Friday, June 1, 2007

The Joy of Zippers

I've never been a seamstress. My mother-in-law gave me a sewing machine shortly after I married her son in 1984. I've used it about once a year since then, mostly for Halloween costumes. We've developed an uneasy truce, the sewing machine and I. I keep it maintained and it does basic seams and gathers for me.

For most of my knitting career, the idea of putting zippers in knits has kept me knitting pullovers and button bands. I also like to knit saucy cut-away jackets with a single clasp. With my nonexistent sewing skills, however, zippers seemed beyond me.

This sweatshirt was my first attempt at a zipper.

This sweater taught me how to work with Brioche and related slip stitch patterns. Brioche stitch is worked the same way every row (* yo, sl 1 wyib, k2 tog *) when it is worked flat. It's closely related to Shaker rib, which is worked with a knit-below. I had to figure out how to knit Brioche in the round for the sleeves, how to work increases and decreases without leaving big holes, and how to work short rows without holes or lumps. I did a lot of ripping early on until I figured out the following:

  • Elizabeth Zimmerman once wrote that Brioche stitch could not be worked in the round, but I've found that alternating a round of *yo, sl 1 wyib, k2tog* with a round of *p2tog, sl1 wyif, yo* does the trick.

  • To do increases and decreases, I've found that I need to do them in pairs and over two rows.

  • For decreases, I work the stitches to be decreased (k1, p1, k1, p1) or (p1, k1, p1, k1) on the row before the decrease. I then work (k2tog, yo, p2tog) or (p2tog, k2tog, yo) for the decrease round.

  • For increases, I skip the yarnovers, and work a knit-below and a purl-below decrease in two adjacent stitches on one row. On the next row, I restore the yarnovers.

  • To fix Brioche stitch, what I do is grab the last completed stitch with a crochet hook, then turn the work so the knit side is facing me. The next strand goes on the hook with the stitch, then the following strand goes through both the stitch and the strand. Repeat until you've consumed the loose strands, re-seating the final yarnover if necessary.

Putting in the zipper was another adventure.

I first tried pinning in the zipper, but it looked awful after it was basted, so I ripped out the basting and went with my friend Betsey's advice to baste the front of the sweater together, tape the zipper in, baste each side of the zipper, remove the front basting, unzip the zipper, and then carefully stitch along the zipper and on the inside edge of the zipper tape. It took me about 8 hours total to get the darned zipper in, but it was worth it. It looks very professional, and not at all like the work of someone who has never put in a zipper before.

Before I put the zipper in, the front edges dangled unattractively. The zipper helped stabilize the front edge, which surprised me a bit. Still, the front corners droop when the sweater's unzipped, and I've been thinking a lot about cardigan construction as a result.

I think the front band is longer than I'd like because of the short rows I put in for my bust. I'm not as long at my center as I am over "the girls." When the sweater is zipped, it hangs right, but I'd like to figure out how to work short rows for a cardigan that is usually worn open. I'm thinking
that maybe they just ought to be worked over the full part and not over the whole front for a cardigan that will be worn open.

I wore the zippered sweatshirt (over my scoop-neck t-shirt) on the plane to Arizona. While I was standing in line to board, the lady in front of me asked if I'd knit the sweaters that I and my children were wearing. I said yes, and it turns out that she'd just started knitting. We talked knitting all through the flight. She turned out to be a fellow engineer as well as a knitter, and was interested to learn that I design the sweaters I knit. I gave her a few book references.

As we were getting off the plane, she said, "I'm going to have to learn to design my own sweaters. The ones you make fit you so well, and I'd like my sweaters to fit like that."

What a great thing to hear when you've been fussing over the not-quite-right details on a sweater!

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