Sunday, 27 September 2009

a lotta sun hat

Lotta sun hat, originally uploaded by Soozs.

Superb fabric handprinted by Lotta Jansdotta, another fantastic pattern from Nicole Mallalieu...I think I can rest a while on the hat making.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

sewing with knits

I get a lot of comments after I do a post involving sewn knit fabric. A lot of the wow, you sew knit fabrics kind of comments. Most recently on sewing the bathers I've been asked to share some advice about sewing lycra.

All of which I find a bit bemusing. When I started sewing I didn't really understand that knits were a different beast to woven fabrics, and while I admit to many a mistake along the trial and error road, knits have never really scared me any more than any other sewing hurdle. I mean have you tried silk chiffon? satin? There's all manner of things out there that present unique and considerable challenges. Knits are not the monster many people seem to think, and I would really encourage you to have a go. Now that so many woven fabrics have added stretch, people are more familiar with sewing knits than they might think.

But since I get asked a lot about this topic I'll let you know what I know, for what it's worth.

Why sew knits?
While T-shirts and leggings can be cheap, they aren't always, and in terms of quality, home sewn is definitely better value. But there are an astonishing array of knit fabrics now on the market and you can use them to create some really interesting garments. Also, knit fabrics are very forgiving compared to wovens. By which I mean if you are a beginner or slacker sewer, you can fudge and cut corners easier. Knits often don't fray and so require less finessing and finishing and because knits stretch when you are wearing them there's a lot less pressure to get a precise fit for your body. Once you find a pattern or patterns you like, you can run up a bunch of T-shirts or leggings really quickly.

The tool kit
The tools required for sewing knits is really pretty light on. I started sewing knits on an ancient old Singer machine with nothing extra.

In the main you do require a machine with stretch stitches (stitches that can expand and contract with the stretch of the fabric) but basic stretch stitches are standard on pretty much all machines now. I have ten year old bottom of the range Janome and it has several more stretch stitches than I need.
At a base I tend to use the stitch that looks a bit like a back to front blanket stitch (15 above) - it seams but also throws threads over the cut edge of the seam allowance, the straight stitch (18) and very occasionally the one that looks a bit like a honey comb (16) that gives a slightly decorative edging for very narrow hems. There are also stitches especially for attaching narrow elastic as you would for bathers edges and lingerie - your sewing machine manual will tell you which ones they are.

It is most definitely worthwhile investing a few dollars in buying ball point or jersey needles for your machine because regular needles can skip the occasional stitch with knits. Also if every you find yourself unpicking stretch stitch (not recommended AT ALL) a regular needle will leave holes in a knit fabric but a ball point won't.

If you are going the deluxe tool kit you'd have an overlocker and use it for your seams instead of a sewing machine. A 4 thread overlocker does a very tidy job of seaming and finishing off the seam allowances that make garments look just like they came from the sweatshop, plus they are faster. But I sewed knits for 20 years without one, and they come with their own complications. In the picture above, the bright blue on the left is sewn using the stitch 15 on the sewing machine, the one on the right is sewn with an overlocker. It should be noted the one sewn on the machine is over 10 years old! On the right side of the fabric they look the same.

The super luxe professional add on is a coverstitch machine, which exists to give knits those really nice double row of stitching hems - see the darker blue T-shirt in the two shots above. I'd love one but couldn't justify the expense and a straight or decorative stretch stitch on a regular machine is a passable alternative.

Another option for a regular machine is to use a double needle (see brown stitches in above shot). This is a needle which has a single shank but twin needle tips coming off it. You thread 2 separate spools of thread for the top feed, one for each needle, and a single bobbin below. You then use a regular (non stretch) straight stitch and the bobbin thread catches both on the underside.

This gives you the double row of stitching on the right side, less fabric distortion, great stretchiness and a zig zag style finish on the raw edge underneath. The main downside, aside from needing to sew hems right side up, is that once the fabric has been stretched, the fabric between the two rows of stitching tends to bubble up (called tunnelling) and can't be brought back to flat. Despite this draw back, I think this is a neat finish.

You can also bind or cuff edges to conceal stitching.
Of course raw edges works just fine with most knits as they don't fray.

And that's it.

Different types of knit and stretch
Knits are constructed in a range of different ways with different fibres. The more stretch and slip, the more attention you have to pay. Standard cotton jersey - T-shirt material - without any lycra or spandex in a medium weight behaves fairly similarly to a woven a fabric. It doesn't stretch that much and it only stretches across the length of fabric (selvage to selvage). On the other end of the scale is shiny lightweight nylon lycra - stretches in both directions, slips around and stretches a lot so sewing seams can require a lot of attention to make sure they stay aligned while you sew. Chose an easier fabric for your first attempts and don't stress too much because a fair amount of seam misalignment will never show on the finished garment.

That sounds way more high falutin' that it should. Since I just taught myself through trial and error I am sure there is much more to doing this super well, but what I do works good enough.

I use much smaller seam allowances when sewing stretch than wovens - say 5mm instead of 10 or 15mm. Since fraying isn't generally an issue, extra seam allowance isn't required and the stabilisation it provides for wovens acts to dampen the fluidity of the knit.

I sew straight seams where the stretch of the 2 pieces of fabric is matched (say the side seam on a T-shirt) just the same as I would any woven fabric (except using a stretch stitch). Where I am sewing curves, or unmatched stretch, like a sleeve head, I use a lot of pins and go slowly and use my fingers right in near the foot to hold and feed the fabric to keep the alignment good. If I start to lose alignment, I pull or stretch the fabric to bring it back into alignment before the next pin, even if that involves a bit of distorting. Small distortions really don't show, but big ones do!

There is no need to stretch the fabric as part of sewing or hemming. The stretch stitch provides the give and stretching while sewing will prevent it from retracting its stretch and sitting flat. There are a few tricks I have heard people use, like using tissue paper over and under the fabric to decrease the drag while you are sewing, but in general I find these fiddly and not much help.

Swim wear
I started making swimwear with cotton lycra because when it first came on the market it wasn't common and it was particularly hard to find nice stuff in larger sizes. I'll confess and say I would start with a basic outline from an existing swim suit, cut it off a bit bigger and then gradually make it smaller until it fitter right! Since bathers use quite a small amount of fabric, catastrophic failure isn't such a great tragedy.

I now know a bit more now, like using lining with lightweight lycra to add stability, using swimwear specific elastic and how to sew it into a hem. I also know that with sun protection considerations, swimwear choices are much broader than simply a one piece or a bikini. But I like to retain my basic premise that it is just fabric designed to cover you - how hard can it be?

My recent two piece consists of a rash vest I made using a T-shirt pattern I like and some lycra shorts made using a pants pattern I have used lots before that relies on stretch in the fabric rather than a closure ('Jazz Pants' from Ottobre). I had to go back and add some elastic in the waist since the lycra was not so firm once wet! The top is a very lightweight, matt finish almost papery feeling lycra, and the bottom is a heavier weight classic nylon lycra. If I was making a swim suit I would definitely prefer the latter for the strength and firmer fit (more flattering too!), but the lighter weight is great in a rash vest where you need to move around.

This suit didn't require elastic, but here's 2 examples of edges which have elastic. The top one has the elastic sewn to the edge of the fabric and then turned and a hew sewn. The bottom darker one has a binding on the edge with the elastic threaded through. This is much neater but more work!

Good quality lycra, preferably intended for swimwear, is important to resist fading and the corrosive effects of chlorine and salt water. Every single one of my home made swimsuits have been retired due to fabric failure (mostly fading or using too lightweight fabric for a one piece) rather that shoddy construction or style issues.

I recently came across this site (, and if you are looking to start making swimwear at all seriously I would thoroughly recommend you trawl it in detail. It is an amazing repository of info about stretch fabric, swimwear, making patterns, sewing stretch, you name it!

So I don't know whether any of that was helpful? Let me know if there are specific things I could add in or questions you have.

Edited to add -
I neglected to really talk about sewing on banded edges, something one commenter thought was particularly scary. They aren't. Bands can be used to finish off edges such as the neck of a T-shirt or the cuffs of a sleeve or the waist of yoga pants. The purpose of bands is to pull the fabric in - either to stabilise an edge that may stretch out a lot (say the neck of a T-shirt) or to create a blousing out effect (the bottom hem of a windcheater/sweatshirt) or to create a tighter fitted section of a garment (the waist of yoga pants).

In the olden days, all bands were done in ribbing - a much stretchier version of the base garment fabric - but there is no reason why you can't use the same base fabric for bands too. The basic principle is the same: the band is smaller than the part of the garment it is attaching to and you simply stretch the band out to fit and sew it on. The smaller the band and the more stretch the more of a retraction you will get in the finished edge, the more 'pucker'. You can of course alos use a band of the same size as the garment edge (see the photo above of the neck of the navy blue T-shirt).

Sewing on a band is not at all tricky unless you are going for a LOT of stretch, but visualising exactly how much stretch you want and getting the ratio right is hard. Even if you are using a pattern, the amount of stretch in your particular fabric will almost certainly be different than what the pattern used, so it might not come out as you expected. If you are very particular, you would do a test sample with scraps and adjust the size of the band. I know there are formulas for testing the stretch and recovery of fabrics, and rules of thumb for how much stretch you want, but I find trial and error works just fine!

The method for attaching a band is usually to sew the band ends together and fold it over right sides out. Mark quarter or eight parts around the band and match these up to the markings around the end of the garment where the band will go. Occasionally you may want to attach the band with the stretch applied unevenly (say on a neck band with a very angular curve) but mostly even is best (and easiest!).

Pin the band to the right side of the garment (band upwards when you sew) at each of the quarter or eighth markings. When the band is relaxed the garment will gave some slack between each pinned section. Working section be section, pull the band taut over the garment and put one more pin in. Now sew the two together. You will need to pull the garment between your two hands to stretch the band as you go, making sure you are in alignment at each pin.

When you are finished you may want to top stitch the edge of the garment close to the band to hold the seam allowance flat.

Friday, 25 September 2009

new bathers modelled

new bathers modelled, originally uploaded by Soozs.

Thanks to Ellen here are some photos of me n my new bathers that I can bear to look at! Dry and wet.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

circle squares and lotta print reversible beach bag

A quickie sew for lugging towels and snacks and nappies and books and sunscreen and drink bottles and bathers and stuff up and down the dunes.

I didn't use a pattern and buggered up the bottom seams (sewed them sideways because it seemed just too obvious) and had to unpick them, but was pleased I managed to work out how to put it together so it is fully reversible.

I very much like both sides. The black and white is a heavy cotton canvas I bought as a remnant up here in Noosa from oddzandendz, the russet and cream is a linen handprinted by Lotta Jansdotta.

Will be getting much work this one.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

before -> after

before -> after, originally uploaded by Soozs.

Refashion in a flash. Less than an hour's work to shorten the length and sleeves, raise the shoulders, add pin tucks in front and darts in back.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Saturday, 12 September 2009

swim shorts

swim shorts, originally uploaded by Soozs.

swimwear item #2. Chocolate brown knee length swim shorts. On a roll...

Friday, 11 September 2009

Thursday, 10 September 2009

I've been finding it hard to blog regularly, but you'd already noticed that right? I blame Twitter, Facebook and the general non-reality of sabbatical life.

I've really been busting some deadlines this week with the day job and a few other jobs on the side. Now they are all in I'm just kind of breathing out.

To celebrate I dragged D away from his reading (serious business - see all those post it notes hanging out of the margins?) so we could lunch like the leisured classes. And I did all the driving and even filled the car with petrol. Yesterday I did the school run without D in the car. I am defying all expectations and may soon become a hoon. If I can break 60km/hour.

And have you ever seen such a pretty rainbow horizon? Mesmerising.

Here's the garter stitch scraps scarf I've been knitting. I totally love it and it is the perfect length. Don't you love it when shit just comes together all on its own? Details over on Ravelry if you need them.

I'm teaching Amy to knit. Since this is something for the long haul I am doing my absolute best not to be impatient or worry too much about her getting it all right. So far so good, though I feel the strain rather more I should. But I did well in choosing this wonderful Pear Tree Yarn in 100s and 1000s colourway - it's thick and soft and not at all slippy and the fast colour changes make it really easy to explain things ("pull the pink loop through the blue one and then pull the white one over the top" kind of thing). The 6mm short bamboo straights are easy for her to hold and make fast progress without being awkwardly large. She only does a half dozen or so stitches at a time but she hasn't gotten the shits up yet so that's something.

And just for the spice of it I'm knitting two socks at once. I know! Crazy! But it's true - it does seem to go just as fast doing two as one. Very happy with the yarn - Knittery chubby sock is delightfully soft and not really that chubby (definitely not a 5ply!) and the dye job is coming out quite nicely. I didn't like my first stab at it, so I overdyed it. I'd planned on using it for socks for myself but when given the option D chose this one so now it's his.

And now I'm off to have a stab at the first swimwear item - a rash vest for me. Thankfully the ever attentive folk down at Tessuti's were able to help me out with a top up on one of the pieces I'd bought there earlier so now there's no excuse. And to the reader who suggested Joe's in Maroochydore, thanks for the tip. I found Joe's by total fluke not long after we moved up here and it is where I bought the batting for the quilts I made for Amy and Wil.

Monday, 7 September 2009

today's lunch

today's lunch, originally uploaded by Soozs.

left over chicken strips, farmer's market rocket, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, fried garlic lebanese eggplant and avocado (8 for $5 this week!). Simply perfect.

Sunday, 6 September 2009


The quilt has been quilted and slept under and adored. Very happy.

The Stonewall has been blocked (oh the transformation that is blocked lace!) and wrapped over me and adored. Very happy.

Now that immediate needs have been met I'm finding it hard to focus on the next big thing.

On the knitting front, I've frogged the Clapotis I started because it really wasn't doing it for me. Maybe the yarn, maybe the pattern, maybe just the wrong time. While waiting for some inspiration to strike I pulled out the wee ball of left over sock yarn a lovely lady gave me on last craft camp and the wee ball of left over silk merino from the Stonewall and started a totally unnecessary and climatically inappropriate skinny moss stitch scarf. Funnily enough I am totally loving it. Such a knitterly piece of fabric and it displays the noro kureyon sock yarn colour progressions at their absolute best. Hope the yarn holds out long enough for it to make a scarf that's long enough to actually wear. If not I'll call it art and simply put it on the wall.

On the sewing front I have been ruminating on beach wear. I bought a stack of swimwear fabrics before I left Melbourne, but now that I'm here I want different things than I thought I would. Rash vests rather than tanks, board shorts rather than one pieces. All my fabric lengths are wrong. So I keep pulling them out and laying out pattern pieces and walking away defeated only to try it all again the next day. So far the stars aren't aligning which is a bit frustrating. I'm putting in an SOS call to the fabric peddler.

In the mean time quite by chance I found a funny little fabric remnanty kind of place out in the industrial estate. I got a lovely funky piece of canvas I think may become my next beach bag, a slubby grey denim and a long piece of very well priced white Irish linen. I think this may get a dye job and end up as some kind of wrappy tunic thing. Perhaps.

I also got a lovely parcel care of Ms Jansdotta on the other side of the world, some sale and remnant pieces. Quite the special treat. I think these may be just what I need to finally get onto the hat. Maybe.

So a few possibilities, sure, but nothing is really jumping out and offering itself up for the instant gratification I seek.

Luckily I have been well occupied by my visiting sister. Such a special occasion to have a bit of time together well separated from the hurry and busy of real life. And a huge help to have someone on Aunty duty with the kids, who think she's pretty shit hot. We had a ball yesterday when we dodged two massive downpours and had a little boaty outing up the Noosa river. Marvelous fun. A little hairy at times with Wil seeking to better investigate the outboard motor, but otherwise most civilised. The sunshine and smiles say it all.

D and I also got a night off to go here and pretend to be groovy rich people. I think the Kingswood gave us away but everyone was most polite at pretending to believe us. Food was bloody fantastic.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009


When I look about me to tell you what's been going on of late all I see are straight lines and right angles.

The long horizontal line of the sunrise is a daily compensation for children who rise early, and a chance to contemplate the infinite variety in such an oft repeated sight. When I'm not sleep walking into walls.

A neat square pile of sewing and knitting. Nothing in here that's required me to cut or sew a curve, although sewing bathers will soon become a major undertaking, no doubt accompanied by much error making, swearing and wasted fabric. Which is perfectly acceptable when learning new and hard skills.

But I can't move on until I've dispensed with the last of our critical bedding requirements.

First up, Amy's muslin quilt. Not really a quilt, just patchwork of muslin print fabrics backed with a pale butter yellow muslin rectangle, this is her very hot night sleep cover, early morning snuggler and cubby maker. Its creation was necessitated by fierce competition over wil's one at play time, plus me really wanting to find a good use for the lovely odd pieces of super lightweight prints I seemed to have accumulated.

Next up I added yet another piece to Wil's ever evolving cot quilt (you can read about stage one and two here and here). In the photo above the original quilt is the red area. I then added the piece above the red area and this last addition was the strip down the right. The other side looks like thiswith the new bit being the red and orange strip down the left. I finally ran out of monks robes but luckily had some red to add in. I have an inexplicable love for this quilt - I just adore it's simple make do ness - and the fact that I have now modified it in a really simple and unrefined way twice only adds to its appeal for me. It is now a smallish single bed size and should do Wil as a bed cover for years. Then it can be mine :-)

It is a huge contrast to Amy's new single bed (150x200cm) quilt in so many ways. I love Amy's one too, but it is heading towards a kind of quilting I don't normally do - the go out and buy bits of expensive fabrics to cut up and sew together kind of quilt. I've posted on this before but for me quilting is about using up scraps - patchwork evolved as a way of being frugal with waste textiles. If I hadn't really needed a quilt and been without my regular stash of bits as I am up here I wouldn't have made something like this. The large expanses of plain are done in cotton linen dress fabric which was not only less expensive than quilting fabric but has already developed a lovely soft washed look that takes a bit of the too perfect edge off for me. Amy adores it and that's what counts I guess.

The last in the quilt series is one for D and I, still a work in progress. Ironically when we came up here this was the only one I had planned! I bought a queen size (210x250cm) piece of bamboo batting at closing time at the stitches and craft show (half price!) and have been contemplating a major quilt since then. I also had a few pieces of fabric that I'd bought as bargains over the last year that hadn't found other uses that I figured could form the base. In consultation with D my chosen pile of fabrics shrunk right down to only three! The lighter grey folded on top is a very fine pin strip cotton linen from the Tessuti bargain box. I had not quite four meters (I'd bought the end of the roll) so with a bit of cutting and sewing I managed to get the backing completely done in this with only a couple of tiny strips left over. The top has a single meter of a really divine prints charming hand print I bought a few years ago planning a dress for Amy that never eventuated (the kid needs more dresses like a hole in the head) but whose appeal has not faded in the least. There's also three meters of a heavy denim look pure linen that I picked up at Joy's fabric warehouse in Geelong (why didn't I buy more? It was a total bargain and even though I've had it for a year as I cut it up for the quilt I really wished I had more for some clothes...) which finished the top and will do all the binding with only the tiniest of scraps left over. I'm more than a little nervous about the actual quilting on this one. With such a simple fabric layout the stitching will be a central visual element and I intend to do it in red, which will further promote it. But the thing is HUGE and very heavy and I'm not at all sure I can give it my preferred random rectilinear stitch treatment. But can I really be happy with just straight lines?

And last but by no means least, I finally cast off the longest gestating rectangle of all, the Stonewall stole. This sucker has been in the works for three and a half months! I really love the final product and I am sure I will love it even more once it has been blocked. It is a great pattern and despite the length of time it took hasn't been at all unpleasant to knit - just long. I'd definitely use the stitch pattern again for a scarf since it looks nice both front and back.