Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Adventures in machine knitting, garter bar edition (part II)

 I had heard tell you could use a garter bar to make lace but I could not for the life of me figure it out. The garter bar has no moving parts, every prong fits on a needle and seemingly can only receive one stitch. But Diana Sullivan demonstrated how to manipulate your stitches to only give the GB access to the stitches on selected needles. It leaves the others alone. You can shift the selected stitches right or left and deposit them on a next-door needle, leaving one that's empty. It then makes a hole (the equivalent of K2tog, YO in hand knitting). 

I wouldn't need this technique for my standard gauge machines, which are Brothers (and have lace carriages that make transferring stitches sooooo much easier. However I got a new SK860 (a mid-gauge) and had some DK silk so....

Cullum is a hand knit pattern with a very simple lace chart. I probably had to recalculate the gauge for my yarn. Honestly, the silk would have knitted fine on my standard gauge but I wanted to try (a) the machine and (b) the technique. 

It's also a very simple pattern, just 2 pieces (probably hand knit in the round).

I like how the 3 rows of eyelets bias. This is generated by always shifting the stitches in the same direction for each lace row. If you shifted them in alternate directions they would zig and zag a bit. 

You can see my yarn is as stretched as can be on this machine. 

There was no way I could get the icord edging tight enough on the mid-gauge. I made it on a standard gauge machine. It makes a really nice, firm neckline.

I like the finished top quite a lot but the sunny yellow is a hard one to match. 

(The Sewing Lawyer with mid-summer pandemic hair...)

Adventures in machine knitting, garter bar edition (part I)

 Last summer I took a course with Diana Sullivan, machine knitting guru from Austin Texas. Of course I wasn't in the same room as she was, nor with any other attendees (and there were dozens). She offered it on Facebook through a private group. It ran over 4 weekends and each Saturday there was a live 3 hour class on the group. You could easily ask questions through the chat function if you were watching along, and Diana would stop and answer as she demoed various techniques.

The videos were recorded and could be reviewed at your leisure while the group page continued to exist. Unfortunately, Diana took it down after a few months. She is now selling edited videos of the entire seminar on her website.

My version of Le Mont Royal shrug
For me, the garter bar "extra" class was worth the entire cost of this seminar (which was modest). I've had a standard (4.5mm) garter bar set for a long time but have (still) never used it. At some point I decided I ought to have a garter bar for all my machines so I bought the mid-gauge (6.5mm) and bulky (9mm) ones from KrisKrafter. Like I used the one I had all the time so I was sure I'd use these too? (I'm not sure what gets into machine knitters but we have to have All.The.Things.)

Let me speak to you of garter stitch. It's the easiest stitch to knit by hand, and the most awkward on a machine. By hand, you turn your knitting, and every row is a knit row, knitted into the back of the knit row below it. By contrast, the machine holds the knitting with the same orientation all the time, knitting row after row back and forth. Stockinette is what results. You need to turn your knitting (or reform individual stitches) to get garter stitch. You use a garter bar to do this turning. 

Here is a YouTube video showing how it's done. I especially like her honesty when she says "you're going to swear at the machine a lot when you first start to try and use it" and also how, after turning the knitting over and hooking it back on the needles, she says that "with any luck" all the stitches will be on a needle.

Le Mont Royal

In a fit of inspiration (even before the Diana Sullivan class) I decided to make myself a simple thing on my bulky machine using a garter bar. A shrug, which is a rectangle of knitting with the ends closed to a tube (sleeves) and the middle left open (body). I used this free pattern - Le Mont Royal by Espace Tricot.

You'll notice that the sleeve ends are a good chunk of garter stitch rows, and that the edge of the shrug is also garter stitch. I used the garter bar to knit all of the edging rows, and reformed the edge stitches by hand, every second row, for the body of the shrug.

Test swatch with garter bar
I picked mohair yarn for this project, which conceals a multitude of mistakes, but is also "difficult" in that it has these hairy bits that like to get caught up in the gate pegs (knitting machines are spiky). 

Also, the base yarn is very skinny, and it turns out it was hard to make sure I had all the stitches (as opposed to the hairy halo only) on a needle after turning the knitting. But this yarn is such a glorious colour combo - basic teal but with flashing red and green and blue hairs when the light catches it. I think I had 10 skeins in total which is what was at the thrift shop the day my husband found it.  

Considering that the shrug was 66 stitches wide (meaning I had to stick the two half-bed width garter bars together to turn it) and that it was my first outing with this ornery tool, it worked quite well. I resorted to life lines just in case, but also got very adept at using this nifty tool (photo at left) to latch up when I dropped a stitch. I made a fascinating video of me knitting one row of this shrug. Lucky for you, I had had lots of practice by that point so there were no tears or bad words, and I only dropped one stitch which I was able to repair.

The pattern is knit in one piece from one end to the other. I couldn't figure out at the time how to start the knitting with garter stitch (I could have used waste yarn and ravel cord of course) so I knitted from the middle out and seamed the two halves together instead. This at least means my two ends are identical. 

The shrug has 4 buttons on each "sleeve" which means you also have to make 4 buttonholes in the garter stitch. 

It is designed to be worn as a shrug or unbuttoned like a shawl. 

I didn't think this through and made my two halves mirror images so that the buttonholes would be on the top on both sides (symmetrical). This means that when I wear it like a shawl (which to be honest only happened for this photo) I have two buttonhole edges meeting rather than one buttonhole edge and one button edge. So I made a toggle out of two pieces of horn. 

Mohair is toasty warm!

I have another garter bar project, inspired directly by the Diana Sullivan seminar, but it'll have its own post.


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Made any masks lately?

Oh I held out for a while. Non-sewers were all getting their ancient machines out from the back of the closet and firing them up. I was in denial.

Yeah, it didn't last. 

Dhurata Davies Mask
(early in pandemic)
(yes I did cut my own bangs)
It turns out I have a lot of stashed cotton bits left over from various projects. And old sheets. And now I have special ear elastic and silicone cord locks.

In the early days I was making this one by Dhurata Davies (but with ear elastics instead of the long ties). 

I made SO MANY of them! (See left). Gotta keep the family safe!

Later I tested Jalie's mask pattern. Four styles with headband and bag for your spares!

Jalie View A
(later in pandemic) 
(lots more hair)
My favourite is view B which has a similar shape to the Dhurata Davies pattern but is a bit more sophisticated. 3 layers! 

So do I have a photo of me wearing view B? Of course not. Enjoy this pic of my most sober/serious mask. This one is view A. It is a bit more complicated in structure. (Whenever I have to go to an in-person meeting for work I gravitate towards this one instead of the crazy African prints. Almost everyone else wears boring black or a disposable one...)

I never thought I could get used to wearing a mask. But it turns out you can get used to a lot of weirdness. 

I'm back ... but I didn't really go anywhere (like the rest of the world)

Yikes, what a year 2020 was.

My last few posts almost 12 months ago were written in a state of denial; recalling what had been normal. I reread how I expected to be working from home for a few weeks or months "at most" and chuckled ruefully. That silk shirt? Worn (maybe) once. Those wool trousers? More often, but fewer than 10 times (they are very comfortable). In the fall, I went through the formality of moving my winter clothes out of the storage closet for ready access, but most of my jackets and dresses languish unworn. Even that nice wool knit dress I made a year ago isn't getting much love, although I do love it. I'm now living in jeans and comfy stretchy clothes like everyone else, and wonder if I will be OK going back to my structured professional wardrobe. 

I previously mentioned how my work exploded with COVID. It calmed down (somewhat) but I'm still working from my sewing room so the space is tainted by too much time spent there not sewing.  Too much inactivity (still standing at my ironing board standing desk, though it is now augmented with a gas lift table top for better ergonomics). Too many screens. Too little time.

But I've been a bit more creative lately and was feeling bad about my neglected blog.

So here is a project I completed recently. I have a pair of MEC pants (lightweight nylon, 0 stretch, many pockets) and for a few years have been musing to myself that I should clone them. They are very comfortable (see above re comfy clothes). I found an article in (I think) Threads Magazine on how to make a pattern from an existing garment. Now that I'm looking for it again of course I can't find it. But here's the gist. 

EDITED - I still can't find it but there is a YouTube video by David Page Coffin that more or less illustrates the method.

Use foam mats as a base (I have some that I use for blocking knits), cover with paper. Use pins to pierce the paper along the seam lines of the garment. Obviously you have to keep it as flat as possible. Once you have put enough holes in the paper to see the lines, use a pencil and ruler/curve to mark the seam lines. Repeat for all pieces. Check dimensions. Guesstimate grain lines. Sew a trial muslin to see if it worked.

It was ridiculously easy and surprisingly I got a quite accurate pattern on my first attempt. 

Here are my finished pants. The fabric is a woven cotton with no stretch, but it has more give than the original nylon. The pants are very much the shape of the original. I have already modified the front to be higher at the waist for my next version. 

(Notice The Sewing Lawyer's longer hair "style"...)

The most interesting features of these pants are impossible to see in these photos. 

They have a gigantic crotch gusset. It's completely invisible when the pants are being worn, however it is so deep that it's practically the entire lower part of the crotch curve. To the right is a photo showing the resulting shape. It reminds me of the talk about square crotch curves a few years ago and how they fit a flatter bottomed person very well. 

The pants also have lots of pockets. The two hip pockets are standard construction, but very deep and anchored in the fly front. 

The back pocket has a zipper that's inserted in a separate strip of fabric separating the lower pants back from the yoke. 

A zippered side leg pocket is similarly inserted into a strip of fabric sewn in between the front and back side seams. 

I go back and forth on whether to copy all these features in my next version (winter outdoor pants) but on balance think I will take the trouble, just because. 

Back zipper pocket, left.

The waistband, very fortuitously, matches vertically at the front very well. It's curved as you can see. 

The zipper tape fills in the width of the strip of fabric (approximately 1/2"). I just used cheap skirt zippers from Fabricland. 

Here's an inside shot. I made the pocket bags from an athletic knit. Obviously, the colour is all wrong but it does make the detail easier to see in these photos. 

The original pants had mesh knit pockets. 

I've been doing some machine knitting too, so stay tuned. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Navy trousers

The last item I'll post today is the trousers that I started at the tail end of 2019 before we had heard of COVID-19.

To recap, I wanted navy wool pants that had the very comfy waist/hips of the Style Arc Kew pants pattern but a more standard leg. I struggled to combine the Kew pattern with a Burdastyle pants pattern from 2005. Then I invented a way to line them while still allowing for fitting while I sewed. The end result is not perfect but they are, as I had hoped, very comfortable and I am pretty sure I will get a lot of wear out of them.

Necessary under-layer

I really needed a little camisole to wear under my new silk shirt. The Iconic Patterns Sammy Cami, only $2.00 AUD, fit the bill.

Making this was a huge relief after struggling with shifty silk chiffon, I can tell you! I used navy cotton/lycra jersey (I have a lifetime supply of this...).

The second and subsequent versions of this little cami will be quicker since with this one, I figured out the sizing (blending from 10 to 12 at hips) and the length of the straps. I found that I wanted my straps much shorter than they would have been if I had followed the instructions. Also, I used some fold over elastic from stash for the straps and binding under the arms rather than the cut strips of self-fabric.

This is a really useful pattern that I will make again (when the fabric stores are open again for fold over elastic purchases, that is).

Everything is discombobulated! And a silk shirt

The very interesting aspect of our current predicament caused by the global pandemic is that it's global. Around the world, so many people are experiencing the same type of disruption to their daily lives as I am. I am lucky - unlike so many, my employment and income have not suddenly stopped. In fact, as a government lawyer, my workload has multiplied and transformed. Whereas before I had time to think before I gave advice, now I mostly do not! The issues are so numerous and the time deadlines so very, very, extremely short. I sincerely hope that this is not a new normal for me and that in time (hopefully not too many weeks, or months at most), my life will return to its formerly placid pace.

So what has been going on in The Sewing Lawyer's sewing room? Well, for starters, it has become a dual function work space. I have a very heavy duty ironing board which raises high enough to be a comfortable height for a standing desk, I have discovered. When I feel like sitting, my computer nestles on a table surface between my serger and sewing machine. I can in theory close the computer and be back to sewing readiness in no time. The only problem is that I have no time these days, it would seem, for anything but work!

The fact that production has slowed does not mean it totally stopped. I actually finished working on something this week that I had started several weeks ago. As seems appropriate, it's complex and it was a demanding project and the outcome is slightly unsatisfactory.

Introducing a tunic top made in the most difficult-to-work-with fabric I have ever tried, crinkle silk chiffon. I bought this piece in Sydney Australia at The Fabric Store. As of writing this, there is still a bit of it available. It is a Liberty of London fabric and the print is wonderful - rows of pears on a dark blue background. I love how it looks and I really disliked sewing it!

I used a vintage Butterick Willi Smith pattern from my past. I made it once before, in quilting cotton. I wish I could find a photo so you could compare, but no luck.

So without more, here is my completed top, on a plastic mannequin. One of the problems with this top, at least at this time of year, is static. If you look at it sideways the fabric sticks to whatever it is next to, including the wearer's skin. After a few days on an inanimate object, the static has subsided.

Slightly staticky!
The fabric is truly transparent, which caused lots of sewing issues (this in addition to its extreme shiftiness which made cutting on grain almost impossible, and the static that I already mentioned). I did a lot of the sewing by hand because that was the best way to control the fabric. After about 50 years of sewing, this project led me to try several techniques for the very first time.

The pattern has a front placket and unfortunately I had lost page 3-4 of the 6 pages of instructions, which would have unlocked the secrets of how to construct this particular one. I did my best to figure it out from the markings on the pattern, and even did a mockup in trash fabric, but ended up winging it to finish the lower edge of the opening on the inside. Why yes, there is a square of fabric hand-tacked on the inside over a raw edge that I couldn't otherwise get rid of. Luckily, the fabric is so gossamer fine that this lumpy solution is completely invisible!

Sewing with paper
I used paper to ensure that I was folding and stitching as accurately as possible. A first!

This top has a rounded shirttail hem. The only way I could imagine finishing it satisfactorily was by hand. Susan Khalje to the rescue with an excellent video on doing a hand-rolled hem. I finished the hems before sewing the side seams, which worked well. Hand-rolled hems, another first!
Looking through the yoke at the French
seam joining sleeve (at right) to body

As for those seams, only French seams would do, n'est-ce pas? Again, Threads to the rescue. Kenneth King teaches an excellent way to sew really strong and really tiny French seams using the rolled hem setting on your serger for the first pass. I had made French seams before, but never using this technique.

I used navy silk organza as the inner layer of the yoke, and as interfacing in the cuffs. I cut a strip of organza selvedge to stabilize the ties at the neck.

All in all, this is a beautiful shirt, but it remains to be seen how much wear it will get.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Just for the record

Utilitarian sewing is also good, once in a while.

I made a new Jalie racer back swimsuit to replace my last one, which was new in November, 2016. Wow, it lasted a really long time (swimming lengths twice a week almost every week). It was, however, really past its best before date given that the lining  and much of the topstitching had rotted out. This proves to me that not all synthetics are equally indestructible. The lining was nylon and so was the woolly nylon that I had inadvisably used for the looper thread in my coverstitch machine.

For the fabric of my new suit I got my hands on some more 100% poly fabric, but it's only available to me in solid colours. So colour blocking was the way to build interest in this suit.

The lining might not be nylon, and I ditched the woolly nylon for poly thread so this ought to last quite a few years.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Vogue 9022 - mostly just photos

Once the fitting work is done there isn't much more to Vogue 9022. I was flirting with the idea of lining it but decided not to due to (a) inadequate fabric choices and (b) a preference for simplicity.

I could have taken more width out of this but am afraid of over-fitting in a knit.

Instead of a hook and eye at the back neck (as per the instructions), I made a thread loop for a button. It's totally unnecessary. This dress can be pulled on quite easily.

I must now turn to sewing a replacement swimsuit as my last one is literally falling apart. (I made it in November, 2016 and I swim twice a week, so it's surprising that I can still wear it at all!) After that, it'll be back to my knitting machines... 

Monday, February 17, 2020

Vogue 9022 - fit issues

The cover art of Vogue 9022 is seriously ugly. I would never have bought this pattern but for the many very positive reviews on Pattern Review which praise it for being super easy to sew and very comfortable to wear.

I am making it from a wool double knit (maybe a blend) that has quite a bit of stretch but no lycra. The idea of making this dress from a woven has zero appeal to me. But initially I chose my size from the available choices (XS-S-M-L) conservatively based on my measurements. S is supposedly 8-10. I figured I could take it in and cut it down once I could see how it was going to fit.

As I predicted, the fit was very sloppy. See for yourself. It's too wide from top to bottom. The armscye is very low. Also, as I moved around I realized that the dress was rotating back, suggesting to me that the back was too short relative to the front. And the back is just generally baggy.

So ... alterations. First, I sewed it back at the side seams to size XS above the waist and a smidge wider at the hip. At the shoulder seams I sewed it to XS. I took two vertical darts in the back and sewed out a third vertical dart in the CB seam.

Happier with this shape
Then, I took some depth out of the front only by opening up the shoulder area and shortening the front along the lines pinned out in the photo.

I shaved out some of the princess seams in front to create more waist darts, in effect.

Next and hopefully last, I will have to cut the front neck lower to match the amount of depth I took out of the shoulder seams.

So, not such a simple sew. But I think I will like this dress once it is done.