Sunday, May 15, 2016

Is it spring yet?

Looks pretty subdued here...
I finished something!

It's a jacket. No, it's a cardigan. No, it's both, and it's totally off the beaten track for The Sewing Lawyer, because it is has glitter and sequins. And it's kind of blobby. It is like the most synthetic fake bouclé ever.

But somehow in this little hole in the wall store in Montreal last summer, shopping with the PR crowd, it yelled at me to buy it. So I did. And then it sat in a pile in my sewing room, telling me that it would make a really nice and versatile cardigan to wear with an understated and rather plain dress. Or with jeans and a dark T-shirt.

So I paired it up with some plain dark navy cotton and linen woven. And I made a dress too.

Both patterns are OOP. The jacket is Vogue 9548 which dates back to 1996. I made the sleeveless dress way back before blogging was a thing.

I thought it had definite potential as an unstructured jacket in a not terribly stretchy knit. The sleeves have a darted cap and attach to the cut-in arm holes without much if any easing. I thought I might have to adjust but no, they are quite perfect.

I used the cotton-linen to face and stabilize the front and neck openings. No interfacing. I had to make a facing pattern because the dress is designed to be fully lined to the neck edge. I didn't sew the darts but instead took in the princess seams somewhat at the waist. Easy.

The dress is Simplicity 2927, an OOP Project Runway pattern. I modified it so that the pockets are inside the curved princess seam rather than patch pockets. MUCH nicer.

The only fitting adjustment needed was to take in the side seams above the waist and let them out a tiny bit at the hip.

Oh yes, it has some glitter on it too, and a single matching gold button.

The trim is a curious product from the stash of a local sewing friend who told me she had just the thing to accent this plain dress that would be paired with the flashy jacket. It's a pre-made lamé bias trim, just 1/4" wide, and it's fusible. It stuck to my fabric like nobody's business, and I really hope it doesn't come off in the wash because piercing it with stitches (even in invisible thread) undermines the liquid metal effect.

Apparently it's intended to be a trim on quilts. My friend got several packages of this interesting stuff (plain package) at Dressew in Vancouver for the princely sum of $0.99 (CAD) each. Elsewhere it sells for $18.00 (US). [AARGH "washable when sewn in place"...]

This is why, if you are ever in Vancouver, you should get yourself to Dressew if you possibly can. Take cash and make sure you have plenty of time. Go directly to the basement. You're welcome.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Where was I?

Update: That Bionic Gear Bag. I made another one. I modified it so all the pockets are the same size and the same height. This simplified things, and thankfully I did not have to consult the pattern at all.

My original bag works for all my hand knitting supplies that formerly lived in a motley collection of plastic zip lock bags. My second one is dandy for my machine knitting tools. I hope never to have to make another, but won't rule it out. They are super useful.

Update: Speaking of machine knitting, I got a bulky (9mm) gauge machine with a ribber and now I am pretty sure I do not need any more knitting machines. This of course does not stop me from compulsively watching the local on-line ads, since that is where almost all of my machines came from after all.

Acquisition of this machine, a Singer 151, sent me diving into my stash in search of suitable yarn. Never mind that it is the beginning of warmer weather (we can hope) and thick, woolly sweaters are not necessarily seasonally appropriate. I rediscovered some mohair yarn and made myself a cardigan. It was fun! It involved hand manipulating stitches on the ribber and main beds to make the lattice stitch pattern.

The design is sort of my own. I actually bought a pattern (Ravelry download) but ended up mostly abandoning it because (a) my gauge was slightly different, (b) I needed to knit separate pieces with seams and (c) it had no helpful schematics so I couldn't easily figure out the shaping for the raglan seams. It worked. If I do this often enough, I'll learn to trust myself and stop spending $$ on patterns that don't help much, right?

Update: Sewing. I am doing some. I got a new sewing machine. It's a Pfaff quilt expression 4.0, the first generation of the gigantic Pfaffs from (I think) 2008. This machine has a 10" harp, lots of light, a 9mm stitch width and 222 built in stitches including 11 different buttonhole styles.

I thought it would take me a long time to get used to the fact that the foot pedal lowers the presser foot (it has a knee lever to lift it up) and that I wouldn't like the auto tie-off feature. However I have adapted really well to these modern features and am really enjoying sewing on this big beast.

Its first project was Bionic Gear Bag the second and I think it made the construction easier because I could use both hands to position the project.

Currently, I'm working on a dress. It's a pattern I purchased back in the days when I was a mad keen watcher of current patterns and had ready access to all the brands. The pattern is Simplicity 2927, a Project Runway dress/tunic pattern.

I think this looks like a nice and easy dress to wear for summer and I sure hope it fits. I threw caution to the winds and cut it right out of a length of navy blue cotton/linen blend from stash. I am going to make a cardigan jacket to go with it out of an interesting sweater knit I picked up in Montreal last year.

One of the dress variations has piping at the edges of the round yoke, the keyhole and princess seams. A friend of mine whose stash is even bigger than mine offered me the perfect trim - it's a narrow pre-made and fusible bias trim intended for quilting, and it's some kind of metallic gold fabric. Time will tell if I need to tack down the edges. I have some invisible thread and can use one of the 222 stitches on my new machine to just catch the edges, but I'm reluctant to interfere with the perfection of the apparently liquid gold trim if I don't absolutely have to.

At left is a peek of the dress in progress. I decided against trimming the princess seams. Less is more, dontcha know.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Love-hate relationship

Zipped closed
I made this bag. It's the "Bionic Gear Bag" (pattern available on Craftsy). I cannot remember where I first saw mention of the bag, but it looked super practical. As I accumulate stuff, and especially stuff for my growing collection of knitting machines, I could really see the benefit of being able to put all the tools and little bits for all my machines into one bag that would allow them to stay organized yet be easily accessible.

As usual, the stash coughed up every bit of fabric, interfacing, batting and the zippers needed to put this together. I made it from quilting cotton on the outside and a mystery light twill fabric for the inside pockets. I can't see the advantage of a busy interior for a bag that's being used to store lots of small items. Neutral seemed better, although some of the fabric combinations possible with quilting cottons are pretty cute. I chose some random zippers from my extensive collection.

Loaded for sewing
So the bag is terrific. As advertised, when unzipped it stands up very nicely all by itself with its "tray" at the front for the stuff you need at the moment. The pockets (4 zippered pockets and 4 open compartments of different sizes) don't flop closed and are also very easy to access. When you zip it closed, everything is nice and compact and secure. There is no need to be worried about things falling out or getting out of their compartments, even if the bag gets turned upside down.

Loaded for machine knitting
It's big enough (approximately 10" or 25cm side to side and 4.5" or 11cm deep) to hold all kinds of things (like my Kai shears or all the rulers and scale sets from my knitting machines). It is sturdy enough to hold substantial items.

So what's not to like?

Well, it's the pattern.

Downloaded PDF patterns by indie designers are a great idea but they require no expertise in pattern writing, and no discipline re keeping the document short yet complete.

This PDF has 82 pages! It isn't a pattern, it's a novella.

In fairness "only" 37 of these pages relate to the bag shown in my photos. The other 45 (!) are devoted to the task of explaining how to construct a little zippered pouch. I haven't yet managed to work up the psychic energy to assess how a little zippered pouch could possibly be such a complicated project.

There is one (1) page out of the 37 that describes the pieces and materials, and one (1) page that has an actual pattern piece on it, which you can photocopy and use. The rest of the document contains pages with many words that fail miserably, in my opinion, to accurately and completely describe the task at hand, and a number of photographs that are not all that clear (busy fabric, awkwardly cropped/posed and unlabelled) so do not actually help all that much.

There is not a single drawing of this bag in the 37 pages. Not a single schematic, cross section or other graphic that would allow you to avoid reading the many many many pages of many many many words. Nothing to give you an actual overview, either of the thing you are making or of the document.

And so much extraneous verbiage is on offer! I absolutely do not need to know about the designer's pet peeves or favourite sewing notions. I don't want to be asked if I am "gettin' excited yet" after I complete a sewing task.

And really, what is the point of a "tip" about prewashing that starts:
Personally, I never do it. (Oh, did I say that out loud?!?!) But that said, while working on the "fox" themed example for this one, omg, I wish I had. It shrunk terribly when I just misted it to press it. I watched it shrivel before my very eyes. Note to self: maybe stay away from this brand of cotton in the future! 
Get an editor!

I am not the first person to point out that this pattern is (to put it mildly) not well written. In fact it's so bad that someone (not the designer) posted YouTube videos "translating" the pattern so it can be understood. There are some videos on the designer's website but they are not helpful. Like the pattern, they contain too much detail (how to find the centre of a piece by folding it in half and placing a pin - wow), and not enough actual information.

If, unlike me, you don't mind watching about 2 hours of video so you can work out how to make the thing you bought a pattern for, go ahead. Here's the link to Part I of the Sewalong. I watched enough of it so I could understand the gist of what I was supposed to be doing in putting together the pieces for the innards of the bag (the zipper pockets and compartments assembly). After that I was able to wing it with occasional searches of the PDF.

In short this pattern caused considerable frustration. But I love the finished bag. I may even make another one.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Coat of many colours

The photo at left is reasonably accurate in depicting the crazy colours in The Sewing Lawyer's recently completed jacket, and she likes all of them!

The jacket doesn't go with everything in my closet, but there are quite a lot of choices.

To the right, here it is with my new grey pants and a teal sweater (which is however hiding from view under the buttoned jacket).

Aubergine top
Or how do you like it with an aubergine wool top (Jalie 2682) and the same pants?

Or we could go with a dress. My new grey one, from BurdaStyle (August, 2012), is a natural.

Grey dress
Or a black dress (BurdaStyle, February, 2012).  I even tried it with a bright turquoise dress (Burda, February 2012).
Turquoise dress
Black dress

I do like what the crazy stripes do in the back.

It occurs to me that there is a hole in my wardrobe that could be plugged with a new pair of dark navy pants. You may not be surprised to learn that there is a pant length of such fabric in The Sewing Lawyer's stash. And something in a nice cherry red... So many possibilities, so little time!

Monday, March 14, 2016


Sadly, my annual five week sewcation is over. Happily, it was more productive than ever, resulting in a swimsuit and exercise top, dress pants, a knit dress, two knitted cardigans (one by machine and one mostly hand knit) and the pièce de résistance, my new jacket. It was hardly a sweatshop, however, as I found time to do lots of other fun things too.

I'll post modeled shots of the jacket when I have time at home during daylight hours. But this is it. Vogue 2770, OOP, a Tamotsu designer separates pattern.

Sweet and simple and striped in multi colours. Light and soft and warm.

Making up a pattern that I had already adjusted for fit was a treat.

I kept the construction fairly simple and the jacket has minimal structure.

Fusible underlining; serged SAs
I underlined all body pieces with an extremely light weight fusible interfacing, to give some body to the very soft and loose-woven fabric, but also to minimize its inherent stretchiness (mostly in the length, surprisingly). I underlined the sleeves with silk organza cut on the bias as I wanted to keep them light.

All seam allowances were serged to control the tendency of the fabric to fray.

The sleeve caps were eased with a bias strip of wool which also serves as a light sleeve head. I inserted shoulder pads.

The jacket is fully lined with Bemberg. I went with this weird purply-grey colour.

The buttonhole was made with my vintage Singer buttonholer (perfect every time).

All this goodness, including wool, lining, interfacing, thread and button, came from The Sewing Lawyer's imperceptibly diminishing stash.

I have enough of the fabric left to use it as an accent on another piece (a yoke for a skirt?). Maybe I should check stash for coordinating fabric or leather... Who knows what's in there?

Friday, March 4, 2016

What is the right number of cardigans?


Pretty soon I'm going to run out of storage space. But I may not be able to stop making them.

Wear it open
Wear it closed
This is the one I was planning in my last post. It goes pretty well with my new grey pants.

Machine knitting - it's fast. I started the actual knitting on February 27 and finished the garment today, March 4. It would have been finished even faster but I wet-blocked each piece and it took a while for them to dry.

The cardigan is exactly what I hoped it would be. Long with a cozy collar in this nice springy wool (Briggs & Little Sport).

The ribbing is really nice and springy - it's a kind of 2 x 2 ribbing that can't be done in hand knitting. Basically you fit two purl stitches in the space for one knit stitch on the front bed of a knitting machine, and two knit stitches in the space for one purl stitch on the back bed. There is no slack anywhere in this type of ribbing. I may use it exclusively from now on!

See those added stitches? Maybe not...

I was able to insert ribbing stitches in the middle of the fronts (at the point where the stockinette switches to ribbing) to widen the collar slightly, without changing its outer edge, as you can see in the photo to the left.

Collar seam - inside back neck
The back neck is hand sewn so I could figure out exactly where to seam the ribbing together. One nice thing about machine knitting is that it's super easy to knit a few extra rows more than you will need, and knit the piece off on waste yarn that protects the open stitches while you are blocking and handling the piece, and can be unravelled and tossed away later. Once I had sewn the neck seam to the CB point, I new exactly which rows of the ribbing I had to seam up. I joined them with a chain stitched seam made with a crochet hook through the corresponding stitches. It's less obvious than any other way to join this seam. And with steam, the ribbing pulled back in very nicely despite the seam.

More details can be found on my Ravelry project page.

And for you sewing enthusiasts, never fear. I haven't totally gone to the dark side. I'm going to up the pace of progress on my striped jacket of many colours next.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The sewing-knitting lawyer's methodology for converting a hand-knitting pattern for the machine

And of course I also have another knitting project on the go too! Gotta get it all done before I go back to work (in two weeks, sniff).

I am making a shawl collared cardigan. I'd say it's my own design except that is not completely true. I'm way more comfortable starting with an existing base and modifying it than designing a garment from the ground up. In this case, I started with the schematic drawings for a cardigan of about the shape I wanted from a Bergère de France knitting catalogue (Créations 2014/15) that I bought a while back.

Incidentally, these publications are really great value. The current catalogue is 288 pages and contains 144 patterns for garments and accessories for men, women and children, as well as toys, blanket and pillow type projects. Only $12 CAD, which is practically free in $US...

I really like the fact that every pattern has a really clear schematic drawing. I'm working from pattern #887. But I'm completely ignoring the fancy stitch pattern and the sideways-knitted collar piece.

How do I convert this to a machine knitting pattern? I'm sure there are high tech ways to do this but I haven't figured them out yet. (If you have suggestions, please by all means make them in the comments!) Here's my non-digital method.

First, knit a swatch in your chosen yarn. In this case I am using the same yarn (down to the dye lot#) as I used to knit my son's zipper cardigan. So I already knew what stitch size to use on my Passap. If I was starting from scratch with a different yarn I would knit a big swatch of plain stockinette.

Telling me I have 18 stitches in 10cm
Like this one, which is the swatch I used to determine the stitch size for the sleeves of my recently-completed red cardigan. I knit this using my worsted weight yarn on my mid-gauge machine (a Singer LK150). You cast on 50 stitches and knit segments of 40 rows in different stitch sizes. In the middle row, you attach a contrasting yarn tag on the needles that are 16th from the centre, on either side (making 30 stitches really obvious). Separate the sections with a couple of contrasting rows. Then take the knitting off the machine, block it (ideally wash it and let it dry) and then measure using the handy-dandy stitch gauge ruler that is appropriate for your machine. I found a really great explanation of this process on Ravelry if you want to know more about measuring gauge.

My swatch
You should also knit a swatch that includes details like your ribbing. Because I already knew my gauge, that's all I did for this project. I decided on 2x2 industrial ribbing because it's really springy and thick, and it looks identical on both sides.

Once you have decided on the density of fabric you like and you know your gauge of stitches and rows in 10cm, print off some gauge-specific knitting graph paper. Make sure you print it without scaling! I like to use it at half size (so the "10cm" squares are actually 5cm on the page) because this is big enough to see the detail but not so big as to be unwieldy.

Then transfer the schematic to your paper. This is easy if you have an engineer's or architect's scale that is metric. Use the 1:20 edge if you have printed your graph paper at half size. An accurate metric ruler will also work but you'll have to do the mental math to get half scale. If you don't have the right kind of ruler, you'll have to use a calculator to figure out how many stitches or rows are needed for each segment of the schematic and count out the right number of tiny boxes on your graph paper - doable but a bit more painful.

Use a pencil or Frixion pen or some other erasable (very important!) writing implement.

At left is my graphed version of the Bergére de France schematic for the left front. The original information from the schematic are in orange Frixion pen and my changes (extending the front into a shawl collar) and key details are mostly in blue. I've taped two pages together to get the length I needed.

I've written key information on the chart - the dimensions of the finished piece, the ribbing pattern, the number of stitches I need, the row numbers in which changes like increases or decreases are made, precisely how many stitches are increased or decreased, etc.

I've also used the original pattern instructions to plot the shaping at the armhole edge. I could do this because the gauge for the pattern was very close to my actual gauge; if it hadn't been, I would have drawn a curve that looked about right and then charted the specific decreases. On the schematic the edge looks like a smooth curve; on my graph it is a steps and stairs effect; on the finished knitted piece it is again a smooth curve.

Speaking of the finished piece, I have now knitted both fronts (mentally mirror-imaging all the steps as I knit the right front) and I do believe my project is going to work!

Vogue 2770 encore

Way back when I spent a lot of time altering the pattern for the jacket from Vogue 2770 to fit me perfectly. Why waste all that work? I'm making it again.

Out of this unique and irreplaceable fabric.

I got it at the Fabric Flea Market (where else?) in 2009. The vendor told me she had raised the sheep (merino), sheared the wool, spun and dyed it, and then wove it (together with a few novelty yarns) into this luscious and completely irregular stripe.

The fabric is only 98cm wide and the vendor had cut it into skirt lengths of around 1.5m. I bought two, which are enough for the princess seamed jacket.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Complicated hand-knit cardigan ... phew!

I showed you a bit of this sweater before. It's a pattern called (fittingly I think) "Persistence is Key". Available for download on Ravelry.

It took me a month and two days to knit this, which isn't too bad given that the back requires cabling on Every. Single. Row.

It would have taken a lot longer, but I was able to knit the sleeves on my mid-gauge knitting machine. So they took an hour. For both. This is one of the reasons to love knitting machines. Speed!

The sweater is a top-down "contiguous" design. I made a contiguous cardigan before, and I love it, but... This one has the same issues - mainly sloppy lack of structure, requiring post-market fixes (lines of chain stitch to firm up the fake "seams" at the armscye, and in this case to also shorten the CF above the bust, a fix I also have to apply frequently to sewing patterns).

There is a long saga detailing my views of the actual pattern on my Ravelry project page (this link should work even if you are not a member of the site). Short form: I did not care for the way it was written, which is surprisingly lacking in the kinds of detail that I think are important, given that it's 7 pages of mostly dense text. My criticism may be unfair given the gazillions of ways there are to write a knitting pattern, but I would always like more schematic details, more charts, and more hard info (like stitch counts after every section in which I have to increase or decrease). And I can totally do without stuff like this, which this pattern had in copious amounts:

(WS) sl1 wyif, p1, k2, [p2, k2] repeat to 6 sts. bef. mC, p2, k1, kfb, p1, k1, smC, kfb, p1 [k2, p2] repeat to mB, smB, [k2, p2] 2x, k1, k2tog, [p2, k2] 4x, p2, k2tog, k1, [p2, k2] 2x, smB, [p2, k2] repeat to 6 sts. bef. MC, p2, k1, kfb, p1, k1, smC, kfb, p1, [k2, p2] repeat to end of row, turn.
Say what?

Believe it or not, those are the actual instructions for the first row of the ribbing at the hem in my size. There are different and equally incomprehensible instructions for each of the other sizes. The intended result is dead plain 2x2 ribbing that flows nicely from the existing cables.

I only gave the pattern 3 stars but I love the yarn, which is Briggs & Little "Regal", a staunchly Canadian worsted weight 100% wool yarn. It's positively crunchy, this yarn. There are bits of straw in it, though not as much as I found when machine knitting the lighter weight "Sport" from the same company. It gets a bit softer when washed and it has great stitch definition for the cables of this pattern. It is also very lofty and dried in no time when I washed and blocked the finished sweater. Best of all is that the yarn comes in huge skeins (249m in 113g) and is extremely reasonably priced at $6.99 (CDN). I won 6 skeins of it in a draw at my local store (Wool Tyme, great place) and I have about 1.5 left.

Anyway, I hope the travails of making this will shortly be eclipsed by the happiness of wearing it, which I am doing as I type this. It's chilly in the house and this cardigan is lovely and warm.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Old idea, new grey pants

There's a reason to keep old pattern magazines. I earmarked the pattern for these pants soon after I acquired the December, 2005 edition of Burda World of Fashion, as it was then known. And I finally made them, only a decade later.

The fabric might have been waiting almost as long. It's a soft wool in a nice heathery grey, probably acquired at the Fabric Flea Market. It too has long been earmarked for dress pants.

I traced size 38 at the waist and 40 at the hip, and made a quick and dirty muslin in the form of these truly delightful striped shorts. They revealed that while I had the right amount of fabric circumference, more or less, it was poorly distributed.

Specifically, the back. For some reason, pants drafts typically assume that one has a curvy backside. That CB seam therefore slopes away from the crotch at a bit of an angle. When you sew the backs together at that seam, it creates a big dart for your bum. If you have a flat derrière like The Sewing Lawyer, sad wrinkles form at or below the bum, the side seams swing to the front, and the backs of the pants legs get hung up on the backs of the legs of the wearer.

I have written about this before, I think. Ah yes. That is a very elaborate fix I performed. And it didn't work all that well either. This time I flew by the seat of my pants (hahaha) and I'm very pleased with the results.

Altered pattern - pants back
The basic components of the elaborate fix are:

  1. Straighten the CB seam (reduce the dart).
  2. Curve the side seam to keep the overall width the same.
  3. Scoop the back crotch.
So that's what I did. No slicing or folding was involved. I guesstimated I needed about 1cm less of an angle at the CB and I took a bit more than that off at the side seam as the pants were a bit too big at the waist. I also moved the back dart towards the CF by the same amount. 

You can see the results at right. The black lines trace the original pattern and the red ones reflect my changes. 

So these pants. They fit.

I used bemberg lining to underline them since the wool is very soft. The weight and slippery quality of the underlining pulls down on the curved pocket flaps, something I hadn't counted on. I totally need the buttons to hold them flat to the pants front. I didn't originally intend to put buttons on so the pockets are actually closed with a snap and the button is decorative.

Side zipper - pretty good!

Waistband eased into fusible tape
The curved waistband pieces can easily stretch out. I stabilized the upper edge of the interfaced waistband with fusible tape cut to the pattern upper edge measurement, easing the waistband into it. Pressing eliminates those ripples. 

The pants close with an invisible zipper at the side seam. Putting a zipper in the side seam always makes me a bit nervous because it means I can't fine tune the hip curve once the garment is assembled. I double checked the curve by trying them on after sewing the side seams and leaving the front open. It worked!

The sewcation continues and my stash beckons. I think my next project is a machine knitted cardigan in ... wait for it ... heathery grey wool. Or a jacket. Or both...