Showing posts with label tutorials. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tutorials. Show all posts

Monday, 24 February 2014

Oh Darn


If you've got a favourite pair of socks or sweater that have tragically acquired a hole or two, you may want to acquire the homely accomplishment of darning. I've gotten extra years out of a beloved sweater this way, and was once even able to save a sweater I'd made for my father that had had an unfortunate encounter with a table saw. If you made the sweater or socks yourself, you'll be at an advantage because you're very likely to have at least a small amount of the same yarn left over.





This image and the one above are from government-issued pamphlets that probably date from World War II, when the populace was being encouraged to "make do and mend" in order to conserve resources for the war effort. If you'd like a more modern tutorial on how to darn, Twist Collective has a good one.






If you're the sort of learner who likes to have something demonstrated for you, this video clearly demonstrates the process of darning.





Darning is definitely a low-cost option. Besides the matching or near matching yarn that you need and may well already have on hand, you will need only a needle with a sharp point and an eye big enough for whatever fibre you are using, and a darning egg. A plain wooden egg or mushroom such as those above will do.





Though there's no reason the wooden egg has to be plain. The eggs above were made by my father. As you can see, that sweater of his did not meet that table saw in vain.





You might also treat yourself to a covetable antique darning egg such as the Victorian-era sterling silver-handled and hand-painted darning eggs above.





If you find you really love darning, it's possible to take the technique to a higher level, as has been done in the case of this 1841 sampler, which features silk, wool and cotton threads embroidered in running and cross stitches on a plain weave foundation. A hole in a prominent place can become an opportunity to really break out your imagination and fancy stitchwork so that the darn becomes an adornment.





Researching this post led me down a rabbit hole of truly fascinating information on and examples of how to take mending and making do to a whole new level, to the point where it's an art and a source of pleasure rather than drearily frugal. I have a passion for salvage and thrifting and hate waste, so the topic is as catnip to me. I especially loved blogger Susannah's account of her year's experience in shopping and sewing within the limits of the British wartime clothing ration of 1941 on her blog Cargo Craft Cult. She tells us that before this experiment, her wardrobe consisted of vintage costume-type outfits that she had lovingly made but had little chance to wear, and the boring nondescript clothes that she actually wore. The discipline of shopping and sewing according to strict guidelines forced her to make vintage clothes she could actually wear every day, and to make her purchases more carefully as she would need to wear them often. The result was a wardrobe that was not only more practical but more interesting and attractive, and that she got much more real enjoyment from. And I'm not surprised to hear it.

Working within restrictions is actually good for creativity. If you gave me limited materials and set me a specific task to achieve with them, I would do better and more creative work more quickly than I would if you were to turn me loose in a large room full of varied craft materials and just told me to make something. The human psyche seems to need limits to kick against.

And then too, getting the most out of your belongings by mending and making do has a number of other rewards and benefits. It's environmentally responsible. It'll save you money, and possibly also time, since you might be able to mend or alter something faster than you could go to the store and shop for a replacement. And it's so satisfying. Anyone can slap down a credit card and buy something new; it takes skill, creativity and intelligence to figure out how to turn an item that seems bound for a landfill into a useable, attractive piece.

Researching and writing this post generated lots of ideas for future mending and making do posts, so look for more posts on how to get the most out of your knitwear.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Mod Style

A reader of KNDD (this site's mouthful of a name really cries out for a handy abbreviation, so when another reader used this one on the site's Facebook page last month I decided to go with it) recently emailed me commenting that I tend to advise readers to "fix dropped shoulders" in my reviews and asking if I could point her to some instructions on how to do that. I couldn't find any such tutorial in a very quick Google search, and it occurred to me that since I am so given to blithely suggesting modifications to knitting patterns, some of the less experienced knitters out there might appreciate some advice on how they're done. So here are some tips on my two most commonly suggested mods: raising dropped shoulders, and adding waist shaping.

Standard fitting shoulders are almost always the best choice in sweater design. I don't know why so many designers go with a dropped shoulder, with the sleeve and shoulder meeting halfway down the arm. My best guess is that they use it because it's easy to design and easy to knit, but it's so terribly unflattering on most women, and tends to look sloppy even on men and children. Children and men can get away with it, but then children's clothing looks best in a loose fit, and men like looking like quarterbackers. Waist shaping is another mod that makes a lot of difference in how a women's sweater flatters her. I won't go so far as to say it's always advisable for every sweater and every figure, but a little waist definition does seem to be a good idea for most women's sweaters.





Here's a picture of a 1980s era Fair Isle pullover that has a dropped shoulder and does not have waist shaping. And it's a beautiful piece of work, but I can't help mentally reshaping it. Wouldn't it look so much more flattering and polished if the shoulder seams were at the shoulder, if the body was less generously wide and the waist curved in a little, and it weren't belling out over the ribbing at the hipline? Fortunately we at least don't usually see that extra bulk above the ribbing these days.





Now let's look at the nuts and bolts of how a sweater is shaped. The two diagrams on the left are how the Fair Isle sweater shown above might look in diagram, and the two diagrams on the right are for a sweater with the standard fit shoulder and waist shaping I recommend for most women's sweaters. (That is, if the diagrams were the scratchings of a hen that had just walked through ink. Excuse the crudeness of the diagrams. I don't have any software for creating design diagrams and probably wouldn't know how to use it if I did, so I just did them by hand and scanned them in. Believe it or not, this is actually the best of about ten attempts.)

Let's talk about waist shaping first, since it's the easiest thing to do. These directions will work on a most women's sweaters that don't already have waist shaping. The aim is to have a bit of gentle, subtle shaping rather than a fitted waist, but while you'll barely notice the difference in how the sweater feels when worn, I think you'll find that it makes a distinct difference in how it looks.

If the pattern you wish to make has no waist shaping in the directions, begin knitting the back or front of your sweater as your pattern directs, and continue until the piece measures 3" or 7.5cm from the beginning. On the next row, knit one stitch, knit two stitches together, knit to the last three stitches, then knit two stitches together and knit one stitch. If your sweater pattern requires you to purl this row or these stitches, use purl stitches to decrease, or you might like to move the decrease stitches over by a stitch or two. Experiment a little with different ways of decreasing and the position of the decreases, and work your decreases in whatever method best blends into your pattern and looks the least obtrusive.

For a sweater in DK yarn, repeat this decline row once every 1"/2.5cm three times more. At this point the sweater piece should be approximately 6"/15.25cm long and its width will have been decreased by about 1"/2.5cm on each side of the sweater. For a sweater knitted in a finer or heavier weight yarn than DK, you'll need to work the decreases either more or less often in order to taper the sweater in by that 1"/2.5cm within that second 3"/7.5cm of knitting. Do the math as to how many stitches you need to decrease 1"/7.5cm on each side, and how many rows apart they should be in order to get them done by the time your knitting measures a total of 6"/15.25cm or a little more from the beginning.

Once all these decreases have been worked, knit even until your back or front piece measures 8"/20cm from the beginning. Then begin to widen the sweater again by working an increase row: knit one, increase one in the next stitch, knit to the last two stitches, increase one stitch in the second last stitch, knit one. Work this increase row as many times as you worked the decrease row and with the same number of rows spaced between them until you've reached your original number of stitches. Add this waist shaping to both front and back pieces in exactly the same manner so that they will match.

Now let's talk about fixing dropped shoulders. Dropped shoulder styles generally have no decreases at the armhole, as in the case of the diagram on the left above. You'll need to add these armhole decreases to the back and front of your sweater to make the sweater the right width at the shoulders. I suggest that you refer to diagrams and instructions from another knitting pattern that does have shaped armholes and use them as your guide. I have one particular all-time favourite sweater pattern that's just the right shaping for me (I've made it twice as is because it's so very flattering) and I usually refer to its diagrams whenever I want to reshape a sweater. Alternatively, if you have an existing sweater that fits just right at the shoulders, measure the width of the sweater at the shoulders and calculate the number of stitches you'll need to decrease from the width through the body of the sweater you are making to get that ideal shoulder width.

Once the back and front are taken care of, you'll then need to adjust the sleeves to fit. As you can see from the two sleeve diagrams above, there's a big difference in how they're shaped. You will need to be make the sleeves longer than your original pattern says in order to compensate for the fact that the shoulder will no longer extend down the arm, and you will also want to shape the cap of the sleeve to fit the shaped armhole. If you used another sweater pattern's diagrams as your guide for the armhole decreases and shoulder width, then you should also use that pattern's sleeve diagram and measurements to get the right specifications for your sweater's sleeve length and cap shaping. If you took your measurements from a finished sweater, measure that sweater's sleeve and shape your project's sleeve in the same way.

While you're doing all this reshaping, you'll also have to watch out for any colourwork or stitchwork that you're displacing/removing and make sure that the patterning still lines up the way it should. Some elaborately patterned sweaters, such as picture knits, may not lend themselves to reshaping because you'll have to cut out a crucial part of the picture, but usually you'll find a way to do it.

I hope these tips are of use. I found this post difficult to write because although I wanted to give very clear instructions as to how to shape a waist and fix a dropped shoulder, there are so many possible variables in yarn weight and sweater sizes that it seemed to me that more specific instructions would be of very limited use, and might even lead some knitters astray. Making your own mods always means that you must wing it a little. Make your calculations based on the stitch gauge for your particular project, the measurements of the wearer, and the measurements of the desired garment in order to figure out just how your waist, armholes and sleeves should be shaped.

Happy modifying, and may your project fit and flatter when you're done tinkering.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Blocking Board Blueprint

Over the last year or so I've been making a concerted effort to improve my knitting skills. I learned to knit as a child and once I got to a certain skill level as a teenager, I just stayed there. I thought I was an expert knitter because I could easily make patterns designated as expert level, but I wasn't. My projects did turn out quite well, but there was room for improvement, especially in the finishing details. I only knew one way to cast on and one way to cast off, there were a lot of techniques I had never tried at all, I didn't know how to seam a garment properly, and I'd never blocked a sweater (I did press the seams). Besides improving in all these areas, I'd also like to acquire some design skills. I do freely alter patterns to suit my needs and tastes, and I have made sweaters without patterns, but it was all pretty basic stuff and I've never written a pattern. I'd like to learn to design more complex knitwear to a professional standard so some of the designs I have in my head can become a reality.

Towards all these ends, I recently decided I would get myself a blocking board and start blocking my work. An ironing board can be used for blocking, but it isn't big enough to work for anything but small projects. You can use a mattress, but who wants the bother of unmaking and remaking the bed before and after, to say nothing of having the bed out of commission for a few days at a time? You can use towels on a table, but those towels are going to shift about and make the task difficult, and again you won't be able to use the table for a day. A special purpose blocking board was what I wanted.

I priced blocking boards and found one of the size I wanted would cost something like $90(USD) plus shipping and probably duty, so I decided to make one for much less, and did. In case anyone would like a tutorial on how to make one for themselves, here's how I did it.

Items required for this project:

• a sheet of plywood in whatever size you like
• enough 1/2"–1" thick foam padding to cover the surface area of the plywood
• a piece of gingham fabric six inches longer and six inches wider than the plywood
• glue
• scissors
• a tape measure
• an upholstery stapler and staples
• a hammer, screwdriver and pair of grips to deal with the staples that won't cooperate
• a sewing machine and thread (optional)





I bought this 30" x 48" sheet of plywood from Home Depot for $12.42 (CDN). I would have preferred it to be about 30" x 60" but I would have had to buy a huge sheet of plywood and had it cut down, which meant it would be much more expensive with a lot of wastage, and so I settled for this size. It will do. I should be able to fit the pieces for a sweater for me on it, or do a dress or a coat if I want to, though I'll have to block those pieces separately.





Then I went to Fabricland and bought foam padding and a 1.25 metre length of green gingham. It would probably be better to get a sheet of foam for this project, but the day I was at Fabricland they had packages of four 1" chair seat foam squares on sale, while the sheet foam would have cost quite a bit more. It being spring, the gingham was also on sale. A gingham or checked fabric is the best thing for a homemade blocking board, because it gives you a grid to work on and does a lot of the measuring for you. Total cost of the foam and gingham was $16.22 (CDN).

I placed the foam squares on the board and cut two of them to fit, then I glued them down and left them to dry for a day or so.





I cut my gingham fabric to size, leaving a 3" margin all around. I also took an extra five minutes to overcast the edges of the fabric on my sewing machine to be sure there would be no fraying, but that's not necessary. As you can see here I've folded the edges under to make the back look neater, and that should prevent and/or hide any fraying.

I placed the fabric on the board as straight as I could, stapled the four corners from underneath, and then flipped the board over to staple the rest securely. Some of the staples were cantankerous things that wouldn't go in properly, so that's when I either pulled them out with vice grips and tried again with new staples, or hammered them the rest of the way in.





The finished board. You can see the lines where the foam squares meet — they weren't exactly precision cut to 1" — even though I tried mixing and matching them to get them to be level. But it won't affect the efficacy of the board, so whatever. The gingham isn't lined up to be perfectly straight either, but there's no need for architectural precision as we're not exactly designing a basilica here.

I'll be placing the board across the stair railing like this whenever I want to use it. It's the perfect place for it: it's at a good height to work on and it won't be in my way while the pieces dry.





The blocking board put to use for the first time. I invested in three packs of 40 rust-proof stainless steel pins for the purpose, but ran out when I blocked this child's sweater, so looks like I could use another two or three packs. When the board isn't in use, I store it on its edge behind the cupboard you see in the background.

The total cost of the board was $28.64(CDN), though I am not counting the cost of the glue, thread, staples and other equipment I already owned. The gingham and fabric should last a fairly long time, and when they do wear out can be replaced and the plywood reused. With an hour's work I saved myself close to $100, so I'm pleased.

This seemed rather too easy a project to really require a tutorial, but given that I'm running a knitting blog it seemed too on point not to share, so I wrote it up in the hope that it'll be of use and interest to some people.