Imke, a hoodie: no-rules working with knits

Seam-Ripping
(Last night at dinner, Sophie volunteered to take the stitches out of the Imke hood; I’d decided to re-do the hood in the larkspur knit rather than the 100% cotton in oatmeal colorway, because the latter had rippled too much in constructing the pointed hood.)

In the case of sewing, I’ve learned there are no real rules. Whatever you can find to work, works.

I know this doesn’t sound like earth-shattering knowledge upon first read.  But keep in mind I’ve been sewing for some years now.  In the townships I’ve lived since I began my sewing craft in earnest, I’ve yet to find a real-life sewing community, people who get together and sew and share with one another (I’ve found lots of quilting groups, doll-making groups, embroidery goups and even knitting and crocheting groups – but no groups that revolve around garment-making).  Therefore most of my sewing hobnobbing has been through online groups – the place I go to show off my latest creation (rare, these days – I’m not clicking with anyone online), or get help when I’m stuck on a technique (about once every two months).

Concomitant to online sewing enthsiast verbiage and the occasional library book or Threads article comes a kind of elitist or rules-based vibe.  So in searching for how to add bust darts to a t-shirt, say, you end up reading about how “so many women don’t know basic principles of fit”, and how this-or-that pattern isn’t flattering and how this method of FBA is superior to the slash-and-pivot, and one should purchase this-or-that book and go through all the excercises to get a greater understanding of the whole business.

Ugh.  No really, I just want to make a pretty good shirt that fits my (sizeable) bust.  And now I’m tied up in knots thinking about the “right” way to do it!

Let me break it down in a way that will hopefully be less indimidating.

As you sew your garment, your goals should be:

1. Wearability (the garment fits you and is sturdy enough to stand wear)
2. Style (you – or your intended – has to want to wear it)

And that’s just about it! In whatever ways you accomplish this goal, you are doing it right.

That means if during construction you “cheat” by using hot glue, or by having a tailor insert a zipper – because you simply can’t do it yourself – or buying a kit of some kind of where the thing is half-made-up from the get-go, or using a bedazzler, it doesn’t matter. It’s better to have a success on your terms than a bad experience on someone else’s.

With respect to this stage of the Imke hoodie, I’d like to address the novice or intermediate sewist who is tackling a knit project.

Knits can be tricky.  They can stretch unbecomingly as you sew – and refuse to bounce back, leaving rippled hems and wavy seams. They can get sucked into the feed dogs (those are the jagged little teeth on the throat plate that move fabric along as you sew).  They can sew up beautifully only, when you attempt to wear the garment, you find threads mysteriously popping.

Should the potential pitfalls of knit fabrics deter you from sewing with them?  Heavens, no!

As relatively seasoned as I am, when it comes to sewing with knits I am not above using Technology, or that is to say, products with fiber and glue that help secure, either temporarily or permanently, knits and their seams, hems, or trims and appliques applied. Most of these products are inexpensive ($2/yd or less) and you only use little bits of them.  I used four such products in the construction of Imke:

1. A water-based stabilizer – This product allowed me to sew even stitches on my knit, then could be washed away after the garment was finished.  This product is also good for putting a small 1″ square underneath a knit seam as you begin to sew; it keeps the knit from being dragged under (so annoying!).

Stabilizer, Underside
The water-soluble stabilizer ensured my grosgrain ribbon “floated” on the top of the knit, as opposed to compressing or dragging while sewing.  That white-looking webbing?  Instantly dissolves in hot or warm water.

2. Wonder Under, a Pellon product – Think of a gossamer-thin sticky glue you iron to your applique or patch, then iron onto the garment. It is not enough to hold it for duration of wear – you have to stitch down the patch or applique. But it holds it in place long enough to be able to top-stitch with good effect.  Yesterday’s post included a picture taken after I’d fused one side of the product to my applique fabric and traced the shapes I’d be cutting.

3. Some nameless fusible tape similar to the Wonder Under, but less elegant (Walmart FTW!) – I used this for securing the grosgrain ribbon to the knit before I topstitched it down with a zig zag. I am super-proud of the ribbon effect, which I pulled off more beautifully than most anything else in this project.

Steam A Seam Sumthin-Or-Other
Use the fusible tape to secure (temporarily) the grosgrain to the knit. Loosely pin the stabilizer under the ribbon just before sewing.  Then topstitch with a zig-zag that does not interfere with the desired color effect you want from the ribbon.

Stripe / Stabilizer
Results (yes, Nels designed this hoodie with two different-colored sleeves!):

Sleeves, Finished

Eagle-eyed viewers may notice I added cuffs to this garment.  The construction of cuffs is simple and rather satisfying – look how nicely they turned out!  If you click on the above picture you will be taken to my Flickr page with a few details of cuff construction.  And that brings me to:

4. Knit interfacing.  “Interfacing” is a term for lining parts of a garment with either body or stiffness – like one would do in a button placket on a dress shirt, or a collar.  When it comes to calling a fabric “interfacing”, this usually means a thin fabric, either fusible or sew-in, that adds strength and/or stiffness.  Interfacing is a good idea on cuffs because they see a lot of wear.  In the case of the cuffs I constructed above, I used a knit interfacing with a bit of give.  However, the interfacing is stiff enough to pull the looser-knit sleeve in, leaving a deliciously sturdy and, dare I say, professional-looking effect.

Getting back to the issue of sewing with knits, my readers ask: can you sew patches, appliques, and trims to a knit fabric without the use of fusibles and stabilizers? It depends largely on the knit – but, in theory, you can. As I said in my last post, when messing about with knits you need to practice.  If you can make it work, go for it.

How do you know which products to use, and when?  Think about the parts of the garment you are embellishing or strengthening.  Because most trims, patches, and appliques are rigid, so sewing them to the knit may impede the stretch at that point in the garment.  Example: if the garment is a loose-fitting cardigan, sewing patches or trims anywhere won’t make much of a difference to the fit and function of the garment (and you may not need a stretch knit at all; an interlock or non-stretch knit may suffice – a recent coat I made my daughter was sewn in a knit, but underlined with a woeven, as it did not need to stretch to fit or wear properly).  But let’s say, as in the case of Imke, you are making a pullover hoodie.  You should not then trim the neckline with an inflexible ric-rac or ribbon – because it has to stretch to go over the head.  Do you want to trim the sleeve cuffs or leg hems?  Careful how you proceed: hands or feet need to comfortably slide through and wrists or ankles need to be able to move in comfort.  If the cuffs/hems are loose-fitting, then add trim as you see fit.

So, adding patches or trims to knits is no rocket science.  In the case of Imke, since the body of the hoodie is a relatively loose fit, I didn’t have to worry about restricting stretch with the large patch I applied to the back.

By the way: I ended up loathing the cotton rib knit, colorway oatmeal, that I’d initially felt so positive about (and got on remnant sale – $3 for a 60″ yard). I cannot wait to pass it on to someone else, as I have a significant amount of yardage left. I wish I could have made friends with this rib knit – which is soft, thick, and a lovely color – but as a 100% cotton it keeps stretching and stretching as I sew despite a handful of tricks I employwed.  One sleeve was more than enough exposure; I had some colorful words at the sewing table, which I will spare you here.

Finally: I tend to enjoy lots of decorative topstitch, even when it’s more or less lost on a rather busy garment.  Let’s face it, kids’ clothes are all about expressiveness, not sophistication (and I wish more adults would take this to heart in their own stylistic endeavors).  Employing topstitch details to delight my son’s searching eyes feels like Love to me.

Decorative, Hood Facing

Tomorrow: finished Imke!

Imke, a hoodie: tracing patterns and handling knits

Well, we sure had fun today, didn’t we? Oh wait, no we did not. I mean, things started well enough. I got up and began to work on Imke, the hooded sweatshirt that is the first-listed project in the Farbenmix book.

Provided you have the pattern and the fabric, the general order of embarking on a sewing project is as follows:

1. Select fabrics
2. Sketch design
3. Trace pattern
4. Cut fabrics and begin construction

Nels and I fell in love with a lovely rib knit, color name “larkspur”. It is 96% cotton and 4% spandex, I believe – the perfect rib knit for a natural feel but enough recovery to sew and wear well (all-cotton rib knits, someone tell me what these are good for? They stretch like mad and end up rather saggy. Give me a wee bit of creepy, petroleum-based fiber technology any day). The rib knit was on sale a few days ago and we picked up about a yard and a half; at home I had a handful of knits and some trims / panels that I knew would look good with the lovely blue color:

Fabrics

“Larkspur” is there at the lower-right. Isn’t it lovely?  From the left we have an all-cotton whale print rib knit, a dark blue (it looks black in the photo) cotton lycra knit (this was too lightweight for the body of the garment; I figured I could use it for a hood lining), an oatmeal cotton rib knit (I have more to say about this fabric in my next post), a grosgrain ribbon ($2 for a roll), a few miscellaneous fabric panels and a robot patch (the latter from Etsy!), and a woven cotton stripe remnant – high quality, and on sale for $1.50.

It’s funny the “easiest” project in the book is a knit project.  I think this is actually not a good jumping off point for beginners (I will be talking about sewing with knits in my next post). While one should not be intimidated at the thought of sewing with knits, it’s best to go slowly when you first start. There are pitfalls in sewing with these seemingly friendly fabrics.

That said, knit garments often have simple design lines and lack darts, collars, cuffs, etc.  Therefore the customization of this piece would mostly be in the contrasting appliques and trims added.  Fortunately, my partner in design woke right as I was getting started and came right back to the sewing room to help sketch the garment design.

Sketch

There were only four pieces to trace, so this only took about ten minutes, even considering I needed to add my own seam allowances (in purple, below):

TracingWhat’s funny is, I was thinking I’d be writing today that tracing mediums don’t matter much: you can buy something renowned like Swedish Tracing Paper, you can use non-fusible interfacing (do not use fusible; you will be ironing the tracings now and then) or even trace with cheap tissue paper (be careful using this as you must not allow it to get wet).  I was feeling very sanguine about tracing mediums, but this Pellon product ended up warping under the iron’s heat so it wouldn’t lay perfectly flat.  A minor annoyance, to be sure – I am very exact.  My tracing and cutting usually never allows me off more than 1/8″, so I am not too concerned about inexactitudes.  Still, the warped nature of the medium was a bit annoying.  If you need any  more information about tracing and how to go about it, don’t hesitate to email or, better yet, post here in the comments.  Make sure to label the size you’re tracing on the pattern piece for future reference (in the above photo, upper left – Euro size); I put traced sizes in their own envelope, labeled.

Most natural fibers need washing and drying if they are to be washed and dried during their life as a garment (if you are making a quilt, and certain other projects like a potholder, it is sometimes desirous to not pre-wash and -dry your cotton, velvet, what-have-you). 99.9% of my garment-sewing involves wash-and-dry care; I’m not interested in the expense or trouble of dry-cleaning.  Last night I washed and dried all my fabrics (the quilt panels had been washed and dried years ago, when I used the rest of the fabric to make baby pants), and piled them up more or less folded along my ironing board (folding or draping fabrics fresh out of the dryer often eliminates the need for ironing). This morning I found the grain and cut my pieces.  When finding the fabric grain and cutting it, make sure to support the yardage length on the table; otherwise it can pull and distort the fabric and you won’t be getting an exact cut. This is particularly true for a loose weave or, as in my case here, a stretch-knit.

It’s easy to find the grain of a beefy rib knit like those I was working with:
Finding The Grain Of A Rib Knit

Time to get started on the applique pieces and the trims! Here is a preview – as it happened, the first time I’ve used Wonder Under, a light double-sided fusible:

Wonder Under, A 1st

I think your average beginner could use a mentor for this project. Sewing patches/appliques and trims on a knit with 25% or more stretch?  Not exactly super-easy.  One thing I’ll say about knit sewing – and the book mentions this a bit – is practice, practice, practice. Keep the little scraps from after you cut your garment pieces.  Before you think about sewing the garment, select the proper needle and thread (more about this in a minute) and sew a few pieces together. You will begin to get a feel for how easy the knit will be or how much trouble it will give you (in the case of one of these fabrics above – lots!  Any guesses as to which one?). Again, a stretch knit with a bit of polyester, spandex, or lycra can be easier to sew with than an all- cotton/hemp/silk/wool may be.  A non-stretch knit is easier to work with in any case; but careful here.  Patterns will tell you if a stretch knit is required and for the most part, you can believe the pattern on this one.

To sew on a knit you often need a ballpoint needle in a size appropriate to the fabric (for these slightly beefy rib knits, a size 80/12 worked fine). Polyester thread is a good bet. Practice on your scraps and in tomorrow’s post I’ll be showing some of the blood, sweat, and tears of constructing with a stretch knit. If you’d like to read ahead you can check out the photo notes in my Farbenmix Imke tagset.

Today I almost finished the hoodie – and it’s quite an embellished little thing, as according to my son’s design! – but, predictably, I sewed right up until bedtime and ran into trouble at the end. A new start tomorrow!

Farben-mixing it up, an introduction

Kids need sturdy clothes, and hopefully ones that grow gracefully so the child can wear them long enough to wear them out (in the case of the blazer I made my son last summer, Nels continues to wear it despite growing five inches in a year; it is now comically too-short).  When my kids were wee their clothing needs were less intense; gone are the days of babies and toddlers who mostly don’t get up to too much rough play.

I mentioned late last month I’d purchased a book with children’s sewing patterns: Sewing Clothes Kids Love: Sewing Patterns and Instructions for Boys’ and Girls’ Outfits (published by Creative Publishing International). The book’s patterns and scope are such that I’ve been inspired to complete all the garments therein and write about it here.  I hope all my readers – stitchers and non-sewists alike – find my travels interesting.

A few questions answered:

Why Sewing Clothes Kids Love?

The book Sewing Clothes Kids Love (hereafter called “the Farbenmix book”) has a good scope.  In the ten patterns of the book we see practical kidwear that can be constructed according to the age, preferences, and tastes of each child.  There are ten patterns in size ranges Euro 86 cm to 152 cm (roughly 2T to size 14).  The patterns are not complex in and of themselves and favor loose and comfortable fits, pull-on waists, and elastic or tie features to accommodate a growing and active child.

In addition, the Farbenmix book showcases a high attention to detail and embellishments, the kind of things most children love. It provides a few guidelines for making sure to create something your kid will like and select from the closet over and over again.  As those who sew for others know, you have to create something the individual loves, or he/she simply won’t wear it.  I’m pretty good at knowing what friends and family like. The ideas and pictures in the Farbenmix book provide additional influences and inspiration for which I am ready and grateful to use.

It is not a perfect book; most of the patterns are styled with distinctly feminine embellishments and pattern lines, leaving creative boy-styled garments in the lurch.  However, the focus on garments that play and grow with the child and express children’s unique sensibilities make it a project full of Win for me.

Is this project expensive?

Not really.  Home-sewing can be as cheap or as pricey as you make it.  In addition, home sewing stands for lots of wear.  I have never purchased clothes that last as long as the ones I sew – yes, even on my kids who regularly climb trees, play War and kickball, and rough-house like no one’s business.  Homesewn items can have a life beyond those you purchase; yesterday my daughter went to a dance in a dress I made – which had doubled as her Halloween costume last year – and her friend attended the same event in Sophie’s dress form the year before.

Is sewing a money-saving venture?  I leave that for others to bicker about.  I will say: homesewing takes time, but it’s time I’m thrilled to spend.

Is this project appropriate for beginners?

Well, yes and no.  Familiarity with sewing, tracing patterns, adding seam allowances, and fitting children will be a big help – all of which I have in spades.  However, a beginner might find themselves intimidated by the many new concepts they have to wrangle at once.  If you’d like to tackle the book and would like assistance, please don’t hesitate to email me at kelly AT hogaboom DOT org or call me at (360)532-9453.

Why sew for kids?

Ready for me to get pop-culture specific?  Well here goes anyway.  The current craft and homesewing scene is glutted with pornographically cute and often trivial craft projects.  These books and sites often contain photographs of adorable (usually white) children doing cute, non-kidlike and non-messy things on sun-washed oak floors; concomitant to this we have the craftster culture of shoddy and fast results meant to clad the (usually thin, young, and white) urban hipster and her closetful of eclectic fare.  At the other end, a few monolithic sites showcase rather dressy enterprises for adults’ formal or dressy garments, highlighting tailored techniques.

These markets are being served just fine, and all of these projects have their individual merit.  I am all for a newbie sewer having luck embellishing tea towels, then going on to try something more ambitious. In addition, tailor-made details are some I thrive on when it’s appropriate to employ them.

Yet my life is one of caring for a family with young children and a houseful of pets – and one income.  I can’t afford too many expensive fabrics while keeping up with my kids’ demand.  The Farbenmix book is a perfect avenue to continue sewing expressive, strong, beautiful clothing for people who work and play hard.

If this sounds like something you’d like to do, I’d love to help you.

So let’s get started!