Twin Needle Grievances

I’m pretty sure Aidan doesn’t want to listen to my reflections of the twin needle as a method for hemming knits, so I figured I’d take it to the blog.

I said not so long ago that I was giving up on using a twin needle to hem my knits because I just wasn’t satisfied with the results. But I wound up giving the twin needle another go. My thanks for this effort was an irresolvable struggle with skipped stitches and hems inelastic enough that I popped the hem on one of the sleeves of my new t-shirt the first day that I wore it. And this isn’t the first time I’ve had a twin needle hem pop early into it’s life.

I have read and tried all of the twin needle advice I can find. I’ve tried multiple sizes of needles. I’m using stretch-specific twin needles. I have played around with stitch length and tension. I’ve used wooly nylon in the bobbin. I’ve used knit stay tape at the hem. I’ve tugged on the fabric to loosen the bobbin thread before tying the ends off. None of them actually alleviated my problems with the twin needle, and some of these suggestions actually made things worse. If only you could hear my machine complain about wooly nylon!

At this point, I’m not looking for anymore suggestions because I’m feeling even more done with the twin needle than I was a few weeks ago. I don’t have problems actually managing a twin needle hem—I can do that. My problem is with the performance of the twin needle hem. In blogs, I constantly see people praising the twin needle for producing a stretchy hem, but when it comes to sewing with knits, “stretchy” is a term that needs to be pretty roundly contextualized. A twin needle may produce a hem that stretches more than a straight stitch, but it certainly doesn’t compare to the flexibility of a cover-stitch hem and, in my experience, doesn’t even approach the level of stretch you get with a medium-width zigzag. A lot of the jerseys I’ve been using have a bit of Spandex in them, but even on the more stable knits I’ve used, I’ve found that the twin needle hem feels overly firm.

(I’ve also noticed a number of blog tutorials that demonstrate the stretchiness of a twin needle hem on a flat swatch of fabric. The problem with this is that the hem actually has more stretch than it would, say, as the hem of a sleeve because the bobbin thread is loose and can expand more than it would ever be able to once you’ve tied those threads off.)

The plus of the twin needle is that it gives the look of a cover stitched hem that can only be achieved in ready-to-wear or with a special machine, so it lacks the handmade look of a zigzagged hem. But it seems to me that short of actually using a cover stitch machine, I’m in the position of having to privilege mimicking either the look of the commercial cover stitch hem with a twin needle or the performance (that is, the significant stretch) of a cover stitch hem by using some other kind of stitch or technique for hemming with my standard sewing machine. I think what I’m realizing is that stretch matters more to me than looks. My preference for stretch probably has something to do with the kinds of clothes that I wear and the way that I treat my clothes—I want them to move with me without having to conscious of a hem that feels too firm. I’m not 100% sold on the look of a zigzag hem, but I’ve found that I’m less self-conscious of my zigzagged hems than I am of my twin-needled hems.

Plus, if I’m being honest, I think that a twin needle hem doesn’t always do the greatest job of mimicking the look of a cover stitched hem—it can look kind of sloppy. And the more you try to do to keep the hem looking really nice from the outside (tightening up the tension to keep the stitches looking clean, using stay tape to prevent tunneling), the more you limit the amount the hem will stretch. It’s a real win-some-lose-some situation.

Maybe I’m getting it all wrong and the twin needle really is the magical solution to hemming knits that the blog world says it is. But more and more, the idea of using a twin needle to hem my knits feels like not being able to eat bacon and having someone feed me turkey bacon while saying, “You can hardly tell the difference!” But I can definitely tell the difference. And the alternative isn’t terrible, but it still pales in comparison to the real thing. Some day, I’ll be able to save up for a cover stitch machine. Until then, I’m giving up the twin needle ghost, and I’ll focus my attention on learning to love the practicality of my zigzag stitch and experimenting with hem bands.

Assorted Thoughts and Plans

Knitting

My Apres Surf Hoodie is a bust. It’s just too snug and the snugness isn’t easily resolved. I think part of the problem is that it’s hard to measure gauge on an overall stitch pattern. But I suspect a bigger part of the problem is that I switched the way that I was working my SSKs about 2/3 of the way through the back. I also should have blocked my pieces as I finished them to make sure that they were knitting up to the appropriate size, but I didn’t. Oh well. I still really want this sweater, so I’m going to just put it aside for now until I’m emotionally ready to rip and reknit.

Grandpa Cardigan

On a more optimistic knitting note, I’ve finished my Grandpa cardigan. It just needs a bath and some buttons and it will be all ready for the dip in temperature that we’ve got coming up this weekend. More pictures and details to come shortly.

Gloomy Pullover in Progress

I also started a new pullover. I’m using some Cascade 220 Fingering in a heathered black. I had first planned to use the yarn to make Carpino, but that pattern was written for Brooklyn Tweed Loft which is apparently closer to a sport weight than an actual fingering weight. Cascade 220 Fingering is firmly a fingering weight, so the stitch pattern looked terrible at the recommended pattern gauge. So I switched gears and decided to try making Catkin, but the dark color of the yarn combined with the heathering effect meant that the stitch pattern wasn’t really visible. So now I’m improvising a simple light-weight pullover. So far, it’s all stockinette knit in the round, which feels wonderfully meditative at the moment.

Sewing

I managed a small bit of sewing over the last week and have been thinking a lot about what I want to make over the next few months. Here are some of the things I’ve got my eye on:

M6658

I’m planning some very basic t-shirts in very basic colors that will really just become shirts for layering. Boring, but useful. The black and gray fabrics are both cotton-spandex blends and the white is an organic cotton interlock. I’m planning to use the V-neck t-shirt pattern included in McCalls 6658, which is the same pattern I used to make my recent vine-print tank top.

Knit top plans

I’ve also got some more interesting knit tops planned. From left to right, I’ve got the Jalie scarf top that I’m planning to make up in a dark teal rayon-spandex blend, Vogue 8831 (a raglan pullover with a cowl neck) which I’m planning to make with a black rayon sweater knit, and McCalls 7018 (a jersey button-down), which I planning to to make in a heathered black cotton jersey.

Burda zipper raglan

I also have a gray cotton jersey that actually feels somewhere between a traditional jersey and a sweater knit, and I’m planning to use that fabric to make this zippered Burda raglan top.

McCalls button downs

These shirts are probably more aspirational than the other projects I’m planning, but I’ve got a white cotton broadcloth that I want to use to make a basic button down using McCalls 6649 (sans color blocking, thank you very much). I’ve also got this polka dot rayon challis that should work nicely with McCalls 6436.

I’ve been knitting long enough that starting a new project or picking up my knitting whenever I have a bit of time isn’t a challenge. But sewing isn’t as intuitive for me at this stage, and when I’ve stopped doing it for awhile, getting back into it starts to feel really daunting. So I’m going to aim to squeeze in 15 minutes of sewing everyday. I’m hoping this will help me work my way through the fabric and patterns I’ve been accumulating while also keeping me from feeling like I need hours of uninterrupted time to get any sewing done.

Baking

Apple Zucchini Muffins

I’ve been doing some simple baking lately—easy stuff like banana bread (I’ve been using this recipe from Simply Recipes and it’s great). I made these apple zucchini muffins two weeks ago and they were really, really good. Good enough that I’ll definitely be making these again soon. I substituted a pinch of allspice for the cardamom and used 1/2 a cup of vegetable oil instead of 1/4 cup because I didn’t have any applesauce on hand. The best part about these muffins is that, unlike a lot of muffins, they stay good for days.

TV

Aidan and I have been watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and are at the beginning of season 3. Kira Nerys has officially joined the ranks of my all-time favorite female TV characters. She’s pretty much on the level of Dana Scully in terms of the depth of my love for her. My favorite things about her include: her ongoing distrust of the Federation, her salty attitude, and her Bechdel-test approved friendship with Jadzia Dax.

DS9-Stills-major-kira-nerys-12090311-500-641

I also appreciate the fact that 90% of her smiles are sarcastic. She is a woman after my own heart.

McCalls 6658 and another Birgitte Basic Tee

With the start of the semester and some ongoing thing about how I need to find a job and finish my dissertation or something like that, I haven’t done any sewing for about a month now. But I still have  a couple of projects from this summer that I haven’t got around to posting yet.

McCalls 6658

The first project is a simple tank top I made using McCalls 6658, view A. The fabric I used is a medium-weight printed cotton-spandex blend from Girl Charlee. I started with L for the straps and neckline, blending out to the XL under the arm, and the blending to the XXL between the underarm and the waist. I ended up pinching out a 1” dart at each armscye, as well as taking each side seam in a bit under the arm to get a close fit around the arm.

M6658 Back View

My blending method wasn’t the best fit approach, and the next time I make this view, I’ll start with the L and do a full bust adjustment. (I need a full-bust adjustment anyway. It might not be apparent in the pictures, but I do have some pull lines across the bust.)  Next time, I’ll also experiment with binding the neckline and armholes rather than using a band to finish them. I think a binding will result in a better finish, especially around the top of the shoulder.

McCalls 6658 with cardigan

I haven’t been happy with the results of my twin needle hems. They look okay, but they really don’t have much give at all and seem very prone to snapping and unraveling. So I’ve been experimenting with alternate hemming methods. I hemmed the tank using a narrow zig-zag and a triple zig-zag for the t-shirt shown below. The narrow zig-zag seems to be working out the best since the triple zig-zag has started to pucker with wear. I’ve read all the standard advice about how to get a twin needle hem looking good (no tunneling, no skipped stitches, etc.), but it’s more the strength and stretchiness of the twin needle, or rather the lack thereof, that I’m struggling with. I’ve tried wooly nylon in the bobbin–my machine wasn’t having it. I might try stretch thread in the future, but for now, I’ll probably just keep exploring my relationship with the zig-zag stitch.

The second piece is another Birgitte Basic Tee from MariaDenmark, which I’ve made four times now. I can tell you that this pattern works best with more fluid, drapey knits with some spandex content for recovery. I’ve had the best luck with cotton, rayon, spandex blends like the one I used here (also from Girl Charlee), but I can’t imagine using something like the heavier cotton spandex blend I used for the tank top. I’ve found that unless the fabric is pretty eager to stretch and drape, the shirt fits too tight across the shoulders.

black and magenta birgitte tee

Based on the fit of my first three versions, I ended up doing a substantial forward shoulder adjustment on this version. I also added a bit of width to the armscye on the front pattern piece since I was finding that the sleeve cap was having to stretch too much to fit and wanted to ride up my shoulder. You can see some of the adjustments I made to the pattern below. I based the adjustment on the fit of my first gray version of this shirt, and although I started to doubt myself in the process, worrying that I had adjusted too much on the pattern, the adjustments worked out well. The forward shoulder adjustment helps the shirt sit nicely and has prevented the back neckline from bunching like some of my previous versions do. And the extra width at the armscye keeps the sleeve from riding up my shoulder.

Altered Birgitte Tee pieces

If I make this pattern again, there are still some more adjustments I’ll make, like adding some width to the shoulder at the neck opening and raising the neckline a bit. But honestly, I don’t know how much I enjoy wearing the kinds of fabrics that are best suited for this pattern, especially as a casual t-shirt. I prefer the heavier weight and slightly firmer body of a cotton interlock or a cotton-spandex blend. Since my tank top worked out so well, I’m planning try out the t-shirt pattern included with McCalls 6658.

I’ve got lots of other big sewing plans. Now I just have to find the time and the willpower to step away from my knitting for a bit to get myself in front of the sewing machine again.

Pomander Cardigan

Right now, I have several knitting projects in the works at once, which is unusual for me since I generally prefer to focus on one thing at a time. It also means that I’ve been doing a lot of knitting but haven’t managed to finish much. My most recent finish is this little baby sweater I made for a friend in my doctoral program last month.

Pomander Cardigan

This is the Pomander Cardigan pattern, which I knit up in Valley Yarns Huntington in the Sea Gull colorway (you can find all the knitterly details on Ravelry). This is a light-weight circular-yoke cardigan with a cabled yoke and an i-cord finish at the neckline, and the pattern comes in sizes 3 mos – 18 mos.  You work the body of the sweater from the bottom up, using a provisional cast-on for the sleeves at the start of the yoke shaping. Then, once the body is complete, you undo the provisional cast-on and knit the sleeves from the top-down. I’ve never made a sweater with this construction method before, so it was an interesting knit.

Pomander Cardigan yoke closeup

Overall, I really like this pattern—I’m not a huge fan of the wide button band, but I love the way the cable detail works at the neckline. I made the 9 mos size and am crossing my fingers that it will be just the right size to see a late-summer baby through most of Central New York’s lengthy sweater season.  I didn’t make any significant changes aside from working one-row buttonholes instead of the yarn-over buttonholes called for in the pattern. I seriously dislike yarn-over buttonholes. Yes, they are easy to make. But I think they can also look kind of sloppy and can be difficult to locate when you’re actually trying to button a sweater up—especially in a fingering-weight baby sweater.

Pomander Cardigan back view

All in all, it was a fun little knit and a well-received gift. I know some people balk at the idea of knitting sweaters for babies and toddlers since they grow so quickly, ooze various kinds of bodily fluids, and are generally sort of messy. But in my experience, a simple sweater in an easy-care yarn gets a lot of love, especially given how quick they are to make.

Regia 4 Ply Terra in Silver and Denim

Sock in Regia 4 Ply Terra Anthracite

As for my other in-progress knitting projects, my Grandpa cardigan is still on hold while I do the finishing for my Apres Surf Hoodie (and there is basically a metric crap ton of finishing for this pattern). Thanks to all of that tedious finishing work in front of my and a particularly stressful week, I ended up impulse buying 3 balls of discontinued Regia 4-Ply at 50% from Webs. I’ve already cast on for a simple pair of socks for Aidan in the Anthracite colorway. I’m glad to have some mindless knitting at the ready, and I’m also seriously doubting that I will manage to finish the Apres Surf Hoodie while it’s still seasonally appropriate to wear. So it goes. Knitting adheres to it’s own timetable!

Sewing for Knitting, 3rd Edition: Pleated Tote Bag

I’ve been doing some more meta-crafting, as Aidan calls it, and sewed up a larger knitting project bag. It has taken me ten years to appreciate the purpose of a project bag. Sure, it keeps all of the stuff that you need for your project together, but more importantly–and this is the part I wish I had realized sooner–it protects your knitting from the constant onslaught of cat hair that is an inevitable part of life in a multi-feline home.

Pleated Tote Knitting Project Bag

This is the Pleated Tote Bag from The Long Thread, which is a free tutorial with very clear and easy to follow instructions. It’s a fully lined tote bag that is about 17″ wide at the bottom, 13″ wide at the top, and about 15″ tall. It’s the perfect size to hold a sweater-sized knitting project.

Close up the pleat detail on pleated tote bag

The outer and lining fabrics are both from JoAnn’s. I walked into the store without a clear sense of what I was looking for, but I must have been feeling inspired by the ’70s, because this is the only fabric that jumped out at me. When the woman at the cutting table asked me what I was making and when I told her I was planning to make a knitting bag, she said: “Well, it’s not your grandma’s knitting bag, is it?” But I suppose it depends on how tacky your grandma is.

Whatever. It is bright, it makes me happy, and it’s very unlikely that I will misplace my knitting.

Pleated Tote Lining close-up

I followed the tutorial instructions closely, with the exception of the top-stitching. The tutorial suggests two rows of top-stitching at the top and on the handles, but I was feeling lazy and only did one. (Although, I’m pretty sure that the tutorial samples also show only a single row of top-stitiching.) The outer fabric is all stabilized with fusible fleece, and the thickness of the fleece made folding the pleats evenly a bit tricky. The only other challenging part was top stitching the handles–I found that one of the handles wanted to twist while it was being sewn shut. I’m wondering if maybe I pressed the troublesome handle a little off grain and maybe that’s what caused the problem? Still, everything turned out fine in the end.

Grandpa Cardigan progress shot

This pleated tote is currently holding my in-progress Grandpa Cardigan, which I am knitting along with a friend. I’m using Cascade 220 in Atlantic, which is a much more attractive color than it appears to be in the above progress shot (kind of a light navy blue). Grandpa is a bit of a tricky pattern, but I’m enjoying the challenge and have to keep tearing myself away from it so that I can do, you know, actual work. I also told myself that I was going to put it aside once I finished the neckline shaping so that I could finish up my Apres Surf Hoodie, but I am weak-willed and just ended up knitting my through another ball of yarn. I can’t wait until this one is finished–it’s going to see a lot of wear this fall and winter.

There are more knitterly details about my sweater progress on Ravelry if that’s the kind of thing you’re interested in.

Sewing for Knitting, Round Two: Small Project Bag

I haven’t had a lot of sewing motivation lately, which I blame on summer. I’ve seen a few other bloggers explain that their motivation to sew or blog has slowed over summer because they want to take advantage of the nice weather and romp around outside. I need to be very clear: I am not one of these bloggers. I am like a shade plant that wilts and burns and shrivels up in direct sunlight and extreme heat. I am truly a winter soul and summer weather has a way of zapping me of all of my creative energy.

Temporary sewing space

Anyway. Aidan is spending the next six weeks at a ridiculously long work-related training program and while I get to visit him on the weekends, his absence has left me with a lot of empty time in the evenings to sit on my hands and feel sorry for myself. Rather than indulge that self-destructive urge, I rearranged our dining nook into a temporary sewing space so that I can sew while the TV keeps me company. It might not be enough to keep me sewing on the really hot and humid days, but it’s enough to get me excited about sewing again.

Pac Man Knitting Project Bag

To break in my new space, I spent an evening making a small, sock-sized knitting project bag using various leftover scraps of fabric. The Pac-Man inspired fabric is leftover from a pair of pajama shorts I made for Aidan to take on his trip. I ordered it from Hart’s and but it says they are out of stock now.

Project Bag Lining

I used this free tutorial from Very Shannon for a basic flat-bottom drawstring bag that is lined in a way that effectively makes the bag reversible. It was really easy to make. I read through the instructions once or twice before I started, and then was basically able to construct the entire bag without needing to refer back to the tutorial.

Project bag drawstring casing close up

The tutorial has you construct a casing for the drawstring that seems a little non-traditional that basically leaves a 2” opening at the top of the casing for the end of the drawstring. I’d prefer the look of a more traditional drawstring casing, and if I were making a project bag for someone else, I’d probably go to the trouble to make one. But as is, the drawstring is perfectly functional and eliminated all of the more tedious parts of making a casing so it really was very simple and very quick to make.

Knitting Project Bag

All in all, this was a very satisfying little project. And now, back to making some clothes!

My Method for Learning to Sew

I’ve fallen into a bit of a routine or a system for acquiring new sewing skills and sewing confidence. While I’ve sewn a few specific patterns that I’m not likely to repeat a million times over, I’ve been mostly concentrating on picking a particular kind of garment and then sewing it multiple times (and sometimes trying a couple of different patterns) until I get to a place where I’m really happy with what I produce. This isn’t a process that I decided on consciously—I didn’t sit down before I started sewing and map out a specific plan to sew the same thing over and over again. Rather, when I finished a project, I found myself wanting to go back and do it again so I could tweak and refine and improve. The drive to do it all over again might come from wanting to get a cleaner finish, or it might come from wearing the item once or twice and recognizing fit issues I didn’t see before.

My most recent version of Jalie 2568

One of my first ongoing projects was, of course, underwear. I made something like 8 different pairs before I got to a place where I was happy with the construction and the fit of the final product. And from there, I’ve continued to hone my sense of what fabric will work best. Right now, I’ve been sewing a lot of basic t-shirts and pajama pants, refining fit and working on better construction techniques. I’m also still slowly working to fit a basic button-down shirt for myself and planning to try fitting a basic pair of pants in the near future.

The first pair of socks I made when I got serious about knitting (on the left) and, 8 pairs later, the first really excellent pair I made. The pink ones are five years old and still in rotation.

The first pair of socks I made when I got serious about knitting (on the left) and, 8 pairs later, the first really excellent pair I made. The pink ones are five years old and still in rotation.

Looking back, I can see that I’ve basically done the same thing with knitting. My knitting (including not just my range of techniques, but also my knowledge of yarn, and my confidence working with patterns) took a dramatic jump in quality when I started knitting almost nothing but socks back to back. A couple of years later, when I decided to focus my attention on getting a good fit with my sweaters, I spent an entire year knitting sweaters that might have had different design details, but used the same basic construction and allowed for the same shaping methods. And when two of those sweaters didn’t turn out, I ripped them out and started over again. I finessed the fit with each attempt until I’ve reached a point where I not only feel comfortable adapting the fit on a basic, pieced sweater pattern, but feel confident enough to play around with fitting and shaping in other sweater styles. It’s not as though I’ve reached a place where I think I have nothing left to learn or where I think I’m an expert–but I am at a place where I feel confident that I can get a reasonably good result and where I can focus on learning higher-level skills.

My first serious and successful experiment with sweater fit. I wrote more about this project here.

My first serious and successful experiment with sweater fit. I wrote more about this project here.

People have lots of different methods for acquiring new crafting skills. Things that appeal to other people like taking a beginner’s class or the “add a new skill with each project” approach described recently on the Colette blog don’t necessarily appeal to me, and I’m sure there are a lot of people who would think that what I’m doing is boring. But it’s an approach that fits my personality. I’m a creature of habit, and I like to approach things methodically. I’m definitely a perfectionist, and while I try to keep my perfectionism in check so it doesn’t completely suck the joy out of life, I’m still always on the lookout for ways of doing things better. I also have very simple, minimalist taste in clothing, so it makes sense to me to spend time on getting a good fit and refining techniques. There’s also a very tangible sense of accomplishment that comes from making the same thing over and over again when each repeat just gets better and better.

Several sweaters after my first experiment, I made another basic pullover with an even better fit. More on my Blank Canvas pullover here.

Several sweaters after my first experiment, I made another basic pullover with an even better fit. More on my Blank Canvas pullover here.

It’s been helpful to realize that there is a kind of method to my craft madness and to recognize the positive effects that method has had on my skill level in the past. I spent a good chunk of time at the end of June working on fitting McCalls 6035 but lost momentum when I needed to do a second muslin. The loss of interest was less because I didn’t want to do the second muslin and more because I started thinking: What if I put all this time in and it turns out to be not that great? Or when I would think about working on the muslin, I’d think: Why bother? I’m just going to screw it up. But now that I’ve been reflecting on my process, I feel more at ease. With the fitting I’ve been doing, the chances that I’ll produce a wearable shirt are relatively good. Will it be a great shirt? Probably not. But it will likely motivate me to sew two or three more, and at some point, I’m going to hit on something that is looking pretty damn good.

The way I approach things like knitting and sewing might not make for the most thrilling blog material, but hopefully my attempts to document my trials, errors, and realizations are still useful to someone!