crafts · finished objects · Sewing

FO: Fear of knits (Vogue 1027)

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.

32 thoughts on “FO: Fear of knits (Vogue 1027)

  1. Success! I have a similar aversion to knits…I don’t consider it a fear, but more of a preference. I like my fabrics to be more well-behaved, like I imagine your blue linen-cotton dress was! I want to be able to steam and press them into submission and slinky knits like this are too rebellious.
    Excellent work on turning a tricky sewing project into a flattering dress! No one will know how much of a pain it was to construct, you look fantastic!

  2. it looks wonderful! I have that dress somewhere in my sewing queue. The pattern pic isn’t inspiring but I’ve loved the versions I’ve seen on patternreview.
    and not all knits are equal… I had no trouble sewing a stable “t-shirt knit” (I guess maybe a fine-gauge interlock?) on my regular machine, but a finer, stretchier jersey material stretched everywhere and gave me fits. I have some wool sweater knit fabric that I’m afraid to cut into.

  3. I like it! Great job persevering with that fabric. I sewed for years and years before I felt comfortable with knits and have never owned a serger (no place to put one.) I mostly use knits for summer pull on dresses, and they are great to pack in a suitcase for any sort of traveling.

  4. It is unbelieveably gorgeous. I love how the print has a subtle stripe across the skirt. Well, actually it is believeable, it seems like you put a lot of thought into it. It looks great! I avoid sewing knits to the highest extent possible because they never look this good (also, no serger). 🙂

  5. That is a fabulous dress! It looks amazing on you! Congratulate yourself on a job well done, not to mention nabbing that fab serger!

    I, too, have a massive fear of knits, despite sewing for over 20 years. It seems like there’s just a whole lot of fiddle faddle that goes along with it that I don’t have the patience for. The cutting is a pain, you need a million pins…blah blah. There’s a lot to be said for nice, dependable wovens that stay in place when you cut and sew up a dream. Not to mention the satisfaction of a crisp, pressed seam. (yes, I am a dork).

    I use my serger to trim my seam allowances and to make rolled hems.

  6. I started a slinky knit dress as a project which has now turned into a skirt! I HATE SLINKY KNIT!!! There I said it. So pretty and such a nice quality look and feel to it. But this stuff is ALIVE! It moves, wiggles, and crawls on the sewing machine. So I bought a bunch of cotton this week which I had been avoiding since I hate to iron clothes. My hat off to you and your beautiful dress!!!

  7. Wow, I like this dress, and I’m not really into animal prints. You did a really great job for not liking the fabric while you were working with it.

  8. congrats on the serger! i’m scared of mine too. if you want to finish the dress hem, you could do a rolled hem on your serger.

    i like your dress a lot but i would feel weird wearing it. i don’t think i’m cool enough to pull it off. i do have a pair of leopard print shoes though that i adore.

  9. Oh, it’s a great dress! I’m glad it worked out for you. I stayed away from knits a whole lot the first two years of sewing, and now I find myself dreaming up all kinds of knit designs in my head. The seamstress I am is always evolving! 🙂

  10. Wow! You did a fantastic job!! By the way, your fireplace is stunning. And I enjoy seeing the foliage change in all of your photos. It gives me hope. (Not that I need much- we’ve been having summer-like temperatures on the east coast).

  11. Amazing. You are quite the sewer. I haven’t worked with knits too much, but I found the information in the Built By Wendy books (Sew U and Sew U: The Home Stretch I believe…) very helpful.

  12. The dress is beautiful – I’ve been in love with that pattern for a long time and it’s helpful to see how it looks on an actual person (not a model). If you’re worried about the knife on your serger you can probably retract it. Mine is a different make, but if I open the left side of the base there’s a lever to push and fold the cutting knife away.

  13. You look fabulous! And thanks for the info on that pattern’s weird directions–I haven’t made it yet, but I did read through my copy and was like “why facings?” Facings don’t often see to work out for me on knits.

    I only starting serging back in January and the first time it took me an entire day to figure out how to thread all four loopers and needles (my diagram was black & white, so it was impossible to see what went where!), but now I can do it in 5 minutes.

    The permanence of the knife still frightens/frustrates me (even though it saves time), and I find it really really difficult to get an accurate seam allowance if the pattern has a seam allowance that isn’t 1/4″ (since 1/4″ lines up exactly with the edge of the serger bed). So when the pattern seam allowance is 5/8″, I either trim it to 1/4″ or sew (or sometimes just baste) the seam on the conventional machine and finish it on the serger.

    I have to admit I’m a knit-o-phile–partly because RTW wovens are always way too small in the bust and too saggy on my flat backside, and partly because they are so comfortable, close-fitting and clingy! I can buy knits easily, but although they fit, they don’t always fit great…

  14. Great job! If you feel it looks a bit too costumey, you could break it up a bit with a nice chunky belt in a black or red. Again, great job!

  15. I loved your commentary of “the dress”. Lo once upon a time I tried my hand at “knits” and the results were not as good as yours. There is something rather unpredictable about knits that bothered me. And, yes, the cutting part was one of them. All the old sewing videos I watched made it seem so “fast” and “easy” yet …. I’m with you, I’d rather buy them. Funny, though I don’t sew anymore (though I still have my machine – still can’t give up my trusty machine) and knit mostly, I’d rather knit than sew knits.

    Loved the blue dress. Looks great on you!

  16. yep- wandered over here after reading your comment about this dress on my blog. oh yeah, it’s “tacky” all right. and by “tacky” i mean it makes you look like ava gardner in full soft focus celluloid glamour and i wish i had one just like it for elegant evenings on the town. perfectly lovely.

  17. I have sewn two dress with this pattern and it is super easy and goes together like a dream. In one case I lengthened the hem and made a floor-length dress. Super comfortable and no zipper.

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