Everyone's talking about Fall Layers this week! After the inspiring sews on the Fall Pattern Showcase, and three newly released cardigan patterns, you may be itching to try your hand at sewing your own.
But how do you choose the right materials for the job? And what do you need to know about the benefits - and limitations - of working with certain patterns and fabrics? Read on my friends! I learned the hard way so you don't have to ;)
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Let's start with fabrics. Fall is all about warm and cozy, so you may have pulled (and pet) those plush sweater knits from your stash. Or perhaps you have been hanging onto some Ponte de Roma ("ponte" for short) because it was just too thick for summer sews. Both of these fabrics are fabulous for layering, but fall on opposite sides of the "stability" spectrum.
What do I mean by a "Stable" knit?
A stable knit holds it's form well. This may be because the knit is made up of a tighter weave, or heavier fibers, or both! They stretch - but much less than their lighter, less stable knit cousins. That french terry sweatshirt in your closet, or the fleece zip-up you throw over your workout attire, are perfect examples of stable fabrics. They can be fitted, but their thicker quality masks well the wearer's "lumps and bumps". They don't breathe particularly well, which makes them ideal for wear in colder climates. Ponte rules this category, in my experience, but shares space in the "stable" category with Scuba Knit (like the green floral I used here), too.
Stable knits are ideal for patterns meant to hold a rigid form. Pleats, patch pockets, zippers or button plackets are all dead giveaways that your pattern needs a heavier, more rigid substrate.
So what is an UN-stable knit?
I'm so glad you asked! Unstable knits are lighter weight, "drapier" fabrics, that hang against the body. They tend to breathe better, and retain less heat. Their relaxed weave often makes them more see-through. Most unstable knits will weight 8 oz or less, and react/stretches dramatically with the weight of buttons, pockets, even the weight of sleeves and tunic or dress lengths. Cotton/Rayon jersey blends, and Hacci sweater knit come to mind.
Unstable knits are ideal for patterns that "hang" on the body. They offer great movement and suggest the shape of the wearer without hugging their form. Their drapey quality makes them ideal for belted styles. Like this one, for example:
So let's see these fabrics side-by-side. I stitched up two Ladies' Library Cardigans - one in ponte, and one in a mid weight jersey blend. This pattern fits wide across the body, with no built in suggestion of a waistline. It's a very popular "boho" style, and it is designed to flatter by hanging and moving against the female form. Which fabric do you think best enhanced those qualities of the pattern?
If you said the one on the left - the jersey blend - you'd be right! The ponte (right) is too heavy to move the way the pattern needs it to. It HANGS but it doesn't MOVE. It looks oversized and sloppy. Even with my hand at my waist, you cannot see my shape under the wide, bulky fit.
The jersey, on the other hand, falls gently (and forgivingly) against my body. It creates curves with the exact same boxy design where the ponte fabric did not.
Now - you might be curious about the elbow patches. "Doesn't unstable knit get weighed down with patches like that?"
Ordinarily, yes! But I borrowed a page out of my FMA book and used Heat n' Bond Lite to adhere the entire patch onto the sleeve. I reinforced it with a zigzag stitch around the outside, but unlike traditional patch patch application, the weight of the patch was distributed evenly across the entire patch (because of the adhesive) instead of just around the perimeter, where it is stitched. The result? No wavy seam and no droopy sleeve.
**Worried your iron will melt the faux leather?? I ironed on the BACK SIDE only, and through a layer of quilters cotton I had handy. The HNBL got hot enough for the adhesive to melt, but not enough to ruin my leather. When in doubt - start with the LOWEST temperature and work your way up until the adhesive is applied. (Thanks, Kyema, for asking this great question in the comments!)
You might notice that - despite working with notoriously-headache-inspiring faux leather - there are NO skipped stitches! You're not seeing an act of photoshop magic, and I didn't have to pick seams and try multiple times. I got it right the first time around using my teflon foot and universal titanium needle! (For more teflon foot info, check out my recent sewing experiment here.)
But what about the weight of the fabric itself? I did say that unstable knits react dramatically to extra weight - even the weight of sleeves. How did I keep my cardigan up on my shoulders?
Easy!! My tip for you - regardless what style cardigan you sew, or what fabric you chose - is to reinforce your shoulder seams. Here's how to do it:
Zig-Zag clear elastic into the seam allowance on your layer's shoulder seam. You may choose to serge your raw edge to soften it (ideal if you layer over camis that leave your shoulder skin exposed), but that is ALL you need to do to preserve the stretch required for wear with knit patterns, but prevent the seam from stretching out over hours of wear and weight of your fabric.
HOW EASY IS THAT??
I love when you all have questions that help me improve a post! Here's an edit to add an excellent question about binding:
My friend Lisa left a question about applying the binding with an unstable knit - especially since the appeal of using unstable knit with this pattern is that it DOESN'T hold it's shape well. Here's what I did to make the binding process go smoothly:
- First - stay stitch the raw edges of the garment you're applying the binding to. A stay stitch is a long/basting straight stitch in the seam allowance. This reinforces the intended shape of the garment, so it doesn't stretch out when I sew the binding on. Now, the only piece that stretches will be the binding piece. I stay stitch EVERYTHING - neckline edge, bottom of the sleeves before adding the cuff, etc.
- Then - use LOTS of starch and iron at an appropriate heat to get as much of a crease as you can in your knit binding pice. It makes it so much easier to work with. But the binding process is a long one. Take your time to do it right - it's an investment into the garment you're making.
- I find a narrow zig-zag (1.5 stitch width) at the very edge of the binding helps ensure I enclose the entire binding strip the first time. It's not as pretty as a true top stitch, but it does go faster and looks better in the end than a wonky top stitch.... ;) Perfect is the enemy of "good", my friends. Cheats like this are worth it if they're going to make my hobby more enjoyable, and have minimal impact on the finished garment.
Ok, now that you know how to pick the right fabric for your Fall Layering patterns, let me dazzle you with another photo of the new LLK Ladies' Library cardigan.
I love this pattern! It came together easily and fits well into my mommy wardrobe. I'll be throwing this over my outfits all Fall. It's perfect for my everyday needs: chilly mornings of preschool drop-off, and the sun-is-setting after-dinner romps in the front yard with the chickadees.
If you've already caught onto the Library-Cardi Love, the designer behind the pattern (and my personal friend!) Cassie, has a special surprise just for you! The chance to win a shirt from my new Sewing T line available over at Sewing Stadium! And - since Cassie is so super generous - she's giving away one for you, and one for a friend! Winner will be announced on Monday :)