Eye Candy for Sweater Lovers

Last month I attended a yarn industry event called SpinExpo New York. According to their site, it’s “the leading international industry sourcing exhibition dedicated to innovation in yarns, fiber, and knitwear.” 93% of the exhibitors were from Asia, with the remainder divided evenly between Europe and the US.

Even though I use US yarns exclusively and have my fabrics knitted locally (New York City area), I like to attend the expo every now and then. While I like seeing the new yarns, I mostly enjoy the Trends area. It's full of interesting swatches knitted from the yarns on exhibit.

This year was particularly fun because I met up with friend, textile artist, and fiberart fabricator Sahara Briscoe. Her body of work is diverse. You can learn more about Sahara and her work on her website Super String Theory Design and in this essay on the Knitty City blog.

Sahara Briscoe, Toddler Blanket, 47" x 49", wool

We met at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint, Brooklyn on the last day of the event. My favorite fibers shone above all others… because they were metallic! These were the copper fibers of Meadowbrook Inventions (US)

and the metallic yarns of Kyototex (Japan).

And now my secret is out... I’ve had a love for metallic yarns ever since I first saw pieces knitted with stainless steel at Structure and Surface: Contemporary Japanese Textiles, way back in 1998 at the Museum of Modern Art!

But, back to SpinExpo. The name “Trends” implies some sort of fashion forecasting but many of the stitch patterns in these swatches will never make it to a garment. They are complex, expensive, and very slow to knit. But they are always pretty to see, touch, and analyze. Some swatches were nostalgic. They seemed to have emerged directly out of a stitch pattern book from the 80’s. A few were so innovative that neither Sahara nor I could confidently determine the knitting sequences or just how the swatches were knitted.

Here’s a taste of some of the swatches from Trends. Laura McPherson, I & S Fashion, CKRC Jinlong are credited as stylists for the featured swatches.

I know the swatches have only increased my sweater making desires. Have they inspired you? Yes? Then take a look at my online course How to Cut and Sew a Sweater. Registration opens again in September, and the online workshop will help you sew your best sweater. Let's sew sweaters together!


The Completed Cobblestone Sweater

With the heatwave and high humidity in New York City at the beginning of July, I wondered when exactly I’d have a chance to photograph my completed sweater. On the first Saturday of the month, however, I woke up to a mere 65 degrees. The humidity was low, the sky was blue, and I knew it was a perfect day for pics.

Cobblestone fabric is 100% cotton, but it’s a little heavier than summer weight. It will be great for the fall. It was certainly perfect for a cool summer morning.

I’ve shown bits and pieces of the Cobblestone sweater in progress. You may even have seen a part of the sweater that’s no longer there! This was the original cuff, constructed with self fabric, the same pattern piece as the sleeve. But the sleeves were too long.

For sleeve version two I cut the length and reduced the width at the bottom of the sleeve. I then installed a more traditional cuff made from a finished edge rib band trim like the neck band. The resulting sleeve was an inch shorter.

The sweater is based on the McCall’s 7660 I used for a demonstration this past spring in New Haven at the Northeast Machine Knitters’ Guild. Yes, these pattern pieces have been cut out and partially assembled for a few months now!

There’s an interesting detail in this pattern. Tiny gathers are drafted into the side seams at the bust. The gathers are imperceptible in the pictures and line drawings of the sweater and I assume this added ease is to accommodate larger bust sizes that might ordinarily require a full bust adjustment. I removed the extra ease and cut my front piece the same size as the back, as I do when I draft my own patterns. I didn’t think I’d need the ease and I worried it might mess up my stitch pattern matching. (Ha!)

I cut the longest length of the pattern, the one that was intended to have a hem. Then, instead of hemming, I added a rib band for even more length. My neckband is folded over and encloses the raw edge at the neckline.

I overlocked all seams using Maxilock Stretch [Amazon affiliate link] in the loopers. It’s a textured nylon thread that is “soft like yarn” as the label says. It’s similar to Woolly Nylon, except the Maxilock is slightly thinner and a little less expensive. I highly recommend that the thread be used with Handy Nets [Amazon affiliate link)] or similar thread socks. Otherwise, the thread just might slip below the cone, become tangled on the thread stand, and break... again and again and again. (I have a brief history of knitting with slippery, translucent, monofiliament thread. Thread socks were mandatory, so I should have known better when using the relatively slippery Maxilock Stretch.) When using thread socks, be sure to tuck the excess net under and through the opening at the bottom of the cone, as in the picture below. The net should come no more than two-thirds of the way up the cone of thread. Once properly accessorized with nets, the thread sewed beautifully with no more breakage.

I’m thrilled to finally have finished a sweater! I'm currently in possession of four sweaters-in-progress. Two have a deadline and will be finished soon. The other two, well, I’ll get to them....


Click for info

How Not to Fear Cutting Sweater Knits

When discussing cut and sew sweaters, I spend most of my time talking about sewing sweater knits. The cutting part of “cut and sew” gets far less time on this blog. It is, however, an important topic. For some people, especially those with knitting experience, cutting is the part that can be filled with fear.

Knitters, having prior experience with dropped stitches, often get worried that runs will form in the fabric. To get past that, I recommend you test the limits of the fabric before you start your project. Cut a 6” x 6" square of your sweater knit and try to make it run. Give it a really good stretch lengthwise and crosswise and notice what happens. If the fabric does run, make a mental note of how much you had to stretch the fabric for that to happen. Chances are you won't be stretching it to that extent during construction. If it turns out you are working with the a fabric that runs easily, you simply need to handle it with care and perhaps stabilize the edges.

But let's get back to the act of cutting. The basics of cutting a sweater knit are similar to those for cutting woven fabrics.

My favorite cutting tool is pictured above, the Black & Decker electric scissors. This wonderful tool  has been discontinued, as I've mentioned previously on this blog. In its day, this hard working tool was really inexpensive (about $15) and it cut through sweater knits extremely well. The WBT1 Electric Scissors have been recommended to me but I haven't tried them yet since I still have one pair of the B & D's in working order. The learning curve is surprisingly gentle with electric scissors, and I find them easier to use than rotary cutters or manual shears.

Since I’m trying to preserve my B & D’s, I save them for cutting lengths of fabric. I use a rotary cutter now for pattern cutting. A rotary cutter works well, with practice, but remember -- a sharp blade is mandatory!

My least favorite cutting tool has always been dressmaking shears! My current pair of bent-handled, “knife edge” Friskars (Amazon affiliate link), however, can easily slice through even the heaviest sweater knit. Here are the important things to remember, when using shears: Always keep the bottom blade gliding along the table as you cut. With each cut, follow through to the tip of the blades to avoid jagged edges. I'm right handed so my left hand does whatever it takes to help keep the sweater knit fabric under control while I cut. It could be holding the cut-away fabric firmly on the cutting table or gently supporting a narrow strip away from the pattern piece I'm cutting. You may need different techniques, depending on which part of the pattern you're cutting.

Whichever tool or tools you use, they must be sharp or the they'll chew up the fabric or stretch and distort the edges of the pattern pieces. I'm always on the lookout for other tools and tips, so please recommend any favorites you have.

All right then, no more fears! Need tips on sewing sweater knits? Download my Roadmap for Improved Sweater Knit Seams.