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 72 inches wide relaxed (updated Oct. 11, 2018), stretching crosswise about 25%. 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 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.

    I'm planning to make a jacket! I made a jacket.


    Last update 05June2021


    1. It's just beautiful. Such amazing colours! Love it.

    2. Stunning fabric! I'll have to learn to sew with sweater knits better before I indulge, though.

      1. Thank you, Martha! Sewing sweater knits can seem daunting at first. But once you learn a few basics, it's lots of fun. :)


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