Getting My (Ersatz) Ready-to-Wear On

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So yesterday I finished sewing this knit skirt.  I LOVE this thing.  Think yoga pants in skirt form.  It’s actually easier to see the details this way:

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While I have sewn a few knit things it feels like I’m wading into unfamiliar territory each time.  I think the idea of S-T-R-E-T-C-H has something to do with it.  The stretch in a knit fabric that makes it more forgiving in terms of fit (you sew up a size too small in a woven fabric and it’s a wadder) also gives the fabric potential to stretch out while you’re sewing it.  I have had necklines almost double in size just from sewing them.  Of course as technique improves so do the results.

Sewing with knits takes very little time and also produces garments that closely resemble ready-to-wear.  Since most of my readers have never sewn their own clothes I thought it might be fun to share (i.e. demystify) the process.  So here it goes…

Selecting a Pattern and Fabric

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Once upon a time (like when we 50-somethings were in home-ec) there were a few large pattern-makers who are still around–Simplicity, Butterick, Vogue.  But in recent years young design-oriented twenty-somethings have begun offering modern wearable patterns with a much more hip vibe.  I love these “indie” designers although not all of their designs work for me at this stage of my life.  The pattern above is made by Colette Patterns and while the mini, mini versions on top won’t cut it the bottom version looked perfect for me.  Plus notice the words “beginner”.  I’m not really a beginner but with knits I need all the help I can get.  OK, pattern selected.

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The back of the pattern tells you everything you need to know about what type and how much fabric to buy.  But first you do need to get comfortable with that tape measure, and fudging the numbers will not make for a successful project 🙂  They suggest a pretty thick type of knit and given the cling factor of knits I was all in with that.  I chose a pretty heavy weight ponte knit in black.  My measurements were a size S so I was ready to go.

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Cutting Out a Pattern

Patterns come with multiple sizes marked on tissue paper.  I found the outside markings for my size and cut on these lines.  Here are most of the pieces that I needed. The stripe in the center of each piece is where I adjusted the pattern for length.  In most patterns a shorten/lengthen line is provided.  Shortening from the bottom may work but it can also ruin the line of the hem.  The manufacturers help with this by showing the best place to make that adjustment.  These pieces are laid atop a folded piece of fabric (since you need doubles of most pieces), secured with pins and/or pattern weights (those preppy looking things in the corner) and cut out with either a rotary cutter or fabric shears.

Sewing It Up

The pattern directions will offer step-by-step instructions on which seams to sew when. How to sew the seams is up to you. There are basically two ways to sew up a knit garment.  One is to use a conventional sewing machine like this:

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and the other is use an overlock machine (also known as a serger) like this:

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I imagine most people have a sense of what the conventional machine can do.  When sewing with knits on a regular sewing machine you use a small zig-zag stitch rather than a straight stitch for seaming so that when the knit stretches the stitches don’t pop.  Makes sense, right?

Using a serger (if you are lucky enough to own one) makes the garment not only more sturdy, but more “ready-to-wear”.   The idea is that as you join pieces the seams are sewn, trimmed and “finished” all in one fell swoop.  Here’s a look at the inside of this skirt:

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and here’s a close-up of the overlock stitch:

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If you look at the inside of your t-shirts, pajamas and activewear it will probably look like this.  So once the seams are all sewn there’s the hemming to do.  This is another area where technique can impact how professional a garment looks.  For hemming with knits the recommendation is to use a coverstitch machine which creates that double row of stitching on the outside and a neat finish on the inside.  Again look at your t-shirts and you’ll see this.  My serger converts to a coverstitch machine but it’s a bit of a job to change it over.  The poor man’s (or lazy-woman’s!) version of this is to use a twin needle on your regular sewing machine:

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This involves adding a second spool of thread to your sewing machine which is a snap.  Here’s what the hem looks like:

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Pretty spiffy.  And we’re done!

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’d love to inspire others to give this a try.  If you have an old sewing machine floating around maybe you’d like to dust it off and see what it (and you) can do.  If you do, I promise to make myself available to offer tips, hand-holding and cheerleading.  If not, I’m happy to introduce you to sewing as a spectator sport 🙂