Posts filed under ‘sewing’


With the days getting ever so slightly longer, I’ve been feeling phenomenal lately. My academic writing’s been going well, and I’ve been baking up a storm (nothing adventurous, but my family never says no to a batch of tried-and-true cookies). I’ve bought seeds to grow a garden! Just when it couldn’t get much better, I had a brilliant idea that would make my life oodles better: redesigning my winter hat.

You see, my warm winter hat was a gift a few years ago – a white wool “Kaldi” hat from 66˚North, with fuzzy lining and earflaps. It’s a lovely hat, but has a few problems. It’s always been a little snug on top, and the peak of the crown is sort of pointy, making an egghead shape. And, the seams are on the outside. Maybe it’s “traditional”, and it was a look that was super trendy some years ago, but I never liked outside seams (and don’t get me started on inside-out fair-isle).

66N Kaldi Arctic Hat

So the other night I took my stitch ripper and performed some fuzzy-hat surgery. I undid all the seams on top and restitched them by hand with a narrower seam allowance, making the hat roomier and bringing the seams to the inside and out of sight. I also changed the crown shaping a bit to fit my head and eliminate the peak. I changed the way the front flap folded up a bit, making it rounder and smaller. And I took off the designer label, just because.

Hat with new seams

Hat with new seams

And then, I got an idea. I’ve been thinking for some time of decorating the hat, because a large white hat is nice, but couldn’t it be nicer? Embroidery? A dye job? Knitting a cover for the whole thing? As I was staring in the mirror, it came to me. Cat ears. CAT EARS! I grabbed my yarn and knitting needles and set to work.

These ears are the same as the ears of Hibou the Owl, just bigger and felted. I cast on 60 sts, and worked 3 double-decreases evenly spaced every other round until all stitches were used. Then I felted by hand a bit, but eventually just tossed them into the washer and dryer with my other laundry. A little shaping, a little stitching, and then, voilà, ears!



Ready for the cold!


February 16, 2014 at 4:26 pm 2 comments

Make do and mend

Yesterday, a woman came into the yarn shop clutching a grey shawl to her bosom, asking about repairing moth holes. Knitwear repair is one of my sidelines, so I nodded enthusiastically and asked to take a look.

The shawl was a charcoal grey swath of fine-gauge stockinette, in a cashmere that had been lightly felted from years of loving wear, probably one yard wide by four yards long, and had been absolutely ravished by clothes moths. Moths happen to fancy cashmere quite a lot, in all its buttery sumptuousness, and eat it right up. The shawl had a half-dozen large holes, the size of a silver dollar with the fabric completely gone, a dozen or more moderate holes where a line of stitching had been eaten away (almost always vertical or diagonal, wouldn’t you know, which is harder to fix as more live threads are cut), and twenty or more pinholes, where just a few threads had been nibbled on, but live stitches were exposed.

Insert a sad sigh here.

The shawl’s owner had been to a different repair person on the North Shore, who had reknit some of the holes in this customer’s sweaters (as the infestation of moths hadn’t been restricted to just the shawl, oh, no), and who had told her that the cost to do the same for this shawl would simply be astronomical. I’m not sure what response she was expecting to get from me, having already been told as much, but the reply she got was worse.

I refused to take the job, for any price.

In fact, I refused to quote a price. I sized up the project quickly, and realized that it would be sheer misery to fix this shawl. The trifecta of a painful repair was here – fine gauge stitches (hard to see, hard to replicate), dark color, and huge, numerous holes. I explained that we were easily looking at 15-20 hours of work, and that I could do it, but that with my life as it is (full-time graduate student, 1-year-old at home), there was no way I would do it. After she left, I thought to myself, well, maybe I should have offered to do it for $2000, and I’d plan on a 6-month turnaround time, because I could probably stand to spend 1 hour a week on it, for a very protracted number of weeks. But even then…

What I did was explain what would do if it had been my scarf, which is to chop up the undamaged pieces and sew them into something – a little neck cozy, a cushion cover, a teddy bear. Or, chop up the pieces and sew them together into a skinny patchwork tube scarf. She was unconvinced.

Then, she asked how, if one were to repair this, one might do such a thing. I have no secrets, so I explained. You’d take a sewing needle, and you’d thread a matching yarn through the fabric and stitches in a manner like duplicate stitch, “reknitting” as you go, but anchoring the new yarn to the existing stitches on the side. I directed her toward an instructional book that helped me learn how to do knitwear repair, Flawless Knit Repair by Rena Crockett. And I assured her that, yes, the repair was possible. But would be tedious. And that I simply could not take the job on, nor did I know anyone in the area who I could direct her to.

And you know what? It’s been haunting me. Not that I want to do the job, or that I need the money (although, let’s be honest, I’d be happy with extra pin money), or that I was interested in working on this shawl. It boils down to an ideological issue, and one that I’ve been on the other side of before, with Felix Shoe Repair, the guy who just won’t fix my shoes. The issue is that I think good things deserve to be repaired, and should not be thrown away. At least three times now, I’ve brought a pair of shoes to Felix in Harvard Square, and each time, he looks at my (admittedly cheap and run-down) shoes, and says that he won’t repair them. It’s not worth it, and the repair won’t be a good one, even if he spends a lot of time on it. Every time I’m incensed, because I know that the repair is possible, I just don’t have the tools and materials to do it. He does! And I know that it’d cost the same to buy a new pair of shoes, maybe even less. But these shoes are still good, and have life left in them, and isn’t this part of the problem of today’s society where everything is so disposable, that we’re not attached to anything, that we just waste and waste, and don’t worry, we can just buy another cheap plastic…


And so here I was, on the other side of the counter. This woman was saying the words I know so well, “But I’d hate to just throw it out.” “I can pay, it’s not that.” “How many hours do you think it’d take?” “Well, if you won’t fix it, how would you recommend I do it myself?” “Sure, I understand. No, I know, I understand. Thank you.”

Dear woman, I wish I had unlimited hours in my life to fix your shawl. I wish that I had a summer vacation where all my needs were met, and all I needed to do in a day was roll out of bed, stroll out onto my veranda by the sea, and work on restitching what the moths so violently and thoughtlessly effaced. I wish that for this work I’d do for you, I’d be paid handsomely in gold and silks and champagne and strawberries, and in dividends paid into a 401K so I could live comfortably into old age without worrying about how the bills will get paid. While we’re at it, I wish that the shawl were actually a different shawl, more interesting and less felted, maybe in a light cream color. Because even in this fantasyland of fixing your shawl, we’re talking a lot of hours of tedious work, on a boring project, and really, I’d rather be going for a walk or reading Mother Goose with my little guy.

How do you put a price tag on that?

March 17, 2013 at 1:06 pm Leave a comment

T-shirt serger-y

I’ve had my serger for almost a year now, and I have to say, I’ve used it very infrequently during that time. Those times I have used it have been fabulous (in particular, finishing the hem on Lauren’s wedding dress), but, perhaps like my beautiful spindles, my spinning wheel, my banjo, guitar, bagpipes, flute…there is a specialized time and place for them, just too seldom. So, the other day, I began my mission to use the serger for good, so as not to let it pine away under its polyurethane dust cloth.

I had the perfect project – my Sock Summit tee. I had only 2 areas of complaint for Sock Summit. The first was the lack of chairs and lounging surfaces at some of the events, and the other was the somewhat disappointing swag array. Despite being an event almost exclusively attended by women, the organizers chose a boxy unisex shirt to sell to attendees. Of course I had to order one, but I was less than thrilled with the fit. A small would have been more flattering, but I’m changing sizes in the bust and waistline pretty rapidly these days, and I wanted a little room to grow.

unflattering boxy unisex tee, size M

There are a few main differences between a women’s fitted tee and a standard unisex boxy one – the neckline, the sleeve setting, and the side shaping. Because of the desired roominess factor, I decided to leave the third part alone. The following illustrations show the main differences in shaping:

Unisex Tee

Girly Tee


The compromise:

That’s not to say that my compromise made a particularly flattering shirt. Trust me, making the sides more fitted would have changed this for the better significantly. But I can always do that later, when I’m sure things will continue to fit me. Right now, I want the belly room.

So, how to make these alterations? First, I went and pinned down the slope of the arm inset, and cut as evenly on both sides as I could:

pins along my new armhole

arms off

Then, I cut the sleeves smaller, lining them up the arm holes I’d already cut so that they would fit the holes. Because the new armholes are curved and inset, they’re necessarily larger than the old ones, so in order to use the old sleeves, I’d need to make something of a cap sleeve, cutting on the diagonal. Otherwise, the armhole would bunch up, not very attractive.

little sleeves

Then, to sew. I lined up the sleeve and armhole, turning the body of the shirt inside out so the “right sides” were together, facing each other, and I was looking at the inside of the body. My serger has a teeny “free arm” that allows me to remove the main sewing table and slip a tube up to the needle to sew. Very useful. Using my serger at a pretty medium setting, I sewed both sleeves on, like so:

There’s still a bit of bunching, but this is a lazy, lounge-around shirt, so I didn’t mind so much.

After attaching both sleeves, I decided to widen the collar, by making a serged edge just outside the original collar. I freehanded this, so I don’t actually have good photos. Another freehand job was shortening the sleeves. After trying the shirt on, I thought that the hemmed edge looked a bit frumpy still, so I serged from the armpit around the edge of the sleeves, bringing them a bit closer to the body, and also causing them to ruffle just a bit, for extra cuteness.

In the end, a much more feminine cut, despite leaving the loose and baggy sides (which I’ll really appreciate in upcoming weeks, anyway). A little shabby-chic, which isn’t my usual style, but I think I can pull it off.

By the way, the basic restructuring can be done with a basic straight-stitch machine. Move the sleeves, take in the sides, no problem. Contrary to popular belief, serged stitching doesn’t add extra stretch necessarily. It does keep little annoying frayed edges wrapped up nicely, which is why it gets used for knits/jerseys so much. The serger does a nice job with decorative edging, though. You could zig-zag and trim close on a regular sewing machine for a comparable effect, but it’s not quite the same, and it’s nowhere near as fast to accomplish. The serger is like white lightning!

Ah my serger. Not too expensive (well, $350ish. I think my sense of “expensive,” particularly for tools, is very different than what it used to be), and very effective. I’ve recently learned how to do a blind hem with it! After the disappointment of learning that I could not make the “coverstitch” that you see on the edges of most commercially-hemmed jersey garments (look at the parallel lines at the bottom of your t-shirt) without significantly upgrading my machine or buying a separate unit just for that task, I found the serge-able corollary, and am pretty happy with it. Time to design that long jersey skirt and get going with my autumn sewing (before the quilting bug gets me)!

September 14, 2011 at 3:37 pm 1 comment

Sylvi’s done!

Short post today, but I can’t not share. Sylvi is DONE! Knit, seamed, flowers sewn down, lining made and sewn in, pockets knit, lined, and crocheted down, buttons and toggles attached, done.

16 skeins of ruby red Cascade 220 Superwash (color 893), 2.5 yards of Amy Butler Full Moon Polka Dots in Cherry, 4 horn toggles, 2 horn buttons for the cuffs, and a few months of work.

The knitting on this took no time – I was working on size 9 needles with the yarn doubled, and it knit up quick. But, the pieces were large, so it wasn’t a very portable project most of the time, and for those of you who know me, I like to work on the go. Then, the lining was a hurdle that, while easy enough to execute, kept me guessing for some time.

Eventually I just traced out the pattern, spent an afternoon sewing, and voila, it was done! I was most nervous about the arm holes, as raglan shaping isn’t something that translates well to the rigidity of woven fabrics. To compensate, I added a 2″ box pleat in between the shoulders along the back (similarly to the way many men’s jackets are lined, or the way men’s shirts have a pleat under the yoke). This way, when I bend forward or reach my arms out, I’m not worrying about putting undue stress on the arm seams, or restricting my movement. Along with sewing the lining to the knit jacket along all the outer edges, I’ve also tacked the knitting to the lining in several places – at the center of the flowers, along the edges, at the armpits, and at the peak of the hood. This helps keep the knitting in the right shape, and prevents the lining from bulging over the edges as it’s tempted to do.

Some comments on the pattern. I lengthened the back (redoubling the small oval section of the middle back chart) and added an extra flower to compensate for the gap. I didn’t like the doubled leaves in the mid-back of the original, and I was concerned about row gauge. In the end, the weight of the knitting helped the project stretch, so it’s longer than I had planned, but the lining adds the extra stability and shape to it. I changed the direction of the cross of one of the early cables to enhance the symmetry, but otherwise, I mostly behaved and followed directions.

I’m really happy with the results – all 5lbs of them!

More details and photos of the jacket in progress, with link to the pattern, are available on my Ravelry project page:


July 24, 2011 at 1:46 pm 7 comments

Bippity boppity boo!

So, my friend Lauren is getting married in a few weeks. She’s a pretty down-to-earth girl, but when she was looking for wedding dresses, she came across this fairy-tale beauty on Kiera Knightley, and fell in love with its tulley goodness.

Not interested in spending oodles on it, she asked me if I could help make it with her (for her?)…and we’re on our way!

It’s a bit poofier than I’d like, but I’m going to try to sew down some of the gathers to give it a more a-line effect. I’ll need to take up the underskirt (serger to the rescue!) and put in a zipper, then put a waistband across the top, but we’re well on our way. Which is a good thing, because they’re leaving town for the wedding on Jan. 3 or so…

It’s fun to play fairy godmother!

December 27, 2010 at 1:38 pm 2 comments

A bit of sewing – the Hobo Bag Lining

Summertime is a great time to sew, and sewing has been flooding into my life. Last night, a friend who is just learning to knit told me she’d be making my Hobo Bag, and wanted pointers for sewing up a lining. I typed some out, and realized I needed illustrations, and figured I’d make a nice set of instructions for download. So, for anyone working on the Hobo Bag and looking for pointers to make a lining, here you go!

I have very little experience making sewing patterns, so I know they’re not 100% exact. I didn’t indicate exact cutting layout, for example, or grainline, etc. But, I hope that you’re adventuresome enough to use my guidelines to create a wonderful finished product!

Hobo Bag Lining

July 18, 2010 at 7:20 pm Leave a comment



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