How to Cut and Sew a Minimum Waste Sweater

If the diagram above makes your eyes cross and gives you a pounding headache, then this post is not for you. ;)  Though a zero waste specialist would consider this design simple (or at least straight forward), I'm quite happy with the way it turned out.

I'm pretty sure that similar tops have been made thousands of times before. The cutting and sewing took about a minute. (I exaggerate.) The planning took a couple of days, but not full days, just every now and then over a period of two days in January.

I broke a few rules with the wool sweater knit I was using. We're usually told to work with the stretchiest direction around the body. (I've certainly said that enough times.) But Saint Cloud sweater knit is lightweight and relatively stable. I found it stable enough for me to use with the stretchiest direction hanging as the yoke; the rest of the bodice is lightweight enough not to pull on the yoke and stretch it out. Even without shoulder seams or stabilization, it works.

Most of the sweater's details were described in my previous post about this sweater.

As I look at my layout today, I see a few possible variations:
  • Rotate the layout 90 degrees so that the orientation for each of the main pieces switches. This way I could probably use a heavier fabric, since the yoke would better support the weight of the bodice. That is, lay it out and sew the sweater so that the finished sweater hangs...

  • Add bands to the sleeves (as cuffs) and at the hem. It would use more fabric, but it fits into my sewing with rectangles theme. :)
  • Use one sweater knit fabric for the yoke and a totally different one for the bodice. 
  • And of course making a pocket with the cut out fabric from neckline.
Scraps from the trimming the hems and the neckline
Perhaps my wool sweater is seasonally inappropriate as the temperature reaches above 80° F today in New York City. As Fashion Revolution Week 2017 comes to an end, however, I'm glad that I could post my pattern for a minimum waste cut and sew sweater today. The Fashion Revolution must take place each day, of course.

How to Cut and Sew a Minimum Waste Sweater

This sweater is comfortably loose. I used a yard and a quarter of relatively stable sweater fabric. With half-inch seam allowances it fits size 34" bust with 5 inches of ease. These are basic instructions only. Sew and finish seams and hems in your preferred method. (I sewed the main seams with a narrow zigzag 0.75 mm wide by 2.5 mm long. I steamed seam allowances to one side, then top stitched. I used a twin needle to hem the sleeves and the bottom of the sweater.)
  1. With a felt tip erasable fabric marker or tailor's chalk, draw lines on sweater knit fabric, as indicated by solid black lines in diagram at the top of this page. 
  2. Cut on marked lines. 
  3. With a felt tip erasable fabric marker or tailor's chalk, mark the dotted blue lines on yoke/sleeves piece.
  4. Using the template, trace, then cut out shape for the neckline.
  5. Sew binding to neckline.
  6. Pin together, then sew Front aa to Front Yoke aa.
  7. Pin together, then sew Back bb to Back Yoke bb.
  8. Pin together, then sew Sleeve c1 and c2 and Side Seam c3 and c4
  9. Pin together, then sew Sleeve d1 and d2 and Side Seam d3 and d4
  10. Sew hems.
If you have any questions or see any mistakes, please let me know. Everything's a rectangle so it's pretty easy to scale up or down. Download the neckline template here. No sign up is necessary, but if you'd like to receive my newsletter (sweater knit fabrics, sweater fashion, tips and techniques for sewing sweater knits), subscribe here.

Last update 03May2017

The Return of Providence

I'm extremely happy and excited to reintroduce Providence to the collection of sweater knits in the shop. Some of you, who may have read this blog in the days when I personally machine knitted most of the shop fabric, may remember posts about the Providence stitch pattern, fabric, and eventual sweater. While it's wonderful to have  the opportunity to bring back a favorite, I'm also pleased that this Providence is new and improved.

The newness comes in the dimension of width. While the old Providence, knitted on my vintage Passap machine, was limited to a relaxed 24 inches wide, the new Providence is 60 inches wide relaxed (updated Feb. 22, 2017), stretching crosswise about 40%. Most people will want to go down a sewing pattern size when using this fabric. Do be careful with any sewing pattern identified as "negative ease"; like many sweater knits, while the fabric stretches well across the width, the recovery (return to pre-stretched size) is slow. In other words, the fabric isn't suited for a body conscious sweater dress. This is 100% wool, 0% spandex.

Frankly, I'm ambivalent about the greater width. A narrow width is definitely easier to handle. If a fabric can be knitted to the width of the wearer, a narrow fabric will require less cutting and will produce less waste. On the other hand, only with custom knitting can a home sewer be provided with fabric of a custom width. When providing fabric to a variety of sweater knit enthusiasts, I'm learning it's best to go wide (especially with the fancier or more intricate designs). And so I have. A sewer can more effectively layout the pattern pieces this way. Allowing for the generous crosswise stretch, some will be able to cut an entire sweater from a single yard.

The new Providence is a little bulkier than the old, now knitted with a slightly heavier yarn. It's a beautiful medium grade, worsted spun yarn from a New England spinner and yields a fabric with amazing stitch definition and a hand knitted look. My knitting contractor referred to the fabric as "slow knitting" (with all those double tucks for texture) and having "lots of body".

Fabric Care

I'm sure you've heard this next bit of business before, if not on this site, then elsewhere. It's about being sure to prepare fabric before cutting and sewing. Always sew a zigzag stitch or overlock stitch on any raw or cut edges on the wool knit before washing. Follow the same procedure you plan to use when laundering your finished item. Remember agitation, hot water and hot dryers will shrink most wool. (Prepping Providence properly will also soften and fluff it.) Here are my recommendations for prepping or the regular washing of wool sweater knits.
  1. Launder similar colors together. Mix a small amount of mild detergent or soap in sufficient cool water to completely submerge your fabric. (Do not use Woolite. Woolite contains "optical brighteners" which can remove natural oils and "dry-out" the fabric. Do not use bleach.) 
  2. Allow fabric to soak for 15 to 20 minutes. No need to agitate.
  3. Rinse gently in cool water. You may use fabric softener, if you like.
  4. Remove excess water by rolling fabric in a towel and squeezing gently or by using the gentle spin cycle only of a washing machine.
  5. Gently smooth the fabric into shape on a flat surface, being careful not to overstretch the fabric. 
  6. Allow fabric to air dry away from direct sunlight. 
    OR you may have your fabric dry cleaned.

    I recently read about a technique of ironing sweater knits through a wet cloth in order to prep them for cutting and sewing. I can't recommend it, only because I've never tried it! Though I have a couple of exceptions, I tend to avoid pressing and ironing sweater knits. I've also heard of people using the steam cycle of a dryer to prepare wool. I've never tried the steam cycle of a dryer. (I don't have access to a dryer with a steam.) I'm guessing that the steam cycle of a dryer might shrink and/or felt the fabric somewhat, because of the heat and movement?

    So far I've only worked with a 9 x 9-inch swatch of Providence. My swatch had no shrinkage when I hand washed it, as described above, and let it dry flat.

    Providence sweater knit is now in the shop. I'm planning to make a jacket!


    Last update 22Feb2017

    Your Creative Sweater Knit Projects

    Arlene Holzman in New Hudson
    I'm in love with the palazzo pants sewn by Arlene Holzman for a special family event. They are elegant, have a gorgeous drape, with just the right amount of fancy. And I'm only a little prejudiced since Arlene chose O! Jolly! New Hudson natural white sweater knit to make them. But really... just look at those palazzo pants!

    From time to time I've posted pictures of people modeling their O! Jolly! sweater knits. I'm happily posting a few more today. Yes, I do get excited when I see what others make with these fabrics! I develop the knits, have them produced, then send them out into the world wondering what they'll become. I'm so very grateful to those sewists who've shared pictures of their finished garments with me and who've allowed me to post their pictures. I really enjoy seeing just how creative sewists are and how differently they use the knits. Arlene, after all, used the very same fabric, that Sonja of GingerMakes used to make a Grainline Studio Linden Sweatshirt.

    Deepika of PatternReview used the New Hudson more traditionally and made a sweater. She's fulfilling part of her #sewprecious2017 pledge. You may have read that Deepika is challenging herself and others to cut and sew the "precious" fabrics they may be saving in their stashes. (Thanks for considering the fabric special, Deepika. I'm glad you finally sewed it. And I know it looks better on you than on the shelf, in the drawer or other designated hiding place!) Here's Deepika's Burda 7595. You can read her pattern review is here.
    Deepika in New Hudson
    New Hudson is a rather stable sweater knit, so it can work with a variety of projects. Georgia (I Believe I Can Sew) combined it with natural white 2x2 cotton rib to make a suit with flair and flare.
    Georgia in New Hudson
    I've been carrying New Hudson in the shop, for almost two years now, ever since I started contracting local mills to knit fabrics to my specifications. Natural White Cotton Jersey is another fabric that I've carried from the beginning and try to always have in stock. Though I don't have many pictures of finished garments with this fabric, the cotton jersey has been the shop's best seller. Dorcas (@lonestarcouture on Instagram) made a very lovely and cozy Vogue 9057 tunic in the fabric.
    Dorcas in sweater weight Natural White Cotton Jersey
    Technically the fabric is a jersey, but as you can see, it's sweater weight -- considerably heavier and plusher than the jersey used for a t-shirt.  Annie, another sewist, has used this incredibly soft fabric to sew a couple of tunics. Her color-grown light green version is below.
    Annie's sweater weight Color-Grown Cotton Jersey tunic
    This, of course, doesn't mean that the sweater knit jersey can't be used for a t-shirt-style sweater. I absolutely love the cut of this cropped, short sleeve sweater from Olaf Designs in Brisbane in the natural white jersey.

    I've personally had plans to make a cardigan with dark chocolate Washington Square wool since before it was knitted into yardage. I haven't sewn the cardi yet, but I was thrilled to see the deep raspberry Washington Square cardigan that Jeffifer Shoemaker made. Jeffifer used both sides of the fabric in a single garment. Speaking as a designer, using both sides of the fabric as a public side is an approach that warms my heart. (I made use of both sides of a different fabric just last month.)
    Jeffifer in Washington Square
    A pullover with basic lines will always work for a prominently textured sweater knit. Sonja (Ginger Makes) chose the Mandy Boat Tee pattern for this sweater for her mother-in-law.
    Tee by Sonja in Washington Square
    Marcy Harriel (Oonaballoona) took the same Washington Square on a whole different journey. Though she admits the fabric may not be perfectly suited for the body conscious skirt she had in mind, I happen to think that Marcy in her matching skirt and hat ensemble is a treat. And by the way, Marcy used both sides of the Washington Square fabric for her hat. Yes!
    Marcy in Washington Square
    The next project could be a wonderful centerpiece for one of my "Scraps Not More" posts. Debbie Iles of Lily Sage and Co pieced together leftover Saratoga Rib fabric from her Megan Longline Cardigan and combined it with plain white ponte to make this uniquely beautiful, raglan top that looks more like a clever design than a combo of cutaways. But then, Debbie is a clever designer with her own line of sewing patterns. "There’s never any fabric waste in my house," says Debbie. I do like the way she thinks.
    Debbie in Saratoga Rib
    Two more traditional sweaters I'd like to share. Both are cable sweaters sewn by two different bloggers with two different cable knits. Each blogger writes about her process. Neither fabric is available in the shop at this time, but if you haven't read the posts already, you may find them interesting and helpful for cutting and sewing sweater knits in general. Kyle Burkhardt of Vacuuming the Lawn "...Sewed a Sweater From a Blanket". And I'm happy to have just discovered Carolanne (Sweet Carolanne), who "...Made A Cable Knit Sweater... Without Knitting!"

    I do hope you've enjoyed seeing these makes. Some pics and referenced posts are over a year old (oops). I usually don't get to see what's made with the fabric. Most of the people who purchase O! Jolly! fabric don't blog and are not on Instagram, at least not for sewing. If you're reading this and you've got a photo of your finished garment made with O! Jolly! sweater knit, please let me know. I'd truly love to see it! And I'll only post with your permission.

    Disclosure:  Dorcas and Georgia in above post were Pattern Review contest winners and received gift certificates toward the purchase of their fabrics. Marcy and Debbie received fabric in exchange for photos/blog mentions.

    For news and discounts on O! Jolly! fabrics and sweater knit sewing tips, I invite you to join the email list.