Posted in Fashion, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

In Love with Knit Jackets (not hand-knit!)

When I was a little girl (so many years ago!) I remember the popularity of “knit” jackets. Jackets that someone actually knit. With a pair of knitting needles. Knit jackets were a ‘thing’ back then.

The ones I remember most, though, seem to be men’s hand-knit jackets (and machine-knit jackets were the same). I remember them as being heavy, chunky, usually with a very large pattern of some sort on them, and they almost always had zippers. How times have changed!

These are the knit jackets I remember! This one is from the 1960s. Hand-knit.

There was a time in my life (back in my twenties if you can believe that) when I, too, succumbed to the lure of the hand-knit sweater. Yes, it was the years of the Lopi sweater craze.

This was the first of many Lopi sweaters that I hand-knit back in the day. Then, as quickly as the desire to make them came over me, it disappeared and I haven’t picked up a set of knitting needles in years. Perhaps that’s because my style changed.

In the years that followed grad school, I was the proud owner of a closet full of suits. Canadian designers Alfred Sung and Simon Chang, along with American designer Calvin Klein, all shared closet space with dozens of pairs of shoes. I loved the tailored style and that has evolved to be the way I prefer to dress.

Simon Chang featured in the Canadian fashion magazine Flare in the 1980s. He was a bit funkier. I think I owned the one in the centre!

But now I find that I have little use for finely tailored jackets. I have a couple that I wear regularly – my black cashmere, silk-lined Brooks Brothers one is a favourite – with jeans or when I have to give a presentation (*sigh* I still find myself behind a podium from time to time). A tailored blazer is a fantastic piece for any wardrobe (and I have a whole design and sewing project on them planned for later this year – stay tuned). The reality, though, is that a softer version of the tailored jacket actually works better for me these days. But does that mean I really want sweaters? I think not!

So, what’s the difference between a sweater and a jacket? They are both designed as garments that are worn on the upper part of the body. Sweaters can be either pull-overs or can open down the front (or even the back for that matter).

Jackets, by definition always have an opening down the front. Given the design freedom we have these days to create anything we desire and call it anything we choose, the traditional main difference between a jacket and a sweater is a function of the materials it is made of. Sweaters are made from knits while jackets are made from wovens. Or, at least they used to be. Enter the “swacket” an odd moniker if ever there was one.

I haven’t been able to find out who actually first started using this stupid word, but a “swacket” does seem to be a thing now. In 2016 the clothing company Under Armour first marketed something they called a swacket.

Just looks like a jacket with a zipper to me.

It looks just like any other athletic jacket to me. Evidently, it feels soft and lightweight (like a sweater) but looks like a jacket. So as far as I’m concerned, it’s a soft, lightweight jacket. What am I missing here? Anyway, I do love a soft, lightweight jacket and that, to me, means a knit jacket – as opposed to a heavy, hand-knit jacket.

I’m talking about a jacket that is sewn together from loomed knit fabric. Obviously, it’s not likely to be made from something flimsy because a jacket by its very nature seems to need some structure. Having said that, remember Coco Chanel, the originator of knitwear for women? Here she is in one that really does look like it might be the jersey fabric that she introduced to women’s fashions around the time of the first World War.

Anyway, since my lifestyle doesn’t require Alfred Sung or Simon Chang in it anymore, knit jackets seem like a no-brainer for me.

Recently I made two – one of which doesn’t really have any sore of tailored look while the other does. They are both incredibly soft and comfortable, just what you want in a knit jacket. I used commercial patterns for both.

The first, quite unstructured piece is fully lined with stretch lining, something I’d never used before. I also added a small chain inside along the hem to help it to hang better.

I used McCall’s pattern #7332 and added flat piping to the angled waist seam. This is really the only design feature of this easy-to-create piece. I found that the open front was a bit of a problem. It just kind of hangs there, which, of course, is a function of the knit fabric itself. So, I surfed over to eBay and found myself a source for interesting closures. Naturally, that source was in China so I waited two months for them to arrive, but arrive they did!

This is such a comfortable piece – feels exactly like a sweater. But I have to say that it has been hanging in my closet for some time now and I haven’t found any occasion to wear it! Enter the second knit jacket.

I really loved the look of McCall’s pattern #7254 with its shawl collar and sleek peplum.

I liked that it’s very fitted and a bit short. I found a piece of shadow-striped ponte and combined that with plain black then added a button from my collection (this one found at a Fabricville store that I only get to visit when we are on a road trip to smaller towns outside the big smoke).

Despite the fact that these knit jackets are intended to be softer than their more tailored cousins, I loved the fact that I interfaced the shawl collar for a crisper look. This piece is still very comfortable and the truth is I’ve worn it a lot. Even on an airplane, it gives me a bit of an elevated look while still wearing comfortable knits.

All in all, I’d have to say that I’d design and make a few more if I had any use for dozens of similar wardrobe pieces. But I don’t, so I’m moving on to my perfect shirt project. Talk soon!

(As an aside, I had to look up the past participle of the verb “to knit” to discover that ‘knit’ is the traditional past tense but ‘knitted’ is also in use these days. Sorry, I’m a grammar nerd!)

Posted in Fashion, sewing

Sewing with knits: Moving into the 21st century

Sometimes I think I’m the only person on the planet who remembers wearing (and sewing with) crimplene. Yes, that’s how you spell crimplene. Trademarked in the 1950’s (long before I started wearing the stuff), this was a fabric that really came into its own in the late 1960’s, remained a mainstay of fashion and sewing for a few years, then disappeared into the mists of sewing history.

According to most online sources, crimplene was the trade name of both the yarn and the fabric made from it. Polyester in origin, this was a go-to fabric for all kinds of projects and will go down in my own fashion sewing history as the first knit I ever sewed with. It occasionally appeared as a woven fabric, but most of it was a textured double knit that we used for shift dresses, pant suits (yes, matching tunic tops and pants which, BTW might make a great come-back for the over-50 set with the right silhouette in my view), men’s leisure suits (please god no more leisure-suit come-backs), and even shirtwaists. I loved it.

purple crimplene
This great 60’s dress was for sale recently online – although I suspect that it was from the early 70’s. See that texture? Crimplene!

 

Crimplene had all the characteristics that we were looking for at the time:

  • It was forgiving (unlike many of the woven fabrics of the day).
  • It was totally unwrinkleable (likely not a real word, but you know what I mean).
  • It was machine washable, dryable and unshrinkable (which accounts for why I never learned to prepare fabric before sewing since crimplene needed no prep).
  • It came in every colour and texture you could imagine (and couldn’t fade even if you left it in the sun for years).
  • It was indestructible (and crimplene clothing is probably still stacked in our land-fills to this day).
  • And it never frayed (so those of us on the fast fashion sewing track which we have finally recovered from never had to finish a seam allowance *shudder*).

So, when I returned to sewing in the twenty-first century I wanted to learn the techniques for modern knits, of course. I decided to enroll in another Craftsy course (actually it was the first one I ever stumbled upon) on sewing with knits, took out the walking foot that came with my new digital sewing machine and figured out how to install it on the machine. I have to admit I had never seen such a contraption before – never even heard of it. But once I learned how to use that sucker, I cannot live without it.

As I made my way through the course, I found myself two lots of knit fabric whose weight I really liked and proceeded to make some modern knit tops. What I noticed, although it didn’t really strike me at the time I bought the fabric, was the extent to which it resembled – you guessed it – crimplene. Fashioned from cotton blends in this century, both lengths of fabric I chose were eerily like the crimplene I had known and loved in the last century.

See that texture? (Front on left; back on right) Not crimplene, but twenty-first century cotton knit!

Sometimes I wonder if our sewing DNA is a kind of blueprint for what we’ll evolve to as we age – but perhaps like a fine wine, we do get better with age. I’d like to think I’m a bit more discerning and that this discernment has evolved along with the increasing size of my pocket book that was thin, indeed, back in my undergrad years at university.

Anyway, as I examine closely the fabric of the cross-over top I made during that Craftsy course, I can see definite remnants of my former penchant for crimplene. Now I’m longing to have a length of that old stuff to see if it really is as terrible and unbreathable as I think it was.

This new century has taught me that knits should probably not be indestructible, nor should they be designed only for fast sewing. They should take beautiful seam finishes, and should feel divine when worn. Feeling and looking divine: that’s what I’m after!

 [If you need more about crimplene, here is a great post on a Sixties Style Blog that you’ll just love – and lots of photos! A Brief History of Crimplene http://stylesixties.blogspot.ca/2013/04/a-brief-history-of-crimplene.html]