Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sewing in a Zipper

My felted vest

Dear Blog-

I am still knitting Christmas presents. Christmas was two and a half weeks ago and I'm still knitting presents. I hate to sound like Scrooge but I am so ready to move on. I have gorgeous yarns burning holes in my stash, just begging to get out and be used! But no, dear Blog, instead I am passing through the dark vale of Felted Vest Hell.

Don't get me wrong, I am loving the finished vests. Somewhere in December, after our move was over and everything was unpacked, washed and put away, the apartment was decorated for the holidays, the book group holiday party was over, my mail-away gifts were finished and on their merry way, I asked DH one night what he wanted for Christmas. As usual, DH wanted nothing. I wasn't going to let him get away with that. I nagged and prodded until he said that he would love a felted vest that zipped up. Wonderful!, I thought. After a brief search of my felting books and through projects on Ravelry, I showed him the pattern for the felted vest in Beverly Galeska's Felted Knits. He liked the look of them. Come to think of it, so did I. So I'll make one for me, too. Heck, Mom said that she wanted a heavy outdoor vest. I'll make one for her as well. And I know my Dad would love one, so add him to the list.

But all that endless stockinette stitch by hand for miles and miles simply for the sake of felting it all when one was finished just seemed foolish. No fear, I'll just knit it up on the knitting machine, that is what I have it for. I swatched on the machine at the largest gauge it will give, and found that my gauge didn't match the pattern gauge. So I recalculated the pattern in two different sizes and dove in. DH suggested that I make mine first so that if I screwed it up only my yarn would be wasted. Makes sense, but writing this makes me now question his motives.

I knitted it up in pieces, and then seamed the pieces together. The pattern then asks you to knit temporary borders on all but your bottom edge in cotton yarn in order to stabilize them for felting and provide holes for picking up stitches later. Then you baste the center front edges and the armhole edges closed, and it looks something like this, though note that this is Mom's vest, mine is at the top of the page.

This behemoth is then put into a zippered pillowcase and gently, slowly felted. I prefer to make felted items with Cascade 220 for this very reason. The yarn felts slowly enough that you have a lot of control over the process.

After felting, it takes about two days for the vest to fully dry - an afternoon and over-night on towels on the table, and then hanging in the front window for 24 hours to get it thoroughly dry. Once that is accomplished, the temporary borders are cut off, and using your contrast yarn you knit borders on all but the bottom edges. A short mock turtle collar is also knitted. As you know from my Snowflake Felted Vest and from my Philosopher's Wool cardi, I have found a great way to knit borders onto a raw edge in such a way as to cover the edge completely, both inside and out. This time, however, instead of falling back on the edging method that I already knew I followed the pattern, and I was not only very pleased with the finished result, but I also found it easier to do.

Once the edges are finished, it is time to put in the zipper. Now, being so pleased with the results of the suggested edging treatment didn't make me excited about her methods of installing zippers in a knitted item. After looking at a few tutorials, I decided to fall back on the techniques that I knew from childhood on in garment sewing. I'll walk you through them here, because I think my methods are far, far easier.

First, turn your vest inside out and match up your two bottom edges so that they are perfectly aligned. Pin them together with a large basting pin. These are made by Clover, and I love them.

Do the same with the top two edges. Next, still holding the two sides together with one edge laying on top of the other, place a pin in the center of the two edges, and then at the 1/4 and 3/4 spots. Fill in all the open spaces with more pins. In sewing, you spare pins at the expense of having an accurately sewn seam or zipper. So don't be afraid of over-pinning. Your pinned-together edges will look like this-

Next take a length of single ply wool yarn in a contrasting color and baste the two edges closed right along the very top of the edge. Using your Chibi needle so that you don't split the stitches you are sewing through, make certain that you pick up two purl bumps on each side of the edges so that the basting won't put too much stress on any single stitch and pull it out of shape.

When the basting is finished and you open the vest out flat, it will look like this.

Now it's time to pin the zipper into place. Bit by bit, laying the zipper face down on top of your basting, center the teeth of the zipper over the center of your basted edges. Pin it in place as you go. I use big quilting pins for this.

As I pin the zipper into place, I like to drape the vest/zipper combo over the curve of my knee as I work. This keeps me from putting too much pull on the zipper, and makes it conform to the vest. This way the zipper will lay flat and smooth with with fabric later instead of pulling too tightly.

Once I have the zipper pinned into place, I pick a color of Paternayan yarn that matches my zipper and edging, and cutting a length that is good for hand-sewing, I peel off a single ply to use at a time, and thread this onto an embroidery needle.

I start by making tiny whipstitches along the edge of the zipper tape, sewing it down to the edging on the vest, and starting at the bottom of the vest. Make your stitches small and even.

When you get to the top of the vest at the neckline, cut the length of the zipper tape if needed. Use a fabric stabilizer such as Fray-Chek to keep the tape from fraying. Wait for it to dry, and then satin stitch the top of the zipper tape to the bottom inside edge of the collar. This holds the upper edge of the zipper down firmly, and also finishes off the edge of the tape so that it isn't scratchy when the vest is worn. Unthread your needle and pause here while you do these same steps so far to the other side of the zipper.

Once you have both outer edges of the zipper tape sewn to the vest edging, rethread your needle where you left off at the top of the zipper, and using a small, neat back-stitch, sew the center of the zipper tape to the center of the vest edging. This secures the zipper and makes the zipper and edging lay better together.

When you are finished doing this on both sides of the zipper, bury any yarn tails in the vest edging and turn the vest right side out. Remove your contrasting basting stitches, and Voila! You have just hand-sewn a zipper into a knitted or felted garment!

Mom and Dad are planning a small road trip tomorrow to go see if they can spot the sandhill cranes south of here. I'll try to drop off Mom's vest for them to find wen they get home. On to finishing DH's best!


Blogger The KnitWitNurse said...

woow baby! Looks like lots of work to me but as always the end result is beautiful. I'm sure mom was happy with the end result!

6:33 PM  

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