What I Learned Sewing with Knits for the First Time

What I Learned Sewing Knits for the First Time Using My Regular Sewing Machine – http://kimwerker.com/blog

Last weekend I had the house all to myself for two days, and I decided it was finally time to try sewing with knit fabric on my regular sewing machine. I’d read that it can be done. I’d bought some fabric on sale over months and months. I’d bookmarked a class on CreativeBug, and had even, ages ago, printed out the pattern for the Wanderlust Tee.

To be clear, I have only ever sewn two garments in my life: a robe for my son a few years ago, and a very wee pair of baby pants. I’m no garment-sewing expert is what I’m saying.

And though I’ve had fabric and a pattern for a simple shirt for years, I eventually realized that what I wear are t-shirts. Every day I wear one! Which is why I never got around to making clothes for myself out of woven fabrics. High time to just see if I could make a t-shirt, then.

Here, I’ll skip right to the end: I made myself three shirts over the weekend. And most of a fourth!

What I Learned Sewing Knits for the First Time – http://www.kimwerker.com/blog

I was not speedy. At times, it was very slow-going and very tedious. But with each successive shirt, I worked a bit faster. With each successive shirt, I became more confident that I will make more (many, many more).

Now. Usually knit fabrics are sewn with a serger, which is a fancy kind of sewing machine that finishes and trims the edges of the fabric as you sew. (Don’t think I’m not thinking of stalking Craigslist for one now that I’ve broken the shirt-making seal.)

I’d heard rumours, though, that it’s doable to sew knits on a regular sewing machine. In fact, I read quite a lot about this as I nurtured my fantasy of making my own clothes while not actually making any clothes.

And I’ll tell ya, the rumours are true! Sure, using a serger would probably make the process faster and less tedious, but it’s not a required tool. And since even entry-level sergers can set you back more than a couple hundred bucks, I hereby encourage you to give it a shot using your regular machine.

Here’s the skinny of what I learned during my weekend knits-sewing intensive:

What I Learned Sewing Knits for the First Time Using My Regular Sewing Machine

 

  1. That cutting fabric around paper pattern pieces using a rotary cutter isn’t as terrifying as it looks when you’ve never done it before. Awkward? Certainly. But also efficient and satisfying. The very first shirt I made was the Wanderlust Tee by Fancy Tiger Crafts, and I followed their Creativebug class as I went. (The class gave me courage, but it wasn’t exactly filled with help. I still had to look up some things.)
  2. A walking foot is essential. I learned how to use a walking foot when I made a quilt a couple of years ago, and I’d read they’re very helpful when sewing with knits, because knits have a tendency to stretch and distort when moving through a standard sewing machine. A walking foot has feed dogs that walk on top of the fabric, coordinated with the feed dogs that walk below the fabric, so the fabric is fed through the machine evenly at top and bottom. It’s well worth the $30 or so for a walking foot – I had zero trouble with my fabric stretching while I sewed, because it was fed evenly through my machine. (These contraptions are a bit more complicated than other kinds of presser feet, so I recommend looking for a tutorial specific to your sewing machine to see how to install it. It’s not hard to do, but it’s not necessarily clear how to do it without instructions.)
  3. How to thread a twin needle (it’s not nearly as complicated as you might think!). A twin needle is exactly what it sounds like: two needles attached at a shaft so they fit into your machine just like a single needle does. And what they do is like magic! Each needle is threaded from its own spool, and when you sew, they create parallel lines of stitches on the right side, and a decorative configuration of stitches on the wrong side. If you position the needles on either side of the edge of a hem, they’ll tack down the edge on the wrong side. Even if you use a serger to sew knit pieces together, you’ll use a twin needle to finish the edges. The first few minutes of this YouTube video got me threading my twin needles lickety-split. (I still have no idea what she’s talking about re: putting one thread to the left of something-or-other and the other thread to the right. As far as I could tell, I can’t access whatever that thing is on my Elna machine, so I ignored that instruction. No big deal.)
  4. How to sew with a twin needle. It’s tricky, but totally doable. I mean, the sewing itself is not tricky; it’s exactly the same as sewing with a single needle. What’s tricky is sewing a hem down with the right side of the fabric facing. Since you can’t actually see the edge of the hem, because it’s folded to the wrong side, this is an exercise in sewing by feel and having faith you measured properly. I know I rarely measure properly, so I had to focus hard on feeling for the hem edge. I bought both a 2mm and 4mm twin needle when I was preparing to sew with knits, not having any idea what the measurement was of. Turns out, that’s the measurement of the distance between the needles – so go for the biggest number you can find! I found 4mm a challenge, for sure, but I managed it. I sewed slowly and used my index fingers to keep track of the edge of the hem by feel. I was about 95% accurate, and I fudged the 5% where I missed the edge.
  5. To use awesome fabric. This is a lesson I’ve learned over time with yarn – I used to be tempted to save my most gorgeous yarn for something special, and what ended up happening was that I’d never use it. How dumb! I always encourage beginner crocheters to choose yarn they love, even though what they’ll make with it will probably be a total disaster. Making total disasters is what beginners are supposed to do! Which makes those disasters absolutely perfect. And we should make them with materials we enjoy using. So for my shirts, I used fabric I’ve been hoarding for a while because I bought it on sale for someday-maybe. The first shirt I made this weekend (shown in the photo above) is far more cropped than anything I’d normally wear. But I only had one yard of that fabric, and I love that fabric, and it was exactly the right amount to make a cropped shirt. So I went for it. I knew I might mess it up and ruin the fabric I love so much, but I decided I would rather mess up with fabric I was excited about than end up with a perfect shirt I wouldn’t actually want to wear. So a cropped shirt I made. And I love it. My hems aren’t sewn straight (I never sew straight, so whatever), and the bottom is a little too wide, but I just love it. I wore it immediately, layered over a long tank top. Which is how I’ve become someone who wears a cropped shirt.

Further Notes

  • I made one Wanderlust Tee and almost three One Hour Tops. Had I realized how much simpler the One Hour Top is than the Tee, I would have started with it! But I’m glad I had the experience of sewing set-in sleeves. I wasn’t sure I was doing it right, but I did do it right! Still, the One Hour Tee is more my style, and I’m determined to make enough of them that I become able to actually make one in only an hour.
  • The neck band on the Wanderlust Tee utterly defeated me. I was completely unable to make it work. So I ditched it and just folded the neckline 1/2″ to the wrong side and finished it that way (same as the cuffs and hemline).
  • Always use a zig-zag stitch for sewing knit fabrics – it’ll allow the seams to stretch along with the fabric (and a straight stitch won’t).
  • Finishing the edges (sleeve cuffs, hemline, neckline) was the part I enjoyed least. Not because of the twin needle (which produces a stretchy stitch – don’t sew a zig-zag with a twin needle!). It was that pressing knits is a pain, especially with lighter-weight fabric. The crease you make isn’t nearly as distinct or persistent as it is when you use woven fabrics, and I found myself winging it more than I would have liked.
  • But who cares. Wing it!

Pattern Recommendations

When I posted a photo of my first tee over on Instagram, I asked which t-shirt patterns people love. Here are the recommendations commenters made:

 

Note: Some links in this post are affiliate links.

Join Me for Some Spring Cleaning!

Spring Cleaning for Creative Fun – join in at http://patreon.com/kpwerker

I don’t know about you, but my creative spaces – both in my house and in my brain – are a total disaster these days. Time for some serious spring cleaning!

Starting today, and continuing every Monday and Thursday for a few weeks, join me over on Patreon for a simple yet grand adventure to get these physical and figurative creative spaces into shape so they can help us have the be our best creative selves.

Check out Day One!

How to Make DIY Tinted Lip Balm with Sun Protection

I'm going on a beach holiday in a few days, and I got it in my head to make myself some lip balm that'll protect me from the sun. Had I made this before? No I had not. I think the uncertainty of it is much of what made me determined to do it.

How to Make DIY Tinted Lip Balm with Sun Protection – http://www.kimwerker.com/blog

(I mean, I've made plain-old lip balm before, so it's not like I went into this totally cold. But I did wing it quite a bit, all the same.)

First snag? The titanium dioxide I have is water-soluble, not oil-soluble. I was going to use only a teensy weensy bit of it, but I didn't want it to go all screwy on me so instead of using both it and zinc oxide for a sun-protection dynamic duo, I used only zinc oxide. Honestly, I don't think this made a lick of difference to the lip balm, but I thought I'd mention it.

Why these white powders, you ask? Well. There's a reason all the super-natural sunscreens for kids use them: they're effective, and they aren't harsh chemicals that might irritate skin.

Only thing is, as I'm sure you've noticed at parks or summer camps with kids whose parents hate "chemicals": pasty, pasty kids. The sunscreen makes skin look a ghastly white no matter the wearer's skin tone.

Which is why this lip balm is tinted. If I didn't add colour, the balm would be a pure, opaque white, and it would make my lips look like a clown's foundation.

How to Make DIY Tinted Lip Balm with Sun Protection – http://www.kimwerker.com/blog

So I used that white as a base, and added iron oxide and carmine dye to bring it back to some kind of natural colour – even, depending on your opinion, to a lovely shade of blush.​

Below is the recipe, a video of me making the first (of two) batches, and here's an option to get a printable PDF of the ​recipe and instructions (you'll get my weekly newsletter, too, which I think will be utterly delightful for you):

CLICK HERE TO GET THE RECIPE & INSTRUCTIONS AS A PDF

Recipe & Instructions

​Note: I have no idea exactly how much protection this lip balm provides against UVA and UVB rays. What I do know is that it should provide more than a similar recipe that doesn't use zinc oxide, because zinc oxide protects against exposure to the sun. At this concentration? I don't know how much.

Supplies*

Ingredients

Note: See instructions for compensating for leaving out any optional ingredients.

Make the Lip Balm

Fill the small saucepan with a couple of inches of water, and start heating on medium-low.

Into the glass measuring cup, add beeswax, cocoa butter, shea butter, argan oil and sweet almond oil. (If not using argan oil, just use 5g more sweet almond or olive oil. The idea is to use a total of 21g of oil that’s liquid at room temperature.)

Place the measuring cup into the saucepan. Stir occasionally while the wax and butters melt. (The wax will be the last to melt.)

While that’s going, in the small bowl combine the vitamin E oil, castor oil and zinc oxide (if you aren’t using vitamin E oil and/or castor oil, sub in the same liquid oil you’re already using – olive, sweet almond, etc. – so that you’re adding a total of 4g of oil to the zinc oxide). Stir into a paste. Now add the tint in small increments until the hue and saturation are to your liking. (Shown here: the pinkest tubes contain a smidge of burgundy iron oxide and about 30 drops of liquid carmine dye; the browner tubes contain about a teaspoon of burgundy iron oxide.)

When the waxes and butters are fully melted into the liquid oils, remove the measuring cup from the pot and place on a heat-proof surface.

Quickly stir in the zinc oxide/tint mixture, mixing thoroughly (quickly because as the oils cool, they’ll start to harden – if that happens, no worries! Just put the measuring cup back into the saucepan to remelt everything).

If you’re adding essential oil or flavour oil, add that in now (I used about 8 drops of spearmint essential oil), and stir well.

Pour everything into lip balm tubes.

Let the tubes cool thoroughly before using.

CLICK HERE TO GET THE RECIPE & INSTRUCTIONS AS A PDF

How to Make DIY Tinted Lip Balm with Sun Protection – http://www.kimwerker.com/blog
How to Make DIY Tinted Lip Balm with Sun Protection – http://www.kimwerker.com/blog

Free Pattern: Simplest Crochet Hat!

Free pattern for the simplest crochet hat! http://kimwerker.com/blog

My friend recently pulled a hat out of his coat pocket and said, "Kim! I hope you can help me. This is my favourite hat, and I want a few more of them. What's it made out of? Where can I buy more?"

It was the simplest crocheted hat ever. Beanie length, double crochet with a single crochet brim in a contrasting colour. By my best guess it was made from soft acrylic yarn. I was like, "Friend, you can probably find more of these at any craft fair in town, and probably at the farmer's market when the weather warms up. It's the simplest hat ever! You know what, I'll make you one."

So I went home and dug around for some yarn. I'm pretty sure his original hat was made in DK or sportweight yarn, but I found some of my favourite worsted weight, and whipped this up in an evening of Netflix.

Then before I gave it to him, I was like, I should write this pattern up. It's so simple!

And so I did.

Get the Free Pattern:

CLICK HERE TO GET THE FREE SIMPLEST BEANIE CROCHET PATTERN!

To crochet the hat, you'll need about 100 yards of worsted weight yarn, plus a small amount in a contrasting colour – about 10 or 12 yards. That and a 5mm (US H/8) hook, and you can whip one up in one sitting.

Don't know how to crochet but want to make awesome projects like this? Take my beginner crochet class at Craftsy, and I'll have you crocheting in no time!

Already crochet but want to seriously up your game? Take my class Crochet in the Round: Basics & Beyond and you'll learn how to size this hat so it'll fit a head of any size, from newborn to gigantic – and you'll learn so much more, too!

Free pattern for the simplest crochet hat! http://kimwerker.com/blog
Make the simplest crocheted hat! Get the free pattern at http://kimwerker.com/blog

Free Template: Carve a Stamp and Make Cards for Any Occasion!

Carve a card stamp for all occasions! http://kimwerker.com/blog

A few weeks ago I was asked to teach a class on block printing holiday cards. The class ended up falling through, but not before I decided to try my hand at carving a more detailed lino block than I'd ever attempted before.

I don't celebrate Christmas and don't assume that all of my students do, so I wanted to create an example block that can be used for a wide variety of occasions. (The actual projects my students would complete would be far simpler!

So I took to the computer and designed a 4x6" block that features a blank box I can fill in with anything I want. (Download the template and instructions below!)

HAPPY HAPPY happy Christmas!

HAPPY HAPPY happy birthday!

HAPPY HAPPY happy Hanukkah!

HAPPY HAPPY happy joy joy!

Carve a card stamp for all occasions! http://kimwerker.com/blog

My finished block isn't the best – there are some nicked edges, some wonky lines, some not-clean-enough-for-my-liking details – but I'm glad I finally took the plunge and tried it out.

Carve a card stamp for all occasions! http://kimwerker.com/blog

If you're new to stamp or block carving, I highly recommend using Speedball Speedy Carve for your block. It's way easier to carve than a lino block. I may make another of these in the pink stuff, actually. I'd be able to use a huge stamp pad for it then, too, instead of the more intense-to-use block-printing ink (though using the ink is super fun, and messier).

DOWNLOAD THE STAMP TEMPLATE & INSTRUCTIONS!

  

Carve a card stamp for all occasions! http://kimwerker.com/blog
Carve a card stamp for all occasions! http://kimwerker.com/blog

2016 Gift Guide for Creative Adventurers

Creative adventuring involves lots of play, experimentation, and curiosity. Here are some gifts I think are ace for anyone you know who’s into such things. And I assume you’re into such things, so share this gift guide with people who are shopping for you!

2016 Gift Guide for Creative Adventurers - http://kimwerker.com/blog

Field Notes quarterly subscription

A quarterly subscription to Field Notes limited editions. Notebooks are key to creative adventuring!

Nicely Said is a fabulous book about writing (anything at all) on the web. Creative adventures are best when shared!

Starter block-printing kit. Everything you need to get started.

I’m sure I’ve included Show Your Work in recommendation lists before, but who cares? It’s fabulous.

What better way to spark imagination than by turning the expected on its head? A notebook of black paper seems just about perfect. (See gel pens for a great accompaniment!)

Danielle Krysa’s new book is outstanding, and will help everyone in the world quiet their inner critic and get down to making stuff.

A fountain pen! The Pilot Kakuna is inexpensive and a total delight to write with.

Sound isolating headphones. These don’t rely on electronic noise cancellation, but rather cocoon you in a comfy state that’s removed from the noise around you. Perfect for getting into the creative zone!

Creations are best when shared. A lightweight, flexible gadget like this wee GorillaPod allows for endless possibilities for using a phonecam!

Watercolour brush pens. These are super convenient, and make experimenting with watercolour paints that much easier and exciting.

uppercase

A gift subscription to Uppercase magazine. It’s one of the best magazines for sparking the imagination, and for demonstrating that any interest is a good thing to spend time on.

No explanation needed.

Free pattern for the simplest crochet hat! http://kimwerker.com/blog

Make a hat! If you don’t know how to, learning will be a gift to yourself (plus you’ll get the hat!)

Gel pens are amazeballs no matter what you enjoy making.