Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sew Me Up, Sew Me Down

I have to admit that I hate to follow directions. I like to plunge right in. As my husband Mars will tell you, this can be really annoying, since my haste will sometimes ruin things (notable example: the disastrous ice cream–brownie cake for his birthday). Really, though, it sucks all the joy out of a craft project for me if I can’t just wing it.

As I mentioned in my post last week, our upcoming book The Sweater Chop Shop by Crispina ffrench is rocking my socks for all the right reasons, and I've become obsessed with sewing from recycled sweaters. In addition to lots of projects that have detailed step-by-step directions (for people who like that), the book teaches techniques and approaches, so you can design your own stuff on the fly if you want to.

My first project was a dress, made from a white cable knit cardigan, a brown long-sleeve pullover, a coral short-sleeve pullover, and pink and red scraps that I collected when I shortened the sleeves of a Crispina original I had bought a year or so earlier. (A shout-out to Mars for all the photos in this post.)

The process of designing and sewing was very helter-skelter, but overall, this is how I chopped up my sweaters. I cut the sleeves off the cardigan and finished the edges with a blanket stitch. I cut off the ribbing from the cardigan’s neck and button plackets because the ribbing shrank at a different rate from the rest of the sweater during the felting process. I made a new neck and button placket by piecing together strips of the brown pullover and used an assortment of mismatched vintage buttons for the closure. The upper vest of the dress is attached to the skirt with a running stitch. The skirt is pieced together with large panels from the two pullovers, with the pieces cut at angles to add fullness. I sliced through the brown panels and added triangles of wool patchwork, also for fullness (and fun!). Everything is hand-sewn using yarn and simple stitches, as Crispina’s book instructs.

The next photo is of a sweater that I made in a couple of hours. I used a grey turtleneck sweater as my base, and from a second parrot green pullover, I added flares to the sleeves and a gathered skirt at the body. I did use a machine to piece together panels for the skirt and to create the gathering. I used a variegated green yarn to ladder stitch the sleeves and to running stitch the skirt to the body. Again, I used some vintage buttons for decoration. I LIVED in this sweater over the winter. (In the second photo, that’s my dog Chico sporting a freshly shaven style for the warmer weather.)

As spring approached, I switched to sewing vests. The photo below is basically the same design as above in a vest style, except that I used a cardigan to make the skirt, replacing the original buttons with an assortment from my stash of the extra buttons that sometimes come with new clothes. The neck and armholes that I cut are turned over and ladder stitched using two different colors of yarn.

This next one is made from three sweaters. I swiped Crispina’s idea for using sweater ribbing to make a waist panel. I also swiped her idea for using ribbing as a decorative detail that is undersewn around the hem. The black sweater wouldn’t felt properly even though the label claimed it was 100 percent wool. I still used it, but I had to hem the bottom edge with yarn to prevent unraveling. It’s hard to see in the photo, but I have the “wrong” side of the ladder stitch showing around the hem, which makes vertical stitches at a diagonal angle that I think is really pretty. I was really happy with the variegated yarn, too. For the grey mother-of-pearl buttons, I let my husband and son vote on how many to use and where they should be placed. When I sit down wearing this sweater, the buttons make a really lovely clicking noise as they hit each other . . . small pleasures!

Sewing from recycled garments is instant gratification because you can use a lot of the existing tailored parts, like shoulders and armholes, without having to sew them from scratch. In addition, knit wool is stretchy and forgiving, so the fit doesn’t have to be precise to look good. Even sewers with modest abilities, like me, can whip up a new garment in a day. Gotta love that!

I have more to share, but I know you have other things you need to be doing right now, so I’ll save the home dec stuff for my post next Monday. In particular, I attended a rug-making workshop at Crispina’s studio that was pretty darn cool (read: more fun than a tropical beach vacation . . . seriously!)

Alethea Morrison, Storey Creative Director


Frances said...

Those sweaters and dresses are so cute, Alethea. I am going to have to get my hands on this book when it comes out -- I'm inspired to try to make one, even with my limited sewing skills!

Karen Salva said...

I have to have this book! You did a fantastic job! Love he pink/white/black vest...adorable!