Hey guys! So I realize I’ve been doing lots of the actual work stuff lately, and not as much of the how-I-do-it type posts. I started drafting myself a T shirt block pattern last week and thought this might be a good one if you want to follow along. WARNING: It’s gonna be long with lots of pictures. This is gonna be few parts. But its a good solid base pattern if you’ve been struggling to find things that fit, or just want to be able to design your own and deviate from the pattern books.
Which was exactly my starting point. Bored out of my mind when I went to change over my dresser for summer, staring at plain old clothes, or things worn out because they predate my kids. Shopping online and in magazines wasn’t turning up the cuts and patterns that I want, mainly because a clean classic cut with a hint of style isn’t what’s en vogue right now. Plenty of boho chic, athleisure, oversized drapey shirts, Ts with words about how much you coffee, plus the actual infamous bizarre fashions coming out of Nordstrom that make me think designers are legitimately trolling us this season.
What I’m looking to add to my wardrobe are casual tops that I can actually mom in and throw in the wash, that still have nice design details. Not a plain T shirt from Target, nor something fancy from a store that will need pressing and handwashing. (I have enough of that from my pre-kids wardrobe staring at me from my closet.) Because heaven help me if my kids launch themselves at me after lunch with peanut butter and jelly hands. There are days when I’m a walking mac and cheese dishrag, and most of my everyday clothes need to be able to roll with that. But that doesn’t mean that I’m ready to sacrifice my style for it.
Which brings me back to my sketch pad. Having a basic block pattern as a starting point, I can design whatever details I want that I know will fit me. I can control the fabrics I like and the colors I want to wear. I can alter the fit for my short torso and cut of the sleeves to be something interesting. Draft different necklines. Add collars. Whatever I actually want in clothes instead of finding something nearly perfect and thinking “If only this was shorter/softer/stretchier/whatever instead.”
I’m going to start with the most basic fitted T shape, which will become my block, and let me manipulate the pattern from there to do whatever I want. Block patterns are different from traditional dressmaking slopers, in that they’re a basic building block pattern for you to use in this way, not the standard darts on a shell we all know from pattern drafting textbooks. If you want to read up more about blocks, I highly recommend reading this from Kathleen Fasanella’s insightful blog. Her knowledge and experience always blows me away when I want to really fine tune whatever I’m drafting or making.
If you want to follow along at home, I am going to be starting with a pattern that I know and have worked with before, and make tweaks to get myself to a block: McCall’s 7021, which I used for the peplum tunic shirts I made last fall. Sure, you can draft one from scratch, but the point is to not have to make countless iterations to get to where you want to go. Since I have a pattern that I’ve used and worn for awhile, I know how this one fits me and and can easily go forward with it as a starting point. If you’d like, go to the store and grab a basic T pattern close to the block you want to have. And here’s where the personal style element comes in: your block can be anything that YOU want as a base pattern. If that means raglan sleeves, a swing body shape, something with a peplum, anything. The only element I’d make sure it has is a sleeve, and not a drafted tank or a sleeveless garment, as having a sleeve draft to start from will give you more opportunities for iterations. Round up a few of your favorite shirts from your wardrobe that have elements you want in your block- the perfect length, the perfect bust measurment, a fabric that you like the stretch and recovery of. We’ll take everything into account next week. Til then, get out and enjoy this beautiful summer weekend! So much is in bloom right now, I can hardly stop to appreciate all the gorgeousness. Hoping you find hidden roses in your side yard too.
If you come from a traditional woven fabric background like I do, the thought of sewing stretchy things might send you running for the hills. I’ve been stitching a lot of knits lately, since they’re just so easy to wear- comfortable and breezy in the summer heat, and thicker sweater knits keep you snuggly warm in the winter. After digging into my mom style a bit more too, I want things that are easy to wash and wear but still have some semblance of style. Plus, you know I like to customize my fit, and I’m just sick of shopping for the perfect *insert favorite type of garment* out there. If you’ve been thinking about diving into the world of stretchy fabric, here’s a primer for you!
Needles and pins
With any project, the right needles are key. For knits, you usually want to use either a stretch needle, or a jersey/ballpoint needle. You can read more about the anatomy and different needle types on the schmetz website. These are made with ball point tips, which allow the needle to slide between the threads of the fabric instead of puncturing the threads like a universal does. A jersey/ballpoint is made specifically for knit fabrics, while a stretch needle has an eye (the hole) and scarf (that notch in the back of the needle) to help prevent skipped stitches when working with elastic and other elastic fabrics, like swimwear. You can try both kinds on a swatch of your fabric for your project and see which works best. Every machine and fabric combination will react just a bit differently, so play around and find which is best for you!
You also want to adjust your methods for cutting and working with the fabric, which might mean ditching your standard quilting pins. Try switching out to ball point pins as well, which will funcion similarly as needles and not perforate your fabric. For cutting, you can also use fabric weights instead, and there are a ton of options available for purchase or diy. I tend to just use found objects, like my scissors, my emory filled pincushions, and whatever mug is on the table at the time. (Shhhhhh don’t tell. You really shouldn’t risk your beverage on top of your work, but for my own personal projects, I live dangerously. 😉 ) I also find a rotary cutter works well for highly elastic fabrics instead of a scissor. For the actual sewing, you can also utilize fabric clips at the edge instead of pins; I have and like these from clover. They also come in handy when you’re working with anything bulky, so they make a good addition to your toolkit even when you’re back to wovens.
Sewing machine stitching
A regular straight stitch doesn’t stretch, and if you’ve ever tried to sew with it, you’ll probably have heard that characteristic popping when your stitches break and pull out. If you’re going to be using your regular sewing machine, there are several stitches you can use. Most machines (other than a vintage or industrial straight stitch only) will have a zig zag. On my machine, I sew most often with it set to a width and length between 2-3. Sometimes with a width of a 5, if I’m using it for an overcast. The zig zag stitch actually stretches out into a straight line when tugged in a knit, which is what allows for a bit of stretch. I use this a lot for seams, hems, and also topstitching things like elastic.
Some machines like mine have a triple zig zag, which is a broken line. Some people like using this in heavier weight fabrics. I was taught to use this to topstitch elastic in a bra making master class, and its a lovely stitch for exactly that purpose. I keep it dialed up wide when in use.
Others have a triple stretch stitch on their machine, which means the machine stitches backwards a stitch before going forwards, which allows for stretch while keeping the stitch line straight. A lot of people recommend it for heavier weight knits, like scuba which is popular right now, and also to keep your stitching line straight instead of having to revert to the skipped stitch look of a zig zag from the outside. I personally haven’t been a fan of this stitch, finding that it puts a ton of thread in the seam, making it bulky. It also seems to make the seam really hard for me, which is the opposite of a soft, supple stretch that I like in knits. But like all things sewing, if you have it, give it a go with your chosen fabric and see if you like it!
There are also just a couple of adjustments you may need to make to your machine to help it work better. If you have a way to adjust your presser foot tension, that is the actual amount of pressure your foot is exerting on your machine, it may help to lighten it up a bit. Usually found on the side of the machine or on top, try to loosen or take it to a lower number and see if this helps. When using too much pressure, your stretchy fabric may distort out of shape and stay permanently stretched out. With just a light amount of pressure your fabric can glide effortlessly through the machine.
The last bit I should mention is the twin needle. It’s used when you want to make two parallel lines of topstitching, using the bottom thread to zig zag back and forth between them for stretch and to catch both top threads. Emulating a coverstitch, which is a special stitch and separate machine used to hem knits, a twin needle is a great option for your regular home machine with a few adjustments. Most often, the bobbin thread is too tight and will pull up, making a bit of a tunnel between your lines of straight stitching. If you take out the bobbin case of your machine and loosen it with a screwdriver just a bit, this should help the problem. I’ve also had problems with the stitching itself pulling out over time and not locking with a backstitch, so I’ve started pulling all threads to the backside, tying them together in knots, clipping and dotting with Fray Check.
Serging, or overlocking
If you have a serger or overlocker, this is my favorite way to work with knits. The stitch automatically stretches, cuts and encases the edge cleanly, much like you see in commercially made garments. As with sewing machine presser foot tension, you may need to adjust the rate at which the machine is feeding your fabric, called the differential feed. On most sergers you can adjust this easily to stretch or gather. Play around with samples and see which feeds through nicely and leaves you with nice flat work, stretching and making sure your fabric snaps back and recovers the way you like before sewing your garment.
Sergers also have an awesome edge finish option called a rolled edge, which rolls the fabric and encases it as you sew. You can use it to finish knits, but also a ton of other finishes in wovens- it works special magic on sheers when you don’t want to try to hem something slippery. In knits, sometimes people utilize the differential feed to stretch the fabric out on purpose while using the rolled edge, which makes a ruffly looking “lettuce edge.” Super cute for little girls clothes, flutter sleeves, and ruffles of any kind.
Ready to dive into sewing knits? I’m about to launch into making a ton of new things- jersey tops, maybe some playground shorts for Miss Cakes, and some stretch denim shorts. Having the ability to customize your knits just makes them that much better and more personal than the standard T shirt bar at your favorite well known local retailer. I’ll be doing a step by step next on sewing up a pretty standard T shirt with just a few changes- follow along and make one with me! Hope you’re enjoying this finally warm weather– my garden is just exploding these days! My peonies seem to be the signal that the heat is here to stay.
So. It’s been awhile. I know. I’ve been done with this sweater for an embarrassingly long time without writing about it. Due in part to our terrible rainy spring weather, which makes it difficult to photograph properly; and due in part to the current stage of life Gumball is in. He’s reached THAT point of toddlerhood, where anything is a hill to be climbed in the house, a button to be pushed, a tone of defiance and a bolt in the opposite direction any time he’s asked to do something. He asks “What’s thiiiiiiis??” several times a minute. He’s refusing naps. In short, he’s taking every spare moment I think I might have and filling it with tiredness or heart attacks. And I love him so dearly, he melts my heart with the smiles as big as his face.
With all this toddler chasing and never sleeping, my minutes to spare have been sparse. And with that has gone my time to make pretty garments and write about them. I’m trying my best, as I have a great amount of fabric waiting in the wings for new spring things (or is it almost summer already?!). They just might be fewer and farther between for this season of life, which is okay.
So this sweater. This is one of those projects that I just slowly chip away at leisurely, without a time frame in mind for finishing. I actually like to have a sweater like this on the needles at any given time. It makes for a relaxing project on nights when the kids are in bed, and I want to work on something fun, but don’t have it in me to figure out the logistics of a new project. Something I can work on for a few rows, mark my place, and turn in. Something I can carry to the park, or on a family car trip, or bring along to a get together. With long mundane knitting, I actually have less patience if I’m focusing on it, bored to tears with endless stockinette or seed stitch or whatever the pattern. Turning it into a project with no end date, and just enjoying the work when I have a few moments, makes it a pleasurable marathon.
I bought the yarn for this, Madelinetosh Sock, at the Sow’s Ear during a particularly trying time during our last move. I was stressed to the brim, and my loving husband kicked me out of the house, handed me the stockpile of gift cards I’d been hoarding, and told me to go treat myself to a coffee and a new pile of yarn. I couldn’t decide between this gorgeous dusky purple pink or a robin’s egg freckled blue in Rowan Felted Tweed, so in the end bought both.
Kim Hargreaves patterns always send me. They have little feminine twists on seemingly plain garments that make for the unexpected in knitting and wearing. I love the reliable fitting, the straightforward writing, and the detailed schematics that let you redo the shaping for yourself as needed. Really just lovely solid patterns.
I’d been drooling over the Rosa sweater in her book Thrown Together, which is knit almost like a henley, for a long time. I love a well fitted shell, and this has such nice feminine details. Worked from the bottom up, it has short row shaping along the hem to give the center front and back just a slight curve down. The lower edge rib is also worked sideways before picking up stitches and knitting the body up. This makes for a really strong and elastic rib, while making it just slightly more interesting than your usual. I would normally have preferred to work this in the round instead of in a front and a back piece, but due to the atypical rib and the short rows, I followed instructions. I also like knitting such fitted garments in pieces just in case I want to do any tweaking before seaming; it allows you just a bit of wiggle room to make a last minute change without ripping out an entire garment as you would have to do for something seamless.
I did get bored along the back and started timing my stitches per minute in knit and purl, and was happy to see I’ve picked up speed over the last few years. The fronts went quickly, as did the sleeves. The real pill in this project was the ruffles.
I have no earthly idea why the ruffle instructions are written as they are. You cast on in the main color for a million stitches, the same yarn with which you’ve been knitting the sweater. And I mean a million stitches. Actually between 344-384 depending on which ruffle, but that’s a ton when you’re using long tail cast on and you pick the wrong length of yarn and have just spent an entire episode of Sherlock casting on. You then switch to kidsilk haze, a soft lovely silk/mohair blend yarn that’s incredibly sticky, has no stretch, and will not rip out at all. Don’t make any mistakes now, because they’re permanent. Decrease, decrease, decrease, and cast off. And then you only have 4 ends to weave in per ruffle, plus the sewing to the actual sweater. Sounds like a ball, right? Oh, and if you choose to utilize the inside and outside yarns for a faux long tail cast on, just add a few more ends to weave in. Fun times.
Instead: Knit the sweater first, which includes a purl bump ridge for where to set the ruffles. Using the kidsilk haze, pick up the appropriate number of stitches and work increases instead of decreases. Cast off the bajillion stitches and weave in your ends. If I ever decide to embark on the cardigan variation of this sweater, this is how I plan to save myself from headaches and twisty yarn.
After a year and a half of on and off knitting, and a couple months of on and off seaming, I finally finished it this spring. Just in time for our bizarre weather, which has been half cold and half raining, with an hour of warmth and sunshine every two weeks or so. (Raining even the day I took these pictures, hence the differing backgrounds when I was suddenly forced indoors midshoot. Eek!) A snuggly short sleeved sweater has been a nice wardrobe addition for our changing seasons, and the color should transition easily to fall. The fit is excellent, and the finishing around the neckline and the placket are well done. She really does write a smart pattern.
I adore how the neckline is worked on this. Picking up after the shoulder seams are sewn, you knit in reverse stockinette a few rows before casting off. It curls and sits nicely to the inside edge, and provides a strong yet stretchy finish. No worries about it stretching too far out of shape, or it being too inelastic to go over your head. Just another perfect thoughtful detail. I’m also in love with the clear aurora borealis finish buttons I found at The Sow’s Ear. They had a few different designs all the same size, and the mix-matched look is subtle and charming.
I started the Felted Tweed sweater soon after casting off the last stitches on Rosa; another pattern from the same book, named Beatrix. I’ve finished the back and am moving up one of the fronts, but with summer encroaching, it’ll probably sit on a shelf until cooler times are upon us again in the fall. It’ll be a fun project to sit with under blankets sipping cocoa when I feel like curling up with some yarn again. Until then, on to some summer sewing, if it ever stays warm out there! Wishing you all good weather!
You know how sometimes you abandon a WIP just because life gets in the way? And again and again, until you no longer have the drive to finish it? That happened with this dress. I started it the first week of December, meaning to wear it for Dressember, and it was done except for some finishing work and the zipper. Between holidays, illness, work, and just life, it’s been sitting in the corner since. I was recently inspired to start some new things, and since my new motto is to finish the old before starting new, I dug out the parts this weekend and made myself put in those last stitches.
I’ve loved the denim daydress I made last spring so much, I wanted to have more dresses that shape and style. But the nature of woven fabric means it doesn’t stretch and the size is rigid. Which means minor weight fluctuations make it suddenly fit differently. Butterick 5605 was one of the retro patterns in my queue to make, and it has some fun details that I thought would marry well with a gorgeous soft deep rose stretch brocade I bought at Vogue Fabrics back in October. I wanted to experiment making up some 50’s style dresses in medium weight stretch fabrics for comfort, with the added bonus that they’d continue to fit given small fluctuations.
Here’s where I knew I had to deviate from the original pattern. The back piece and bow detail are patterened to be cut all in one, which extends into the fabric in a really wasteful way. The center backs and center fronts are also cut double, so the neck can turn with a full lining. Normally I like this, as facings can sometimes flap about and never lay well. But in this case, since the period cut pattern is a dolman sleeve continuous with the fronts and backs, it means the entire sleeve would also be double thick. Not really something I wanted. I also didn’t care for the way the strap came off the back piece at a completely straight angle, when the rest of the dress is all curves.
After some serious thinking and chats with knowledgeable friends, I opted for the following: Cut everything single layer only. Eliminate the unnecessary center front seams. Raise the back to cover a modern bra. Round the angles of the back strap. Only cut the back strap to the center back line. I then cut strap pieces on the fold, to be attached to the extension later. I opted to cut cross grain strips 1″ wide to be used as a narrow facing, really just an interior binding, for all the neck edges and curves. I also pinned out the elbow dart in the sleeve, since I was using a stretch fabric and the dart was unnecessary. On a size note, I cut two sizes down, at zero ease, since I wanted a close fit and the fabric had quite a bit of stretch.
I used a straight stitch for all seams, as it seemed to stretch well enough. I interfaced the points of the bodice where the tops of the princess seams made sharp corners, as well as the center back seams to make setting the zipper easier. The trickiest part of the design is setting the bodice fronts and backs into the side pieces, where I used the following method: Using a very short stitch length, reinforce the corner after interfacing on the fronts and backs. Mark a dot on the side pieces exactly where the corner should finish, and pin the pieces together at this point but only along one side. Clipping to the point of turn before stitching to the side front and back pieces, stitch up the side you have pinned and needle down in the corner at the dot. Pivot the work, and pull the other side into place, and sew down the other side. Press over a ham if you have one to help make the shaping curve smoothly.
Fit: I ended up taking a bit out of the shoulder and sleeve, as it was patterned for a woven that would need more fabric there for movement. I also needed to take a bit out of the center back, as it was still just a bit big with the spongey knit, so I moved the pleats in the skirt to accomodate the new closure line. Since I opted for an exposed zipper for a bit of decoration, I also moved the pleats and the closure line in an extra 1/8″ on either side, since the zipper teeth add to the width. Being overly cautious, I didn’t want the dress to end up stretching out over time and added a 1/4″ elastic encased in the waist seam.
The hems were done by machine, utilizing the hem stitch. I know. I never ever use it. Mainly because it’s so fiddly to set up and make sure you’re taking the same amount of bite each stitch, but the texture of the brocade easily hid all the stitching. Definitely a stitch worth experimenting with if you want to start hemming at home but are intimidated to hand sew.
And the binding on all the necklines? Worked fantastically. I stay stitched along the seam line first, and pre-pressed the binding to meet in the middle using my bias tape maker. I curved the binding so the outside edge would lay flat since the curve is so severe, and then pinned the crease of the binding to the stay stitch line. Stitched, trimmed away the excess, and understitched. Pressed the binding to turn to the inside, and topstitched the other edge down at 1/2″ from the edge.
The ties were a bit hard to fit on myself, as I wanted the join to end up somewhere in the knot at the neck so it wouldn’t be seen. I overlapped where I thought it would meet, and enlisted a friend to double check the placement. I trimmed off the excess, leaving 1/2″ seam allowance to attach the ties. Sewed right sides together from inside the tie, and going through the extension piece, I then flipped the seam allowance inside the tie and closed up the inside edge by hand.
The knit makes this dress so comfortable, and easy to care for. Plus everything just stretches flat and lays so nicely! And bonus, no pressing required.
Miss Cakes felt we needed a serenade for pictures.
The points lay perfectly flat thanks to the interfacing, the waist stays put due to the elastic. And pockets are just always nice to have.
I did wonder if I should have cut the back opening a bit bigger, but decided that a dress with long sleeves was going to be worn when it was cold outside, so coverage was a good thing. Plus I’ve learned with the denim dress that a bow on the back makes a cardigan not work for layering.
If you’ve been tempted to try a retro pattern but have been worried about it working well for our modern athleisure-loving lifestyle, take a chance and try it out of a knit. And finish off those WIPs that have been taunting you! Spring is coming, and with it, a whole new slew of projects to start.
Everyone knows that knitter. You know, the one that is CONSTANTLY knitting socks. In line at the post office, waiting for their kids at pickup, or at knit night. Once upon a time six years ago, I thought I would try my first foray to see what all the fuss was about. I picked some gorgeous Italian merino that *spoke to me* at my local yarn store, and a pattern that was so beautiful I would want to stick with it. I read 5000 books about sizing, fiber choice, techniques, etc. before I started. And then I made one and the other sat in a bin, half knit, for the last six years. Mainly because I fell victim to what so many people do when they start out with a brand new project: I didn’t make choices for a successful and fun project. In the last few months I’ve become addicted to knitting socks, and have become one of those people. So here are some tips I have if you’re thinking about picking up your first pair and want to actually have a good time and keep on going.
Make a good yarn choice. Yarn for socks should be made specifically for socks; typically superwash wool, most will have a small amount of nylon or other synthetic yarn to help with their lifespan. I know, some yarns don’t have this. And some are handwash only. Which are all great. But if you’re just starting out, give yourself the benefit of the doubt and pick something durable. The other thing about yarn made specifically for sock knitting is that it most of the time will have a bit of a spring or twist to it, which will help with elasticity in knitting and also hug your foot nicely. Light colors will also be easier to see, which helps when working things like heels for the first time, and will also showcase a pattern better.
My bad first yarn choice: Tightly spun 100% merino, it had no spring and was a bit harder on the hands to work with. Also since I read my 5000 books, I was convinced I would want a bit of synthetic for strength, and held a polyarn meant for sergers double as I worked. Also fine, but again added to being harder on the hands. And super fun (not) to be working with doubled yarn on size 0’s for intricate cable work. It was also a dark color, making it harder to see at night, which is when I typically get to sit down and knit.
Pick a starter pattern with a bigger gauge. Something dk or worsted weight would be fabulous. If you’re just trying to figure out Judy’s Magic Cast On, or how to turn a heel, or whether you like working on double points or magic loop, you want a fast knit. Getting through a pair quickly will help you get a feel for how you like to work socks. If you have a yarn and a gauge that are larger than typical, it will make for a speedy test project. You could also make a pair up for kids if you’d like to use regular small sock gauge, but a smaller test knit.
My bad gauge choice: The gorgeous merino I picked knit up at a really small gauge, even for socks. I was getting 9 stitches and 13 rows per inchon size 0’s. I’m sure they’ll wear forever since it’s a nice dense fabric, but it meant that my work was sooooooo sloooooow going, I wasn’t seeing progress quickly. And when I don’t see progress, I tend to put projects aside. I timed myself while finishing them recently, and it took me 7 minutes to knit a single row. Which means it took 91 minutes to make an inch. Multiplied by the length of my foot and the length of the sock leg, I’m estimating about 40 hours of solid knitting time. Not counting silly things like bathroom breaks, sipping on my wine in between rows, watching that scene in Mozart in the Jungle that you can’t possibly keep knitting during. Just SOLID KNITTING.
Pick an easy pattern. Maybe just plain old stockinette and try out a toe, heel, and cuff variation that intrigues you. But something easy. Again, you want to whip through this pair just to even see if socks are your thing. Because they might not be, and then at least you won’t have Single Sock Syndrome taunting you from a project bag in the back of a closet. I’m in love with Lucy Neatby’s books for this, which have so many options you can just pick techniques for parts that intrigue you and come up with your own sock.
My bad pattern choice: I picked something pretty that I’d want to wear as socks. Yes, please laugh with me. Knitters know that “things I’d love to wear” and “things I’d love to knit” don’t always go hand in hand. For the love of socks, just pick something easy to knit and get through. Not a 36 stitch wide, 20 row repeat cable chart that you can never memorize and have to keep a placeholder on, so the possibility of knitting when you’re not completely in the zone is out the window. I was never able to knit these complicated things around my kids, or even just do a row when I had a spare moment during the day. And at night when I’d take them out, it was so hard to see with the dark yarn and all the cables and the size 0 needles…..
All the other knitting stuffs
You may have a preference for what kind of needles you like, and you may not. Your preference with socks might be different than other projects. You may want bamboo needles so everything stays put while you learn a new technique, or you may want metal so you can work the stitches with lightning speed. You may like double points. You may like working on two small circulars. You may like magic loop. The thing with all these choices though is there isn’t really a “best” for your first rodeo, it’s just what you like. And it’s completely okay to switch if whatever you’ve started with isn’t jelling. I started my socks from hell on double points, and then realized that my doubled yarn, four needles, a working needle, and a cable needle was ridiculous to ask of my hands. So I tried double circs and ended up liking magic loop best. As long as you stay same gauge, it’s fine to switch up your instruments.
And as far as sizing goes, here’s what I’ve distilled from umpteen books and websites: knit a circumference about 10% smaller than your foot. Unless you’re using yarn with elastic, like Cascade Fixation or Soxx Appeal, and then make them even smaller. You want the yarn to stretch and hug your feet. Knit the length of the socks a tad shorter than your foot for the same reason, but because knitting stretches less lengthwise than around, somewhere around half an inch shorter will do. Most patterns are written assuming your ankle and your instep circumference are the same; if they’re not, just add or subtract stitches as needed.
The funny thing is that I actually put my socks of death to the side and whipped out several pairs for my kids over the years, just knowing how speedy they would be. And being able to work on such small things helped me see that sock knitting isn’t inherently evil, just my combination of choices was. I found my favorite elastic cast off (Russian bind off 4evah), that I like knitting toe up best for yarn usage, test how several different yarns wash and wear over time, and all with the added bonus of having wool socks on my kids in frigid winters when wool socks for kids are hard to come by commercially. I started 2017 wanting to finish all my outstanding UFO’s before starting new things, and made myself dig out my old unfinished socks. And you know what? They were so much fun to finish, I’ve made two pairs for myself since. With much better choices. One even had a charted pattern, and I promised myself I’d knit only on those, one repeat a day, until they were finished. And without letting myself cheat, I did it! I’m almost sad that I’m going to force myself to get back to the sewing room and finish all my stitching WIPs before casting on more socks, there are just so many more pretty yarns and patterns to test. Until then, sock on, friends.
I did it! I finished something! I’ve been plodding along on so many different projects lately, I decided I MUST start finishing my UFO’s before they start taking over my house. I did knock out a few things for Christmas, which made me hit the pause button on my WIPs. But back in the game, baby.
In my last post about finishing your knitting, I neglected to talk about setting sleeve caps. Mainly because I was being an uber procrastinator about sewing and photographing them on a few sweaters I have going. But also because I used a technique on this new swing coat for Miss Cakes that I felt deserved more attention.
I took a short row shaping class with Lily Chin a million years ago, and found my notes recently. While I’ve been using the technique of short rows in my knitting whenever a pattern indicates, I haven’t taken advantage of all the ways they could help finesse patterns that don’t specify to use them. If you’re not familiar, short rows are simply that: rows in your knitting where instead of working all the way across, you stop at a certain point, turn your work around using a wrapped stitch to close up the inevitable gap, and keep knitting. It’s done to add shaping or length to your knitting, almost in the opposite way a dart works in sewing by taking away fabric. In the case of knitting, it makes a certain section longer. Which is useful for all kinds of things as you’d imagine- heels in socks, lengthening the center back in a pair of soakers or longies, the upper back neck on a sweater, or even to add bust shaping.
Graphic courtesy of Interweave, and explained in depth here.
At the end of the class, she encouraged us to brainstorm all the ways that short rows could help us accomplish more elegant finishing in our knitting. When you work a short row, you eventually do knit a row all the way across again, which turns into a nice smooth rounded edge. By doing this, you can create perfect curves that would help in your finishing anywhere a smooth edge is more desirable than the stair step casting off 2,3,4 stitches at a time. Areas like mitten tops, sock toes, or what I used them for today, sleeve caps.
Now I absolutely adore every pattern in the book Wonderland by MillaMia. I’m sure I’ll eventually knit at least half of it, which is a lot to say for such a long book. The designs are fresh and modern, easy enough to knit, but with a nod to the designers’ Scandinavian heritage. When I started delving into the patterns however, I noticed that they don’t take advantage of techniques that would make their garments as fun to make as they are cute to wear. So many seams could be eliminated, shaping done differently.
I didn’t make a plan when I cast on the Cissi Swing Coat, I just impatiently cast on one day in fall when I wanted something new. I would have knit the body all as one instead of a two fronts and a back. I would have knit the sleeves in the round instead of flat. But c’est la vie. When I finished the first sleeve cap, I noticed the ragged edge their shaping left me to work with, and I decided to knit the second using short rows instead. I started the shaping a row earlier, as you have to with short rows, since you end up with the extra finishing row at the end going across the top. And seriously. Do you see that perfectly curved line? Game changer.
So for those dying to know, here’s how I sew in sleeves. I start by sectioning off all areas of different shaping: 1. Across the underarm, where there is a 1:1 ratio, 2. Initial shaping, which is usually mirrored on the sleeve and the body of the garment, and 3. The upper edge of the cap, which is usually a flat cast off edge on the sleeve piece and straight on the body pieces, where the ratio may be closer to 2:1 due to the different directions of knitting being joined.
I start at the underarm, and work a faux graft stitch.
At the initial shaping, which in this pattern is a single decrease every other row, I use a mattress stitch and work mostly 1:1, taking an extra bar or two to make the pieces fit.
Along the upper edge, I do a combo. It functions as a graft from the top of the sleeve, coming from the centers of the V’s at the top of the stitches, but picks up the bars between the rows along the body pieces. Here I pin to make sure the pieces are the same length, aligning the center to the shoulder seam, and take up however many stitches as needed to make it work. In this case, I alternated between 2 and 1 body stitches per 1 stitch on the sleeve cap.
The short row cap set in so much easier, and makes such a smoother finished line. I can’t imagine I’ll go back to the old way of knitting caps again. Short row sleeve on the right below.
I’ve been wanting to knit this for Miss Cakes for a few years now, and I’m so glad I waited until she was a bit bigger. Even though it meant searching for an extra skein on the Buy Sell Trade pages of Ravelry, since this dye lot of Cascade 200 Heathers had been discontinued since I bought the first three skeins. At this size, it’s something she can wear for a few years and a garment she’ll get a lot of use out of.
It turned out soooo cute. I debated about knitting the scarf versus a more traditional collar, which would have made it a bit more versatile, but it was such a sweet detail I went ahead with it. And as a bonus, now I know she has a scarf that will get used and that can’t get lost. 😉
Pewter buttons, sourced from our amazing local yarn store The Sow’s Ear.
I also love the non traditional ribbing on all the borders. It doesn’t pull in as usually K2P2 ribbing does, but you wouldn’t want it to in a swing shape.
Finished just in time to keep her warm and cozy for the rest of our already subzero winter. One of these days, I’ll make something for myself again. Really. I will.
Anyone else struggling to finish all their handmade gifts for the holidays? No? Just me? I have serious project commitment problems this time of year. I keep thinking of things that one person or another would like, and I pull out all the yarn and fabric and patterns that I own and lay it everywhere brainstorming until I don’t have any room left to actually work. And then when I finally dostart picking up projects, I end up in the middle of too many to finish. Fleece jammies cut out but in need of a zipper, flannel pajamas pinned to paper, a holiday skirt for Miss Cakes thatjust needs buttons, a dress stalled out at neckline binding conundrums, knitting that needs blocking and finishing work, and more yarn in bags designated for projects I’m not even going to get to cast on. Sound familiar?
Here’s a question for the ages: I love sewing. I love knitting. So why in the world do I hate sewing up my knitting with a fiery passion? It’s something I have to psyche myself up to do. Get a good cup of coffee, no distractions, take the kids, I’m gonna be here for awhile kind of situation. I think for me, the enjoyable part of knitting is the actual knitting. And when that’s done, I want my project done too. (I should really only knit seamless things, I know.) For those staring down a pile of knitting to finish, this one’s for you.
Invisible horizontal seaming
Whenever possible, I use this technique for horizontal seams. I looked in every stitch dictionary I own and on the interwebs, and I cannot find an actual name for it, but it appears that a lot of other people love it too. I just like how it looks better than sewing a seam with a backstitch, overcast stitch, or other traditional sewing stitch. Plus it has the added benefit of being slightly stretchy along with your knitting. It’s kind of like doing Kitchner stitch, without the scary prospect of live stitches.
Bring your needle and yarn up through a stitch in your lower piece of knitting.
Going left to right, or right to left (the same direction as your seam is going), take your needle around the base of the stitch in your upper piece of knitting.
Go back down into the same location in your lower piece of knitting.
Come up in the middle of the next stitch in your lower piece.
Repeat until done.
Go back and tighten up the stitches with your needle until they match the same gauge as your knitting.
Now for horizontal seaming, you do always have the option of a 3-needle bind off, but I rarely find an actual use for this. Only when making a tube of a Dale of Norway sweater did I have straight shoulder seams where it applied.
I love this for vertical seams. It’s pure magic. It makes your work look seamless if you do it right. I like to leave a tail long enough when I cast on so that when I get to the side seam in a sweater or sleeve, back seam in a hat, or whatever your seam, I can just thread my needle and go without attaching a new piece of yarn. More secure and less weaving in later, which you already know I hate too.
Looking at your pieces with the right sides up, bring your needle and yarn to the right side of the fabric.
Pick the channel you’re going to sew in, whether it’s half a stitch, a full stitch, or more inside from the edge. Locate the horizontal strands of yarn, sometimes called bars or ladders, that you see on the backside of the work between the front side stitches- these are what we’ll use to sew the pieces together.
Take your needle to the opposite piece and pick up one of the ladders in the same direction you’re working (if you’re going from the bottom to the top of a piece, pick up the ladder from the bottom to the top, as in a running stitch in sewing).
Going back to the original piece, pick up the corresponding ladder from the same stitches.
Continue going back and forth. Leave the stitch thread loose as you work. Every inch or two inches or so, go back and tighten up the stitches. When you get to the top, weave in ends to finish.
A note of caution: When I tighten my stitching, I never pull from the needle thread, but go in with my needle and pull only on the stitch itself. If you pull from the working yarn you risk overtightening and stressing the yarn, which can snap your yarn (and give you a headache as you now need to weave that in and join in a new working yarn). It can also make the stitching yarn way too tight for wear in the garment. I always snug up only a few stitches and then give the seam a tug, which puts a bit of slack back into the seam and mimics the amount of stretch you’ll want there for movement while wearing.
Weaving in your ends
I made a quick reference to this in the post I wrote about mending knits, but I really just snake up and down along a line of bumps on the back side of stockinette.
For areas like ribbing, I tend to make an overcast loop around a side of the V stitch, changing direction once or twice to help the yarn from pulling out in case the yarn is ever caught and pulled.
Occasionally the yarn is slippy or just feels like it needs a bit of extra reinforcement, and then I’ll actually thread my yarn through a sharp needle and splice the knitting yarns at an angle. I remember gasping in horror when I first saw Elizabeth Zimmerman doing this in one of her old PBS episodes. But if EZ does it, that’s enough for me to consider it acceptable technique.
And in some cases, you just go for it all. This fair isle hat changed color so frequently, I wove the ends up or down as needed at the round join to help the row even out from the outside. Then I went back and forth and spliced the backs sometimes where there was just so much yarn already, I didn’t have the space!
Vertical to horizontal seams
This is where what you’re doing will play a part in which stitch to use. I’m working on finishing the Kim Hargreaves sweater I started last fall, and in attaching the mohair ruffles in vertical rows to my sweater, I chose an overcast stitch. I pinned both ends in place and since I couldn’t go with any particular rate of stitch to stitch, I just made sure it seemed evenly distributed before I started and continued that way. I would stitch from back to front in the middle of a V stitch in the ruffle, and then pick up a ladder or a few from the sweater. Repeat until done. And then weave in the bajillion ends since it had contrast yarn too.
Sleeves have a special place in hell for me, which is why I’m still staring at these. They take a combination of all of the above techniques, changing from one to one horizontal seaming at the top and bottom, some faux-kitchner as you change to a vertical to horizontal, and the rate at which you grab stitches changes with the angle. I get the best results if I pin before I start in a couple places, marking off the areas top and bottom I want to have a one to one stitch ratio. And then just go for it!
I’m really excited to finish up the sleeves on the new sweater for Miss Cakes featured in most of this post, as she hasn’t had a new sweater in a couple years. Maybe in time for Christmas. 😉 Til then, tackle your knits! Finish those UFO’s! You can do it! (Can you hear me saying this just as much to psyche myself up? I hope that works.)
Happy holidays! I wish you all get some good craft time in between visiting loved ones and endless cookie baking and eating. Show me what you’ve got going on over on the Facebook page!
Stay warm out there! Love from the frozen tundra that is Wisconsin,
I’m sorry for the long pause that was November on the blog. Truth is, I’ve been knitting lately. A lot. Call it therapy for all the election madness, or just soothing to curl up with now that winter is finally upon us. Or to be blunt, Gumball has decided naps are for suckers, and any parent knows that means that your daytime free time is gone for good. (Can I cry about that? Just a little?) While I can’t yet trust him to be loose while I sew, I can bring a ball of yarn and my needles to the backyard while he and Miss Cakes run through leaf piles.
Knitting takes so.much.more.time than sewing a garment though. And while I’ve been snuggling four rotating projects under a blanket watching the Gilmore Girls revival, I just haven’t actually finished much. I did make this cute hat for Gumball, pattern testing the new child size of the Dunloe hat pattern for Knit Knight Designs. It was a much needed item in his cold weather wardrobe, and as a bonus used up two skeins of Dale of Norway Baby Ull I’ve had sitting in my stash for awhile.
It’s a lovely knit, with lots of stockinette to allow you to mindlessly speed through and focus on Rory and Lorelai’s antics instead of a complicated stitch chart. I love that the cable is written in both a chart and written instructions, so you can choose to follow your preferred method of pattern reading. And lots of places to mod more slouch, width, whatever you need to make it your own. Well written and fun? Yes please.
I did encounter some hijinks with my yarn; namely I suspect a moth problem. ***Scream at will here.*** There were tons of splits in the yarn, and after winding past the first three to begin, I just decided to start and reinforce any bad spots. There were 12 more to come.
Here’s what I did: when approaching a thin section where only a ply or two was broken, I’d use some of the yarn I unwound and cut off at the beginning, and knit both strands together for a few stitches on either side. Then cut off the second yarn, and continued on. I went back at the end and darned them all in. (I would have spit spliced if it wasn’t superwash.)
In any areas where the yarn was completely or almost broken, I tied a knot leaving long tails, and kept knitting on. When finished, I went back, untied the knots, and wove the ends in properly. SO MUCH WEAVING IN.
Lots more work than a usual knit, but the yarn and the project were a perfect match. And who doesn’t love using up stash yarn? Now let’s hope he just keeps the darn thing on his head.
I also just whipped out this new top, Vogue pattern 9128 with next to no mods. I’d been itching to get this pattern for awhile, as it has good waist definition, a bit of playfulness in a mini peplum, but is still a comfy jersey T. Perfect for momming around town without feeling shlubby.
I had cotton-spandex jersey from a run to Vogue Fabrics in Evanston in October. It’s the perfect balance of sturdy and drapey, and yet has good stretch and recovery thanks to the spandex. I did my typical measuring to double check all seams were where I wanted them, and it was super close to perfect. Narrowed in the wrists, cut two sizes down from what the pattern says my size should be to get to zero ease (how I like to wear my knits), and cut away.
I zig zagged first, checked fit, and went back to serge off excess, as I did with the peplum top. This needed no alterations though, and was so fast even my first time through, I’m definitely making more.
I went back in the morning and added top stitching around the neck edge and the curved seams to keep the seam allowance in place. I left the hem raw again, but I can see it wants to curl so I may go back after a wash and assess then if I want to turn under 1/4″.
I’m so happy with how it turned out, I’m planning on trying some with colorblocking and different knits for the side and back panels. It’ll have to wait for a month though, because….
It’s Dressember! If you haven’t heard about it, Dressember is a movement to raise awareness and funds to help end modern day slavery, worldwide trafficking, and the exploitation of women. Every day for the month of December, I pledge to wear a dress. In Wisconsin. In the winter. And in doing so, I hope to bring about change in my own small way by helping to finance rescue missions for those stuck in dire circumstances. I was so moved after watching the founder Blythe Hill’s TED Talk, I knew I had to participate. #dressember, #itsbiggerthanadress, and #youcandoanythinginadress is all about how what is seemingly a silly sartorial challenge can help bring about change. I hope you’ll consider donating to my team here, or wearing a dress for a day or two yourself. And when your friends and family ask why you’re wearing a dress, you can say you’re helping change the world, one step at a time.
Happy December! If you need me, I’ll be huddled under a blanket in my wool tights trying to finish up one more of these sweaters…
If you live in the upper midwest, I’m sure you know what happened this week. Hint: It got cold. One day we were at the pumpkin patch sweating in long sleeves, and the next day we were at the park with friends and my head was screaming “WHEN DID IT GET SO FREEZING COLD AND WHY DIDN’T I PACK GLOVES?!” I came home to put the button placket on my polka dot dress, and it suddenly looked less like The Dress I Can Layer With Tights, and more like The Dress That Will Give Me Pneumonia. Such is fall in Wisconsin. I’ll see you in spring, sweet thing, when I feel like wearing a sleeveless flimsy lawn slip again.
My mind has already been wrapped around LONG SLEEVES for a few weeks now. And how I own very few items that aren’t full of holes, pilled to the point of embarrassment, over six years old (hi there, pre-kids clothes!), or maternity items still loitering in my drawer. Time for a clean out and a redesign. And when you need clothes in bulk, why not make multiples of the same pattern? It’s so much faster to make a second, or a third, because the pattern is already proofed and fitted. You’ve figured out how you want to stitch your seams, and the best order to do so. Making a multiple usually takes half the time, and keeps going down with practice.
My first tops of the season were inspired by a little thing called Lularoe. A lot of you have probably seen this brand making the rounds as cute stretchy pieces billed as easy to wear and figure flattering. You know by now what a sucker I am for a novelty print, extra points for holiday themes. I’m not even a person that wears leggings to sleep in, but I suddenly felt like I NEEDED Halloween leggings. And then realized after I bought two pairs that I gave away all my tunic tops, and I was up a s!%* creek when it came to styling these with anything.
I had McCalls pattern 7021 from last summer, which I’d passed over when I made my scuba peplum top in favor of a pattern with more shaping. This seemed like a great pattern for a drapey rayon/spandex jersey, and would work well for some *ahem* backside coverage in a tunic length. I like my tops to be slightly more fitted, with a waistline emphasis, and not too much volume. Made up almost as a mini dress, this seemed to be the ticket.
The cut: I sized down a size from my standard, because I like to utilize the negative ease in knits more than patterns generally account for. I tissue fit the bodice pieces like in Make it Fit: Bust points, and added a bit of length as it seemed too short. I redrafted the neckline to be a scoop, following the line of one of my favorite T’s instead of the drafted boatneck. I also lengthened the peplum for more coverage with leggings, and made it an even length figuring I could cut it off later if I wanted to shorten or do a high-low hem like the original. With the changes, I barely squeaked it out of 2 yards, with a completely different layout than the pattern. The second sleeve piece had to be flipped the other direction and nested.
The first top: I stitched everything initially with a zig zag to double check fit before taking it to the serger. It didn’t have enough shaping, so I whittled down the waist and the sleeves. I cut a neck band at 70% of the finished stitch line to finish the neck edge, which ended up being just a bit small for my liking but fine enough that I left it alone. At first pass attaching the peplum, I realized the weight dragged the bodice down so far I’d need to cut off a lot of the excess length I’d added. I tied a string around my waist, chalked off the adjustment, took it off, cut, and restitched. One of my prepurchased peplum tops uses a clear elastic to stabilize the waist, which I tried to attach when I serged the seam. It worked fine but was really scratchy, so I cut a binding and encased the finished seam. I finished the sleeves with a zig zag hem, and left the peplum raw edge since it’s a circular piece that would surely curl up in the wash and never hang well after the initial wear. I’ve used this rayon/spandex jersey before and it washes fine left raw.
The second top: I immediately cut into the purple the next day, marking all changes onto the pattern pieces, and just going for it. No zigzag, just straight through my serger. The only seam I zigged on my sewing machine was the waist. I wanted a different finish, so I made a casing between two rows of stitching, and serged the seam allowance shut after inserting the elastic. Less bulky, softer, and less steps. The benefit of making two back to back literally cut my time on the second shirt in half. It made up in a little more than an hour, and after midnight when your eyes are already starting to close but you just wanna push through. This is the true bonus of duplicates, they’re just automatic and you don’t even need to think.
And look how cute they are!! Not my typical style for sure, but I think it ended up being a more flattering shape than most oversized tunic tops. They’re so comfy, I may need to make one up as a full dress length.
Well, I really am my daughter’s mother. Twirls just run in the family when you’re wearing a full skirt.
I have to say, these are some of the coziest outfits I’ve worn in awhile. Perfect for these rainy cold days when you just wanna snuggle up on the couch and knit, or have to go out but want to stay in clothes as comfortable as your pajamas. Please pray no one calls me out on still wearing them through November. Shhhhhh.