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Tales from the Knit Tees

May 14, 2012

Apologies to Armistead Maupin. I have no idea how it happened, but as an impressionable youth, I chanced upon Tales of the City, and couldn’t put the series down. After that (in my history of reading, not in the history of writing) came the Beats, then of course the original reality show, The Real World. Raise your hand if you remember Puck. How could you not? I just knew I’d have some bohemian/beat/hipster SF life. These days, if acts of subversion include making your own t-shirts, then I am so hep. (Coincidentally, Mr. Maupin was on the most recent Weekend Edition, my blog title previously decided upon. I love stuff like that.)

I’ve really perfected the art of complicating simplicity. In my efforts over the past couple of years of wanting to learn the “real” way to sew, I’ve noticed that I started letting my instinct (or “Eff it! I own you, fabric”) attitude slip a little. As was the case here: a simple t-shirt pattern. Buying a t-shirt pattern is odd in itself, if you ask me. But I did just that, even though I’ve hacked up, pieced together, nipped & tucked my fair share of them over the years. As a professor once quipped, you have to know the rules in order to break them. So, I bought a pattern, and learned a few things along the way. Stuff y’all probably knew light years ago.

  • Fun fact: spandex is an anagram for expands!
  • knit ≠ jersey, but jersey = knit. I always used the two interchangeably, like some people do with Coke or Kleenex for soda or tissue.
  • woolly nylon is the shit
  • so is Vilene/Pellon bias tape. I love it more than twill tape. Really do. But I already knew that… just wanted to tell you guys how much I love that stuff.
  • “stable knit” ≠ stiff or without drape. It’s about the stretchiness factor. Which is where I went wrong on my muslin.
  • Who makes a muslin for a t-shirt, anyway?

Me. This was my first Sewaholic pattern, and I didn’t know what to expect size/fit-wise. I’d heard rumors of high armpits. Actually, I’m kinda glad I sewed up a couple of trials. It gave me a chance to enjoy my serger for what she’s good at. And get a little refresher on negative ease.

gross. i’m not even going to show you the folds at the small of my back.

gross squared. but it did make a decent running shirt for cooler weather. if you don’t mind looking sloppy while sweating.

This interlock knit I’d snagged from my mom was going to be just perfect. Or so I thought. But the first tee (size 6) is a gross mess on me. So I altered the neckline/shoulder/armscye area, per Sherry’s famous tute, and pinched up the length for my high waist. Which did pretty much nothing, because this thick knit has so much give. Still gross. If this fabric is soft, it is also bulky with lots of stretch, nothing like the drapey knits popular today. I think it’s leftovers from a nearby Land’s End/LL Bean type company where I grew up. Quality fabric, but in that bland, 90s, flannel sheets sort of way.

If I could make a faux-flatlock stitch on my serger just so, this interlock would be perfect for some new yoga pants. I couldn’t get the two layers to pull flat without distorting the fabric. Which is too bad, because I really want to do some athletic gear. Still possible, but there will the be the tendency for chafing without flat seams. Maybe a flatlock stitch is best made on a specific piece of equipment? Anyone had luck on their home serger?

Back to the tees that look good… Once I’d switched over to the drapey heathered lavender jersey, also from Mom, life was great. What a difference it made! I stitched up the same altered pattern I’d left off with, and was almost happy. There was still a bit of frump, and I quickly realized that the issue lay in the bottom band. It simply added too much length for my high-waisted, curvy figure. Long, drapey, tunic-type tees look so great on others, but with my backward S-shaped profile, hips, etc, they do nothing good for me. I hadn’t left enough of a hem to twin needle, so I sliced off the band, trimmed it down, serged back on. Voila! Of course, the one mistake is found front & center… my presser foot got hung up right by the V point, so the topstitching is dense, with a little bump. Meh, I’ve seen worse in RTW.

For numero dos, I made view C in a linen/poly blend jersey. Lemon meringue, anyone?! My arms get chilly on cool summer nights, so 3/4 sleeves for me. I added a smidge to the bottom for twin needle hemming, and took in the waist to a size 4. And let me just say that woolly nylon thread is my new best friend! Expensive? Hell yes. Worth it? HELL YES. It really allows the serged seams some give, and made my twin needling much better (used it in the bobbin, “hand” wound on the machine slowly, using my hand and not the thread guides). It did get caught on a slub in the fabric, again, right near the front, but I fixed it. Hopefully one pre-wash was all this needed, but I have more if it shrinks up.

One other note about the Renfrew… I realize the pattern is designed for those without sergers, but if you have one, I suggest cutting down your SAs to 1/4″. Large seam allowances on the serger are simply annoying to me, so I trimmed mine down during tracing. There is also a typo in the pattern, but I think Tasia covered that on her blog. Oh, and folks have posted tons on knits lately, but I’ll second/third/fourth the consensus that if your fabric is super-stretchy, slice an inch + off that neckband :)

These tops, along with Le Taffy, are what I’ve been wearing for MMM week two. So I’m totally counting this as my post. Taffy, coming up…

In other news, I’m pretty psyched to have run my first official race in (gulp) 3 years yesterday! For all you hardcore runners, a 5k is the t-shirt of races. I was surprised to find it was non-chipped, so my time wasn’t exact, but I came in a minute under my test run from the previous weekend, when the weather was about 10 degrees cooler. My time was four minutes better than the Jack Kerouac 5k from 2009, my first race in 12 years. With actual running training (instead of jogging with Mushie & boot camp workouts), I know I can PR over my high school time (when I was also pretty middle of the road), and move on to 10k.

Happy trails, happy belated Mother’s Day, happy whatever your fancy.

Oh, and if you have an opinion on yellow & my skin tone, do tell. Because I like yellow, but I don’t really know that it is a great color for me. Maybe in this pale tint? My eyes are blue, almost violet at times, the complimentary color to yellow. But for my skin? Whaddyathink?

35 Comments leave one →
  1. May 14, 2012 9:13 pm

    Your gorgeous face is SO perfectly lit in these pics!! Natural light for the win! I love your shirts! I am a HUGE fan of cowl necks and I love sewing with knits. I don’t own this pattern, but I know from my experiences with BurdaStyle’s Lydia pattern, that once you hack n slice it just right you can whip up tees like a pro!

    • May 15, 2012 9:45 am

      Girl, that’s natural light, my friend Phil (dorky photo joke about fill flash), and a little Photoshoppery in its best (IMO) form, looking like it’s not there. I don’t think Ry balanced the flash every shot, and I couldn’t be bothered to mess with ’em too much :)

      You’re so right… once you’ve got a tee pattern that is just right, it’s a total cake walk, spare moment project!

  2. May 14, 2012 9:30 pm

    You look so gorgeous! I love you in yellow– it seems to warm up your complexion just a tad and looks great! I love the heathery lavender tee, too– what a great color!

    It’s so nice to see your hound! What a sweetie!

    • May 15, 2012 9:48 am

      Really? Okay, first time I’ve heard that, so Ima go with it (re: yellow)! What these photos don’t show: our toddler neighbor walking by and Mushka barking him away. She’s sweet. And sassy. Very sassy.

  3. May 14, 2012 9:46 pm

    your shirts look so great! I’ve made a couple of knit tees now without a pattern, and I think it may be time to take your advice and get the pattern to learn the rules! ;) I love the lavender one on you, bravo!

    • May 15, 2012 9:51 am

      If you love how they look w/o a pattern, stick with it! But it was pretty fascinating to see the difference is shoulder slope from pattern to my favorite tees. I think Tanit-Isis has written at length about that :)

  4. May 14, 2012 10:03 pm

    Thank you! I’m just working through my second Renfrew, and trying to figure out how to improve the fit from my first one. I honestly can’t tell what’s wrong.. but I’m excited to be turning out wearable t-shirt while I perfect the fit! :)

    • May 15, 2012 9:55 am

      Mine are still not perfect, with wrinkles here and there. But after sewing up four in a row, I took a step back and just gawked at everyone’s tee shirts. And you know what? Most tees people wear have wrinkles at the small of the back. Not that I don’t want to improve, but it made me feel a little better :)

  5. May 14, 2012 10:50 pm

    Congratulations on the run! I’ve always had a desire to run but a bad foot has always limited me. I did get to a place where I could comfortably go a few miles last year but I slacked and stopped running over the winter. Perhaps this summer…
    Your knits look so great. Like you, I’ve been wanting this pattern for the rules. Good to know that it’s full of ’em! I personally love the yellow on you – it looks beautiful with your dark hair and light skin.
    As for flatlocking – I was never able to get the tension right on the old singer so I gave up on the stitch until I bought my new serger. I’ve been taking advantage of the free lessons at the dealer and just had one on flatlocking. My teacher, Allison, showed me how to adjust the thread count, needle position, cut width, and tension to get the perfect stitch. She also showed me how to attach lace and elastic. I never imagined that knit vs woven would have an effect but I suppose it would! Have you had luck on a sturdy woven? What kind of distortion are you getting? Perhaps we can figure this out together.

    • May 15, 2012 10:06 am

      The pattern doesn’t really go into detail about rules for knits, I was just researching them in the process :) Woolly nylon thread was my one major takeaway. It’s awesome! I wonder if it’s the black in my hair now? Maybe I’ll have to keep it super dark to wear yellow?!

      I never even considered trying the flatlock on a woven, but will do so right away. I was using an article from the June/July 2011 Threads issue. I used the right needle, with tension set to 0, then UL at normal, LL at 7, per the article. No matter how much I fiddled with the dials, I couldn’t get it to a point where the fabric would flatten out nicely, and if I pulled too hard, the knit would stretch & distort. I tried with my knife both engaged and disengaged, but that didn’t make a difference, either. Hhmmm… I’ll try the left needle, and also a woven.

      Running has always been love/hate with me, but I’m enjoying it more these days. I hope you can get back into it :) That’s a bummer about your foot.

      • May 15, 2012 2:56 pm

        From the pictures it looks like there is too much fabric which is bunching up when you go to flatten it. I would set the dials to the neutral position (what the article told you or what is described in your manual) and use the left needle. The wider stitch may be what is needed. If that still doesn’t work than futzing with the knife position may help. If your machine allows you to change the knife position, set it so more fabric is being cut. Once the fabric is no longer bunching, then you can play around with the tension dials to get a beautiful stitch. Let me know how it goes… I’m on a quest to get the perfect flatlock lately.

        • May 16, 2012 8:44 am

          Same here! I really want a nice flatlock for some athletic gear. It seams like the ladders on the reverse (inside of fold) aren’t loose enough to pull flat. My knife is either engaged or not, but I’m going to keep messing around.

  6. May 15, 2012 1:35 am

    Congrats on geting back into racing (and on fitting the Renfrew). Before you know it, you’ll be signed up for a marathon!

    • May 15, 2012 10:08 am

      Oh man! In my mind, I float along in a road race, totally blissed out for miles. Call me Forrest Gump. In reality, a marathon is scary. Maybe a half? ;)

  7. May 15, 2012 9:48 am

    Hi there! Have you seen this video on why t-shirts leave big wrinkles on anyone with a bust? It’s long but fascinating. I learned a lot. She has a whole series of webcasts. Your Renfrews are great. Nice job.

    • May 15, 2012 10:15 am

      Thanks so much for the link! I will definitely watch that tonight :) The wrinkles do bother me, especially at the small of my back. I can live with the ones around my bust a little bit more readily. I went through and photographed myself in my two fav tees, and noticed that the all have the same issue at the small back, but the only way to fix it (as I could determine) would be do take out a huge chunk of the pattern above the curve (shoulder area), which seemed crazy. And also meant a lot of redrafting of the armscye. Hopefully the vid will guide me :)

    • May 21, 2012 2:41 pm

      Fascinating! Have you tried these patterns? The French dart makes so much sense in a tee. I wonder if I should snatch up her basic pattern, or try to draft in a French dart on this one.

  8. May 15, 2012 10:00 am

    I’m really on the fence about buying patterns for knits – they’re just so easy to rip off from existing garments! But as someone who also had a desire to learn the “right way” to do things – maybe this isn’t such a bad idea? I recently made a t-shirt from a built by wendy pattern and I thought it was the dumbest pattern I’ve ever used! But then again the BBW pattern didn’t come with any fun tips on sewing knits…

    • May 15, 2012 10:10 am

      Crap, total disclaimer… there aren’t any actual tips in the pattern! I just read through a bunch of old Threads issues and some online stuff before/during making these, which is something I’ve never bothered to do before with knits.

      People swear by those BBW books, but I look at them and think the same thing. That’s boring and dumb! What a snob!

  9. May 15, 2012 10:28 am

    I remember Puck! Omg, during my teenage years all I wanted was to be on Real World. Then I grew up and realized it’s for unstable narcissists.

    Fabulous tees. I think that shade of yellow is really pretty on you. I do not know about woolly nylon! So you just use it in the bobbin and in your serger?? For all three threads or just in the needle? My twin needling has been looking gross lately and it’s pissing me off.

    I’m not thrilled with my Renfrew, but it’s my fault – the fabric isn’t super stretchy and it’s a bit big and long. I should fix it, but instead I’m giving it to a friend.

    Congrats on your run!

    • May 15, 2012 11:00 am

      Seriously, reality tv is frightening. There was something slightly more innocent about that first year in NYC of the Real World, but that’s probably rose-colored glasses talking. If I watched it now, bet I’d be as appalled with that as any of the other current crap shows.

      Go get some woolly nylon! It was about $7 a spool, which is crazy compared to my regular serger thread. But it was cool. I used it in the loopers, then regular cones in the two needles. For the twin needle topstitching, I used some Steam a Seam for a little stabilization, then regular thread in the needles, woolly nylon in the bobbin.

      You look so great in long, fluid tops! I love that look, but my curves don’t. Still need to get rid of some of the wrinkles in the Renfrew, but how smooth can one make a tee? How much fiddling is worth it?

  10. misscrayolacreepy permalink
    May 15, 2012 3:42 pm

    I think that you are one of those people that can wear any color and look good!

    And I still watch Real World!!! I love the Challenges. I think my husband would do so good in one, but he laughs at me :(

    • May 16, 2012 8:48 am

      Aw, thanks! I think it depends on my hair color, which is a soft black at the moment. I love orange, but that color, and corals, just look awful on me. Can’t believe that show is still on… crazeballs! You guys should do a spoof… you’ll get your fix, and he won’t have a million people gawking!

  11. May 15, 2012 4:25 pm

    Dude congrats on your awesome looking t-shirts and your 5k!! I have to say I think you can pull of the yellow with great success…both the lavender and the lemon look ssssssuper cute!!

    • May 16, 2012 8:50 am

      Great success! I so want a high-five & a treat now (yeah, my dog has taken over my life… she loves “success”).

  12. May 15, 2012 5:16 pm

    dude…. your v-neck namesake tee is perfect. Seriously. Can I get a macro shot of that neckline? because it’s killing me! such a great job!!! :) I love the yellow cowl on you too, and let’s get real, even your ‘gross’ jobbies look pretty great! I’ve yet to sew anything knit yet so my lil’ serger is gonna come in greatly handy for when I finally get around to it, but I doubt they’ll be anything as perfect as yours :)

    • May 16, 2012 8:52 am

      If I did that, you’d see the bunch of thread underneath the necklace chain :) Seriously, front & center, the foot hung up. Sigh…

      • May 16, 2012 10:19 am

        Well i’m sure no one will notice but you! ^___^ It is still such a professional looking neckline; did you follow the pattern instructions? or do you have super secret tricky methods of making a tee look like a million bucks? ^__^

  13. oaklandbex permalink
    May 15, 2012 6:55 pm

    What’s the typo on the pattern? I just dug all through Tasia’s blog and couldn’t find it. does it have anything to do with why my v turned out wonky? I love your new T collection!

    • May 16, 2012 8:57 am

      It’s on the cowl version, step 6. Instructions read “sew collar pieces wrong sides together along un-notched edge.” Should be right sides. Totally minor :) For the V, I definitely suggest trimming down your SAs to make life easier. Also, I nipped the tee at the point to spread it a little, basted down to the point, the turned and did the same on the other side. Made sure everything was going to lay flat & evenly, then passed it through my serger, stretching as I went around the upper & mid V opening (I had trimmed the band down a smidge). Good luck!

  14. May 17, 2012 3:58 am

    Love the yellow tshirt. Those wrinkles under the arm might disappear with a full bust adjustment.

    • May 17, 2012 8:32 am

      Oh, I totally caused that on my own! Forgot I had pinched out a small wedge between after the first (red) version for the second (black) tee. So both the lavender & yellow need that wedge spread back out again.

  15. May 18, 2012 4:57 pm

    I like the yellow on you, the pale shade works well and the dark jeans give a nice contrast. I also like the fit of that version on you, and the 3/4 sleeves and cowl neck look great! I had a few issues with Renfrew, too, even using a stable knit. It’s just that I really like some negative ease in my knit tops…
    Also, how is it that half of the sewing community (or so it feels like) runs races?!? You, Scruffy, Meg, Karen… *shakes head* Kudos! I’ll just do it like Tasia and stick to biking to work… ;)

  16. June 19, 2012 12:52 pm

    Hello! Love the renfrews – been playing around with a few myself too… Have you found anywhere in Boston/Cambridge that stocks good quality jersey though? The only place I’ve found so far is Gather Here, but it has a limited selection. And buying online is such a crapshoot!

    • June 22, 2012 3:02 pm

      Hi there! You’re in the Boston/Cambridge area?! Good quality knits are hard to find, but Grey’s fabric in the South Ends has a small selection among the well-curated quilting cottons/home dec. It’s probably similar to Gather Here in the limited size :)

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