.
This type of machine takes a bit more practice to master and it does take patience. As I’ve learned though, the best thing in sewing and other skills/crafts is to push through the frustration. And there will be frustration! The highest frustration point is usually just before a breakthrough. Don’t quit!
I was working on Whistler for a friend so I wanted it to be especially nice. This pattern I used here is wonderful and I have made quite a number of them for my daughter in law. As I tweaked the settings, I focused especially on whether or not there was any tunneling between the two rows of top stitching and the other setting seemed to fall into place. I went though a lot of the scrap fabric though 🙁 so you might want to have extra on hand. The ribbing knit I used for the cuffs matched nicely and also made lovely finished cuffs. So, it is done and delivered and I think it went well.
Surprisingly, the last few times I’ve worked with the coverstitch my results have really improved. I discovered that I can tweak the dials at the front as well for additional options (i.e., stitch width).
As a side note, when, on occasion, I have proudly shown my hem seams to non-sewers, they don’t seem all that impressed. This stitch and finish may be for you alone to enjoy and fully appreciate. Oh, but what a thing of beauty!
Should you get a Coverstitch Machine?
Fabric & Ribbing from Mimifabrics : Doubleface – interlock jersey vintage mint. Pattern by Love Notions
If you have the time and patience to work with a cover stitch machine initially, I say yes, go for it. I would get one again – in fact I actually did. lol. To be honest though it is said to be good with knits – which it is for the reasons I have outlined – but I also use my coverstitch for all my woven projects too. The reason is that I just love the look of the coverstitch and it looks just as great on wovens too! The coverstitch is a really nice finish to hems.
Update Summer 2022: My CV3440 met with an untimely death a la Thelma and Louise! Read here for the details and how I got my Babylock Euphoria