Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Cutting Report

Last week at Stitches I took Nancy Bush's class "Overcome the Fear of Cutting". I was the only student in class who brought a finished, uncut garment with me. One other student had 2 sweaters at home which she knit in approximately 1979 but was never able to cut. Faced with this warning from the Ghost of Christmas Future, I resolved to CUT my sweater within a week after Stitches. On Sunday the 20th, just 9 days after Nancy's class, I enisted the help of a friend and actually did it.

The pieces

Here's our start state, as photographed in September 2003:


NB: That's 18 months this sweater has been languishing under the Fear of Cutting! The garment is #6003B from Dale Baby Collection Nr. 60, knit in Dale Baby Ull. It was supposed to be for a baby born in March 2003. *sigh* Note to self.. always read the pattern all the way through before starting to knit! [Ed. - these pieces are all ready to sew up, except for one thing.. there are no openings for the sleeves to be sewn to. That's why I have to learn to cut!]


On Saturday night, I finished sewing up the hem, hating the way the picot edge insisted on standing up at right angles to the rest of the garment. In a fit of pique, I got out my iron and steamed the crap out of the hems. While I was at it, I steamed the rest of the sweater. First time I've steam-blocked anything. The steam did a great job of evening out the stitches and helped the fractious hem at the bottom edge relax a bit. It hasn't stopped curling up entirely, but it's much better. I also used the steam to counteract the tendency of the pattern motifs to skew to the left as you move up the sweater.

Remember to breathe!

The biggest worry for me about cutting a sweater was the sewing. Before you cut open an armhole on a Norwegian sweater, you need to stitch with a sewing machine 2 lines of stitches around the area to be cut. I don't sew much at all. I have a machine but I never know if it is properly tuned when I go to get it out. And I don't believe I have good control over it, since I use it so rarely. I decided I would never cut this sweater if the project depended on my own sewing ability.

So I asked my friend W. to do the sewing. She's a very accomplished seamstress and knows her machine inside and out. When we talked about it over the phone, she sounded pretty cheerful about doing the sewing. When I arrived at her house and showed her the sweater, I think she got a bit nervous looking at the fabric. But she set up the machine and tested the stitch length and actually did the sewing.

W. used a long rectangular Post-It Note as a guide to mark which stitch she needed to sew on and she highly recommends this for anyone else sewing a sweater before cutting. The straight-edge that easily slips under the presser foot and can be repositioned helped keep the stitches on track. 2 sleeves, 2 lines of stitching each = four delicate operations. In between each section of the sewing, we had to take breaks to breathe and look out the window to refocus our eyes. The red and white of the sweater is very hard to look at close up for that long. W. was very careful in her stitching and it came out beautifully....[click for larger image toan see the marked cutting line]


Cut, cut, cut, cut!

Then came my turn. With W's nice sharp cloth scissors, I snipped through the cast off edge...


... right down to the thread showing the bottom of the sleeve.


When finished, my former tube looked like this:


Elizabeth Zimmerman said that after you cut your first sweater, you should go lie down in a darkened room, but I found the experience very exhilerating! I was all hyped up on the way to Stitch-n-Bitch and I still get excited every time I take the pieces out to show them off.

And of course, I had to put these lovely bits aside to work on the wedding shawl, so I haven't actually Finished this Object.. but dammit, I will! I'm dedicating all my hours of basketball viewing in March to finishing UFO's and this sweater is #2 on the list. (#1 is Bill's Rowan Denim OXO Gansey. Just imagine if I could finish that sweater up just in time for Illinois to win the tournament! There's a fun fantasy.)


Blogger Lori said...

ack i'm so confused. Why do you have to cut a sweater's cast on edge? I've never made a sweater so pardon my naivete :)

February 23, 2005 9:39 PM  
Blogger spinnity said...

Oh, duh. It was the cast OFF edge. I'll correct that. But still, it's pretty confusing! This is NOT standard sweater construction. It's a particular style used in Norwegian patterns.

Turns out that many Norwegian sweaters are knit in one tube from the bottom up - at least as far as the neck opening. After you finish knitting the body and the sleeves, you hold the sleeves up next to the side "seam" of the sweater and measure how large the sleeve opening has to be. Then you stabilize the knitting with machine stitching and CUT the missing armholes. Look at the starting point photo.. no armholes!

February 23, 2005 10:09 PM  
Blogger Wiz Knitter said...

Good lord, I stopped breathing just READING about this! Not sure this is a technique I could ever get super-comfy with, although it sounds like you have experienced something of a Cutting High!

February 24, 2005 2:41 PM  
Anonymous sequinK said...

You are a brave brave woman and that is one cute ass sweater! I have a philosopher's wool cardigan that will be my first steeking attempt IF I ever get around to finishing it. I think I started it in 2004, so I still have some time on the meter,...

February 28, 2005 4:13 PM  
Blogger spinnity said...

thanks, dee dee! I love, love, love the Dale of Norway patterns - I've got like 5 books of 'em and sometimes I just take them out & admire their loveliness.

You're gonna be fine when it comes to cutting your sweater, because you know your way around your sewing machine already.

And hey, don't let me forget I owe you $$

February 28, 2005 10:01 PM  

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