A Tale Of Two Fabrics

fabric Collage

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness

This weekend I had two very different experiences with two very different fabrics. The first was a black and gold striped loose weave knit. I bought this crazy stuff from New Trimmings (my new-to-me favourite shop, tucked away behind Oxford Street) because it reminded me of Debbie Harry, Kim Wilde and my youth.

Crazy Fabric_edited-1

Fortunately, I’d only bought a metre of the black and gold knit to experiment with. Emphasis on experiment. It was all going so well! I’d had the sense to stabilise the shoulder seams with some ribbon. I’d had the sense to use a thick ponte for the neckband.

Then it came to overlocking the shoulder seams together and … that knit fabric did what knitting does when sliced by a blade. It unravelled. Horribly. There was no saving this and it went into the bin. (If you have any advice for avoiding future similair disasters, answers on a postcard, please!)

Liberty lawn

By contrast, my second fabric was a Liberty lawn. It behaved beautifully as I cut it out. No nasty surprises. No wayward behaviour. No unsightly unravelling. It made me wonder – should I avoid the ‘crazy’ in my fabric choices and stick with the known?

My grungy knit had behaved just like my teenage self – atrociously. I kind of liked it. My pretty Liberty lawn had been the good kid, sat at the front of the class. I wasn’t going to complain about that, either. All part of the rich tapestry of sewing, right? I know, I sound so zen. Don’t be fooled. There may have been a glass of wine poured after that little experience.

Would you buy a black and gold loose weave knit? Could you forgive it for behaving abominably? And should I get round to reading A Tale Of Two Cities?

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50 Responses to A Tale Of Two Fabrics

  1. Bekki Hill says:

    Well that post stopped me lurking! You’re a brave lady taking on that black and gold knit, but I see the attraction. It instantly brought back a fond memory of a purple and black stripped jumper I knitted as a teen, in the late seventies, of a yarn that was practically string. And while I would now rather work with a nice well behaved medium weight cotton, my teenage self sat at the back of the class. Maybe I should go scour the shops for something more rebellious. Although seeing your experience, I think I’ll stick with yarn.

  2. Cherry says:

    Yes, yes, yes. It could have been a huge success, but you have to try it in order to to find out. Well done for not being ‘safe’, and just like we were as teenagers – we didn’t think about whether it would fail, we just did it! Love Kim Wilde and Debbie Harry, sorry for your jumper, it would have been fab. Love the Liberty print too and your blog is inspirational.

  3. Joyce says:

    Ah, I think we all need to gamble and try new fabrics and patterns that don’t ‘come with a guarantee’ of success. Risk. We need to take risks every so often just because success and failure hang in the balance and we have no idea which way it’s going to go. And isn’t a success all the more satisfying for that?

    Yes, I’d have a go at sewing the black and gold. If you hadn’t bought it and tried, that fabric would have become ‘the one that got away’ and would always be an ‘if only’ fabric, capable of becoming your best top ever!

    Well, that’s what I think anyway…:)

  4. Knitlass says:

    I reckon you could stitch across the fabric before cutting. That would stabilise the stitches and stop them from unravelling – maybe you could fish the remnants out of the bin and try it?!

    • Knitlass says:

      Hmmm. Having re-read your post I’m not sure this will help… Maybe the over locker is not your friend here?

      • I’m a bit perplexed myself now. I tested scraps for a side seam on the over locker and everything was fine. Maybe it is something to do with a shoulder seam and vertical unravelling… Who know?!

      • Ros says:

        Yes, knitted fabric will behave very differently on shoulder and side seams. It’s why a dropped stitch will unravel instantly, but a steeked seam won’t. With a fabric like that, I’d be tempted to handstitch the seams, to be honest. But if not, use a straight stitch and then maybe bind the seam allowances.

      • Stephanie says:

        Agree with Ros re. the way that knitting typically unravels or not. I wonder if you could salvage what is left of the material and make a swanky tank top or something like that?

      • Thank you, Ros! Such brilliant advice. And – kapow! – a lightbulb goes off in my head. I finally understand the concept behind steeking.

  5. Kathy Lynch says:

    Never mind fabric choices, Debbie Harry & misspent youth……what I want to know is, does TMOS know about this new favourite shop of yours?! He won’t be pleased you know, Karen! 🙂

  6. Nicole says:

    I would say interfacing the seam before hand, or fusible tape? If you made sure the shoulder seams landing on the black and used black interfacing, I don’t think it would look horrible? Or maybe hand overcasting the seam? Sounds like too much work though for a nod to punkrockdom. Good luck!

  7. Marianne says:

    Don’t give up on the black and gold! Pick up the remnants from the bin and try sewing it with a zigzag or any stretch stitch on your sewing machine. Stitch first, cut later, that’s how I remember dealing with this stuff in the eighties. And if anything else fails, use safety pins. That’s how Blondie rocked it 😉

  8. and, yes, if you haven’t read A Tale of Two Cities, I think you should 🙂

  9. louise says:

    I dont think I would have picked up the black and gold, I have no idea how i would have stopped it unravelling. I once on a whim purchased some grey shaggy hair fabric (purely because I hadn’t seen anything like it on a roll before) It was a loose knit like yours but a closer tension and made up beautifully, just overlocked it. But It seemed to catch on everything drawing big pulled lines on the fabric, It had to go in the bin. If its chap and cheerful its fun to experiment I think.

  10. Gail says:

    Maybe your blade is blunt and needs replacing. An overlocker – in theory – should be able to handle an open weave. Shame it didn’t work out because it is fabulous!

  11. I can offer no help on your fabric problem, but definitely read A Tale of Two Cities, it’s great!

  12. Elena Knits says:

    Those bad experiences with fabric always leave me a bit traumatized and I try to avoid them like the plague at least for some months, until I gather some strength to try again.

  13. Claire says:

    I kinda enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities. But I’d be totally peeved if a fabric did that to me.

  14. Jo says:

    I’d sew the loose knit, but as others have said I’d probably stabilise then sew the seam on my sewing machine before overlocking. It’s always the real thing that goes wrong isn’t it, never the test on scrap fabric?

  15. Jenny says:

    The BBC did a gratdramatisation of Tale of Two Cities a while back, I think Robert Lindsey was in it. Worth looking for on iplayer radio. You can listen to it while you sew!

  16. Toya says:

    Iron on tape over the seams first? I think its always worth experimenting otherwise we’d never learn anything new, and you often learn more during a failed project than a successful one.

  17. Mary says:

    If you reverse order things it may work better. By that I mean, put contrasting pins in the fabric, parallel to where you’ll need to cut out the pattern piece. Then serge beside the pins, blade not in use. Now you should be able to cut out your pattern piece and sew as though it is a fairly well behaved. A nice theory, anyway. 🙂

  18. I was not a rebel & would love to take more risks -especially in my sewing . You are an inspiration because at least you tried !!!!

  19. June says:

    You’re one wild and crazy gal for buying that knit stuff. 🙂

  20. Jen (NY) says:

    Just my take, but there does not seem to be a way to stabilize the shoulder seams without tying off the yarns first. (I’m not a knitter, but it seems like cutting into a sweater). Maybe the future answer would be to use a pattern that does not have shoulder seams? Not sure what that might be, but maybe it’s the only way to deal with this kind of fragile material.

  21. Lulu says:

    Sew the seam with an ordinary machine, several times over using a small stitch, just to secure the fabric. Then overlock just past that. Should be fine.

  22. If we don’t try anything new-to-us or experimental, how will we grow or develop new skills? I say if you like it, give it a shot! The worst that can happen is you’ll learn something.
    If you decide to give this one another try, I think Ros is right about a cut edge across the vertical of a loose knit being much more fragile than a cut across the horizontal. Maybe use a strip of a finer knit as a soft binding, or zigzag around the cut edges before you sew the seams?

  23. Get yourself an audio book and Carry On Sewing!

  24. Mary says:

    I would use a better behaved fabric to make a top down past the sleeve curve by several inches. Cut off the ruined stripe. Reinforce. Zig-zag. Or serge if that works on the straight edge. Attach. Can’t wait to see

  25. emsewcrazy says:

    I love that black and gold knit and am very bummed with you that it didn’t work out.
    If I’m sewing to fill a need I do choose fabric and patterns I’m pretty sure will work out because I need to wear those pants tomorrow morning. 🙂
    If I have the spare cash and time adventure is a good thing to try. Sometimes adventure just happens naturally with mixed results. As you said, it’s all part of the sewing process!

  26. DO fish it out for all of our sakes – those of us of course who were teens at that time or thereabouts. SO we can live vicariously 😉
    OK, here’s what I would do – sew it not overlock, with a 15mm seam allowance, with either tissue or washaway underneath or even under and over, then remove. Then press it open and maybe then sew a tape over the seam for extra strength, or just sew the seam allowance down a 1/4 inch from the seam on each side. That will help keep the unruly teem under control, while still giving her some wriggle room.
    I am imagining a lose bat wing top here – amiright? I had a red and grey one, in a sweatshirting, and I sewed it on some crazy angle to get the stripes running diagonally. This was worn with red corduroy trousers (pleats at waist, fitted into ankle) and grey suede boots with cuffs. With my permed hair teased then gelled back at the sides, I was the BOMB. Good grief, I think I even made a plait out of some offcuts to wear as a head band. It was a scary time for fashion!

  27. helen says:

    I read a ‘Tale of Two Cities’ for the first time last year and loved it.
    It’s a book with not just a classic first opening sentence but finishes with another classic
    ” It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
    I had this thing in 2012 when it was Dickens’s 200th anniversary that I would read the full works… I managed, Oliver, Great Expectations, Little Dorritt and a Tale of Two Cities. All great stories, then I gave up, I was Dickened out.
    Anyway, back to fabric. Tana Lawn will always be the teachers pet! 🙂

  28. womble says:

    I rather like the loose weave knit. I’ve never tried to overlock one, I don’t own an overlocker. What I usually do with these types of fabrics is treat them as I do lace. Note that I only have a straight stitch machine, so I overcast the seam allowances by hand shortly after sewing, using needles with blunt tips for jersey or in a case like this, using some yarn unravelled from a scrap piece and a darning needle. To sew the seams, I sew them over paper (dry iron it first so that it tears away nicely, and remove it by holding each side of the paper and pulling them apart, rather than pulling away from the garment), then remove the paper. You can also pick up the stitches and cast them off at the hems, if you want, but I usually do a couple of lines of straight stitching over paper, remove the paper and overcast or bind all edges.

  29. I totally would’ve bought that fabric too. However, I would’ve let it languish in the stash too scared to actually see it. You are a braver woman than I. Good on you for taking it on. It may not have worked but it will be a learning experience for next time.

  30. Sorry to hear about your fabric. Yes definitely read the book. It’s one of my favourites

  31. symondezyn says:

    the black and gold knit looks like chain mail to me! ^_^ Shame it didn’t work out – I just like to call those kinds of experiences “wasn’t meant to be” LOL. Fabric can be fickle and sewing is not for the faint of heart!! ^_^ While I haven’t worked with quite that loose of a weave before, (so I’m not sure it’d work) what I tend to do with fray-prone fabrics is to disengage the knife on my serger. I wonder if you could use a thicker thread on one like this too? you know, the kind that poofs up when you sew it? (totally can’t remember what it’s called haha)

  32. Sheree says:

    This maybe a completely stupid idea. Not sure how ruined your knit is, or whether you can rescue it from the bin, but could you (using knitting needles) pick up the stitches and knit a few rows
    (using yarn from any left over fabric that you have unravelled). Then sew up the shoulders by hand as you would a knitted garment. As I said this maybe not one of my better ideas, but I thought I would throw it in the mix.

  33. Lorrain says:

    You threw caution to the wind. I think you`re very brave. Perhaps if you`d used seam binding or an overlock stitch on the sewing machine, or a french seam, but it was never meant to be,just focus on your successes,
    your blog is very inspiring.

  34. Liza Jane says:

    Don’t give up on the crazy stuff! Sometimes it hurts but when you strike it right, it’s awesome. I’m a fan of the wild stuff.

  35. Hilde says:

    For what it’s worth, I really like the liberty lawn!

    And yes, yes you should read A Tale of Two Cities! Go get yourself a blanket and a cup of tea and get sucked in.

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