Machine Knitter, Why Cut and Sew?

This post is for the knitter who’d never consider cutting sweater fabric. On April 21st I’ll be presenting “An Introduction to Cut and Sew Sweaters for Machine Knitters” to the Northeast Machine Knitters’ Guild, just outside New Haven, Connecticut (Location has changed from the previously announced site.) I’ll be demonstrating the cut and sew method specifically for the hand machine knitter. Guests are welcome. If you’re interested, please get in touch with the NMKG here.

“Oh, I’ll never use cut and sew [method].”

That’s what I said over 30 years ago in response to my friend and former draping teacher Imogene, when I was invited to see what her brand new serger could do. I had a couple years of machine knitting experience at the time and already quite a few full fashion sweaters (a sweater shaped on a knitting machine rather than cut to shape) to my credit. My dedication and, I believe, my sewing background allowed me to transfer my knowledge of shape and fit to the new-to-me knitting concepts of increases, decreases, and short rows. And I had no plans to ever cut my precious knitting.

However, here I sit decades later, gleefully sharing how I take scissors to sweater knits as often as I can and sew the pieces into a garment. I find it an amazingly, satisfying experience. How things change!

Make no mistake, I believe that nothing can replace the beauty and exquisite details of a sweater that has been well made and fully fashioned to the perfect fit.

The very act of creating a full fashion sweater makes a strong statement. It takes time, and it’s efficient. This type of sweater can be produced without wasting any materials. While simple, the use of a full fashion decrease imparts both texture and shape simultaneously.

Eventually I learned “well made” is not the exclusive domain of the fully fashioned. It's quite possible to have a very well made cut and sew sweater. We’ve all been exposed to cheap, poorly constructed sweaters... you know the ones I’m talking about. Making your own results in something very different.

For example, we aren’t compelled to use serged (overlocked) edges on the inside, though it’s a good, quick finish for those who want one. For the machine knitter who already has a bit of sewing experience, the principles of a clean finish are quickly grasped.

Cardigan with a clean finish on the inside
If you struggle with fit, cut and sew gives you a couple chances to get the fit just right -- without unknitting multiple times! For the machine knitter who also enjoys a little quality time with a sewing machine, you’re able to work with your already knitted panels of fabric to easily construct a sweater that is both well crafted and unique.

Cut and sew is a method worthy of being added to your arsenal of sweater making techniques. And it’s fun! The act of taking something apart and putting it back together in a new way is enjoyable (I imagine this is how quilters feel). The method can be used to fully construct a sweater or applied sparingly in just certain difficult areas. (Necklines and pockets come to mind.) You don’t even need a serger! But be warned, your sweater making activities may increase once you discover how satisfying the results are.

Cut and sew sweater with fancy neckline
For the upcoming demonstration at NMKG I’ll be covering these topics:
  • Choices to make when knitting for the cut and sew method 
  • The best types of sewing patterns to use
  • Neckline alternatives
  • How to make your sweaters look as neat on the inside as they do on the outside.
Curious? I hope you’ll come by.

Can't make it? Too far away? Check out my upcoming online course How to Cut and Sew a Sweater. Created for sewing enthusiasts, machine knitters are very welcome. :)


Progress Report: Washington Square Cardi

First the bad news -- I foolishly didn’t reserve enough yardage for the project! When I originally set aside the Washington Square fabric, I knew I wanted to make a cardigan but I didn’t know I wanted a long one. This cardi will end up being around 25 inches which is about 3 inches shorter than what I imagined when I did my idea sketch. The fabric has lots of horizontal stretch. My issue is only with the length, not the width. To preserve length for the body of the cardigan, I've cut what would have been the funnel neckline separately. The cardigan will now sport a mock turtleneck.

I'm quite pleased with some other changes. I was able to find a brass separating zipper in a pretty brown. This led me to change my embellishment threads to multiple shades of brown and gold. I may now look for warm brown leather for trim instead of the black leather I was originally considering.

I decided to use the finished measurements of the Rippled Zipper jacket as a starting point, since I like the way the jacket fits. The Rip Zip fabric has more body than my current fabric, so I assume the finished look will be a little different.

The Washington Square sweater knit is dark so I wasn’t able to use my favorite felt tip marking pens, which only work well on medium- and light-colored fabrics. I used a white Clover Chaco Liner instead. It's not bad, but it doesn't give as much control as a felt marker on this type of fabric.

I  got carried away and made my marks much too thick at the waist and sleeve cap. I wanted to be sure I could see them. Ha!
You’ll notice that I did not cut separate pieces for the front of the cardigan. I decided it would be best to stabilize that area before cutting since I’ll need to stabilize anyway for the zipper. By delaying the cut I can make sure the textured design of the sweater knit will match.

Of course this trick only works with an exposed zipper closing or other closing design where the front cardigan pieces aren’t meant to overlap. It wouldn’t work with a lapped zipper, for example, which would require extra fabric. Cutting this way, however, may work when there’s an extra piece in the front, as in a cardi with shawl collar or button band.

I would also use this method to turn a pullover into a cardigan.

What do you think? Should I do it?


Sewing a Finished Edge Rib Band to a Sweater Neckline

The most difficult part of sewing a sweater is probably the neckline. Not only is it challenging to get the band to lie flat (who wants a floppy neckband?), but it’s also the area that people see first since it’s near the face and frames the neck. To make things more complicated, it’s often hard to find ribs that match and are suitable for creating a professional looking neckband.

A complimentary fabric can always be used, as with the sweater pictured above. One of my favorite tricks when I don’t have matching ribbing is to use the opposite side of the self fabric as trim (self fabric = same fabric as used in the main part of the garment). Sometimes, if the sweater fabric is ribbed, I’ll rotate the self fabric by 90° for a different look, as I did with the Westerly sweater below.

If you've visited the shop recently or read my previous post, you know that I now carry dyed cotton sweater knit fabrics with matching rib bands. And I still have available a wonderfully, soft 2x2 100% cotton rib fabric that matches many of my natural cotton sweater knits. What’s different, and I think pretty cool, about rib bands is that one edge is finished. This means you don’t have to fold it before attaching it to the sweater.

There are a few reasons why you may want to use a rib band with a finished edge rather than making your own trim. If you’re working with a medium to heavyweight sweater knit, folded fabric trim constructed from yardage could add unwanted bulk around the neck, cuffs, or hem. True a finished edge rib band limits the possible width of the band; but the finished rib band has a more traditional look, is easier to use, and gives a neater finish.

In the video below compiled from last Saturday's Instagram Stories #OnSaturdaysWeSewSweaters, I demonstrate how to attach a finished edge rib band to a sweater neckline.

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