Teaching and Crafting

I've posted my in-person teaching calendar for the beginning of 2020! If you're interested in learning to machine knitting (in Brooklyn) or improving sweater knit sewing skills (at Stitches United in Hartford CT), I'd love for you to join me.

All techniques covered fall comfortably into the crafting fashion category. Yes, Crafting Fashion, as in the name of this blog, chosen because it communicates that it’s not just design that’s important in fashion. I consider the act of crafting the garment of prime importance in the best fashion.

There are so many ways to enjoy the crafting process. I love figuring out the most effective and efficient ways to create a desired stitch pattern. 

Screenshot of O! Jolly! Off Kilter Plaid in the Design a Knit application
Selecting quality materials is one of my favorite parts of the process. What maker doesn't enjoy fondling the raw materials or browsing through catalogs?

The act of constructing the sweater is a most satisfying part, making sure the craftsmanship is neat and accurate. I often enjoy the process far more than the final product. In fact, I have several projects temporarily halted in the process phase (a.k.a. UFO, unfinished objects) at the moment.

Lately I've been doing lots of teaching. More teaching means less crafting, so I squeeze crafting in wherever I can by making samples and doing demos of specific techniques. Teaching is my excuse for breaking a project down into its smaller elements, a process I love. Teaching means observing exactly how and where my students grasp, or perhaps struggle, with a technique. Teaching means I'm always editing, always refining the presentation. Students bring a fresh perspective, and I get to see old standards through new eyes.

Teaching Since 16

Did you know I've been teaching since I was 16 when I taught pre-ballet to 5-year-olds! I was so proud of my class. I am not exaggerating when I tell you my fives were the best fives in the recital!

In my early 30s I taught commercial acting and modeling (after a brief career in show biz). Surprising as it may sound, it was a very satisfying job. We were located in a small and very scenic market, experiencing a boom in production during those years. A good 25% of my students booked jobs within 6 months of completing my class. A few students booked before they finished the course! This is unheard of in larger markets, where there's greater competition. It also helped that the school was attached to a talent and modelling agency.

In the 90s and early 2000s I helped craft an independent education for my son. By that, I mean we homeschooled. I prefer to call it an independent education because that phrase more accurately describes the process. Many people consider a 40-hour week full time work. It is not. Learning can happen at anytime and not only when sitting at a desk. Can you imagine the number of museum classes, soccer games, Broadway theater, off-off-off Broadway theater, classical guitar lessons, recitals, swim lessons, sailing lessons, nature walks, beach trips, and play dates we participated in or attended in the name of "home" schooling? We educated from birth through pre-college. Son later majored in computer science at a top-tier university and currently works his dream job as a game developer.

On a field trip with my favorite student! Sweater was a gift, designer unknown.

Current and Upcoming

My students' creativity at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design continues to be invigorating. The knitwear courses I teach at each school are part of the fashion design departments. But as stated earlier, it's never just about design, it's also about the crafting.
Knitting studio at Parsons
Two or three times a year I teach at the Textile Arts Center. It’s a beautiful, large space in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn. Though I teach only machine knitting at the school, a variety of fiber related crafts such as weaving, sewing, dyeing, and more can be explored there. This place is a textile crafting wonderland, open to the public.

March will be my first time joining the teaching crew of Stitches United. Well known for their large hand knitting conventions and markets, Stitches opened up a couple of their events to other fiber-related crafts. I’m presenting an introduction to cut and sew sweaters and also teaching a class on making the perfect crew neck for your cut and sew sweater. My class sizes are limited to 20 people each, so you're sure to get your questions answered at the presentation plus individual attention in the class. And of course there will be lots of other classes you can attend. I hope you can make it!


P.S. If you can't join me in person next year, perhaps you can join me online? Let's craft sweaters together!

Playing with Texture

Detail, Waves and Interference stitch pattern, wool

What happens when you finally decide to clear out the old storage unit? In my case, several cardigans and fabrics created in the '80s slowly get back into circulation.

Beginning in 1984, I machine knitted a series of jackets and fabrics. I used several techniques, but the ones I'm sharing today I learned from Susanna Lewis.

Clockwise from top left Waves and Interference coat, back of Teal Green Ripple Yoke coat, back of  Waves and Interference coat]. Photos circa 1985. Click to enlarge.

Hand knitters may be familiar with Susanna's book Knitting Lace [affiliate link]. Machine knitters know her from her book with Julia Weissman A Machine Knitters' Guide to Creating Fabric [affiliate link], or simply Bible, as machine knitters call it. Lovers of artwear may be familiar with Susanna's fabulous one of a kind machine knitted coats, featured in Julie Schafler Dale's book Art to Wear [affiliate link]. Off the Wall: American Art to Wear, an upcoming exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, will present the work of Susanna Lewis and several others who created art to wear during the 1960s and '70s. The show will run November 10, 2019 through May 17, 2020.

Susanna Lewis taught a class at Parsons School of Design in the 1980s called Machine Knitted Fabrics. It was the best machine knitting training I ever had.

There were 8 students in the Parsons class, none of us taking the course for credit. Each Tuesday morning we sat around a table and Susanna would pass out worksheets. She would then show us swatches based on a technique of machine knitting, discuss the principles and methods to create them, and fill us in on variations. The next week we students would return with our swatches based on the worksheet and discuss what we'd learned.

Southwest Spectra jacket, cotton, back and front
These particular techniques are known as rippled jacquard and embossed rippled jacquard. They are double knit fabrics.  For the machine knitters reading this, texture is built on the technical face of the fabric by knitting extra rows on selected needles. I machine knitted on a bulky Brother 260 with ribber. I've also knitted the fabrics on a standard gauge machine, but they take longer.

All of the cardigans pictured are cotton, though I've used these methods with wool often. They are also fully fashioned; I knit each pattern piece in a simple shape with increases or decreases. They were sewn together by hand.

Daisy, cotton

I'm now quite nostalgic for producing fully fashioned pieces again and will take advantage of an opportunity to produce some soon. Plans are to revisit these knitted fabric techniques in the near future, I'm hoping for early 2020!


P.S. If you've been wanting to add sweaters to your handmade wardrobe, but didn't quite know how to approach them (without learning to knit), I have an answer for you. My How to Cut and Sew a Sweater opens again for registration very soon. Join the list to learn more about it!

Placing (and Cutting) the First Pattern Piece on Sweater Knit Fabric

If you have never cut and sewn sweater knits before, you may have a few questions. This one was emailed to me about placing a sewing pattern on sweater knit fabric as the sewist pondered the task:
[...] I guess what I am getting at with [sweater knit] fabric is it isn't something you can lay out and put the pattern pieces on and cut away. You have to really think about your fabric in regards to whether it is a panel fabric or has regular type fabric widths, how they are going to work with the pattern you want to use or maybe won't work.
That's a very good way to put it. Placing a sewing pattern on a sweater knit isn't too different from laying out a sewing pattern on a woven fabric with a one-way design or on a fabric with a nap. And just as with any surface design, or a design woven into the textile, it's always necessary to consider the whole project before any cutting takes place.

For my this sweater I used cotton fisherman knit fabric in four panels. (Panels, also known as sweater blocks, are fabric pieces of a fixed length and width, as opposed to fabric that's been cut off a roll or bolt to a requested length and a fixed width.) Even when I work with a length of fabric with a standard width, I still only work with one section of fabric at a time, enough for one pattern piece. I'm very careful to keep the rest of the fabric length (that's still attached) rolled up, never allowing any of the fabric to hang off the table.

Whether the fabric is striped, an unbalanced plaid, a high contrast jacquard, or a textured Aran, there are various approaches to getting patterns to match on the sweater. It all starts with the cutting. I've modified the way I do this over the years. One thing that hasn't changed is that I always cut through a single thickness of fabric. Once I've determined how I'd like the design to sit on the garment, the following is how I lay out the first pattern piece of the sweater. In this case, it's the front.

Step 1. With a pencil and a marking ruler with guide lines, draw lines on the pattern piece parallel and perpendicular to the marked grainline.

Step 2. Choose the "top" of your fabric (the part where the shoulders are) and how you'd like your design to lay on the sweater. A top must be designated with many knit fabrics. Plain jerseys and simple rib fabrics can usually be used in either direction. Be sure to stick with your designated top of the fabric throughout the project, unless you're making a particular design choice.

I prefer to work with the wrong side of the fabric up if the design is prominent enough on the wrong side for me to see what I'm doing. This way I feel freer to make marks on the fabric.

Step 3. Mark what will be the center line on the fabric and mark a line perpendicular to the center line near the top or at another important area of the design. Use pins like in the pic at the very top of this page or (if working with the wrong side) your favorite tailor's chalk or erasable marking pen to mark the lines on the fabric.

Step 4. Place the first piece back on the fabric. Pin the paper pattern in place or use good weights.

Step 5. Extend your drawn in pattern lines onto the fabric with pins (or with disappearing marker). Adjust the fabric as needed so that the paper pattern and design are square. The fabric design in this example has a built-in vertical element so no more vertical lines had to be drawn. Depending on the fabric design, it may be necessary to follow a rib or wale in the fabric and mark more vertical lines than just the center line.

Step 6. With chalk or marker, trace the outline of the paper pattern onto the fabric. If working without seam allowances on the paper pattern, you'll be marking the sewing line. Be sure to mark notches to the outside of the sewing line.

If working with a seam allowance on the paper pattern, you'll be marking the cutting line. Mark notches as you prefer, but never clip your notches to the inside with sweater knits!

Step 7. Remove the pins or weights from the paper pattern and flip the pattern to the opposite side of the center line, adjusting fabric so that both sides match. Pin or weight the paper pattern in place.

Step 8. Trace the 2nd side as in Step 6.

Step 9. Cut the pattern piece out of the fabric.

I like to thread trace by sewing machine, so my piece will look something like the diagram above. (Thread tracing isn't used in the cut and sew sweater industry, but I like it for my personal projects.) Your front may have neater seam allowances if you cut the actual cutting line provided by the sewing pattern. To thread trace, I do a quick, sloppy cut that I’ll trim later. After I cut, I immediately bring the piece to the sewing machine and sew a long basting stitch on the outer edge of the sewing lines that I've marked. The presser foot is set to light pressure. This basting stitch will help keep the fabric from stretching or running. Plus, knowing where the sewing line is will help immensely in the next step. I use this first piece as a guide to match the fabric pattern when I lay out the pieces for the back and the sleeves. Learn how I do that in my Matching the Texture or Color Patterns in a Cut and Sew Sweater blog post.

I hope this doesn't sound too tedious. I actually enjoy the process and love trying to get things lined up just right. If you have any tips or variations that you use, please share them in the comments. We all want to know! 

And if you're interested in my step-by-step instructions for cutting and sewing a sweater that fits you perfectly, please sign up for info on my online video course How to Cut and Sew a Sweater.


This post was originally published June 2015 and has been updated for clarity.