Friday, April 29, 2011

Working With Knits in Practice I: Tiered skirt

Hello all! Everyone (still) sick at home this past week, so we've just sat and read. No, I'm not sick. I'm the only one that got spared this time. I get to play nurse instead. All the sewing and making got put aside for (gasp) cooking and baking. There's a part of me that likes to make from-scratch meals when everyone is sick. It makes me feel very Little-House-On-The-Prairie-ish. And I mean that in the best way. Of course, with all the extra cooking and baking, there's extra cleanup to do that one usually escapes with, say, pizza takeout. And all my cunning autoposts have run out, so here in I am, once more "live". 

After writing that post on working with knits, I thought it might be useful (and fun) to make a couple of actual projects to illustrate some of those ideas. One of the liberating ways that knits simplify the construction process of a garment is removing the need for bound or zippered openings. Knit garments stretch and recover as they slip over wide parts of the body. Children love this because it makes clothes easy to put on and take off. And we love making these garments because we don't have to deal with buttonholes and zipper feet!

Now, some of you are probably saying, "But hey, I make zipperless gathered skirts out of wovens (e.g. cotton) and they slip over my hips, too!" Yes, they do, but that's why you need gathers. Woven fabrics themselves don't stretch or recover, so we have to make large openings and gather them with elastic, to achieve the same effect. The gathers, encasing the elastic, allow the otherwise unstretchy opening to expand to accommodate the wearer's body. 

So what am I trying to say? 
With knits, you can have a stretchy opening without gathers, and without it being huge

Let's define the purpose of "an opening" before we go any further.

Any opening in a garment is based on this principle: it must be large enough to accommodate the biggest part of the body over which that garment must fit. With buttons and zippers, a garment needs less ease i.e. it can afford to be quite fitting - the unfastened opening will allow it to slip over wider parts of the body and still fit snugly over the narrower parts of the body when fastened. When an opening is elasticized, it is never really fully open or closed - and so ease must be incorporated into it. This is why gathered or elasticized waistbands and shirred necklines, for instance, are made much larger than actual, and then gathered to a snugger fit. All this preamble leads us to two guidelines when working with elasticized openings:

Any opening need only be as large as the biggest part of the body that the garment needs to slip over. So an opening in a skirt, for instance, needs only be big enough for the skirt to fit over the hips (or waist, in, say, a pregnant woman). This holds true for all openings - zippered openings, button flys and elasticized waistbands. Often this opening is made a little bigger than needed just to "be safe", particularly in store-bought clothes made to fit arbitrary wearers, but this actually isn't really necessary.

2 The less 'give' a fabric has, the bigger this opening needs to be, all other factors remaining constant. Another way of saying this: suppose you have 40" hips and you are making fitted trousers. If you were working with a woven fabric like cotton, the waistband/fly region of the pants, when the fly is unzipped, would need to be at least 40" around because the fabric itself won't stretch to help you out. But if you were working with a stretchy knit, with a elasticized waistband (like yoga pants), you might cut it less than 40" wide (i.e. closer to your waist measurement), then sew on the elastic, and the fabric itself would stretch to accommodate your hips.

This illustrates one of the ways in which patterns for knits differ from patterns for wovens. But it is still all very theoretical, so I thought we'd actually make two garments to show you how you can use this to your advantage.

The first garment is a typical tiered gathered skirt. This is a very popular skirt with children and adults alike, and simple enough for beginners to make. Here  and here are two tutorials I wrote ages ago on this skirt; in both cases, they were made from woven fabric like quilting cotton (i.e. not stretchy at all) and had elastic casings for waistbands.

Today we will make this same skirt entirely out of knit fabrics, including the waistband. I used jersey and interlock. While we are making it, I will annoyingly butt in and comment on what we're doing differently from the woven version.

In a typical tiered gathered skirt, there is a roughly consistent ratio of widths between the tiers. Many people use a 1: 1.5 to 1:2 ratio. Usually, the waistband of the skirt is a gathered elastic casing. The waistband of the skirt is also usually of a larger circumference than the wearer's waist, and gathered to size by the elastic. Like this:

The picture below shows an example of the ratio of widths in the tiers of a skirt.
Everyone knows how to make an elastic-casing waisted skirt, so I thought today we'd do one of those smooth knit-wrapped waistbands instead. 

Right at the top is the elastic, and immediately below it is the ivory-colored knit waistband that will encase the elastic. Below that are the three tiers of the skirt. All five components are already sewn into their respective loops, ready for connecting to each other. Try to remember the width of the first tier (the white rectangle) - we'll make some references to that later.

Let's start sewing! I'm going to be indulgent and show a lot of photos and steps even though I've done tiered skirts to death in previous tutorials. This is to hopefully reassure you that making tiered skirts in knit fabrics is not that different from making them in wovens the way you are used to. Sound good?

First, let's prepare the waistband:
Fold the waistband lengthwise in half and slip the loop of elastic into it. Pin all around and set this aside. For a more detailed treatment, see the old waistband tutorial here.

Next, we'll gather the bottommost tier. This is done exactly the same way as with wovens:

I like to sew two rows of long stitches all around the circumference, and then pull the pairs of threads to gather the fabric. Two rows of stitches make very even, parallel gathers between them - I find this better than just doing one row.

Make quarter-marks on both the bottommost tier (dark pink) and the middle tier (light pink) , and pin the corresponding quarter points together.

The gathers are adjusted so that the circumference of the bottommost tier matches that of the middle tier and the tiers are attached by sewing between the gathering rows.
Note: once you've sewn these tiers together like this, this seam ceases to be stretchy. If you try to stretch it, the stitches will snap. If you ever want a gathered seam to be stretchy (like if it's below a chest yoke), then sew down clear narrow elastic in this seam as you stretch it. 

Now, if we were working with woven fabrics, we would repeat this process to join the pink tier to the white tier, and then fold over the top of the white tier to make an elastic casing and gather the whole thing into a waistband. 

However, we are working with knits, so we don't need a gathered waistband. 

Let's reduce the width of the topmost (white) tier from this:

to this:
See? Much smaller.

How small? Only as wide as the wearer's hips, because that's what it needs to slip over.

Now this is what we have:

We repeat the gathering process for the middle tier,

match the circumference to the topmost (white) tier

 and sew between the rows to attach.

Don't top-stitch. You can top-stitch with wovens, to flatten the gathers, but not with knits. You can, however, do a cover-stitch here, if you want. But why complicate things? It looks gorgeous as is. Moving on!

Now pin the waistband upside down, to the top edge of the topmost tier. Use the same system of quarter marks to help you get it balanced all around.

Pull (both behind and in front of the presser foot) the waistband to match the circumference of the white tier as you sew. 

The completed waistband, with very minimal gathers where it joins the top tier.

Because the waistband was stretched to match the circumference of the white tier, you will be able to stretch it over the wearer's hips without breaking the stitches. The white tier is like a yoke, with most of the gathers beginning only in the second tier. This is a much smoother waistband than a gathered elastic-casing one. It's sleek and good for reducing bulk in the hip area for those of us for whom this is flattering.

So here is your twirly, drapey, nightgown-soft tiered skirt! The bottom hem was finished with a rolled hem, but you can also just fold it up and narrow-hem it the usual way. Apart from the waistband, the techniques are the same as for wovens, but with a much more comfortable outcome. 

You might have noticed that I left out monotonous instructions like "and now, serge the seam allowances", because I imagine you'd know that. And anyway, with knits, if you forgot to serge anything, it's not the end of the world - nothing frays. 

Next up is a fitted french terry A-Line skirt.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fold-up Picnic Mat

Hooray for the end of winter!

We recently dusted off all our warm-weather outdoor stuff in anticipation of the exciting days ahead. Found that our old store-bought picnic mat, which had served us for the past three years, was too ripped and stained to take us through another summer. Its waterproof lining, however, was still in excellent condition, so I thought I'd give it a makeover with some much-more-durable outdoor fabric.

Don't tell the kids, but I call it Mama Was A Bumblebee And Papa Was A Wasp:

Here's the old waterproof lining (lightly padded) sewn onto the new fabric. 

I edged the whole thing with this running-stitch grosgrain tape I bought in Singapore and forgot all about till today.

Here are the dimensions and plan for the mat, if you want to make it yourself. I kept to the same dimensions as the old mat. All the seam allowances are included. I didn't measure how much of the grosgrain tape I used, but if you add the perimeters of the mat and the flap, you'll be able to figure it out yourself.

Here are photos of the completed flap, along with some instructions.

Step 1 
Make the flap first. Sew both pieces together close to the edge. 
Sew the webbing handle on the right side of the flap.

Sew the hook tape/velcro on the bottom edge of the wrong side of the flap. Notice that although it is the wrong side of the flap, the right side of the fabric is visible. Think of it as just a double-layered thing that was reversible until you picked one side to be the right side and the other to be the wrong side.

Then edge the sides and bottom edge of the flap, leaving the top edge unfinished.

Here's another shot of the handle on the finished mat.

Back to sequence now.

Step 2
Sew the outdoor fabric layer to the waterproof lining layer. To do this, just lay them  with wrong sides together, pin in place and sew all around, close to the edge.

Step 3
Sew the top edge of the flap in position to the mat. The wrong sides of the flap and the mat are together.

Step 4
Edge the entire mat.

It's almost finished!

Step 5
Remove child from mat.

Flip it over.

Fold each side towards the midline.

And again.

Fold the bottom edge up to meet the top.

And again.

And again. 
Mark the position of the loop tape/velcro. 
Open up the mat again, and sew that on.

Now it's finally done!

Toss it in the back of the car.
Put away the sewing machine.
Corral the sunglasses(es). 
Pack the sunblock. 
Strap the children in.
And don't come home till the sun goes down.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Candy-Holder Egg

Every now and then when I am in the sewing room, Emily will ask to make something. This past week, she pulled out her sewing tub (modern version of work basket) and made an egg. 

I drew evenly-spaced dots on the underside of the egg, taught her to pin the pieces together, and let her go.

When she had finished, I tied the knots and she chose the decorations. Her first choice was fabric markers but those don't work well on felt, so she picked iron-on patches instead. I did the ironing and she happily went off to fill her egg with butterscotch candies.

I like that she picked a flower and a butterfly- 
both symbols of new life and (I think it might have finally arrived!) spring.

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day Guest Post by Emily

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Today's guest poster is Emily.

Emily lives in my house. She is six+ years old. She is in training to be the family art-and-craft director, so I can retire. I may live to regret it, but I have let her have access to my cardboard stash. Last week she made something that is much cooler than anything I ever could, and I thought I'd ask her to share a tutorial of it here on Earth Day. I did some of the trickier, more dangerous construction and gluing under her orders, but she designed and executed a fair bit of it. Here's Emily.

Hi everyone, I'm Emily. I am in kindergarten this year. This is my i-phone. I like listening to music on it, calling my friends and typing messages.

My i-phone has headphones. I took a headband and some black foam and cut circles out of the black foam and stuck them together on the ends of my headband. I took a string

and stuck a jack on the end (this is a golf tee).

I can plug it into my i-phone and listen to music. I made a hole that I plug the jack into.

Mum made a box out of a cereal box and put a window on the front. Mum says the window is an extra layer and we can slide things into it.

I made screens and here they are. I made a menu, a music player screen, a phone screen and a keyboard screen. My Mum laminated my screens so they looked and felt like real screens.

My Mum cut holes in the screens so I could change screens and slide them in and out.

Here's my phone at the menu.

Here is the screen popping out of my i-phone.

Here's me pushing higher my different screens.

Here is my music screen.

Here is my typing screen. I am typing an email to my grandma.

Have fun making your i-phone!

This is Emily's Mum popping back again to say that no one in our home owns a real iphone, but we love looking at ads of the latest Apple gadgets. I am guessing that's how Emily knew how one works (roughly). This version is batteryless and cardboardy and costs practically nothing.

If you'd like to see more cardboard stuff (some with batteries) from our home, or see how much we love working with cardboard, this is post you might enjoy.