Birgitte Basic Tee

I’ve been looking for a good, basic T-shirt pattern since I finished my version of Kwik Sew 3766 earlier this year. The Kwik Sew pattern is perfectly fine, but I wasn’t thrilled with the way that it fit me or with some of it’s design details. There are a couple of basic tee patterns from independent pattern companies like the Sewaholic Renfrew and the Doe and Deer Plantain that are pretty beloved by sewing bloggers, but they don’t come in size Busty Fat Lady. After the success of my Day to Night Drape Top, I decided to try the MariaDenmark’s Birgitte Basic Tee pattern, assuming that the sizing, drafting, and fit would be similar.

I’m happy to report that the Birgitte Tee worked out just as well as the Day to Night Drape Top, and I’m totally sold on this pattern as a really solid, well-drafted basic. I love that it’s drafted to fit up to a 4x (a 49.5″ bust, according to the MariaDenmark size chart), and I love that it’s designed for stretchier (rather than stable) knits. And as a connoisseur of deep necklines, the depth and width of this scoop neck are perfectly suited to my tastes. The pattern makes a great basic t-shirt on it’s own, with the option of a scoop or V-neck and a choice of full, short, or 3/4 sleeves. But it’s also a perfect canvas for all kinds of pattern hacks—I’ve already done one pattern hack that I’ll write more about later this week. The instructions are straight-forward and would be easy to follow even if you haven’t made a t-shirt before. It’s a pdf pattern so you have to print out the pattern (which is 24 pages) and tape the sheets together, but the pattern pages come together easily and it doesn’t take too long given that it’s a relatively simple pattern. You also have to add your own seam allowances.

Just like my Day to Night Drape Top, I started with the XL at the shoulder, graded out to the 2X size at the armscye, and then graded to the 3X for the waist and hip. I cut the 2X size for the sleeves. Also did a small FBA to add just a bit of extra width and length to the front of the shirt, once again using this tutorial from VickiKateMakes to do an FBA without adding a dart. After those relatively quick adjustments, I’m really happy with the way this fits. The fit through the shoulders is especially nice. However, the sleeves are drafted to be quite long. I didn’t add a hem allowance to the pattern piece and still ended up cutting off 1.5” of length before turning the hem up 1.” Just something to keep in mind if you’re looking at making this pattern.

I was a bit nervous about sewing the neckband since that’s the step that gave me the most trouble the last time around. With my Kwik Sew Tee, I ended up sewing the neckband in flat, but I’m not a huge fan of the way this looks. So with this tee, I quartered and stretched the neckband per the pattern instructions. I did, however, machine baste the neckband first so I could check the fit. It laid flat everywhere but at the front of the scoop where it wanted to flip out a bit. So I unpicked the neck band and shortened it by 3/4”. I quartered the neck band again, but then moved the pins marking the quarters at the shoulder (in other words, the pins that didn’t mark the center front or center back) 3/8” closer to the the center front. This kept the neckband the same length around the back of the neck as the first version and only shortened the neckband around the front of the scoop. I repeated the basting process and the neckband looked good, so I sewed it in with the lightening stitch I use to sew all of my seams and then top-stitched the neckline with a narrow zig-zag.

I hemmed the bottom and the sleeves with a stretch twin needle. It looks nice, but I’m not sure how I feel about the twin needle. While the twin needle looks like a hem on a RTW shirt and has some stretch, it isn’t as stretchy as a cover-stitched hem. I think that will be fine for this tee, but we’ll see how it wears in the long run.

The fabric I used makes this shirt even more enjoyable to wear. It’s a cotton/rayon/spandex blend from Girl Charlee that is stretchy, drapey, and super soft.  (I bought it awhile ago but I think it’s this fabric, which they still have quite a bit of.)  With my last two knit projects, I had a bit of a time trying to cut the pattern out on the fold, less so because the fabric wanted to shift and more so because it was difficult to got both layers completely smoothed out. With both projects, I ended up with some slightly wonky pieces that I had to trim down a bit. Not ideal. So this time around, I sucked it up and re-traced the pattern pieces meant to be cut on the fold so that I could cut everything out in a single layer. The tracing was an extra step and meant a bit more pinning and cutting, but it’s one of those situations where doing what seems like extra work actually saves you a lot of time and energy in the long run.

I’ve got a couple other pieces of jersey fabric that I’m planning to turn into t-shirts. I’m finding it hugely satisfying to sew my own basics, probably because I’m a no-frills person who really only wears basics. But also because I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find basic items in actual brick-and-mortar stores since what little plus-size shit was in stores seems to be rapidly disappearing. (I’m looking at you Target and JC Penny.) How quickly do you think I can manage to make my own jeans?

Jalie 2568: Sewing Underwear

Today’s riveting topic: underwear! The six pairs of underwear you see below are the result of the past two weekend’s sewing efforts. Last weekend, I managed to cut out and construct several pairs and this weekend I spent my sewing time applying elastic like it was my job. I still have two more pairs constructed, but they’ll have to wait until I get some thread to match the blue elastic I’m planning to use.

Jalie 2568 via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I absolutely hate shopping for clothes as it is a series of never-ending frustrations at not being able to find clothes that fit me well, that match my style, and that are not made from the worst possible materials. This was my impetus to seriously take up garment sewing—there suddenly came a moment when it seemed easier to me to just make my clothes than to try to find things I liked in stores. While I had been toying with the idea of sewing my own clothes for awhile, it was trying to shop for underwear last year that proved frustrating enough to push me over the edge. There came a moment when I realized that, as a fat woman, my options for buying underwear in an actual brick-and-mortar store were 1) to get the super-thin kind that hit around your ribcage and only come in white or 2) to pay $5-$14 a pair from Lane Bryant, which at the time was featuring a line of underwear that all had spectacularly irritating things like “sassy” written on the butt.

By then, I had already been following the blog So, Zo… and had read her numerous posts about how easy it was to sew underwear, and I figured, it can’t be any fracking harder to make them than it is to try to buy ones that aren’t the very essence of terrible. So I dusted off my sewing machine, dug up a handful of old t-shirts, and dove in. There ultimately came a moment where my old, crappy machine couldn’t manage sewing through two layers of elastic and a layer of fabric, which put my underwear production on hold for a few months. But before that point, I repurposed a lot of t-shirts as I played around with the pattern, tried out some different construction methods, and experimented with elastic in different ways. With this most recent batch of underwear, I’ve finally adjusted the pattern and sewing procedure to yield exactly the fit and finish I want. And that makes this my first tried and true (or TNT) sewing pattern—an important milestone for a sewing noob!

The pattern I’ve been using is Jalie 2568, which has options for either a bikini or hipster style with two different rises, as well as a pattern for stretch-lace boy shorts and a camisole. I picked this pattern primarily because it came in my size, but it also had really positive reviews. I’m really pleased with this pattern—it comes together quickly and it fits me perfectly right out of the envelope. It’s designed for fabrics with some Lycra content and says that your fabric should have 70% 4-way stretch, but I’ve almost always used fabric that has significantly less stretch—for any fabric with less than 50% stretch, I just cut out the next size up. Every pair shown here is the low-rise hipster style. I construct the underwear entirely on a regular sewing machine, using a narrow zig-zag stitch for the seams and a 3-step zig-zag stitch to attach the elastic. While I’ve made the pattern straight from the envelope, following the pattern instructions exactly, with good results, I have made two key changes to the way that I construct my underwear.

1. Using Fold-Over Elastic.

I’ve been using fold-over elastic (or FOE) to finish my underwear because I like the way that it looks, and I like the way that it encloses the raw edge. It’s also relatively inexpensive and easy to find. Most recently, I ordered a bunch of 5/8” FOE from an Etsy store called Elastic By the Yard. They sell elastic in a ton of different colors with lots of options for getting different yardage amounts–I got a couple of different 5 and 10 yard spools, which are really convenient, and the price ends up being under $.50/yard. A lot of sellers refer to FOE as “baby headband elastic,” which I find obnoxious, but obviously not so much as to prevent me from buying it.

As is, the Jalie pattern recommends using 1” stretch lace around the waist of the underwear, which means that some of the finished height of the rise comes from the height of the elastic. Because FOE doesn’t add any height, I’ve lengthened the waist on my pattern pieces by about 3/4”. The pattern also recommends simply hemming the legs of the hipster style rather than attaching elastic. I did this with most of my early pairs and while it’s comfortable, I can attest that if you wear pants with any kind of stretch content, you will seriously benefit from having elastic around the legs to keep things . . . properly anchored. I use the same elastic at the legs that I use at the waist and apply it using a 2-step method similar to that described in this tutorial from A Very Purple Person. While I cut the waist elastic to be 10-15% smaller than the waist measurement of the pattern pieces, I only cut the elastic for the legs a bit smaller (somewhere between .5” and 1” smaller) than the leg opening. I will say that, once attached, the FOE feels stiffer than the elastic you’re probably used to seeing on RTW underwear, but it feels really comfortable while wearing.

2. Changing the pattern to have a separate, sandwiched gusset.

The Jalie pattern includes 3 pieces—a front, a back, and then a lining piece that you sew together with the bottom part of the front. This means that the (and I apologize in advance for having to use this terrible word) crotch is part of the front pattern piece. You can see the original pattern pieces for the front and the lining, which are both cut on the fold, in the photo below. This method works perfectly well, but it does leave one edge of the lining exposed and the longer front pattern piece makes it tricky to eke a pair of underwear out of a small piece of fabric.

While reading underwear-sewing tutorials, I saw several people using patterns with an entirely separate crotch gusset piece that, when sewn together with the lining, completely encloses the front and back seams. I decided to alter the Jalie pattern to use this construction method—it was really simple and took about 60 seconds to complete. I simply laid the original lining piece over the bottom of the front piece and drew a line across the top of the lining piece—this line becomes the new seam line for the front piece. I then added a 1/4” seam allowance to the bottom of the new seam line on the front piece and the top of the former lining piece.

Jalie 2468 Alterations via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

The photo below shows my altered pattern pieces. What was just a lining piece is now the pattern piece for the crotch gusset and lining. When I am cutting out my fabric, I now cut out a front (with the altered pattern piece), a back, and two of the lining/gusset pieces and then construct them as shown in Very Purple Person’s underwear sewing tutorial. This method gives a really satisfying, clean finish to the inside of the underwear. The altered pattern pieces have also made it possible for me to get two pairs of underwear out of 1/2 yard of fabric.

So there you have it—a really long post about making underwear. Underwear seems to be to sewists what dishcloths are to knitters—lots of people swear by their me-mades and lots of other people can’t imagine why you’d bother making something so basic that will see so much use and abuse. I’m firmly in the camp of swearing by my me-mades and have set myself a goal of replacing all of my RTW underwear by the end of the year. So onto the next pair!

Day-to-Night Drape Top

Despite a busy month where I didn’t do much sewing, I still managed to finish my March Make a Garment a Month project on time. This is the MariaDenmark Day-to-Night Drape top, which is a very straight-forward PDF pattern. The pattern is for a sleeveless top, but I added sleeves by using the short sleeve pattern piece from the MariaDenmark Brigitte Tee, which is another PDF pattern. I just picked the sleeve size that gave me the upper arm circumference I wanted and was able to set it into the Day-to-Night pattern without a problem.

This is a dead-simple sew. The pattern includes instructions for finishing the back neckline with either fold-over elastic or clear elastic. I had both on hand, but went with a black fold-over elastic for the neckline and I think it makes for a really clean finish. The pattern piece for the front includes a facing that you simply fold over at the shoulder so you don’t have to to do any finishing to the front neckline. After attaching the elastic to the back neckline and then sewing the shoulders together, I attached the sleeves flat, sewed the side seams together, and then finished the sleeves and the hem. Done and done. I did everything except for the bottom hem in a single evening, which is saying  a lot since I am a sewing n00b and rather slow.

I haven’t been totally happy with the hems on my last two knit garment projects, so I decided to try finishing the sleeves with bands, and I’m really happy with the way that it looks. It gives a very clean finish with very little effort. For the sleeve bands, I just cut out a strip of fabric that was 2” tall and just slightly less wide (by about .5”) than the finished circumference of the sleeve. For the bottom hem, I considered using a twin needle, but couldn’t figure out for the life of me how to do so on my new machine. It’s weird because the machine came with a second thread spool but I can’t find any place in the manual where it explains where to actually attach the second spool. So in lieu of using a twin needle, I created a faux-band hem finish like SarahLiz describes in one of her recent blog posts. I’m pleased with the way that it looks and, quite honestly, I think a band finish might become my go-to for simple knit projects like this.

I didn’t make any major fit changes to this pattern, aside from grading from an XL at the shoulder to a 2X at the bust to a 3X at the hip. I have some strain lines at the bust so I probably should have done an full-adjustment (the pattern even links to a tutorial that shows you how to do one on this particular pattern), but I didn’t. I’ll probably give it a try the next time I make this pattern. The only other change I made was to add .5” at the shoulder. Since this is drafted as a sleeveless top, the shoulders are more narrow than you’d want for something with sleeves. Even with the added shoulder width, the shoulders are still sitting too far in, although I think this might be an effect of the way that the elastic is currently pulling the back neckline in. The pattern tells you to cut the elastic 10% shorter than the length of the neckline, but I think that next time I might cut the elastic just a smidge longer.

The fabric is a cotton-rayon slub knit from Girl Charlee. The fabric color is described as burgundy, but it’s closer to purple than red, and the slub knit effect gives it some black texture throughout. (It’s been very gray in Syracuse so none of these pictures do a great job of capturing the color. The very first picture is probably the most accurate as far as capturing the color.) The fabric has good stretch and drapes well, so it was a good match for this project. It’s lightweight but not sheer and it feels very cool. This will be a good shirt to wear in the thick of summer—good news for me since I’ll be teaching during July and August. They have this slub knit fabric in a few other colors and I’m thinking pretty seriously about stocking up. Since I don’t really like wearing prints, it’s nice to have solid colors that have a bit of texture to them.

All in all, I’m really happy with the way that this project turned out—it’s comfortable, it fits well, and I think I’ll get a lot of wear out of it. I can definitely see myself making this pattern again. I’d love to try making this in a lightweight sweater knit with long sleeves. I’m also so pleased with the fit of this top, that I’m planning to try the Brigitte Tee, which is by the same designer, in hopes that it fits a bit better than the Kwik Sew pattern I tried earlier this year. But for the purposes of MAGAM, I’m going to set the knits aside for a bit and try to develop my skills fitting and sewing wovens. Onward!

Blank Canvas

This is kind of a boring, basic pullover, but this project was meant to be an experiment with a different sweater construction method. I’d say the experiment was a success.

I prefer to knit sweaters in pieces and then seam them together, and this is partly because I find knitting an entire adult-sized sweater in one piece rather tedious and partly because I’ve just had better luck getting a seamed sweater with set-in sleeves to fit me well. Raglan sweaters, in particular, have given me a lot of trouble in the past because they just don’t seem to agree with my body. Not only have I found it difficult to get a good fit with traditional raglan sweaters, but I don’t think they look particularly good on me either. I just don’t seem to have broad enough shoulders to pull a raglan sweater off without looking, well, frumpy. While a set-in sleeve helps to define my (relatively narrow) shoulders, traditional raglan lines have a way of making my shoulders disappear. Not good. Still, the lines of a raglan sweater offer some attractive design options (color blocked sleeves, textured sleeves, striped sleeves, lace sleeves, etc.) that just wouldn’t look quite as good with the set-in sleeves I typically prefer.

So I wanted to try Ysolda Teague’s Blank Canvas pattern, which claims that women who don’t typically look good in raglan sweaters might prefer the look of the modified raglan shaping used in her pattern. A traditional raglan yoke is shaped through a series of decreases or increases (depending on which direction you’re knitting) where the sleeves and the torso connect. These decreases/increases are worked at an equal rate across the sleeve and torso, and are usually worked at a consistent frequency, to basically create four straight lines that run diagonally from the underarm to the neckline. The yoke of Blank Canvas switches up the traditional raglan shaping and instead has you decrease across the sleeve and body at differing rates and also changes the frequency of decrease at different points in the yoke to create a raglan line that more closely follows the physical contours of the arm and shoulder. And I can now verify that this kind of shaping does, indeed, look a lot better on we narrow-shouldered-and-busty types who don’t look good in a traditional raglan.

I followed the instructions for the size that most closely matched my upper bust measurement and the fitting through the shoulders is spot-on. This method of shaping the yoke isn’t quite as simple and straight-forward as working a traditional raglan, but Ysolda’s pattern directions are very clear and easy to follow. Now that I’ve worked with the pattern, I feel like I could easily adjust the shaping to accommodate different weights of yarn. I’m looking forward to playing around with this raglan construction more in the future. While I followed the instructions for the yoke shaping and the sleeves, I determined my own cast-on numbers, worked out my own shaping through the body, and added my usual 3” of HBDs. I also swapped the pattern’s crew neck for a deep V-neck. The yarn I used is Berroco Vintage DK in Neptune—it’s a color that says “spring” even if the weather around here doesn’t agree.

The view from our front door last Wednesday. Taken during my “Spring” Break.

There are a couple of other things that I’ve learned from this project:

  • Because I modified the pattern to create a deep V-neck, I worked all of the raglan shaping back and forth rather than in-the-round as the pattern specifies, and this  meant having to work some of the decreases from the wrong side. This turned out to be pretty easy, and it’s a good reminder that I can decrease on wrong side rows whenever I’m knitting flat if I want to—something that opens up possibilities for figuring out rates of decrease in the future.
  • This pattern uses a different increase method than I’ve worked before. I usually work a M1R/M1L, while this pattern uses lifted increases (which are explained at the end of this Knitty article). I was a little worried about how these increases would look in the final product, but they create a very neat finish. The best part is that I think it’s a lot more intuitive to figure out how/when to work a left or right-leaning decrease than it is with the M1R/M1L business. I plan to continue using lifted increases in the future.
  • Finally, I wanted to tweak the fit at the back of the sweater since I don’t think I’ve been using quite enough back shaping. However, I couldn’t decrease on the back any faster than I’d been doing or the fabric would start to bias. So after looking at some other people’s projects on Ravelry (which is a nice way of saying that I spent a lot of time studying other people’s backsides), I decided to add a second dart halfway between my usual decrease line and the edge of the back of the sweater. I decreased an additional half inch on either side (removing an extra inch of fabric overall), and I’m really happy with the result. I’ll definitely be working that second set of darts in the future.

I want to keep expanding my familiarity with different sweater construction methods. I want to try making a circular yoked sweater (perhaps the Van Doesburg Pullover from the Spring issue of KnitScene?), and I’m also intrigued by the top-down method Andi Satterlund uses in her patterns. Do you have a favorite sweater construction method?

New Cardigan: McCalls 6844

If I wasn’t already sold on garment sewing, I would be after this project. I’m still kind of shocked that I managed to make this myself.

This is a my February project for the Make a Garment a Month challenge. I actually managed to finish sewing this on the evening of the 28th, but it’s clearly taken me awhile to get around to taking pictures. I’m blaming a particularly difficult grading marathon.

The pattern I used is McCalls 6844 (view A), which is a pattern that’s been made about a million times at this point. And I totally get why—it’s a really excellent pattern with some great design details. I appreciate that it’s an open-front cardigan that is not a waterfall style, and I also like this version’s slight, but not overly-obnoxious, high-low hem. It’s really only a matter of time before I make this pattern again. I’m pretty sure my life demands a version in black and, possibly, a more casual striped version.

One of the great things about this pattern for me (given that this is only the second garment I’ve made for myself) is that the fit is forgiving enough that I didn’t really have to make any fit adjustments. I took 3/8” out of the shoulder but otherwise cut a straight size XL. The next time around, I might take a full 1/2” from the shoulder and I’ll shorten the sleeves by about 1/2”. If I were using a less stretchy fabric (this sweater knit had at least 50% stretch), I would probably also add some width to the sleeves.

After reading reviews of the pattern, I decided to use a different construction order than outlined in the pattern instructions, and I think that made it even easier to sew. I started by sewing the collar pieces together per the pattern instructions. Then I sewed the shoulder seams (adding some fusible stay tape to stabilize the seams), and then sewed the sleeves in flat. After that, I hemmed the sleeves and the bottom of the sweater before stitching up the sides of the body and the sleeves. Finally, I attached the collar to the sweater and then topstitched to finish. I used a stretch stitch for the hems. It looks clean and I’m relatively pleased with how it turned out, but I think my next sewing-with-knits challenge is to master the twin needle.

I used a very stretchy dark gray Hacci sweater knit from Girl Charlee. I was a little worried about working with a sweater knit, but it was fine. It was a bit of a pain to cut, partly because it had so much stretch and partly because it was a little sticky and was reluctant to being smoothed out nicely for me to lay the pattern pieces down. But after I got past the cutting, things got a lot easier. It was very easy to sew, pressed really nicely, and resulted in a cardigan that is very comfortable to wear.

(Somehow, while taking these pictures, I managed to strike a perfectly dramatic fashion blogger pose. Although you’ll note the absence of a coordinating handbag so . . . Fail.)

After wearing this out and about, I realized that people have a tendency to dive in and touch your clothes (which is basically touching you, the wearer) when they find out that you’ve made something. I’ve had this happen over and over for years. Once, when I told a friend I had knit the sweater I was wearing, she jumped out of her seat and stuck her hand down the front of my sweater to feel the back of the cabling pattern. I think it’s funny and innocent, probably because I’ve only experienced this reaction from women I know and because there’s always a funny moment when the person realizes they’re doing something really weird. Have you experienced this before? What do you think is the behind the fascination with touching handmade items?

 

An Audrey Interpretation

Another day, another cardigan. This time, it’s my adaptation of Gudrun Johnson’s Audrey in Unst pattern. I made an ill-fated attempt at this sweater once before, but I didn’t even both finishing the sweater, let alone wearing it, thanks largely to choosing the wrong yarn and the wrong size. But my first attempt was also doomed by the fact that I didn’t make any substantial changes to the pattern to make it suit me. The pattern, as written, results in a vintage-feeling cropped cardigan that’s designed to hit at the natural waist, making it perfect for wearing with skirts and dresses. As written, this pattern looks really nice on a lot of people.

But as someone with a strict pants-only life philosophy, I don’t have a real need for a cropped cardigan. And even if I did, my bodily proportions differ substantially enough from the proportions of the pattern that I would have to do some significant alterations to get something that looks and fits okay anyway. So this time around, I didn’t bother sticking very close to the pattern at all an instead used it as a guide for the bits I liked and improvised the rest.

More specifically, I knit the sweater in pieces and seamed it together, simply because that is my preferred construction method. I used the power of math to determine all of my own shaping, adding 3” of horizontal bust darts like I’ve been doing on all of my other sweaters. I changed the shape from a cropped cardigan to a full length cardigan with long sleeves and eliminated the wide band of ribbing at the bottom of the cardigan. I also knit the sweater with about 1/2” of positive ease at the bust to avoid any potential gaping buttonhole nonsense instead of the 0”-1” of negative ease recommended by the pattern. Oh, and I used a yarn that gave me a totally different gauge than the pattern.

 

But I did use the pattern for it’s instructions on working the unst bib lace, shaping the neckline, and finishing the neck and button bands. I’m especially pleased with the finishing on this cardigan—the button band instructions give you a very neat vertical column of stitches at the edge and the i-cord finish around the neckline, while kind of a tedious PITA to work, yielded one of the nicest finished necklines I’ve ever managed before.

Of course, I made enough changes to the pattern that it pretty much changed the whole feel of the design. My cardigan doesn’t have the same vintage-y, feminine feel as the original and instead feels a bit more casual and relaxed, which I think suits me better.

What is the current state of the cardigan? It seems like I see people wearing them open all the time or doing that thing where they wear a belt over it. I have a deep hatred of belts so I’m not going be emulating that look, but I do wear a lot of my store-bought cardigans unbuttoned because, frankly, they don’t fit that well. Since I’ve taken the time to actually hand sew all those buttons (12 buttons on this cardigan!), I feel compelled to button it up at least part of the way. And since the cardigans I make for myself actually do fit me, I find that they look better buttoned and look baggy and weird when worn unbuttoned. But sometimes I worry that this makes me look dowdy. I don’t understand fashion. How are you wearing your cardigans these days?

(Not Quite) January Sewing: Long Sleeved T-Shirt

I’m late (mostly due to the fact that my sewing machine died at the end of January), but I finally finished my January project for MAGAM. I made a scoop neck T-shirt using Kwik Sew 3766 and a cotton rayon jersey blend fabric from Girl Charlee. This fabric is pretty drapey and clings like nobody’s business, which is not my favorite. But given that this is my first adult garment besides pajama pants, I’m pretty pleased with the way this project turned out.

KS3766 via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I used the size L for the chest, blending to the XL for the rest of the shirt. I also added a bit more width to the hip, and then did a 3” FBA following this excellent tutorial from VickikateMakes. I’m pretty happy with the way the shirt fits around the bust, but next time around, I’ll eliminate some of the additional width from the hip and the waist.

KS3766 Back via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

My biggest struggle and my biggest triumph with this shirt was the neckline. I practiced (and failed) several times attaching a neckband in a way that would lay flat. It got to the point where I was so frustrated that I had to set the whole project aside for a couple of days before I could try again. Ultimately, I realized that I was being too aggressive. I was so worried the band wouldn’t lay flat that I was stretching it so much that it was basically gathering the fabric. Once I realized my major malfunction, life got a little bit better and I was able to sew a reasonably flat neckband. (It’s still a smidge too loose, but good enough for this first shirt.) I made the neckband for this shirt a bit narrower than the pattern piece. The pattern advises you to stitch the ends of the band together and then stretch it evenly around neckband, but I decided to just attach it flat (as shown here in this tutorial), which worked out a lot better than my first miserable stretching attempts.

KS3766 Neckline via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

So I know that I’m on my way to getting a basic T-shirt pattern that fits me well and I know now to use knits that have a bit more body. But I have to confess: this sewing business is hard. And by that, I don’t mean that sewing in and of itself is hard, but rather that going through the growing pains of being new to sewing feels a little rough at the moment. The downside of coming to sewing as a long-time knitter is that I find it really frustrating that the things that I sew don’t turn out as well as the things I knit. And the discerning eye I’ve developed as a knitter that allows to me to recognize and fix issues with my knitting makes it really easy for me to pick out imperfections with my sewing and harder to appreciate where I’ve grown in the process. Like every learning process, I’m finding that sewing has its peaks and its valleys, and feel like I’m in a bit of a valley. I suppose the only way out is to keep sewing. 🙂

And with that in mind, on to my February project!

Squared Cardigan

I seem to have a ton of very casual clothes and most of the sweaters that I wear regularly fit within this casual style, so I’m trying to focus more on knitting sweaters that I would feel comfortable teaching in. This is the first attempt that has been successful—I’ve worn this sweater several times now, including a day when I was observed by a teaching mentor and on the first day of class during the spring semester. So it passes all my teaching requirements: it looks nice, it fits well (meaning that it doesn’t have to be constantly adjusted while I wear it), allows me to move around comfortably (reaching up to write on the board, leaning over desks to talk to students, bending over to pick up that dropped piece of chalk), and it works with clothes I already have.

This pattern, the Squared Cardigan, comes from the Knit to Flatter book. By the time I got the book, I’d already been reading Amy’s blog for a long time and following her Ravelry group. Still I found some helpful tips in the book, including the suggestion to place horizontal bust darts (which are just short rows) so that they end below the bust apex. I’ve been placing my HBDs a bit higher but lowered them based on this suggestion and I’ve found the lower placement does, indeed, lead to a better fit.

I also like that a lower placement allows me to work my vertical and horizontal bust darts at the same time, which creates less compressed vertical bust shaping. Before I lowered the placement of my HBDs, I used to work bust dart increases every other row, which can lead to some biasing in the fabric. But if I work bust increases through the short row shaping, then I have more length to work the increases over, meaning that I can work them less frequently to get more gentle shaping.

This is the first Amy Herzog pattern I’ve knit, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out. The sleeves on this are the perfect length for my liking, and I really love the shoulder and arm shaping. In fact, I went ahead and used the instructions for sleeve and armscye shaping for another cardigan that I just finished knitting (and am hoping to show off just as soon as I can get some buttons). I’m also a big fan of the sleeve length and the curved ribbing at the bottom of the sweater and the sleeves–it’s a unique detail that’s probably more impressive in real life than it looks in these pictures.

This isn’t made from a single size—I worked out my own numbers for the hip and for the back and bust shaping, working 3” of horizontal bust darts. Based on my upper bust measurement, I followed the 41-42” size for the neckline and shoulders, and followed the instructions for the 45-46” size for the sleeves and armscye shaping.

My neckline ended up more rounded than squared, probably because I didn’t pick up enough stitches. This is my one complaint about the pattern: it gives specific numbers of stitches to pick up for the button bands and neckline, but I much prefer when a pattern gives you a rate for picking up stitches. A rate (like “pick up 3 stitches every 4 rows” or “pick up one stitch from each bound off stitch”) makes it easier to work when you’ve made size adjustments and makes it easier to pick up the stitches evenly. I always disregard specific numbers and work a rate that I expect will be appropriate, but I should have ripped back when I noticed this neckline was a bit tight. Oh well. Live and learn. Or rather, live and maybe, possibly do it right the next time around if you’re feeling especially motivated.

The yarn is Berroco Vintage DK in Charcoal, which is the same yarn I used for Aidan’s gray beanie. However, this yarn has a bit of drape to it, which combined with the open neckline and the larger buttons means that this cardigan really only looks good closed. But that works for me. My favorite way to wear it is layered over a button-down, but it also looks good with a simple tank top underneath.

Every cardigan I finish makes me want to immediately knit five more. If only I could knit faster…

Story of a Sweater: How I Started Knitting Sweaters That Fit

I started trying to knit sweaters almost as soon as I learned to knit. I say “try” because my attempts rarely yielded something wearable. I struggled to get a sweater to fit well and struggled to choose patterns that suited my style. Over the course of about seven years, I knit thirteen sweaters for myself. Of these sweaters, five were either unraveled or donated before they were even worn. Another five got worn two or three times before they were donated. One pullover was way too big when I finished it and sat in a drawer for at least a year before I happened to gain some weight. Of this first crop of sweaters, only two were worn frequently from the beginning, and only one of these still sees regular wear. Of course, this only accounts for sweaters I finished–I can’t begin to count the number of sweaters I started and abandoned  before they were done.

The cream of the 13 sweater crop–my Girl Friday cardigan.

You’d think that would be enough to get me to give up on sweater knitting. And I did, indeed, get seriously discouraged about sweater knitting for a couple of years. In 2010, right in the middle of my period of sweater disillusionment, Amy Herzog started her original Fit to Flatter series. I read and studied her tutorials thoroughly, and there are a handful of important sweater knitting lessons I took away from the series:

  1. I could and should become less dependent on a pattern as written and instead actively work to make the pattern suit me
  2. There are more shaping methods available than simply increasing and decreasing at the sides of a garment
  3. The shaping at the front and the back of the garment doesn’t need to be same, and probably shouldn’t be
  4. I would be better off choosing a sweater size based on my high-bust measurement and modifying the rest of the sweater to fit
  5. I should pay close attention to the stylistic features that I most like in clothing and work to reproduce them in my knitting

The famous Gisela Ramirez F*ck Flattering shirt, which is sold out at the moment.

I find the concept of dressing to flatter problematic for a number of reason, not the least of which is the fact that rules about what “flatters” and what women “should” or rather “should not” wear are frequently used to police and shame fat bodies. I appreciate that Amy, both on her blog and in her book, says that she’s not interested in giving women a set of rules for getting dressed in a What Not to Wear fashion, but that she is rather trying to give women a language for articulating what they do or do not like in a particular garment. She also encourages women to appreciate their bodies as they are and to not see fit issues as a result of bodily flaws. These are important ideas when it comes to talking about clothes. Unfortunately, it seems that any discussion of what is “flattering” has a tendency to be taken up by some in ways that fixate on shoulds or should-nots, and people can get too caught up fretting about their bodies and trying to heed recommendations even when they clash with personal preferences.

Extracted from the language of “flattering,” my last take-away point—that I should be mindful of what I like and what makes me feel good—has been really important for me. I’ve realized, for instance, that the list of stylistic features that I like includes deep necklines, sleeves that aren’t flared in any way, clean lines, a close fit, and a more limited color palette that reflects the colors I actually like wearing. While there might be areas of overlap, this list isn’t based on other people’s recommendations about what will flatter my body, but rather reflects what makes me feel comfortable and confident. Generating this list of my preferred style features changed the way that I looked at sweater patterns–it helped me winnow down what patterns would make sense in my life and helped me envision possible pattern modifications.

The palette of colors I like to wear

In addition to the Fit to Flatter series, I started doing some research on vertical and horizontal bust darts. I learned a lot in my research, but I also started to feel overwhelmed. I wasn’t exactly sure how to manage multiple modifications, and I couldn’t visualize how to incorporate different kinds of shaping into a pattern. Ultimately, I decided that I needed to stop researching and start trying to actually experiment with some of the principles I’d been learning about. What I wanted was to knit something along the lines of a sloper in sewing—a basic pattern, fitted to my measurements, that could function as a guide for future sweaters.

I chose a very simple pullover pattern that I could work with–specifically, the Perfect Sweater pattern by Mandy Moore and Ann Shayne. There are a lot of basic, blank slate sweater patterns available, but I picked the Perfect Sweater pattern because it makes use of my preferred sweater construction method—that is, a seamed sweater with set-in sleeves. I’ve experimented with lots of different sweater construction methods, and I’ve consistently had a better fit with set-in sleeves. And while a lot of people like it, I find knitting an adult-sized sweater in one piece incredibly tedious. I decided to use some yarn that I’d had sitting around for awhile because it was a color that I didn’t really care for. The benefit of using yarn that I didn’t particularly like was that I didn’t have to be anxious about investing prized materials into a project that was largely experimental.

From there, I made what I think of as a body map. I took a bunch of measurements: high bust, full bust, waist, high hip, bicep, sweater length, length from underarm to waist, length from underarm to fullest part of the bust, and crossback. I measured sweaters I liked for sleeve length, different neckline depths, and armhole depth. Finally, I measured the length from the top of my shoulder to my high hip, both for my back and my front. The difference between these last measurements helped me determine how much length to add to the front of the sweater using horizontal bust darts. I marked all of the measurements that I took on a very rough diagram of my body to keep as a reference. From this point, I wrote out a modified version of the Perfect Sweater pattern, adding bust and waist shaping where I thought it needed to be added.

My final version of the Perfect Sweater.

My final version of the Perfect Sweater.

And then I started knitting. Based on my first modified version of the pattern, I knit up the front and back of the sweater. I then basted the two pieces together and tried them on. With this fitting, I was able to pinpoint changes that I needed to make—for example, I was able to see that I had knit the sweater with too much ease and had placed the bust shaping too low. I updated the pattern with my changes, unraveled the pieces I had knit, and reknit the front and back of the sweater. At the second fitting, everything looked great. I knit the first sleeve twice as well, which helped me figure out once and for all how much ease I like in a sleeve. Even though it was a lot of work, at the end, I had a sweater that fit better than anything I had knit before and a basic fitting map that I could continue to tweak.

The specific fitting details and modifications are listed here on Ravelry.

The specific fitting details and modifications are listed here on Ravelry.

As I’ve continued knitting sweaters, I’ve continued tweaking. I’ve changed the placement of my horizontal bust darts, changed the way I work my waist shaping a bit, and slightly adjusted the amounts of ease I like at different parts of the sweater. It sounds like a lot, but having worked though the first fitted sweater makes it all more manageable. And knowing that my sweater template will produce a reasonably-fitting sweater means that I can gradually tweak my approach as I work through different projects with very little risk. Now that I’m several sweaters in, I have four pieces of advice for people looking to knit a sweater that fits well. First, keep your calculator close and don’t be intimidated by the math. Second, keep a notebook with you as you knit and document all of your shaping mods—it will become an invaluable resource. Third, don’t get fixated on a perfect fit. Good is good enough. Better will come with time. And finally, at some point, you just have to dive in and figure it out. Sometimes, knitters want to wait to tackle a sweater until they can be assured that it will turn out perfectly. But when it comes to craft, there is no substitute for trying to work through problems with your own hands.

One of my most recent sweaters–The Granville hoodie

This is just a quick gloss of my process to improve the fit of my sweaters, but I am eager to talk about these topics more. So what part of the sweater knitting and fitting process do you want to hear more about? In your experience, what is the key to getting a good sweater fit?