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This week’s Fabricista Fashion Challenge is “Same fabric, different look.” My fellow participants and I were given 3 yards of this very cool sweater knit fabric to create a garment with our own unique spin. I decided to take the theme literally and used the fabric itself to create two different looks in this velvet trimmed cardigan and flat piping skirt.
One of the cool things about sweater knits is that they often have a totally different look on the right side vs. the wrong side of the fabric. On this particular sweater knit, the effect was pretty striking. The bold, saturated colors on the right side of the fabric became softer, muted tones with a distinctly heathered texture on the reverse side. I was so taken by the wrong side of the fabric that I had to find a way to incorporate it.
Flat piping knit skirt
This particular sweater knit has a lot of good bounce and drape to it, courtesy of the lycra and polyester. I knew it would make a great skirt with a lot of swirl factor. I chose Ottobre 5-2014-10. It’s a 6-gored skirt with cut-on godets that flare out considerably at the bottom to create a beautifully voluminous hem. You get the effect of a gathered skirt without all of the bulk at the waistband.
For the gores, I used the reverse side of the fabric. In between each set of panels, I inserted some flat piping I made from 1″ strips of the right side of the sweater knit. The strips were pressed in half lengthwise. Because this knit has so much body, it wasn’t necessary to add cording to make the piping. The piping adds a nice bit of contrast and highlights the vertical lines of the seaming.
The skirt is lined with brown nylon tricot. The tricot makes the skirt hang nicely without the bother of wearing a fussy slip that’s constantly shifting. The tricot also helps fight the fall/winter static that is so common in my dry cold climate.
I really love the swish factor of this skirt. I don’t think I’ve sewn a sweater knit that was so easy to work with or had such a nice weight to it. This is just the kind of skirt I love to wear with boots and tights in fall.
Velvet Trimmed Cardigan
For my second piece, I made a velvet trimmed cardigan using Ottobre 5-2012-6. This hooded cardigan pattern seemed another good choice to show both sides of the sweater knit.
The hood uses the wrong side of the fabric facing out. I liked the softer shades of the wrong side around my face, and they looked nice against the brown ponte I used for the hood’s lining. The pattern doesn’t call for a lining, but hoods are simple enough to line. Cut the lining 1/4″ from the hem line fold of the hood (7/8″ shorter at the crown of the hood on this pattern). After I pressed the hood’s hem, I sewed the hood lining to the raw edge of the hem from the wrong side. After pressing, I understitched the lining so that it would lay nicely without rolling towards the outside. Then the right side of the lining is flipped to cover the wrong side of the hood. The hood is cleanly finished and hangs better now than an unlined hood.
The pattern called for the hood to be finished with a velvet ribbon at the neck. This not only covers the seam allowances, but it helps stabilize the sweater knit. Sweater knits sometimes stretch out of shape, so it’s always a good idea to stabilize them. On a regular set-in sleeve type pattern, you can stabilize the knits by adding a strip of clear elastic to the shoulders. In a raglan sleeve, where the shoulder hits somewhere IN the sleeve, you need another solution to keep the knit from growing as you’re sewing and wearing it. The velvet ribbon does the perfect job of keeping the knit from stretching.
Hems and velvet trim
To highlight the contrast between the right and the wrong side of the fabric, I pressed up the hems towards the right side of the cardigan. I wanted to use more of the velvet ribbon as a decorative element on the cardigan. The raw edge of the hems is covered with the ribbon. The ribbon sits so that about 1/2 of the width sits covering the hem and the other 1/2 goes into the body of the cardigan. I used the same trim on the sleeves too.
The front corners of the cardigan and the ribbon have mitered corners. If you’re looking for a good tutorial on mitering corners, there’s a good one here from the Colette Patterns blog.
The buttons are vintage pale pink with gold backs from my stash.
I love putting zippered welt pockets in my garments. They’re very secure and add a great decorative element to any garment. I sewed regular zippered welt pockets from the right side using the help of Sandra Betzina’s method from this video.
I lined patch pockets and basted them in place at the top of each zipper. From the right side, I topstitched each pocket bag into place by following my basting lines around the entire pocket.
Sweater knit tips
Interface your hems
Adding a little interfacing to the hems on a sweater knit adds some nice weight. It also helps you press a perfect hem, which might be hard to do on some more synthetic fibers. SewKeysE tape from Emma Seabrooke is my favorite for hems. Just press it to the wrong side of your hem. Next, press along the edge where the top of the tape hits the rest of the garment. Now your hem is ready for stitching. If you’re working with a more sheer knit or one with an open weave, you can use a strip of your sweater knit as a layer of its own interfacing.
Practice your seam finishes
For sweater knits, sewing and finishing a seam at the same time with a serger, might not be the best option. Sweater knits are bulkier and often have more open weaves than regular jersey type knits, so they can stretch and grow in the serger, leaving you with a distorted seam.
To combat this problem, first sew the seams with a stretch needle and then finish the seams. You can use your serger to finish the seam, do a double stitched seam, or you can press the seams open and stitch them flat with tiny hand stitches. I did this kind of finish on the inside of the cardigan because part of the seams shows on the hem. The open seams lay completely flat, and it’s easy to bury your hand stitches in the loft of the knit.
Whatever seam finish you choose, practice with some scraps of the knit to help you decide. Practicing can also help you determine if you have an unruly knit that might need some extra TLC.
Choose the right needle
When you have the right needle, sewing sweater knits is easy. For most sweater knits, I like using a 75/11 stretch needle. Ballpoint or universal needles are some more options. My machine prefers the stretch needles for knits in general, but especially ones with lycra. If you’re working with a more stable sweater knit, a universal needle works great. Practice on those scraps before you start sewing your garment to avoid headaches later in your project!
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Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.