Eye Candy for Sweater Lovers

As I write this in late July 2020 and with the Covid-19 pandemic still present, it's no surprise that SpinExpo New York, usually held this month, has been postponed. The event usually has 3 locations at various times of the year. Though Shanghai SpinExpo is still scheduled for September, the Paris event is currently listed with "New dates coming later".

Last time I attended was July 2018 for the Fall/Winter 2019 season. These fabrics still inspire. Below was my report, originally published in August 2018. Added commentary is below the original post.

Knitted swatch

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.

Blanket by Sahara Briscoe
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)

Metallic fiber

and the metallic yarns of Kyototex (Japan).

Swatches and page from yarn catalog

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.

Knitted swatch

Knitted swatch

Knitted swatch

Knitted swatch


Most of the above swatches were knitted on Stoll or Shima Seiki knitting machines. As a new owner of a Kniterate knitting machine, I'm anxious to see just what I can do with it. I already know it's a whiz with jacquard. I've knitted textures from the sampler, and I'm looking forward to exploring textures more in the next months. 

Olgalyn Jolly in front of Kniterate knitting machine

If you'd like to keep up with my progress, be sure you're on the list


Follow Up - Three Practices Used in Ready-to-Wear You Might Not Want to Use At Home

The last time I sent out a Crafting Fashion email, I included a link to an earlier blog post. I'd written about the ready-to-wear sewing techniques I avoid when I make my own cut and sew sweaters. 

A couple of people responded with questions. I answer them in the video below. 

Please remember one sweater knit is not exactly like another. My advice? Learn as many techniques as you can! With practice you'll truly understand the "why" behind the technique, and you can make the best decision for your particular fabric and project.

Any "proven" methods you avoid? Let me know in the comments.

Four Favorite Seam Finishes for Sweater Knits

There's more than one? I don't need a serger? These are some of the reactions I sometimes get when I bring up the topic of seam finishes for cut and sewn sweater knits. Regular readers of this blog and students of my How to Cut and Sew a Sweater course know that you don't always need an overlocker or serger. In fact, though it's quick and neat, an overlocked seam may not be the best finish for your project.

I don't believe that any one finish is right for everything. Here are my four favorite seam finishes in random order. The best one is the one that works with your project, your time, and your style.  None of these methods could work in the garment industry, but they're perfect for sewn sweaters in your handmade wardrobe. Remember each finish must be tested on scrap fabric to get machine settings just right.

1. The Stretchy Hong Kong Finish

I've done tutorials for this one and videos in the Sweater Knit Sewing group on Facebook, too. The bound seams are neater than the typical overlocked seam and look fabulous on the inside of a cardigan. This seam is created with a home sewing machine.

Choosing the right binding material is crucial. The binding fabric, cut into strips, is what encloses the seam allowance. It must be lightweight and stretchy. I've used both flyweight cotton rib and a very lightweight linen jersey for this purpose. Both of these fabrics can be somewhat difficult to find and come in a limited range of colors.

Stretch mesh is easier to find and is available in a wide range of colors. It also has great recovery, which will keep your seams from stretching out or becoming wavy. One drawback is that synthetic nylon mesh may not work aesthetically with your natural sweater fiber. But as with any of these finishes, you get to decide what the inside of your sweater looks like.

The Stretchy Hong Kong Finish works well on a cardigan where the insides sometimes show. It takes three passes under the machine to sew this beauty. It's not the finish to use if you're in a hurry.

2. Overlock with Stretchy Nylon in the Loopers

I first wrote of this technique awhile back and used it again in a recent project. I had been using Maxi-Lock Stretch textured nylon in the loopers of my serger, which I really like. It plays nicely with my serger, and the thread seems to expand a little in width once it's sewn. It provides a nice coverage on the seam allowance.

Using it is not very different than using serger thread in the loopers. Machine settings are the same. If you find the look of an overlocked seam allowance acceptable, you’ll be even happier with a seam allowance finished with textured nylon.

I happen to love when the thread color matches the fabric. But let’s be real: Maxi-Lock Stretch textured nylon thread has only 36 shades, which are not enough.  I was less than happy with the color selection when I decided to sew a cardigan in rich dark chocolate Washington Square fabric. I couldn't find a matching color, and there were no contrasting colors that worked for me. I returned to a technique that I hadn't used in years….

3. Overlock with Yarn in the Loopers

This method will only work if you have access to matching yarn, of course. Machine knitters, this technique is for you!

I've now experimented with this overlock technique with yarn in the upper looper (pictured above), yarn in the lower looper, and yarn in both. Adjusting the looper tension on the serger is key to a successful finish. The best tension is sometimes tricky to adjust and may depend on the texture of the yarn.

I like the look of all three possibilities of looper yarn threading. After washing, the looper yarn (I've only tried this with wool) really seems to blend in even more with the seam allowance.

For people who sew sweater knits purchased from a shop, using method 2 with stretchy nylon is a great alternative. Tension adjustment is easier too.

Both of these overlocking methods can be combined with the next finish.

4. Catch Stitch to Hold Down the Seam Allowance

Used with a hem in this example, a catch stitch for a seam allowance must be combined with overlocking either with regular serging thread or specialty thread or yarn. I believe it could even add a little panache if zigzag-and-trim is your seam finish of choice.

A catch stitch does take time. Whether it's executed with thread, textured nylon, or yarn, the stitch will keep the seam allowance close to the sweater, thereby flattening and neatening a seam allowance that's inadvertently wavy.

When the catch stitch is sewn with thread, it can be worked as a blind catch stitch, sewn between the seam allowance and the sweater so the stitches don't show. My preference is to sew the catch stitch, so it is visible. A neatly sewn catch stitch with the right contrasting color can make a special and secret design detail.

These methods are my favorite finishing touches you can use on your self-sewn sweater. I'd love to know which ones you've tried.

If you'd like more tips about creating well-executed seams on sweater knits, especially when dealing with wavy seams, check out my Roadmap for Improved Sweater Knit Seams. Happy seaming!