#zippers, Blocking, Seaming & Finishing, Seaming & Finishing, Uncategorized

How to Adjust Zipper Length

The C’est la Vie sweater was SO fun to design but it’s even more fun to wear! It mixes my love of slip stitch knitting, crochet edgings and of course zipper techniques.

The first pattern I released with a zipper was the Desert Bell (published in Knitty First Fall 2015). I ordered a custom zipper from www.zipperstop.com. Simple, right?! Well, yes but did you also know that adjusting the zipper length is SUPER simple too? My goal in this blog is to demonstrate how easy it can be to adjust the length of any metal tooth zipper. For the C’est la Vie pattern, I purchased a lightweight, 27” zipper from my local craft store, removed the stopper at the end of the zipper using a basic tool and cut it down in size.

Bear in mind that most sewing patterns instruct you to cut plastic teeth zippers at the top (near the pull end) and then sew the zipper closed again. While this method works well for plastic teeth zippers, I don’t like doing this on metal zippers as it can compromise the structure of the zipper. Instead, I use a tool to remove the stoppers at the end of the zipper.

First, pin the zipper to the hand knit to determine where you will need to cut it. Yes, I pin the zipper to the actual garment because I’m working with a knit and knits are very stretchy and they can lie to us when we measure them. If this was a cotton or wool fabric garment, I would measure the zipper opening, cut my zipper and then pin it to the garment. Next, measure down ½-1” from where you plan to cut the zipper and use chalk to mark this point. I like to give myself a little extra room so I usually measure down 1”.

Measure down 1/2-1"

Measure down 1/2-1″

Once the cut line is marked, remove the metal stoppers at the end of the zipper using a zipper pliers. You can use regular pliers but I highly recommend zipper pliers because they have an edge that digs under the zipper teeth to more easily remove them without damaging the fabric. Any good fabric store will have these or you can order online – the ones pictured below are from Seattle Fabrics. Place the metal stoppers in a safe place – we are going to reapply them.

Zipper Pliers

                             Zipper Pliers

Using the same technique with the zipper pliers, remove 1-2 metal teeth in the area that you will be cutting the zipper so as not to dull your scissors. Cut the zipper.

Reapply the zipper stop using flat nose pliers (pictured below and also sold at Seattle Fabric). You may need to remove additional zipper teeth before applying the stops.

Flat Nose Pliers

Flat Nose Pliers

Now, cut away the teeth from the fabric in the area that is below the zipper stop – this area will be folded back so this will eliminate any extra bulk.

Cut the teeth from the fabric in the section that will be folded back.

Cut the teeth from the fabric in the section that will be folded back.

Fold back this section toward the garment wrong side.

Fold back zipper to the garment WS.

Fold back zipper to the garment WS.

Wah-lah! You’ve just adjusted your zipper length! Now go and sew the zipper 🙂

See our blog on sewing zippers in hand knits for more instructions.

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Blocking, Seaming & Finishing

How to Wet and Steam Block Garments

Blocking is the process of setting hand knit garments by steaming or wetting the fibers in order to give them a permanent shape. In sweaters, it is particularly important to ensure the garment matches the measurements according to the schematic in the pattern. This ensures proper fit.

Supplies
1. Clean, flat surface that pins can be placed in (blocking mat, blocking board, or even your carpet with a clean towel over it)
2. Rust-free pins
3. For Wet blocking: spray bottle or cold water bath
4. For Steam Blocking: steamer, iron with steam setting or a large pot

On Blocking Boards
First, let’s talk about the surface needed to block. I’ve blocked on the floor for years using a towel and measuring tape. But, having a curious Weimaraner made this process very challenging! If you have pets, you know what I mean. I then invested in the foam puzzle-piece type blocking mat which made life easier but it still required me to maneuver my measuring tape cleverly to ensure I was blocking to the pattern schematic. Just this year, I invested in the Sew-EZ blocking board. It’s a game changer, no lie. If you can invest in this option, I highly recommend it because it cuts down the time significantly. Below is a picture of the Sew-Ez board:

Sew Ez Blocking Board

Tips for Pinning the Garment
1. It’s important to use rust-free pins.
2. Plastic head pins may be used only if you are sure there is no risk of your iron or steamer melting the heads.
3. Using the measurements specified in the pattern schematic, pin the garment at strategic points along the edge (armhole top and bottom, both sides of neck, shoulder drop, bottom ribbing).
4. Next, fill in the rest of the pins in between these strategic points. Place pins close enough together so that no one section of the garment is overly-stretched.

Understanding the Fiber Content of Your Yarn
Before beginning the process, it is important to understand the fiber / content of the yarn. The yarn content determines how the piece will be blocked as fibers react differently to moisture and heat. See Table 1 below.

Table 1

Understanding the Different Methods of Blocking
There are two primary ways to block a garment: by applying water (either submerging the garment or spraying with cold water); or by steaming the garment. Fully submerging the garment in water should be avoided for heavier knits as it can increase the drying process. If you are steam blocking the garment, do not press down on your knitting with the iron or steamer. Rather, hover over the garment (see instructions below).

If you are not working with lurex or a novelty yarn and if the label does not provide instructions, then cold water spray is the safest choice for blocking. Cold water spray minimizes the shrinkage risk because wetting is done only after shaping and there is total control over the level of dampness.

Steam Blocking (via Iron or Steamer)
1. Pin the knitted garment with RS facing. Ensure you are using rust-free pins. If you are using an iron with uneven steam, it is best not to use plastic-head pins as the plastic may melt. However, I have the Rowenta Precision Valet steamer and use both rust-proof T pins and rust-proof plastic head pins. I’ve never had a problem with either. So, my advice is to know your steamer and if there is any doubt, test it first.
2. Note: if you don’t have an iron or a steamer, do it the old fashioned way! Before pinning, boil a large pot of water and hold the garment above the pot (careful not to burn yourself).
3. Place pins close enough together so that no one section of the garment is overly-stretched.
4. When steaming, hover over the knitted garment at a distance of at least 1” from the surface and allow the steam to dampen each section of the garment completely.
5. If using an iron, set the temperature of your iron according to the fiber you are working with. Never press down on the piece. Hover, hover, hover!
6. If your iron has uneven steam, place a cloth over the item being blocked (a sheet works great). This will protect the surface of the garment.

Cold Water Spray
1. Pin the knitted garment with RS facing. Ensure you are using rust-free pins.
2. Place pins close enough together so that no one section of the garment is overly-stretched.
3. Use a fine-mist sprayer and go over the entire garment. Some fibers (i.e. wool, man-made fibers) may require more moisture than others.
4. Allow the garment to dry. Place in a warm spot around your house but do not place in direct sunlight or heat.

Wet Blocking (via Fully Emerging the Garment in Cold Water)
1. Fully emerge the garment in water for at least 30 minutes.
2. Remove garment from water and gently press as much water out as possible without wringing or twisting.
3. Place the garment between two towels. Simultaneously roll and press out additional moisture.
4. Pin the knitted garment with RS facing. Ensure you are using rust-free pins.
5. Place pins close enough together so that no one section of the garment is overly-stretched.
6. Allow the garment to dry. Place in a warm spot around your house but do not place in direct sunlight or heat.

Check our our video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OnS9ht0j0s.

References
Hiatt Hemmons, June. The Principles of Knitting. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.
Vogue Knitting: the Ultimate Knitting Book. New York: Sixth and Springs Books, 2002.
Stanley, Montse. Reader’s Digest Knitter’s Handbook. Pleasantville, NY: The Reader’s
Digest Association, 2001.

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Blocking, Seaming & Finishing

How to Use Stay Tape for Shoulder Seams

I recently designed a tunic and shared it with my knitting guild. I was frustrated because while I did a large swatch and designed the shoulders to account for the weight of the sleeve, I still found the shoulder seem slipping down with wear. In the middle of lamenting this effect, a brilliant knitter shouted out, “Use stay tape!”

While I’ve used stay tape in sewing garments, it never dawned on me to use it for my hand knits. I’ve tried crochet to reinforce shoulders as mentioned in The Knitter’s Book of Finishing Techniques. However, I find that this can leave a bulky shoulder with heavier yarns. I’ve even split the yarn and tried this method. So, when a fellow knitter shouted out stay tape, a light bulb went off! You may be asking, “So, what the heck is stay tape?”

In couture garments, stay tape is a thin strip of fabric that is sewn on top of the shoulder seam to prevent the shoulder/sleeve area from stretching or sagging with wear (see Fig. 1). It’s a great trick for heavier fibers that tend to lose their elasticity/memory – especially cotton and other non-animal fibers. It can be purchased pre-cut at any craft store that sells sewing supplies. Be sure to use a small needle with a small eye when using this type of stay tape so as not to weaken the tape. However, you don’t have to purchase it. If you sew, cut a strip of fabric (a thin strip of pre-shrunk muslin works great) and make it the length of the shoulder seam plus ½” and about 1 ½” wide. It can be less than 1” wide finished – the key is to make the stay tape wide enough to cover the seam on both sides prior to sewing the edges. Fold the fabric back ¼” on all sides, iron in place and sew an edge stitch along the sides to prevent fraying.

Stay tape for shoulder seams.

Stay tape for shoulder seams.

Supplies:
Stay tape (purchased or a pre-shrunk, edge stitched strip of fabric)
Needle & thread in matching color (I use a contrast color for this demo)
Ham (optional but I find it helps with sewing stay tape onto the curved shoulder seam)
Sewing pins

Step 1
Place shoulder seam with WS facing on top of the ham. See Fig 2 below.

Shoulder seam on ham.

Shoulder seam on ham.

Step 2
Next, place stay tape on top of the shoulder seam and pin in place as shown in Fig. 3. The pins should follow the direction of the knitted stitches (horizontal) in order to stabilize the stay tape across the seam.

Pin the stay tape over the seam.

Pin the stay tape over the seam.

Step 3
Thread your needle. We are going to slip stitch the stay tape in place. I like using the slip stitch on DK, fingering and lace weight fibers because you do not have to go into the actual stitch and it produces a small stitch. Rather, you go under a leg of the stitch. However, the backstitch and whip stitch technique may also be used.
If you are new to sewing, the slip stitch is an invisible finishing technique that is used in hand sewing (vs. the sl st in knitting). The key to sewing fabric onto hand knits using this method is to keep your sewed stitches close together and to go under the leg of the closest knitted stitch (vs. grabbing a nub of the stitch as in whip stitching).
Begin by inserting the needle into the knitted garment underneath the stay tape at one end. This hides the knotted end of the thread. Then, insert the needle into the stay tape near the edge from bottom to top. Next, go under a leg of the closest knitted stich, pull through, grab a nub of the stay tape directly horizontal to the exit point of where the needle came out of the knitted fabric. Pull through. Repeat to end. Knot off. See Fig. 4 below.

Sew the stay tape using the slip stitch method.

Sew the stay tape using the slip stitch method.

Wa-lah! You’re done 

Finished shoulder seam.

Finished shoulder seam.

Hiatt Hemmons, June. The Principles of Knitting. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.
Mr. Puffy’s Knitting Blog. Wednesday, June 24, 2009. http://theknittingblogbymrpuffythedog.blogspot.com/2009/06/debbie-bliss-cotton-top.html

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Blocking, Seaming & Finishing

How to Sew Buttons on Hand Knits

I can spend all day in a button store – especially if it’s The Button Store, Los Angeles. It’s one of my favorite places! And it doesn’t hurt that it’s practically next door to one of the best café’s in town! The right button can be that perfect finishing touch and can highlight the subtle hues within the yarn.

A few tips for adding buttons (as taken from the Reader’s Digest Knitter’s Handbook):
1. Traditionally, women’s buttonholes fall on the right side and men’s buttonholes fall on the right side.
2. If adding a button to an edge, leave at least 3 stitches between the edge of the garment and the buttonhole.
3. If working in a rib, start and end both horizontal slits or buttonholes in purl and keep vertical holes in purl as well.
4. A button will not stay right in the middle of a horizontal buttonhole as movement will always pull it to the outer end. A way to fix this is to place the buttonholes just slightly off-center. Most patterns do not address this phenomenon.
5. Try knitting a sample swatch with a few buttonholes before executing within the garment.
6. Since knitting is elastic (at least with most fibers and patterns), a smaller buttonhole than the size of the actual button works well.
7. Reinforce buttons by using a small button underneath (called the backing button) on the inside of the garment (see Fig. 1). You can also add a grosgrain ribbon facing (see blog on Finishing > Adding Facings).

Backing button and button.

Backing button and button.

Some buttons come with a shank. For buttons without a shank, you will need to create one so that the button does not stick to close to the garment and can be place comfortably within the buttonhole. Here’s how (see Fig. 2-4):
1. Insert a toothpick, short DPN or straight cable needle between the button and sewing yarn. The length of the shank should match the thickness of the buttonhole.
2. Sew the button in the usual way.
3. Next, remove the needle or toothpick and pull the button up against the sewing yarn.
4. Wind the yarn around the shank to strengthen it. Then insert needle into the shank and down to the WS of the fabric. Knot off.

Insert a toothpick, short DPN or straight cable needle between the button and sewing yarn.

Insert a toothpick, short DPN or straight cable needle between the button and sewing yarn.


Wind the yarn around the shank to strengthen it.

Wind the yarn around the shank to strengthen it.


Finished shank.

Finished shank.

Lastly, there are different ways to sew on buttons with 4 holes. From right to left as pictured below: (top row) the square, the cross, parallel lines; (bottom row) the bird feet, the diamond and the X. This can add an interesting design element to the finished garment. See Fig. 5.

Options for attaching buttons.

Options for attaching buttons.

References
Hiatt Hemmons, June. The Principles of Knitting. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.
Stanley, Montse. Reader’s Digest Knitter’s Handbook. Pleasantville, NY: The Reader’s
Digest Association, 2001.
Vogue Knitting: the Ultimate Knitting Book. New York: Sixth and Springs Books, 2002.

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Blocking, Seaming & Finishing, Embellishments

How to Add Facing to Hand Knits (Grosgrain Ribbon or Fabric)

In sewing and tailoring, a facing is fabric applied to a garment edge on the inside. In hand knitting, a facing can be used to reinforce a garment or to add a decorative edge. They are particularly helpful for fibers that tend to lose their elasticity/memory over time – namely vegetable fibers like cotton, synthetics and other non-animal fibers. Facings can reinforce a sagging button band, neck edge, cuff or provide stabilization to a hem that refuses to lay flat. Facings can also be used as a decorative edge to sleeve cuffs and button bands.

Pre-shrunk, grosgrain ribbon is commonly used as a facing in hand knits because it is strong, stable and comes pre-cut in various sizes. It’s helpful to select a ribbon size that is slightly smaller than the area to which it will be applied. When cutting the ribbon to size, I typically leave a ¼- ½” edge on each end to fold over for the top and bottom seams. For the knitter that also sews, fabric can be used as a facing and pre-sewn or pressed to custom fit the garment edge. You will see later that certain seaming methods work best with woven fabrics that are folded over (i.e. hemstitch).

Grosgrain ribbon can be found at any craft store but if you live in a city with a fashion district, I highly recommend you check out the trimming stores – I’ve found some incredible grosgrain ribbon in the LA Fashion District that I would have never found at a big box craft store. For me, it’s worth the time because the right facing can be the perfect finishing touch!

Before applying the facing, it’s important to wash and block the knitted garment and pre-shrink the grosgrain ribbon (or fabric) prior to attaching. To pre-shrink, soak it in hot water and then iron dry. If you are averse to ironing, you can hang the ribbon while wet and attach a clothespin to the bottom of the ribbon. The weight will help the ribbon dry wrinkle free. See Fig. 1-2 below:

Pre-shrink the grosgrain ribbon.

Pre-shrink the grosgrain ribbon.


Hang weighted to dry or iron.

Hang weighted to dry or iron.

While I’m a fan of a facing applied correctly, facings can be a point of contention among the finishing experts in the field. For example, The Reader’s Digest Knitter’s Handbook discourages knitters from using this technique as it can be avoided if smaller needles are used at the edgings, if the proper edging is used or if the correct gauge is met. While I agree all these points are important, it’s impossible to get it right all the time. Knowing how to properly fix a garment – especially after spending hours in knitting – is key. Also, what better way to make your hand knits unique with a peek-a-boo facing at the neck edge or button band.

The Principles of Knitting provides a great overview on the different methods for applying a facing to hand knits. Before you start, determine if you will need to double or single thread your needle based on the weight of your yarn. For lighter weight yarns (i.e. lace, sport, fingering and some dk yarns) use a single strand of thread. For heavier weight yarns (i.e. some dk, worsted, and bulky yarns), double the thread. See Fig. 3 below:

Single and double threaded needle.

Single and double threaded needle.

1. Blind Hemstitch (or Slip Stich): is a great method when using a facing that has a folded edge (particularly a fabric facing). It can be used to attach linings and facings of any kind to a hem or even to a button band if using a custom made facing. Hemstitch produces a nearly invisible hem.
Blind Hemstitch (Slip Stitch)

2. Catchstitch: is good for sewing woven fabric to a knit because it is very flexible and less likely to break. However, it is fully visible. So, this method is particularly helpful when the fabric being added is for function vs. decoration.
Catchstitch2

3. Blindstitch: this is very similar to catchstitch but is done under the edge of the woven fabric where it can’t be seen.
Blindstitch

4. Backstitch: creates an inelastic attachment between two fabrics. This is typically used for attaching zippers. But, it can be also used if you are sewing in a woven tape (like stay tape or grosgrain ribbon) to stabilize a shoulder seam or sagging neckline.
Backstitch

Supplies
Pre-shrunk, grosgrain ribbon
Needle & thread in matching color (I use a contrast color for this demo)
Hard, flat surface

Step 1
With WS of garment facing, place pre-shrunk, grosgrain ribbon along garment edge just in from the knitted edge of the garment. Use sewing pins to tack the ribbon in place. See Fig. 4 below:

Pin grosgrain ribbon along garment edge just in from the selvedge.

Pin grosgrain ribbon along garment edge just in from the selvedge.

Step 2
Thread your needle (single or double according to your yarn weight). Choose the method that works best for your project (hemstitch, catchstitch, blindstitch or backstitch).
The key to sewing fabric onto hand knits is to keep your sewed stitches close together. I try to keep my stitches to 1/4” maximum. Some instructions say to go into a portion of the knitted stitch when you sew (vs. going under a leg of the closest knitted stitch). However, be mindful of the yarn that you are using. Some fibers may become compromised and weakened if you go into just a portion of the knitted stitch. For instance, I’m knitting with a mink fingering weight (Lotus Yarn’s Mimi) and would never grab a portion of the stitch because the yarn would fray. Generally, I bring my needle under a leg of the stitch when I sew and do not go into the knitted stitch itself unless it is a heavier weight yarn (worsted, chunky, bulky and some DK).

So, have fun with it, try the different methods of sewing based on your project and let me know which method you prefer!

References
Hiatt Hemmons, June. The Principles of Knitting. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.
Stanley, Montse. Reader’s Digest Knitter’s Handbook. Pleasantville, NY: The Reader’s
Digest Association, 2001.

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