Knitted mittens

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So Broadchurch is back on ITV, and it seems to be more or less back on form. Half-decent TV means I like to have something to knit, and it’s still pretty cold on the pre-school run at the moment, so I thought I’d have a go at some mittens to match my pink hat.

I used another pattern from the Knitty Gritty book, and the same merino wool as for the hat. Using 5mm needles, as suggested in the book, they’ve come out fairly narrow. But they are stretchy, so I can get them on, and the snugness should help keep my hands warm while we see out the last of the winter weather.

If I were making these again (there’s no gauge guide in the book – the author thinks beginners wouldn’t be bothered with swatching, or that their tension wouldn’t be consistent enough for it to help much), I’d size up to a fractionally larger needle, and I wouldn’t make them quite as long as suggested by the measurements in the pattern. (Really unusual for me – my hands are fairly large,  and I always buy a large in Marigolds!)

They knit up quickly on straight needles, and my sewing up has improved a bit so the side seams have come out quite tidily this time. The book also includes pattern variations for children and babies (the babies’ mittens don’t have a thumb section.) And if you’re looking for an alternative mitten pattern, I’ve also spotted this free one from Tin Can Knits.

 

 

A super-speedy reusable Santa suit

So it’s World Book Day today and my son’s pre-school has decided to take part in the dressing-up charade parade. So, what to go as? Father Christmas – in March – obviously!

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The trainers really make the outfit, don’t they?

After a brief flirtation with making a complete costume from this Butterick pattern, I opted to do more of a quick and dirty re-fashion – which wouldn’t take long and wouldn’t involve buying lots of fabric specifically for this project.

Instead, I bought:

  • one pair red jogging bottoms
  • one plain red sweatshirt
  • 1.5m of 10cm-wide white fur fabric for the trim
  • a novelty hat and beard set – we must be the only family in the land without random Santa hats lurking in a drawer anywhere.

And from my stash, I used:

  • 50cm of 5cm-wide black felt for the belt
  • a scrap of yellow felt for the buckle
  • thread.

The fur has dropped fluff absolutely everywhere, so it looks like someone’s tried to murder a cat in my sewing space! (To limit this, cut through the backing fabric only, trying not to cut the fur itself.)

Sadly the cuffs on the age 5-6 sweatshirt and trousers turned out to be too narrow to fit around the free arm on my machine, so I had to hand-sew the fur onto those. The felt belt and buckle were sewn on with a quick zig-zag stitch. I kept all the stitch lengths fairly long and I deliberately didn’t use any iron-on applique paper for the belt buckle as I’m hoping to take it all off afterwards.

To sew on the fur trim around the tummy, I used my walking foot and a zig-zag stitch to attach the fur from the wrong side. The walking foot kept it fairly stable, and it wasn’t as hard to sew as I’d expected even though I was attaching a stretch fabric to a non-stretch one. I used a denim needle, because that was in my machine already and I couldn’t be bothered to change it didn’t really know what to use and it seemed to work fine, so you might like to try that. The best thing about fur is that your stitches don’t really show through it – at least not once you’ve fluffed up the sewn-down fur with a pin to cover it.

After today, I’m hoping I can unpick the stitches,  de-fluff everything and return the jogging bottoms and sweatshirt to something like their original state – so they can then be worn and torn into oblivion as part of his ordinary wardrobe!

Did you make a spectacular costume? If not, you’re in good company – and you might enjoy this post from parenting blog Hurrah for Gin about the tyranny of World Book Day…

 

Knitted Flax jumper

Finally! After what seems like an age, I’ve cast this little jumper off my WIP list and into being – just in time to get some wear in this final month of winter.

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Mr Mini Wardrobe doing a spot of modelling. He’s styled it with his favourite ‘dogs on the bus T-shirt’ and pull-on denim joggers. I sometimes wish I could have his wardrobe.

[Note: I’ve made the decision not to share identifiable pictures of my son online, so although his face would definitely enhance these pictures, I’ve deliberately cropped it out here.]

It’s a petrol blue colour, which I love, and which my littlest man seems to like too. I wanted to steer clear of the colours you see all over the shops like navy, scarlet and charcoal grey and knit something I couldn’t have bought. The yarn is Rico essentials soft merino aran superwash in colour 025, which is soft, not itchy, just about machine washable and suitably snuggly.

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I like the garter stitch panel detailing that runs across the shoulders and down the sleeves, although he says he prefers the stocking stitch pattern on the body!

The pattern is the (free) Flax sweater from Tin Can Knits in age 4-6, since Mr Mini Wardrobe is a very tall 3 1/2. This is a pattern that gets a LOT of love on Ravelry. Ah Ravelry, how I love perusing the endless possibilities you offer. But how easily I forget that virtually every other member is a more experienced knitter than me… Which is probably why it took me so long to finish this jumper. I chose the pattern because it’s graded ‘easy’, and suggested as an ideal first sweater project, and also because I wanted to have a go at knitting on circular needles. I just neglected to practise anything other than a swatch on circular needles or double-pointed needles (DPNs) first…

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It’s knitted top-down, in the round, and those increases that form a raglan sleeve shape at the shoulders were the fun bit.

Circulars I found OK once I got going, but it took two surgeries with my Mum (who lives 160 miles away!) before I worked out how to use DPNs successfully. And after I’d frogged the first sleeve eight times I couldn’t face doing it for a ninth, so it’s a bit wonky in places. I’m calling it characterful. By the time I got to the second sleeve, something had clicked, so that’s come out much neater and more even. If you’re a fellow beginner, this pattern also includes ssk decreases, kfb increases, 1×1 rib, pick up and knit, a backwards loop cast on, and some fiddling around with stitch markers to keep track of the garter panel.

I blocked it before I took these pictures and the fit is not bad, as you can see. Like his Dad, he has narrow shoulders, so the almost-boat-neck design means it’s a little too wide in that area. I added an inch to the body length to make sure it wouldn’t be too short, and (given how long it took me to knit), I think this was a good idea.

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Now I’ve got the hang of it, I’m tempted to cast on another one straight away for my son in the next size up, and also the version in 4-ply yarn (Flax Light) for me. But realistically, I should probably try a different sweater pattern where the width of the neckline/shoulders wouldn’t be so critical to the fit.

I’ll have a rummage around on Ravelry, of course, but can you recommend any simple sweater knitting patterns I could try next – for children or for adults? And should I ditch DPNs and learn the magic loop method instead?

 

 

Children’s pyjama bottoms – with added Christmas puddings

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This is the only Christmas make I attempted this year, because I couldn’t face that awful situation when you’re rushing out to buy things on 23 December in lieu of the planned handmade presents that you haven’t finished in time. Even so, it still wasn’t finished quite in time for Christmas!

Back in the autumn, just before I began my stash diet, I spotted some reduced Christmas pudding fabric in Doughty’s in Hereford. At only £5/m I couldn’t resist enough to make a quick pair of pyjama bottoms for my 3-year old son. It’s quilting cotton, rather cotton flannel, but I thought it would be fun anyway.

The pattern is my trusty pyjama pants pattern Simplicity 2290 (other versions here and here), which includes children’s sizes from age 4-5 upwards. My 3-and-a-half-year old is a giant among his classmates at 110cm, so I traced the smallest size for him. Because they’re loose fitting trousers with an elasticated waist, there’s not a lot of fitting to do – just shortening the elastic to size and turning up the hem.

They’re a little on the large side at the moment, but I think they’ll be perfect for next Christmas. Although obviously, the proof will be in the pudding (groan…)

 

The final Fairfield button-up shirt

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Seeing as it’s Christmas, my last post before the holidays is a spot of unselfish sewing. Many, many months ago I snapped up the Fairfield button-up shirt pattern from Thread Theory, thinking it would make a good birthday gift for Mr Wardrobe. His birthday was in August, but I didn’t actually finish the shirt until Christmas Eve…

There were several reasons for this. Number one was that I didn’t notice when I measured him up that his chest is wider around the shoulder area than under the arms. So my first toile (muslin) turned out too small and I had to start again. Then I got sidetracked by blackout curtains,  my jumpsuit and all kinds of pyjamas. But we got there in the end.

(Mr Wardrobe prefers to keep a low profile on this blog, so you won’t be seeing his rather attractive face in these pictures.)

He chose the slimmer fit version of the pattern and the option with back darts to give more shape. There were a few alterations to get a better-than-RTW fit. Working from size L, I added 1″ extra width at the hip so it could be worn untucked; subtracted 1″ from the shoulder length on each side; and I used the XL sized collar pieces to create more room at the neck. You can see there are still a few diagonal drag lines from the shoulder to the neck at the front – I’m not quite sure what’s causing these but if I ever make another version I’ll try to fix this. And I’d also take a teensy bit off the length as it’s rarely going to be tucked in.

It’s not a quick or straightforward sew, especially when you know the recipient is a perfectionist. The 3/8″ flat-felled seams require lots of finnicky pressing and there’s an awkwardly large amount to ease in at the sleeve cap. The sleeve placket and the point where the corners of the collar stand join the collar both need a steady hand and some very precise stitching to get a neat finish. But if detail and finishing is your thing, then you’ll enjoy getting stuck into this pattern. Thread Theory also offer lots of (free) variations with different collar shapes, cuffs and pocket styles to suit even the pickiest man in your family, and there’s a detailed sewalong which comes in handy if (like me) you’re attempting a shirt for the first time.

I love the ever-so-slight sheen on this fabric – a deep grey/blue chambray I bought from Eme in Ilkley. It pressed beautifully and was exactly the right weight for this project. Just one word of warning though – it did show everything I unpicked! Mr Wardrobe wanted a fairly casual shirt, so I followed the pattern instructions for interfacing all the cuff, collar and placket pieces, but opted for a very lightweight fusible to stop the shirt being too stiff and starchy.

Overall, I’m really happy with the way this has turned out. But, the proof is in the Christmas pudding, so we’ll see how many times it gets worn!

 

Finished Fifi pyjamas

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I’m really pleased with the finish on this make. It uses french seams, which helps to make everything look neat on the inside. But also I made fewer mistakes than I usually do, so I only had to unpick one seam – possibly a new record for me.

The fabric

It’s Liberty Tana lawn that I bought in their summer sale, contrasting with the purple satin polyester bias binding that I found at Birmingham’s rag market during the Sewbrum meet-up in September. I love this colour combination, and the cotton lawn was perfectly behaved making it easy to sew and press the french seams. I’m itching to hunt down some more tana lawn to make another set, but that might have to wait until I’ve sewn my stash.

The pattern

This is the first time I’ve used a Tilly and the Buttons pattern, and I have mixed feelings about it. I loved the robust packaging, the clear instructions with colour photos, and the design. All of these are better than you’d get with a Big 4 pattern, and better even than some of the other indie designers I’ve tried up to now. It cost £14, so I guess you’d hope so.

I didn’t get along so well with the sizing and the fitting. Firstly, there was no information on the pattern or in the instructions about the standard back waist length or waist to hip distance. (Seriously: indie designers, this is one way in which the Big 4 still have one up on you – please can you put more info about the finished length or body measurements into your patterns?)

So I measured the pattern as best I could, added one inch in length to the camisole, and two inches to the crotch depth in the shorts. These are the same alterations I’d make to almost any sewing pattern, Big 4 or indie. The shorts came out about right, but the camisole was still on the short side.

The other problem area was – surprise surprise – the bust. I chose a size 4 + a 3″ FBA but on reflection I wish I’d made the size 5 + a 1-2″ FBA. It’s ended up a little tight along the seam under the bust (I wear a 34 bra band) and the FBA I made to the cups (using the TATB tutorial) has added too much room side-side and not enough top-bottom.

Halterneck hack

Possibly because of these fitting niggles, I could not find a way to make the straps sit neatly on my shoulders without my boobs disappearing into my armpits. After two sessions of stabbing myself in the back with pins trying to get it right, I decided to go off-pattern and convert it into a halterneck instead. Boob issue solved – hurrah! (Let’s just hope it’s comfortable to sleep in.)

As other sewists have suggested, this pattern would make a really great gift for a sister or a much-loved friend. With the bias-cut camisole and some precision stitching needed it’s not one I’d recommend to absolute beginners, but if you’re an ‘advanced beginner’ or beyond you’ll find it a very satisfying make.

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Big Alps Beanie hat

Winter’s on the way, so I’ve tucked into some knitting over the past few weeks. My first jumper is still two sleeves short of a full set, so I switched to something easier just to get something off the needles and sewn up.

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This is the Big Alps Beanie hat, made using a kit from Stitch and Story. (It was a limited edition tie-in with Icelandic film Rams, so it may not still be on sale if you’re reading this down the line a bit.)

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The 12mm needles and superchunky merino wool meant it was really quick to knit up, once I’d sussed out how to cable… (Experienced knitters look away now.) This was my first attempt at cables. I love the way cable knitting looks – simultaneously intricate, outdoorsy, mysterious and intimidating.

It turns out it’s not really that hard. This pattern’s a good choice for a beginner cabler, because you only have to do the cabling part six times. The rest is all knit, purl and rib stitches in different sized chunks.

So this is definitely the simpler end of cable knitting. Browsing Ravelry, and the blogs of experienced knitters, can make me feel a bit queasy sometimes when I realise just how much there is to learn. (If you want to see some intricate and beautiful knitting online, may I recommend Kate Davies’ blog? Her colourwork patterns are incredible, and I would love to work up to a Braid Hills cardigan. Perhaps in my dotage.)

This hat came together pretty quickly, and I only struggled with my usual problem areas – garter mattress stitch for sewing up and attaching the pom pom securely.

My gauge was spot on, and my head is definitely not small, so be warned that this pattern comes out pretty large. Were I making it again, I think I’d make the rib section two rows shorter. But it feels lovely next to the skin and it’s very warm so I think this’ll be getting plenty of wear this winter.

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Are you knitting up a storm this autumn? Or can you point me to a great tutorial on sewing up?

 

 

 

 

Rainbow bicycle pyjama top

Since I finished the bottoms for these pyjamas in August, my son’s been asking for a matching top. Pester power can be applied to sewing, it seems.

The fabric is the same organic printed cotton jersey I used for the bottoms, and an earlier T-shirt. It’s a fun design, but it’s printed slightly off-grain and it pilled disappointingly after one wash.

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The pattern is from Ottobre Winter 2015, and I made size 110cm, with no alterations for this first attempt. The sizing seems fairly generous to me; these aren’t skinny fit pyjamas.

Now Ottobre instructions are pretty brief, with no diagrams. And although I’ve now made a few knit tops with neckline binding, this was the first one I’ve tried with a placket opening. (Am I right in thinking this style is often called a Henley?)

That part didn’t go so well. I just couldn’t work out how to get a neat edge on the ribbing I used for the binding without it becoming incredibly bulky. After two attempts at folding it under and ending up with a huge knobbly bit on the end I got grumpy and just cut the ends off.

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When it came to topstitching the neckline, I wanted to make up for the fudging on the corners, so I used yellow and green thread in my twin needle to blend in with the different lines in the rainbow ribbing. (NB This is a really quick way to lose your sewing sanity.)

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The twin needle stitching is almost invisible – I’ve lightened this picture so you can make it out more easily.
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I love the cuffs. I used a decorative stitch on my sewing machine across the seamline to hold the raw edges of the overlocked cuff in place. (Coverstitch machine owners would, of course, use that instead.)

As with the top, my overlocker didn’t like dealing with four layers of the ribbing at once and chewed up the fabric. Would adjusting the presser foot pressure would help with this, or is four layers just too many?

Either way, my son’s pretty happy with the results and they’re getting some wear already.

 

Stupid sewing mistakes and how to avoid them

I’m going to front up. I make a LOT of silly mistakes when I’m sewing. Here are just a selection I’ve made in the last six months, and some tips on how to avoid making the same ones yourself.

(If you’re creative enough to invent your own stupid mistakes, you’re on your own. But please do share them to help the rest of us!)

  1. The time when I sewed the darts on the outside of the shirt
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They’re nice darts, granted. But most people prefer them on the inside.

This happened just this week. I’m attempting to make a shirt (my first one, so that’s the first red flag) and sewing a hopefully wearable toile from some blue polycotton. The right and wrong sides look exactly the same, and I was too lazy to mark them up with chalk (cutting corners – second warning sign). Somehow the darts have ended up on the outside of the shirt rather than the inside, and I have to painstakingly unpick all those tiny stitches.

2. The time when I sliced through the actual garment with my overlocker, rather than just trimming the seam

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This is actually the second time I’ve done this. Again, I was trying to do something I’ve never done before – sewing up a seam containing a ribbed cuff, and I was too lazy to baste it first, because that would have meant unpacking my sewing machine as well as my overlocker… you can see where this is going, can’t you? The overlocker chewed up the ribbing and sliced through the leg of the pyjamas. Fixable, but they are on the small side.

3. The time I sewed all the seams with the wrong seam allowance

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This T-shirt is languishing in my alterations pile

Or, why you should stick to one project at a time. Flitting between two similarly coloured jersey projects on my overlocker, I foolishly applied the Ottobre seam allowance of 7mm to my self-drafted T-shirt pattern (seam allowance 10mm). Sounds trivial, but the shoulders look downright weird, and because I stitched all the seams before I noticed, I can’t face unpicking all the overlocking to fix it.

You can never eliminate all the mistakes from your sewing. But from my howlers I’d say:

  • Don’t multi-task; no one’s as good at two things as they are at one
  • Don’t buy fabric that looks the same on both sides unless you’re prepared to mark it up
  • If it says tack/baste, just do it
  • If all else fails, read the instructions!

Have you had any sewing mishaps lately, or is there one that’s haunted you down the years?

Ottobre bicycle PJ bottoms

After my Sallie jumpsuit earlier this month, I had the overlocker all set up, so I thought I’d whip up a speedy stashbusting make for my son. He’s growing so quickly at the moment that he seems to need something new almost every month. (No, I do not make it all!)

As I’d hoped, there was plenty of the bicycle print jersey left over from his coat lining and T-shirt, so I chopped into this again to make some pyjama bottoms. I used the same rainbow-striped ribbing from the T-shirt to make the cuffs.

The pattern is from Ottobre magazine, issue 6/2015, and it’s graded easy, so it’s a nice straightforward make for a beginner. Plus there are only two pattern pieces so there’s not too much tedious tracing either.

I used my overlocker to sew it up, switching to my sewing machine just for the waistband casing, and to topstitch the cuff/leg joins.

The trickiest part is stretching the ribbing as you join it to the leg pieces. This ribbing didn’t stretch very much, and my overlocker didn’t enjoy starting at the edge of the seam and chewed it. Next time, I would definitely follow May Martin’s advice and start stitching on a scrap, feeding the garment through once the machine has got going.

Overall, it’s a lovely simple make that doesn’t use much material. I’ve still got plenty of both fabrics left, so hopefully there’ll be a matching top in the offing soon…