The Power of Steam


There's an idea floating around the internet that you can prepare sweater knit fabric for cutting and sewing by first starching and ironing the fabric. I'm pretty sure this would change the hand and drape of the most sweater knits in some way, and I'm here to encourage you to never ever iron your sweater knits.

You may have noticed that I always use the word "steam" and never "press" throughout any blog posts on sewing with sweater knits. Simple steam does wonders for your natural fiber sweater as you construct it, but please never press or apply the weight of the iron to any sweater knit. And never let a hot iron directly touch synthetic sweater knit. 

Fiber Content of Sweater Knits


Always check the fiber content of your sweater knit fabric. My preference is for 100% natural fiber, but do look for a fabric that’s at least 55% cotton or 55% wool (the more natural fiber, the better). Though they may be  harder to find, linen and silk are great natural sweater knits too. Here’s the reason: You’ll use a considerable amount of steam in the construction of your sweater, and knits that are primarily synthetic fiber don’t hold up well under lots of steam. They lose shape and recovery and will sometimes melt if a hot iron touches them!

How to Steam Your Sweater Knits

Hold your iron a half inch above your fabric and allow the steam to do most of the work. The half-inch rule applies to natural fiber fabrics only. If you’re using a fabric with a high synthetic content, hold your iron about 2 inches above your fabric when applying steam. Let the fabric dry before moving on to the next piece. And never iron. That is, don't allow the iron to rest on a sweater knit fabric. Do not push the iron back and forth on the fabric. Do not press. Do not allow the iron to rest on the sweater knit. 

Whew! That’s a lot of don’ts! But there’s the exception, and it’s for natural fiber fabrics only. Keep reading.

Pressing When Using Fusibles

As I mention above, the only time you need to press is when using a fusible stabilizer. Again, this application is about the only time I'll actually press any area of a sweater knit. Pressing is necessary when using a fusible stabilizer, for example when stabilizing cardigan sweaters, or stabilizing shoulder seams, or hems. By pressing only the sewing line and seam or hem allowance, the iron won't spoil the beauty of the natural fabric. Remember this is pressing, not ironing. That is, I don't use a back and forth motion with the iron. It's press, hold (for the required number of seconds on the fusible product label), lift, and move to the next section. Always test on a scrap first. Again, this method is suggested for natural fabrics only! You'll need to sew in transparent elastic or another stabilizer if working with synthetics and many synthetic blends.

Using Steam with Spray Starch 
Is your fabric particularly stretchy and unstable? Is it making you nervous? Spray it liberally with spray starch and then steam it well (following the directions in the How to Steam Your Sweater Knits section above). Allow the fabric to dry before cutting. The fabric will be a little stiff as you work, but that's ok. The starch comes out in the wash. Be sure you test this method on a scrap first! 

Finishing Your Sweater with Steam 
There’s nothing like a good steaming to improve the look of your finished sweater. In fact, I don’t consider any sweater finished until it’s steamed. As you worked, your sweater was stretched out of shape to a certain extent. A good steaming will help the fabric recover. If you don’t have a large work area, steam one small section at a time and allow the area to dry before moving on to the next section. Just as you steamed before, allow the steam to penetrate the fabric. Use your free hand to shape the sweater into place. 

Steam is your friend and will help you create a well-executed, self-sewn sweater. 

If you're interested in more tips and my step-by-step instructions for cutting and sewing a sweater that fits you perfectly, please sign up for my Better Sweater Sewinar and info on my online video course.

O!

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


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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

O!

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.