Staff Tips & Tricks: March 2011 Archives
My April Blog theme is Spring Wardrobe and I am prepping for a few knit pieces. As I have been preparing, I thought it might be a good idea to post my progress and some of my short cuts as well as tools that I have found handy for successful knit sewing on a conventional machine. If you could have seen some of my first knit projects, you would only laugh. You would probably pull out something similar from your project archives- filed under "Never to see the light of day again/Failure". My first knit projects were copies of t shirts that I loved and my instructions were a few tutorials here and there from blogland. Like a teenager with out of context instructions I was sure I knew it all and jumped in with both feet. I was aghast at my outcome. A few years, a few more tutorials and a few knit sewing books (read from cover to cover several times) under my belt, my projects are looking good and I feel confident. I am not the teenager -in sewing terms-- anymore but nor am I the wise old wizard, with a "been there, done that" attitude knowing that I have faced all situations. I am just a girl with a regular sewing machine sewing knits pretty well. Here's how I do it.
I prep. HARD. I wash all my knit fabric and wash it exactly after I wear the garment. This is SO important. As much as I want to give my fabric special treatment- I treat it like any other piece of knit clothing. Next, I press all the wrinkles out and then lay it out as though to cut it on my cutting table and let it rest for an hour or more (I sometimes get distracted). The pressing can stretch and distort the knit and letting it rest will give you a truer cut than cutting into it right away.
I stay away from light weight jersey and use medium weight knits. This is my preference. I like more weight to my fabric because of the drape and how it falls on my shape. I also prefer it to sew. Light weight jersey curls like Shirley Temple's hair and it is NOT fun to sew. I also find that it is harder to rip with a seam ripper but I really think that is all me. I am probably just projecting now. I love interlock and medium weight jersey; stable knits like Ponte are also really fun.
Knits have a smaller seam allowance so if you are not comfortable with that you can cut a bigger size.
Recently I made a muslin of a knit dress for one of my upcoming projects. I had a problem with the fit. The pattern had me pegged at exactly a size 14 but it ended up being too big. I receive a great comment from Michelle Louise suggesting that I not go by the size on the envelope but measure the pattern pieces themselves. This was a great tip and it has worked really well in helping me avoid the wrong size.
I use a walking foot and it has turned my knitting life around. A regular foot would always leave me with mismatched fabric not just lengthwise but it would shift widthwise as well. I would spend so much time pinning and shifting while sewing that sewing knits was not enjoyable. With my walking foot, I use just a few pins and my fabric stays straight, inline and matches all the way to the end of the seam. Sewing knits is not stressful anymore.
I use freezer paper instead of cutting my patterns. Since I can never be sure that I am cutting the right size the first time, I just trace my pieces onto freeze paper, cut them out and iron them onto the fabric. I don't have to pin and they are reusable. This works so well with my rotary cutter. There is very little fabric distortion due to pinning and weights.
Knitting Lace is a wonderful experience and the finished product is even more rewarding. Lace has been a prized commodity for centuries and as a hand craft its lessons have been passed down for just as long. Knitting lace is not difficult only challenging. You need to have a few tricks up your sleeve to successfully knit Lace (by successfully, I also mean with low frustration). Here are 5 of my Lace Secrets:
1) Lace Cast On. For a gorgeous lace shawl or scarf you need a beautiful cast on, the lace cast on is easy but adds that certain detail to give your lace something special. Bonus: you do not need a long tail for this cast on. The lace cast on adds decorative loops in the form of yarn overs to blend in beautifully with the yarn overs of your lace. This is a seamless cast on. Caution: you will always cast on an odd number of stitches
2) Lifelines. We have discussed it before but lifelines are so important I would be remiss if I wrote a lace article without emphasizing the importance of lifelines again. Please use them. They will save much heartache especially when knitting with difficult yarns like Mohair, Angora and Cashmere (the fluffy yarns are trying to rip back). It is good piece of mind to always have a safe place to rip back to where you KNOW your stitch count is correct. In addition, for those of us who like to check items off their To Do lists, you get a warm, similar feeling each time you move up your lifeline. Another section well done!
3) Consider lace knitting as "Me Time". You need to concentrate so no TV, movies, kids playing, knitting in public (maybe later but not to start) or with friends. There are plenty of projects that you can knit while distracted, lace is not one of them. Think of it as a good excuse to pour a glass of wine, sit on your porch and get inside your mind. You deserve it and your lace does too. I don't knit lace often now because of my daughter but when I do, I revel in it because for an hour or 2 that is all I am doing and it feels so good.
Invest in Lace. Lace is a fine art so treat it
as such. Buy yourself (or
make) a great knitting bag to keep all your tools organized or easy to
hand. Your bag will protect your lace, make it easy for you to knit and keep it
Spend time on picking your yarn. Consider the fiber, color and feel of your yarn. Knit a swatch. Don't just go with your budget. Consider that you will be spending significant time with this yarn while knitting and after. You want to love it always. Knitting lace is a luxury with the time you spend and the yarn you use.
5) The Devil is in not thinking of the details. You've already bought the yarn and committed the time, so think about the details. As your start your project, pack up all your tools and books you may need to complete your lace. Get your bag organized and wind up your yarn. Get everything in order before you start. If you set aside the time, get organized and use the right tools, lace knitting will be awesome. I remember my first time with lace. I just sat down and had nothing planned. I was jumping up every 5 min to grab something, would soon lose it in my lap and was frustrated so much I may have drop kicked my needles a few times. Now, I am committed to the planning and I love knitting lace!
A knitted hem is an awesome way to finish or start off your knitting when you are looking for a tailored and clean look. Knitted hems are also the perfect solution to preventing the Stockingette curl. You may also use this technique to place pin tucks anywhere in a project by a small modification.This technique played a big role in the Lollipop Skirt by Bekah Knits. Let's get started.
To add a knitted hem to the beginning of a project, you want to decide how long you want your hem. You can determine this with swatching. However many rows long your finished hem will be, you will knit double. I am going to demonstrate with a 6 row hem. First I cast on according to my pattern and knit 5 rows in Stockingette. Next, on the right side of my work, I purl one row (I will explain this in a bit), then I knit 5 more rows in Stockingette. One the next row (which I will be knitting), I will pick up one stitch from the cast on edge and knit it together with a stitch from my left needle.
You can see that it starts to form a welt, i.e. knitted hem. The purl row in the middle creates a dent on the wrong side enabling the fabric to fold there and give a clean finish. Otherwise, you would be creating more of a tube instead of a nice, folded hem finish. After this row, you can continue knitting according to your pattern.
Now, if you want to add a knitting hem to your project at the end and cast off at the same time, I recommend you add a lifeline where the top of the hem will start. This makes it easy to pick up your stitches in a straight line. You might notice that you cannot see the life line from the back of the work as easily as you can see it from the front but once you start picking up, you will see it just fine. Again, working with a 6 row hem, you will knit 5 rows from the life line in Stockingette. The next row, on the right side, purl one row and then knit 5 more rows in Stockingette.
On the next right side row, beginning picking up the first purl bump on the hem side of the life line and knit it together with the first stitch from your left needle, continue across the row this way. But once you have 2 stitches on your right needle, begin casting off. Once you have cast off all your stitches, weave in your ends and pull out your life line.
If you want to add a welt, or pin tuck into your work, follow the directions above for adding a hem at the end of your work but do not cast off. Continue knitting up, spacing your welts out as you go so they do not add too much bulk. I spaced mine by knitting 7 rows from the top of the first welt to the purl row of the next welt. This creates a cascade of welts.
Challenges are like rainy days; you enjoy the first one but after 2 or three it just gets old. This can also describe my take on binding; I like it but often not enough to mess with it. Arm holes sure but a whole dress like this Butterick wrap dress pattern that has been sitting in my pile for a while. I see binding as a challenge and a foe but not one worth engaging. It is not the making of binding I mind but first you must match it up on one side and sew it and then fold it over and sew it again on the other side, making sure to sew over your previous seam and catch it on the other side. UGH. Well, that is no longer a problem with the Janome Binder Foot. Now, there is a disclaimer: the packaging gives no indication what size binding can fit but our product description dictates 10 to 14 mm will fit. This not so modern, but very informative Janome video tells us to use ½ in. binding which is what I eventually tested and found successful.
I started off with ¾ in. binding that I had remaining from the Weekend Sewing Kimono Dress. After discovering the size problem I went with some premade bias tape that fit perfectly. It took a few tries to get acquainted with loading the foot. I suggest giving yourself some quiet time for this as it can get frustrating feeding a small piece of fabric through a tiny tube with holes in it. But once you get it, you're good! I loaded my binding with the foot off the machine, installed it and then loaded the fabric. The package does give some good recommendations for tension, stitch length and needle position but I found it worked best on my Brother machine to have the needle in the center position. Yes, this foot does fit Brothers. I do recommend sewing slowly so you can get used to the guiding of both the binding and the fabric. It is a lot like the ruffler in this aspect. There is a fabric guide at the front of the foot but you should ignore this. I am not sure why it looks like a fabric guide but it is not in a position to be of any help. This is a very helpful foot to use on big projects like the retro dress pattern above or small project like baby bibs. It will really save some time and hassle. I would not recommend it for bulky projects like the bias tape recommendation I gave on the Heather Bailey Marlo Bloom Bag with different handles. That would best be left to the old fashioned way. I am going to try it out this weekend by adding from binding to a plain tan trench I have. I envision it with from great navy with white pin dot binding. Follow me on Twitter to see how it goes.
Part of the challenge and fun of knitting is that it is made of some many components. True, there are just 2 stitches: knit and purl. It is the fact that these 2 stitches can be combined into so many different patterns and that these patterns can then be combined with others and then constructed into so many different combos that makes the possibilities endless. You will never stop learning with knitting and I love that! One of my favorite techniques in knitting is the knit-on edge. The knit-on edge allows you to add another layer to any project regardless of stitch count. You can add a fancy lace border to any scarf or shawl, for instance, without having to get out the calculator again and masterminding a way to reduce or increase your stitch count to accommodate your new stitch pattern. This is because you will be knitting your lace edge sideways and then attaching it to your live stitches by slipping and knitting together stitches. It sounds tricky but it is easy.
Leave your main project still on needles with the edge of live stitches. Once you have decided on your border pattern (it is easier to start with a simple and small pattern, 10 sts or less so you can focus on the technique instead of the design), cast on the recommended number of stitches plus 1. Starting with your first RS row, knit to the end of the pattern instructions which will leave you with one stitch. Slip this stitch knitwise and then knit one stitch from your main project. Turn your work and knit your last stitch (knitted from the main project) and the slipped border stitch together and then follow your border pattern instructions for the wrongside (or row 2). You will continue in the pattern like this, knitting to the last stitch on the RS, slipping this stitch and knitting one stitch from your main project, turning the work and knitting the last 2 stitches together until you have no more live stitches on your main project and ending with a wrongside row of your border pattern. You can then cast off your border pattern.
Congrats your have successfully completed a knit-on edge. My pictures depict an attempt at the Swallowtail Shawl with a modified knit-on edge. I have trouble with mohair and for some reason or another when it came time in the pattern to switch to the border lace pattern, my stitch count was way off. I tried to fix the error but mohair doesn't like to be ripped back. I decided my best course of action was to pick a complimentary lace border pattern to knit-on. This way, my stitch count would not matter and I could complete my shawl with decreased stress and anxiety! It would very well and the finished project was just as beautiful as the original. A knit-on edge is also a great way to finish sweater hems, add detail to a hat brim, or lengthen a too small child's dress. You can add knit-on edge to finished garments as well by picking up stitches on the main project to create live stitches.
Of the 2 techniques of colorwork in knitting-Fair Isle (or Stranding) and Intarsia- Fair Isle is the more simple of the 2. Commonly Fair Isle is worked by working 2 colors of yarn in each row while carrying the unworked yarn along the back of the knitting. Fair Isle can be worked with more than two colors in each row but it is not as common or easy as 2. There are many tricks to a successful Fair Isle Project but the most is the confidence and the desire to commit to this challenging technique.
1) In my opinion- the most important is tension or tightness in knitting Fair Isle. I, like many others, suffer from TIGHT stranding. It is important to spread out your stitches and keep them spread out on your right needle to keep from knitting too tight. Picture it this way: If your stitches are tight it is like a traffic jam where cars are bumper to bumper. If your stitches are spread out it is like regular traffic where each car is at least 2-3 car lengths behind the others. You want your stitches to be spread out (think 3-4 car lengths, if you can). Not enough to strain the stitches but enough that your strand will have slack to stretch when you wear the project. Regular knitting stretches from side to side more than along the length, making sure your strands are loose maintains the nature stretch from side to side. You can test how far you need to spread out your stitches with a good sized swatch.
2) Knit a swatch. A swatch will not only help you test your tension but will also give you an idea of how your colors work together with your design. It is helpful to see how colors and design work together in a swatch before you are a few hours into your project.
3) Decide which yarn is dominant. One of the frustrations of Fair Isle is yarn tangles. You can prevent this by deciding the dominance of your yarn. If you always keep one color on top and then other on bottom, your yarn will not tangle. In the picture of my project the grey was dominant with the light blue always in the middle and the dark blue always on the bottom. When I kept to this order my yarn stayed untangled and easy to pull.
4) When knitting Fair Isle for a flat project (blanket, sweater in pieces) consider knitting in the round and steeking. This prevents purling and really saves time!
5) Pick a yarn with good stitch definition. Mohair and Angora are too fluffy to show off color changes needed to enjoy a Fair Isle pattern. Wool, cotton and linen are great choices to display the minute color changes that make up a great Fair Isle pattern.
I remember few years ago I was watching a quilting show in which they demonstrated a Fons and Porter pressing sheet. I had never beheld a tool such as that before and my eyes lighted up! When I discovered that Fabric.com carried them...well, needless to say there was much jumping and clapping. I am not much of a quilter. I have aspirations but very little opportunity. But I do love to appliqué and any tool that can help me to be more creative and at the same time keep my iron gunk free is for me! I decided to start with something simple to start with and get comfortable with the pressing sheet.
I am making another kid tent for some boys who are big hunting fans. Since every hunter needs a few deer head trophies, deer head appliqués were on the cutting table. I found a free coloring sheet with a shape that I liked and printed it out to use as a pattern. I started by tracing the pattern pieces onto the back of my fusible and basically cutting it out. Then I fused the pieces onto the wrong side of my quilting cotton and cut out the appliqués. Then using my pressing sheet (and removing the fusible backing) I was able to perfectly line up and combine my appliqué. Once my appliqué was complete, I could fuse it to my background and stitch around it. It was so easy and there were no mistakes. I felt a rush of excitement and a surge of ideas flooded into my brain.
*Edited- You use the pressing sheet as a base to build your appliqués. After you have cut out all your appliqués pieces and added fusible (Like Steam a Seam) then you peel the backing off all your appliqué pieces (I have 2 pieces: antlers and the head but I could have added more like the round nose you see below and the ears could have been separate as well). Then using your pressing sheet as a base you place your appliqués pattern underneath the pressing sheet. The sheet is transparent so you can see where to place your appliqué pieces and make sure you are assembling correctly. You can place your appliqué pieces on the pressing sheet and fuse them in layers. Once the appliqués is cool, carefully peel it off the pressing sheet and you can then place your completed appliqué in its finished location whether that be a hoody or a quilt. The pressing sheet allows you to assemble and reassemble your appliqué while checking placement. Then you can assemble without attaching it your finished article. Using the pressing sheet lets you see your finished appliqué before placing it so you can determine where it will fit and look best.You can see right through the pressing sheet (it's a tan color) to the pattern sheet below)
The pressing sheet can be used to solve another of my dilemmas. Whenever a pattern calls for you to cut pieces from fusible interfacing as well as fabric pieces to match, inevitably my fusible pieces and fabric pieces never match as much as I would like. Sometime the discrepancy is as much as ½ in. So usually I cut the fabric piece first and then fuse it and then cut the whole deal out of the fusible interfacing. However, this leads to gunk on my ironing board or iron. With my pressing sheet, I can pull off this feat without the mess. I am super pumped about this. The pressing sheet also comes with a color coded, tulip quilt block appliqué pattern for free! It would also be really great on the front of a messenger bag or backpack.
Let us know what you do with your pressing sheet on our Facebook page or twitter. You can follow Fabric.com to find out the latest deals and you can follow me(@tdangermiller) and get the inside dish on my projects.
This first installment is not exactly going to register high on the glamor meter. It's muslin time!
Carole and I met and discussed the style of dress she wanted. She is a modern girl and didn't want to go with a traditional long gown, and the first and most important feature that she wants is (drum roll please): POCKETS! She was very clear on this issue.
That's my kind of girl. She knows what she wants!
Carole also brought me several photos of dresses she liked, and once we narrowed down our choices, we were off to the races. So I put together a muslin using some basic bodice and skirt slopers I have in my library, and we had our first fitting.
The muslin, in case you are not familiar with the term, is a first version of the garment made in an inexpensive fabric (usually muslin -- surprise! -- which is where the name comes from). This is used to test the fit of the base pattern and make adjustments as needed. Once you have your muslin assembled and adjusted, you can take it apart to use as your final pattern.
Here a few snaps from our initial fitting:
First, the lovely bride. Say "hello" to the people, Carole!
The first place that needed to be adjusted was the shoulders. They need to fit her frame a little more snugly.
Then, the back of the bodice needed to be marked for shortening.
Here you can see a full view of the back, including the lazy zipper insertion. Since this is a garment made to be taken apart, it makes more sense to drop in a zipper without any finishing than to set it in beautifully. The final garment will have an invisible zipper.
Now the lovely bride waits while I prep the first test in her real fabric, a beautiful dupioni. Stay tuned to see things develop!
I sat down to my sewing machine recently only to be plagued with one problem after another. With increasing frustration, I was closing in on going "office space" on the bugger when it suddenly occurred to me 1) it's Spring 2) it has been quite some time since I have given my sewing space much needed attention. I decided a good spring cleaning was in order and should be written about as well to share my spring cleaning secrets in hopes that you will follow suits without being prompted by problems.
I prefer to start with a general ordering of my sewing room. This means gather piles of fabric from everywhere and finding its home. I usually take this time to prewash fabric that hasn't yet had the pleasure and folding it and ordering it by weight, fiber and color. That way when the mood for a certain project strikes I can just pull the fabric I need and get to work. Washing is done, wrinkles are kept to a minimum and I know that the weight, fiber and color are just right. I do the same for my yarn as well. I keep it in big, clear, plastic bins, out of direct sunlight but so I can still see the pretty colors. I don't prewash it but I do air it out, and reorganize it by fiber, weight and color. This way I can see at a glance whether or not I have enough yarn for any given project.
Next, I like to organize my sewing desk. I start by cleaning my machine. I take the needle and bobbin/bobbin case out and give it all a good swab with various sized paint brushes. I love the paint brush set because you get a good mix of sizes, the brushes are soft and the long handle allows you to get into tight spaces. If the machine needs oil, I add that as well. I check all my bobbins to make sure they are the right size and free of defects. I also take this time to pre wind some bobbins with some of my favorite thread colors (grey, white, black, tan, red and blue). I also go through all my pins, throwing out the old, bent and dull pins and purchasing new if needed. This is also a good time to go through your needles (hand and machine) inventory and fill out any low stock. I like to go through my notions drawer and discard old fluids and purchase depleted fluids like Fray Check and machine oil.
I finish off with filling out my sewing notions draw with essentials that are used with most projects like zippers in various sizes, ric rac, bias tape, ribbons in my favorite colors and anything that catches my eye knowing I will use it somehow.
I get such a feeling of accomplishment once my spring cleaning is done. I usually jump right into a project and am surprised how easily I finish up patterns with most of my work already done.