Knit Wits (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sewing with Knits)

[There are pictures of a man in underwear in this entry. Nothing revealing, but I figured I would warn you. And thank Robert for being kind and comfortable enough with me taking and posting a picture of him in his new underwear.]

I have been sewing for a good long portion of my life. For so long, in fact, that I can’t pinpoint the actual moment I started sewing. I can point to the period in my life where sewing apparel from a pattern finally clicked in my mind (freshman year of high school, due to theater), or the first project I made for someone else (a stuffed guinea pig toy I made for my brother when I was in 6th grade…and that he still has!) but I had been sewing – to some degree or other – for a while before then.

Throughout my long personal history with needle and thread, the majority of what I have worked with are woven textiles. Cottons, linens, rayon, wool, viscose…the fiber content itself has varied, but they were almost all woven. I don’t know if this started out as a conscious choice or if it was just the convenience of what I always happened to have on hand (I have been gifted with a lot of material over the years). However, I can tell you that, currently, I have noticed a tendency to gravitate towards woven materials.

It was simple: sewing knitwear kind of scares me. I think, if I had an overlock machine, I probably wouldn’t have been as hesitant to get into sewing with knits. After all, an overlock machine is what makes sewing knits easier and cleaner.

That is not to say, however, that sewing knits is impossible on a standard sewing machine. In fact, it has been a lot simpler than I was building it up to be in my mind. Mostly, what it takes is some patience, a little know-how about how knits work, and a special needle.

Now, I have sewn with some knits before – I made a shirt for my Kaylee costume, one of my favorite shirt patterns EVER requires a knit fabric, and both my Po and Popple costumes were made using knits. However! I didn’t treat the knits as knits when I made the latter two. Because of the nature of those costumes, I didn’t need the knits to actually behave like knits. They didn’t need to stretch, and so I just used a straight stitch on the seams. Despite my happiness with the final product of Butterick 5497, I still generally shy away from patterns that require the use of knits.

Two Christmases ago I made my first decision to begin dipping my toe into the knitwear waters, so to speak. My brother wanted a new fleece pullover, but I couldn’t find the type he wanted…so I made one. He must actually like it, because I’ve seen him wearing it a number of times. (I made one for Robert last year, too, but I somehow made the shoulders too big, which I would have thought was impossible, and now I have to bring it in a little bit).

Andrew’s pullover turned out so nicely that I started thinking: Maybe my fear of knits really was unfounded. Perhaps I should try making some other things.

IMG_20160610_154808_181On a recent journey to Stitch, I picked up a new pattern. I’d had my eye on it for a little while – intrigued by the design and inspired by the challenge: the Comox Trunks, from Thread Theory Designs.

Thread Theory is a bit of a rarity in the pattern world: a designer exclusively devoted to menswear patterns (well, they do have one blouse pattern)! Robert was with me during a recent run to JoAnn’s the other day, and I pointed out the teensy-tiny section of the pattern catalogs that are given over to menswear (and half of the pages in that section said “unisex” and only showed women, which I thought was interesting). From the looks of the patterns, and the reviews of said designs that I’ve been reading online, Thread Theory does a phenomenal job of creating useful, easy-to-follow patterns that combine form with function.

Since I’ve been sewing a little more for Robert lately, I’ve been keeping an eye out for interesting sewing patterns that might work for his new pieces. So far, I’ve made two vests, a dress shirt, and that somewhat ill-fitting pullover (plus a Han Solo costume, but that was sort of hacked together, not really using a real pattern). I had heard about Thread Theory and decided to give them a look-see. Which is, incidentally, when I discovered the Comox Trunks pattern.

[Before I go much further…Robert asked me why they were called the Comox trunks. The answer is pretty simple. The owners of Thread Theory live in Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Comox is the name of a town on the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. There you go.]

I was extremely excited when I brought the pattern home, both because I was ready to attempt something new, and also because I really like making useful things for people. Underwear is about as useful as you can get, and the idea of being able to customize a pair made me positively giddy.

(Plus, you know…it meant I got to see Robert modeling them for fit ::waggles eyebrows::)

Of course, I had a little bit of a problem. In my excitement, I had picked up the pattern at Stitch, but hadn’t also gotten fabric or waistband elastic. Since I needed to make up a muslin first, anyway, I hunted around the basement for an unused t-shirt I could hack apart (I had seen a couple of people go this route, via an online search). I settled upon a t-shirt from Celebrating the Potomac a couple of years ago. My friend Anjela had designed a lovely tall ship logo for the event, and I thought that would make a lovely focal point on the rear of the trunks.

I had to get a little creative with the placement of the pattern pieces, when I was cutting everything out, so two of the pieces didn’t really go on the grain the way they should have, but the muslin served its purpose well enough. The logo is nicely splashed across the but, the crotch gusset has sponsors (with the printer info on the inside of same gusset), the stars that were originally on the sleeve are now on the cup, and the fly openings also have sponsor names. I found the whole thing hilarious.

Robert tried the muslin on and I admired the view asked for input for future pattern alterations. His first comment was that they were a little shorter than he usually wears. The pattern, as is, hits at sort of a midpoint between standard boxer briefs and regular briefs. This is a simple enough fix: when cutting out the pattern, add some length to the bottom of the trunk leg, and remember to add the same amount of length to both ends of the crotch gusset.

[Side note: I purchased both ball point needles and a twin needle, in anticipation of making these trunks, but I ended up only using the ball point needle for the first two pairs. I think I might try my hand with the twin needle for the next pair (and yes, there will be several more pairs), just to see how the finished product compares to the ones made with a single needle.]

The trunks were also a little bigger than they were supposed to be, and there was some unflattering bunching and shifting. This was a result of me not paying close enough attention, and making the seam allowances a little smaller than they were supposed to be, resulting in a looser fit than the pattern calls for. This was an easy enough fix the second time around – I just paid closer attention to what I was doing.

IMG_20160613_234659_073I took a little more time when I made the second pair (out of yet another unused t-shirt – this time a thin gray/black stripe), and I think it turned out pretty nice, if I do say so myself. I incorporated Robert’s input and made the legs a little longer. I also corrected a few mistakes I had made with the first pair – mainly in relation to the seam allowances. I also went ahead and added the little Thread Theory tag to this pair, since they actually looked rather professional. I affixed it to the front of the trunks, just below the waistband.

[A label is included in each pattern you purchase, which I thought was a nice touch.]

As you can see, the fit was better this time around. No weird sagging around the butt. I’m still having a little bit of a problem getting the hem around the legs right. I’ll need to play with the length and width of the zigzag stitch (or maybe this is where the twin needle will work best). Robert’s also still a little unsure of how he feels about where the back of the trunks hit, though that’s an easy enough fix.

I think I might also fiddle with the fly placement on these, too. He says it doesn’t work as well as it should where it is currently. I think I might just flip it to the bottom and see if that works better. I’ve seen a sample pair with that alteration, so I know it’s possible.

So…thoughts on the pattern: I really can’t say enough good things about it. The directions were fairly clear, with illustrations that really did help to figure things out. There was an error in the first edition of the pattern, so Thread Theory included an errata sheet with the booklet, which I appreciated. I did get a little confused with one of the steps (adding in the front fly piece), but the folks at Thread Theory did a sew-along tutorial when the pattern first came out, and I was able to look that step up and get some clarification (with pictures!)

In addition to clear step-by-step instructions for each sewing step, the pattern also includes overviews and insight on how to choose the best elastic and fabric, and the sew-along includes ideas for customizing your pattern.

I love, loveLOVE the finished look of this pattern. I’m sure part of the reason is that I like to ogle my guy’s bum (and, come on….who wouldn’t want to ogle that bum?), but that’s not the only reason I like the pattern. It’s clear that Morgan and Matt have given their patterns a lot of thought, and the instructions help knit-averse folks like me feel comfortable while trying out a new sewing skill set.

One of the best things about this pattern (apart from the finished fit) is how fast it is to get through. I made the muslin in one evening – start to finish about 4.5 hours, because I was really taking my time and reading/re-reading instructions, and looking up the tutorial. The second pair cut that time down significantly to 3 hours (from starting the cutting to the finished hem)…and that’s still because I was taking my time and watching a movie while I sewed (and because I dropped my dang pins on the floor and had to hunt them all down before Alvin could find them and eat them). I can see myself getting to a point where I can churn out several of these in a couple of hours – provided I avoid further pin mishaps.

[ I was not compensated in any way for this review.]

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