The Knit Diaries: My Striped Maxi

The quest to become up close and personal with my serger continues, in the next installment of The Knit Diaries – a maxi skirt.  So, I’m not going to lie, when I realized that the maxi skirt was “in” this spring, I had to actually look up what a maxi skirt was.  Let me just say, wikipedia totally schooled me on my skirt lore.  Who knew there was so much I didn’t know abut skirts?  Dirndl, and Prairie and Scooter skirts, oh my!  I know, I know…..for a sewer, I’m terribly fashion illiterate.  What I quickly realized was that a maxi skirt is just a fancy way of saying a long, A-line skirt.  And since, A-line skirts are about the only type of skirt that looks good on me, I was psyched.  So, after hunting around on Pinterest for awhile for some inspiration (see the lovely skirt below), I knew that a striped maxi was exactly how I wanted to delve into this wild and wonderful world of long hemlines.

Striped Maxi inspiration

I have a maxi dress from last season, which I used (sort of) as a template to get that nice A-line shape for my front and back panel.  When cutting, I made sure to leave a lot of fabric (without the A-line slant) at the top so that I could figure out a waistline for my skirt.

Cutting a front and back panel

Once I had my two panels cut, I serged down both side seams.  Then, I thought more about the waistband.  I decided to try a shirred waistband for my maxi.  Why shirring, you may ask?   Well, I wanted to learn the technique, it’s a pretty easy way of creating a waistband, and I like the look.  What’s even better?  All you need to have to ‘get your shirr on’ is some elastic thread, which I happened to have scored a lot of in a flea market find, and a sewing machine.

Elastic thread

I put the elastic thread in the bobbin and regular thread up top in my machine.  I adjusted the stitch length to a basting stitch and I was ready to go.  I folded the top of my skirt in on itself to the inside to create 4-inch waistband – which at this point just looked like a double layer of fabric at the top.  I pinned around the circumference to hold that slippery knit fabric in place.

Waistband

I began stitching at the edge of the waistband and continued all the way around the top.  As I stitched, I began to see the elastic bobbin thread cause the fabric feeding out to begin to slightly gather. (See below.)

First row of shirring

After finishing the first row, I quickly realized that I’d better take care of securing the open edge of the waistband (on the inside of my skirt) before the waistband got too gathered.  So, I set up my serger to do a coverstitch and did a wide coverstitch at the very bottom edge of the waistband.  Then, I continued to stitch shirring rows (spaced about every 1/2 inch from one another) down my waistband.  I had to be careful to stretch out my fabric as I was shirring it just enough so that it would lay flat as it went under the presser foot, but not enough so that the elastic only brought the knit  fabric back to neutral and didn’t really gather it after it was stitched.

Rows of shirring

When I was finished with the waistband, I had 8 shirred rows.  My waistband now has great stretch and is super comfy! The only thing left to do to finish my skirt was hem it. So, I put it on and made a note of where I wanted to hem it.  Then, using the stripes as a guide, I used a wide coverstitch to put in the hem.  My maxi skirt was ready to wear out on the town…..or at least to my side yard for some pictures until later tonight!  🙂

My striped maxi, and Sadie peeking around the corner to oversee.

My striped maxi

The Knit Diaries, Part I: A Summer Hoodie Tutorial

As you remember from my last post, I’m beginning a small, summer series called “The Knit Diaries” to chronicle my exploration into sewing with knitted fabric.  Why knits?  I love knit fabric because it has low bulk, great drape and a wonderful feel.  (No joke, after a recent purchase of several incredibly soft yards of black jersey from JoAnn’s, I just wrapped myself in it while watching TV for the evening.  So cozy!)  The other really awesome factor in sewing with knits is that they are sooooo forgiving!  Having a little bit of added stretch means that your pattern can be a little off here and there, and, no worries!  I will now get off of my knit soapbox and get crackin’ on the Sumer Hoodie Tutorial.

Recently my friend, Gwen, added a lot of fun, new knit clothes to her wardrobe from Old Navy.  I love all of them.  But, the one that really caught my eye, was a super fun, black, knit hoodie.

Inspiration:  Knit cardigan from Old Navy

As soon as I saw her wear it for the first time, I began coveting it and plotting how I could “borrow” it from her for a day to draft a pattern from it.  Why did I want it so badly, you may ask?  I’m sure many of you have this problem, but I am a rather cold-natured person.  It can be 90 degrees outside, but if I’m in an air conditioned building, every draft seems to find me.  So, I usually never leave home without something long-sleeved.  Last summer, while in France, I bought a knit cardigan from H&M that I love.  As soon as I put it on, I knew I never wanted to take it off.  It afforded me the perfect ‘climate control’ for summer.

Knowing my innermost knit desires, paired with the fact that I now own a serger, meant I was ready for knit action!  After several bottles of wine one night (yes, that was intentional), I very easily (see?) persuaded Gwen to part with her dear hoodie for a day.  I brought the prized article home and immediately (at 12 a.m.) got to work on drafting a pattern from it.

What would you need if you wanted to steal your friend’s hoodie and also make a pattern, you ask?

Drafting tools (minus the weights, as I just used heavy things)

1)  First, drafting paper.  I like to use brown paper for drafting patterns.  It’s super cheap and very easy to find.  I buy it from Lowe’s for about $7/roll.  It goes a long way and it has a decent amount of ‘stiffness’ (I said, stiffness) and longevity — if you want to make more than one.

2)  Measuring apparati:  I used a meter stick and a see-through ruler.

3)  Pins, and lots of them.

4)  Marking apparati:  I used a pencil for my marking on the brown paper so that I could erase as needed.  I also used washable fabric markers for any marks I needed to make on the fabric.

5)  Fabric weights, or as I used, heavy objects:  Knit fabrics love to roll up on themselves, so weights placed here and there help prevent said rolling accompanied by mild swearing.

6)  Scissors – both paper and fabric.

After assembling my tools, it was time to begin.  First, a word of caution:  When using an article of clothing (especially a knit) as a template, you really have to be careful not to stretch it too much as you lay it out on the paper.  If you do that, you’re going to add a few sizes to your pattern.  I also like to pin the article of clothing to the paper in a few spots to prevent it from sliding around while I’m trying to trace it.

Gwen’s hoodie is fairly simply constructed.  Great for my first knit project!  The pieces I needed to trace were:  a back (1), the hood (x2), the front panels (x2), the sleeves (x2) and the band around the edge of the entire garment.  For this prototype, I looked to my mountain of jersey, and chose the navy/white striped.  It has a lovely nautical feel and I’ll enjoy wearing it at the beach.

My mountain of jersey

The Pattern Pieces:

So, I laid Gwen’s hoodie on the paper and started by tracing the front panels.  This is what they ended up looking like.  I included the measurements so that if you’d like to make one of these (in a large — or other sizes by decreasing measurements) you can use my template pieces as a rough guide.

Front panel pattern pieces

Next, I sketched out the back.   You’d place it on the fold of fabric to cut it.

Back patter piece

Here is the sleeve piece, which is also cut on the fold.

Sleeve pattern piece

Lastly, I traced the hood.   The hood is seamed down the back.

Hood pattern piece

Then, it was on to cutting out the fabric.  My fabric is nicely basted down the open side of the fabric.  This prevented a lot of rolling while cutting.  Thank you, factory!  If you are experiencing a lot of roll, just use more weights!  You can also use those lovely, little binder clips from the office.  They add weight and also keep the edges of the fabric lined up.  I didn’t use a pattern piece for the band.  I just cut out two strips of fabric two stripes in width, which translates to roughly 3.5″ and stitched them together at their short ends to make a very long piece.  You can really make the band any diameter you want.  Also, if you are using a striped fabric, you want to make sure that you cut your sleeve pieces so that the stripes will match up with the body.  (I learned this the hard way — one side matches, one side doesn’t.  Lesson learned.)

Next, it was on to the sewing.  I used my Juki 735 serger for this project. (You don’t have to have a serger to sew knit fabric, which is awesome.  However, I’ve never tried sewing knits on my sewing machine using a stretch/knit stitch.  I’ll have to explore that soon!)  I learned a lot of things while undertaking this project that I’m going to share in the hopes of saving you some frustration.  This project, was truly a humbling experience.  If you’re a pro, you can just skip down to “construction.”

Serger Tips & Tricks, thus far:

1)  Use ballpoint needles for knits!  They are specifically designed to go through knit fabric without tearing or ripping it.  Before I bought these, I accidentally ended up with a small hole in my project.  😦  The needles come in different sizes.  Look at the packaging to determine which size is best for your particular project.  I used size 90 ballpoint needles for this project.

2)  Use those thread nets!  Yes, they look like old lady salon hair nets, but they really do help with the thread tension.  Before I put them on, I was getting some skipped stitches on the underside of my coverstitch.

Thread nets – a necessity!

3)  Use serger thread!  When I first got my serger, we took it to the beach.  I wanted to use it, so we went to Walmart to find thread.  They didn’t have any of the “cones” that I’d seen on serger videos.  So, we just bought some larger spools of cotton.  I quickly realized that cotton 3-ply thread is not serger friendly.  Serger thread, which often comes on cones (see above) is 2-ply and lighter, which helps it go through all those loopers.

4)  Thread your serger correctly!  I had a lot of trouble with this one, at first.  Sergers are a beast when it comes to threading.  I felt like I was diffusing a nuclear bomb….one wrong move, and, destruction.  All I can tell you is, go slowly and really use your owner’s manual.  Chances are if your stitch isn’t working, you’ve threaded something incorrectly.  Also, there is a specific order to threading — upper looper, lower looper, left needle, right needle.  Order matters.

5)  Check your settings! (tension, stitch width, cutting distance & differential feed) before starting!  Sergers have a lot of dials and knobs.  So, getting things set up the way you want them is imperative.  For tension, start out in the middle of your tension range and then play with it — small increments at a time.  Chances are, you won’t have to go very far (in either direction) from the mid-range for a knit.  Also, check that your differential feed, which controls the feed dogs, is where you want it.  For knits that have a lot of stretch, you’ll probably want the two sets of feed dogs to be set to take in fabric differently.  Thankfully, I didn’t need to change mine for this project.  You may also have to play around with your cutting distance.  My fabric really like to roll, so I had to set my cutting distance larger that I would normally have liked, to make sure I got a clean cut and that my stitches were perfectly at the edge of my fabric and not hanging off the edge.  I definitely had to play around on extra fabric for A WHILE to make sure I was getting the stitch I wanted.  So, buy a little extra fabric if you’re a newbie, like me!

For the seams, I used a 4-thread overlock (with safety) stitch.  Here is what that stitch looks like on the reverse:

4 thread overlock with safety stitch

For the hems, I changed the threading of my serger to produce a two-needle, wide coverstitch.  Here is what that looks like from the front and back:

Cover stitch, reverse

Coverstitch, front

The Construction:

I constructed the whole garment using a 5/8″ seam allowance and a 1/2″ hem allowance. First,  I placed the sleeve and front panel, right sides together, and starting at the neck and working towards the armpit, serged the sleeve shoulder seam (See Pic, Seam #1).  Then, I placed the other side of the sleeve and the back panel right sides together, and serged the other shoulder seam working from neck to armpit.  I repeated this on the other side (See Pic, Seam #2).

Seam #1 and Seam #2

Doing that first, will allow you to stitch the side seams and the seam along the underside of the arm/sleeve as one long seam. (I actually didn’t do this are realized later that it would have been easier!) It also means that long seam will lay better under the arm.  So, do that next — place the front and back panels with the right sides together and starting at the end of the sleeve, stitch the side seams to the armpit and then keep going from the armpit to the bottom hem (See Pic, Seam #3).  Ta-da! At this point, my hoodie was really taking shape.

Seam #3

Next, place the two halves of the hood, with the right sides together, and stitch the entire length of the back, from head to neck (See Pic, Seam #4).

With the hood finished, place the neck edge of the hoody onto your hoodie, with the right sides together, and stitch the entire length of the hood along the neck (See Pic, Seam #5).  Almost done!

Seam #5

Then, take the band, fold it in half and press it.  Then, pin the open edge of the band along the entire left, front panel vertical edge, around the edge of the hoodie, and then down along the right, front vertical edge of the other front panel.   Serge along the edge, securing the band in place (See Pic, Seam #6).

Seam #6

Now, all that was left to do was to hem it.  I switched my machine over to coverstitch, pressed my hem allowance up and pinned it at 1/2″ and then stitched all the way around the bottom edge.  Then, I turned the vertical edges of the front panels under by 1/2″, pressed them, and stitched them, too.  Lastly, I pressed down all of the serged and coverstitched seams so that they would lay nice and flat.  Voila!  My hoodie was finished!

My summer hoodie!

Hoodie, displaying hood.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into sewing a knit garment.  I hope that this tutorial has inspired you to give knits a try, too!  If I can do it, anyone can.  So, you deserve a summer hoodie.  Go ahead, treat yourself!  Up next, is the Knit Diaries, Part 2:  a striped maxi skirt.  I am also taking ANY suggestions you have for what else I can make with my mountain of jersey.  What other striped wonders can you think of?

Sergers and Stripes – The Knit Diaries, an Introduction

As I have probably mentioned in a previous post, I am a stripe addict.  Give me striped fabric over polka dots or floral any day.  Stripes are fierce, bold and ever so clean.  I love ’em.  This year, it seems that cute striped things are everywhere.  First, it was striped spring scarves.  So, of course, I had to make one, which was a great introduction to my serger.

Striped, spring scarf

But, the stripes just kept on coming.  Next, I saw this cute, Ice Cream Social Skirt, from iCandy Handmade.

Ice Cream Social Skirt by iCandy homemade

And now, it’s the striped/chevron maxis.

Chevron Maxi from Piperlime

Clearly, this is the year of the knit stripe.  I am in fashion nirvana.  So, I knew that I needed to get my hands on lots of striped jersey.  That sounds really easy, right?  Well, it’s not.  When, I first started searching all of my usual haunts — JoAnn’s, Fabric.com, Etsy– there was simply no reasonably priced striped knit to be had.  They were all playing hard to get at $12/yard.

It’s not often that I think that the Universe actually hears my pleas.  Even less that it actually answers them.  But, in this case, I don’t see how there could be any doubt that the Universe gave me a shout out.  Todd and I went antiquing in Strasburg, VA on our way home from a weekend with the fam.  We stopped at the local antique mall, where I thought I’d hit the jackpot with 4 yards of chambray for $7 and 4 1/2 yards of gingham for $8.  Not even close.  At checkout, the woman behind the counter suggested we should check out the flea market behind their store.  So we did.  Oh. My.  Goodness.  Sitting at the back of the store, covered in some really old, nasty yellow velour, I hit the mother load.  There, in this dingy, seedy flea market, I found three whole bolts of striped jersey.  There was a black/white, navy/white, and turquoise/white.  Universe, I owe you one.  When we got it home, we counted it up — almost 30 yards!  The best part?  Guess how much I paid.  Just guess.   Ok, you won’t believe this — $7.  That’s right.  SEVEN DOLLARS!!

Piles an piles of striped jersey!

So now you see, dear readers, why I had to begin the Knit Diaries.  1) I have knit fabric coming out of my eyeballs; and 2) that brand new serger was not earning it’s keep.  So, the Knit Diaries, otherwise known as my next several entries, will entail me figuring out how to use up all that striped jersey while learning how to really use my serger.

I’ve already figured out my first few projects:

1) A breezy summer hoodie (inspired by Old Navy)

Old Navy Jersey Lounge Cardigan

2) A flowy, striped maxi skirt (inspired by Make it and Love it)

Striped Maxi by Make It and Love It

3) A beachy cover-up (with added pockets) (inspired by H&M)

H M cardigan

4)  A full maxi dress with shirring/smocking (inspired by Old Navy)

Old Navy Maxi Dress

Spoiler Alert!  I’ve actually already made a few of these.  Hee hee.  I’ve been having so much fun!  So, stay tuned for the first Knit Diary project.  Let summer begin!

Adventures in Drafting-An Asymmetrical Skirt

Unfortunately, our Jo-Ann fabric store is moving.  This means that until their new store opens in mid-April, the current store is slowly running out of inventory.  There are no more interfacings or stabilizers.  There is no more fusible fleece or magnetic snaps.  Ack!  (Although, I did find a .8/yard of charming Route 66 fabric (pictured below) in the remnant bin.)   So, in a desperate search for any or all of the above (which I need to make my Amy Butler Blossom Bag), I went to Wal-Mart.  Gasp!  Someone had told me that Wal-Mart was getting back into selling fabric and sewing supplies.  Sad to say, that while this might be true at some locations, ours only sells pre-cut and packaged small yardage packages.  Needless to say, I didn’t find my Pelltex.  But, I did pick up some cheap, lightweight denim, $9 for 1 and 1/2 yards.

I came home feeling stressed.  It was supposed to snow 8 inches on Sunday and I didn’t have any of the supplies that I went out for.  What was I going to craft when we got snowed in for days and days in the blizzard that surely would ensue?   So, as the snow flakes began to fall, I decided to poke around on the internet for inspiration and interesting projects.  That’s when I came upon this little gem on Kirin’s blog (she’s co-owner of a fantastic hand-printed textile shop in Australia, Ink & Spindle):

Ink & Spindle Skirt

Ink & Spindle Skirt on Model

Well, I fell in love immediately and knew that I needed to figure out how to make this skirt.  And, then that got me thinking…..I had two cute new fabrics:

New Fabric!

Thus, began my first real adventure into drafting a pattern from scratch.  While I have tried my hand at this before, it was under the tutelage of my good friend, and master seamstress, Caroline.  Could I really do this by myself?  Sure, why not?  🙂

One of the first things I did was draw up some sketches.  While they probably look like chicken scratch to you, they were sort of helpful once I began to actually draft the pattern.  And, if anything, they made me begin to think about how different pieces of the pattern would be put together.

Crazy Chicken Scratches

Then, I assembled my tools.  To draft, you need some large paper.  I had previously bought a roll of brown paper.  But, many people just use old wrapping paper.  You can even disassemble grocery bags and tape them, if need be.  You’ll also need a pencil, meter stick, smaller ruler, eraser, and a curved ruler for making your hip, hem and waist lines curvaceous.  (You’ll also need a cloth measuring tape for taking your own measurements, if you don’t already have them written down.)

Drafting Supplies

I already had my measurements written down.  But to make sure I was on the right track, I also cross-referenced all my skirt measurements with an actual black skirt I own that sort of has the shape and waistband of the skirt-to-be.

Skirt to Check Measurements With

As there are many better websites that explain pattern drafting for an A-line skirt, I won’t go into explicit details here.  If you’d like to see some of the sites I used, here were my favorites:

The Cordelia Files

Sew-Mad

Burda

First, I drew my waistline, waistband line, hip line, and hem line.  I used my measurements for each + ease divided by 4.  Then, I used the curved ruler to make sure the waist, hip and hem line were slightly curved.  Next, I cut out the two pattern pieces.  I cut out the whole thing first and then separated the main skirt panel from the waistband and the waistband line  (4 ” down).

Pattern pieces

Then, believe it or not, I made a muslin.  For the girl who never swatches in knitting, this was a milestone for me. While it was a painful to hold off actually creating the finished project, I will tell you, it was very helpful.  There were still several parts of the pattern (i.e. the waistband) that I was unclear of how to best assemble.  Making the muslin gave me some opportunities to play around with the angles and assembly.  And it pains me to admit, but it didn’t take THAT much longer.

Then, it was time to cut the fabric!

Cutting the main skirt panels

Waistband pieces

Once everything was cut, it was sewing time!  I’m sorry I didn’t take any pictures of the actual assembly.  In all honesty, I didn’t think it would actually turn out.  So, I didn’t bother.  But miracles of all miracles, it turned out beautifully!  (Yes, I’m standing on the side of my bathtub for this pic.  Classy, I know.  DH wasn’t home for the photo opp.)

My Asymmetrical Skirt!

Side view

I plan to make this skirt again now that I know how I would change things to make it easier.  I also will use some nicer material next time.  The denim from Wal-Mart began turning my fingers blue.  Ick!  But, this was a great learning project and will be a really, really nice skirt the second time around.  I’ll do a better job of chronicling the next one.  Hope everyone had a nice holiday weekend!