The modeled photos are at the bottom, if you are impatient!
No, not fear of the handknit kind… we all know I can handle that. I’m talking about the kind of knit that you buy by the yard and then sew on your sewing machine (or serger) into something that hopefully resembles something you would wear out of the house.
I’ve made a few muslins of knit tops out of cheapie stuff from Joann’s. Audrey (my Bernina) sews knits pretty well on a narrow zig-zag with the walking foot. Even so, I always felt that my knits seemed more “homemade” than my woven clothes, since store-bought knits are serged, and they never made it to the actual garment stage. So I bought a serger a few months ago, a Brother 1034D for $80 on Craigslist.
I’m not going to lie… the serger scares the beejezus out of me the way that the regular machine never did. First of all, threading it is like some sort of logic puzzle:
and here we run into my biggest handicap in sewing… 2d diagrams make literally no sense to me. My brain cannot translate them into any sort of actual sequence of events. I require words or an actual moving photo. For sewing patterns I usually just read the description and occasionally ask my husband to interpret a diagram for me (thus he is learning to sew through osmosis!) But for this… ugh. Luckily, it came with a video… on VHS. We don’t have a VHS player anymore, since the only movie I still own on video is Francis Joins the WACS (shut up, I love that wise-cracking Donkey! Someday it will be on DVD!) Luckily, some kind user had uploaded the hilariously dated video to Youtube. After watching it about 5 times, I was able to thread the machine (I don’t like how you have to start in the middle of the cones, rather than with the leftmost or rightmost.)
I’ve been using the serger to finish my seam allowances quite a bit – it’s really worth it just for that, honestly. I wouldn’t buy an expensive one for that purpose, but this one is great! But now we come to the other scary thing about sergers… the knife. I am very uncomfortable with my fabric being trimmed while I am sewing – what if I make a mistake and sew the skirt together backwards or something (as I am very wont to do… my seam ripper and I are good friends.) Before this week, I had barely used the knife, and when I did it was with a sense of great fear.
I’m waiting on a bolt of silk organza to arrive from Dharma Trading so I can start my sundress (I’m going to underline the whole thing.) The other day I went through my tubs of fabric, just to remind myself of what I have (I don’t have a lot, just a little over 1 sterilite tub… I don’t like to buy too much in advance.) I remembered the leopard knit that I bought in the fall, and thought maybe this would be a good time to try a knit pattern for real – since I’m off work and supposedly less stressed, and I’m waiting on a delivery before I can start my big project.
I chose Vogue 1027, a DKNY pattern that was really well reviewed on Patternreview. I like that it looks like a wrap dress, but actually isn’t. I look awful in wrap dresses, but the slight empire waist on this is very flattering. I looked at the sizing and said “Eh, I’ll just make the smallest one, it’ll stretch.” Nice scientific method there, right? I have a lot of confidence in the power of negative ease, and this knit is super stretchy. I only had 2 yards, and the pattern called for almost 3, so I left out the pockets and facings and cut in a single layer. I also trimmed the skirt by 6 inches, and it’s still the length it looks in the photo – this is sized long! I got it in no problem.
Cutting this stuff was really god-awful. My rotary cutter didn’t like it much, but my good scissors liked it even less (seriously, this stuff repels them) so I used the cutter. Then I had to face the serger, since I was planning to use it to sew the major seams. I get that the serger has lines for different widths, but since my fabric doesn’t actually go over them, I’m not sure how accurate I am. I marked the 5/8″ line with blue painter’s tape, so I could actually see it.
That was slightly helpful, but this fabric is, again, so drapey and stretchy that it was sort of vague. I figured “Eh, it’ll work out… who can tell if my seams in this stuff are slightly off?” (The answer is: no one, really.)
I sewed the side and shoulder seams with the serger. I’m very proud of myself for using lining selvedge to stabilize the shoulders:
But as it turned out, it wasn’t the serger seams that gave me issues. The Vogue pattern was written all sorts of crazy – first of all, I didn’t like the facings, so I didn’t use them, doing a narrow hem instead. It seemed to be suffering from confusion about whether it was calling for a knit or a woven. There were a lot of “press under this amount” directions, which let me tell you wasn’t happening in this fabric. And a lot of basting, some of which I did, and some of which seemed silly. The tie directions were weird, and left it sort of unfinished, so I sewed the tie together and turned it, like most of the other reviewers on Patternreview.
The final major seam – sewing the skirt to the bodice/belt – was really hard to do. There were about a million layers of basted fabric to sew through, and when I took it off the machine last night I fully expected it to just fall apart or look like a drunk blind person sewed it. Not so much, since it’s covered anyway, and you can’t tell anything in this fabric. I decided not to hem it, because it isn’t going to fray, and I want to see how much the skirt is going to stretch out, so if it looks a little uneven right now that’s why. And so… after far too much rambling, the finished dress!
My husband says this is my “sexy cavewoman” dress, which he says is a compliment but… I do feel a little like a character on the Flintstones. I’ll definitely wear this dress, and I will say that the shape is exceedingly flattering. I’m pleased to have finished a knit dress (and this pattern was pretty easy, in spite of the weird directions… there are probably only 2 hours of actual sewing time, not counting cutting.)
I am interested in how I am starting to define what kind of seamstress I am. I don’t think sewing knits is my thing – I own some knit dresses, but I mostly own them because woven dresses never, ever fit me from the store, and stretchy things are safe. I definitely don’t want to sew t-shirts (I’d rather buy them,) and I don’t wear many anyway (I don’t have much of a sporty mode, and the sight of me in sneakers tends to always provoke surprise from my friends.) Dressy knit tops are easy for me to thrift, and I have a ton of them. Plus there’s the fact that I hated every second of sewing with this fabric. It was stretchy and drapey and hard to pin and cut. I do have some wool jersey that I want to make into a drapey cardigan – but that feels like a different animal – as well as some double-knit that will become a dress next fall (but again, it isn’t so stretchy at all.) I really enjoy fitting – I like to make muslins, and I like figuring out what causes different types of problems and how to correct them. Sewing this dress made me stressed out – it was fast, but I don’t really need sewing to be fast. I like enjoying the details and doing things like carefully ironing every seam open and finishing every seam allowance (yes, I am majorly OCD, if you hadn’t guessed yet!)
Oh, and I tried to get Sarah Jane to model, since after all the leopard is her totem animal:
She is remarkably not amused by my mockery.