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!

Catching Up

I went on vacation, had a great time, and came back with absolutely no desire to blog. So now I’ve got a lot of projects, both finished and in progress, to catch you all up on.

Things Recently Finished:

Before we left for our vacation, I made up two more Birgitte tees, including this black and white striped one. I used rayon blend jerseys for both, and while the fabric is stretchy enough for the pattern, it’s less stretchy than the spandex-rayon blend I used for my long-sleeved gray tee. The less stretchy fabric has revealed some fit issues at the shoulder and armscye. I think I’ve figured out how to fix the problem, and I’m planning to post about it more detail once I’ve made up a modified version.

As part of our vacation preparations, I also stopped at JoAnn’s and picked up some sock yarn for some basically brainless leisure knitting. I haven’t really felt like knitting, but once I got going on these, the urge to knit came rushing back—and just in time for the summer humidity. The yarn is Patons Kroy FX in the Celestial colorway. I didn’t use a pattern. These days, 95% of the socks I make are improvised based on lots of sock-knitting experience and what I can remember from the basic top-down sock recipe in Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s book Knitting Rules.

Horse Pajama Shorts

Post-vacation, I went on a little pajama bender, starting with two pairs of PJ shorts made for my youngest sisters, who are 12 and 14. The horse fabric was the inspiration for this project—when I saw it, I immediately thought of my 14 year old sister who is creative, artsy, goofy, and a die-hard horse lover. I knew I had to make her something with this fabric, and I decided that PJ shorts would be easy, economical in terms of fabric yardage, and easy to fit from afar (my sisters live in Wisconsin). The horse fabric is a light-weight cotton jersey I bought from Girl Charlee. This fabric would be fine for a t-shirt, but I thought it was too light for shorts so I sacrificed two of Aidan’s older undershirts to use as an underlining. With the underlining, they are a perfect weight and should be really comfortable.

Lightening Bolt Pajamas

For the 12 year old, I used a medium-weight cotton-lycra blend, also from Girl Charlee, with some hot pink lightening bolts that remind me of the new Ms. Marvel. For both pairs of shorts, I used this free pattern from Liesl Made. The pattern is intended for wovens (and includes a nice tutorial for making them up with french seams if that is of interest to you). But since some have complained that the sizes run a bit small, I figured it would probably work out all right with stretchy fabrics. Based purely on the size sweatpants they were wearing when I called my dad on Easter, I used the size L for the horse pjs and the size M for the lightening bolts. I added a fake drawstring to each, mostly so they can easily differentiate the front from the back.

I also made a pair of pajama shorts for Aidan, but I’ll probably write up a dedicated blog post on those. As a spoiler, I can tell you that they were made with this awesome fabric.

Chambray Izzy Top - Front View

Izzy Top - Back View

After making all those PJs, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to make next. When I saw the free pattern for the Izzy Top pop up on Pinterest, I decided on a complete dissertation-procrastinating whim to make one up in the fabric leftover from my failed chambray shirt project. The gathering is uneven, especially in the back—the pattern uses a 3/8” seam allowance, which wasn’t wide enough to sew two rows of gathering stitches, and it was hard to gather the fabric with a single line of gathering stitches given how light the fabric is. Regardless, it was a quick project that turned out to be really cute. I made up the 18 mos size, which is as small as the pattern goes. The only thing is that I don’t actually know any girl children who would fit into this little shirt. Luckily, kids have a way of continually appearing in the world, so I think it’s safe to that I’ll eventually find someone to gift this to.

Things Currently In Progress:

apres

When I read Amy Herzog’s blog post about the Custom Fit Summer Sweater Knit Along, I got inspired to knit up a lightweight sweater. So I ordered some Valley Yarns Charlemont in Dusk and started making up the Apres Surf Hoodie pattern from the 2008 Summer issue of Interweave Knits. I’m not actually participating in the CustomFit KAL—I thought about giving CustomFit a go, but instead decided to just do my own math. We’ll see how all of my modifications work out. So far I’ve finished the back and about 75% of the front.

McCalls 6035 and Soft White Cotton Couture Broadcloth

On the sewing front, I’m working on fitting McCall’s 6035. It’s going to be a multi-muslin affair, but I’m optimistic, and the time put into fitting makes sense to me given that this is a pattern I could see myself making several times. Once I’ve got the fitting worked out, I’m planning to sew up View C (with the rolled 3/4 sleeves) in some white Michael Miller Cotton Couture Broadcloth. Even though it’s the end of the month, I’m still claiming this as my June Make A Garment A Month project. I can’t imagine I’ll finish it by the end of the month, but I like to interpret the end of the month as more of a soft deadline.

So that’s my big project update. I hope your summer is off to a great start!

Beach Robes

I’ve been sewing for small people! I made up some beach robes for our nephew and our godson–both boys are 3, and I’m sure they’ll both be eager to do a lot of swimming this summer.

Beach Robes via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I’m not sure what possessed me to take on this project, other than that these are pretty cute and they seem useful. In my experience, little kids will play in the water until they are shivering and their lips are blue, but that doesn’t mean you can get them to sit still wrapped up in a towel long enough to really warm up. Plus, a lot of parents have made these and like them so that seems like a good sign. After planning out this project and gathering all of my supplies, I actually started to get kind of intimidated by the idea of sewing these robes. I was a little nervous about sewing terrycloth and even more nervous about all of the bias binding these robes require. For whatever reason, I was also imagining that it would take me weeks of work to get these done. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were not difficult and that they come together a lot more quickly than I had anticipated.

Beach Robe via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

This is the Beach Robe pattern from MADE, which is a PDF pattern. It comes in three different sizes that seem like they’ll fit most kids in the infant-to-kindergartener crowd and has several different design options: short or long sleeves, lined or unlined hood, and full or partial ties. The robe itself is just a handful of pattern pieces that are very simple to sew together, and then the whole shebang is bound in bias tape for a punchy little contrast finish. The purple robe is the Large (4T+) size and is cut from two 30×54” towels from Kohl’s (they were called BIG towels—I think it’s a store brand?). The red robe is the Medium (18mos-3T) size and is cut from two 30×54” quick dry towels from Target. For each robe, I used 3 packages of pre-made bias tape to bind the edges of both robes and used 1/2 yard of fabric from the nursery print section of JoAnn’s for the hood linings.

Beach Robe Hood Close Up via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

Like I said–these are pretty simple to sew and the pattern has very clear instructions. But here are a couple of additional tips for tackling this project:

  • If you use two towels lay them both out at once and map out the layout for all your pattern pieces before you start cutting. This will reduce the likelihood that you A) screw up the nap from one towel to the next and B) forget to cut out the hood piece and find yourself having to piece the hood together from scraps. Not that I have firsthand experience, or anything…
  • Use a heavyweight needle. I used a 110/18 needle, which I worried would be overkill, but it made it easy to power through the bulky seams.
  • Also use a longer stitch length. I set my stitch length to 3mm.

Beach Robe via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

  • Unless you are a Level 4 Bias Binding Wizard, consider attaching the binding in two steps, as outlined in this tutorial. The pattern tells you to just sandwich the fabric edge between the binding folds and sew it on in one pass, but a lot of people who have made this commented on the difficulty of getting the binding evenly attached using this method. Attaching it in two steps requires a second pass through the sewing machine, but it’s a trade off for the various heartaches and anxieties  and messiness that can result from trying to cut a corner. Given that each one of these robes required about 8 yards of binding, I say go with the method that’s more of a sure bet.
  • Accept that the ends of the ties are going to look a little f’d. That’s a tight corner to get your binding around. Remember that it is for a small child to wear to the pool/beach and that no one really cares. (I’m mostly consoling myself with this tip.)

Beach robe hood close up via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

  • Attach the sleeves flat. Dana included an update about using this method in this blog post. As drafted, the sleeves fit into the armscye nicely if you set them in as described in the pattern. However, they are tiny child’s armholes that can be a bit of a struggle to sew around depending on the size of your sewing machine’s free arm.
  • Consider top-stitching the seam allowances to one side after you finish them. You might not be able to top-stitch the sleeve seams if you do the long-sleeved version, but it’s worth doing where you can. It helps to manage the bulk of the seams. Plus, if you don’t have a serger to finish the seams, it adds another level of anti-fray protection on top of zigzagging the seam allowances and helps give the inside a clean finish.

My finished seams (zigzagged and top-stitched). Looking pretty clean inside!

I had a lot of fun sewing these. My stitching is far from perfect but these turned out so cute, I don’t care. When Aidan asked our godson how he felt about his robe, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “It looks all right.” I’m counting that as a win.

Beach Robes via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com