Friday, April 15, 2011

Making a Rectangle Sweater

Making a Rectangle Sweater:

I was doing laundry the other day and while draping a fairly expensive knit sweater across the top of the dryer, I sunk inside, noticing the ridiculous simplicity of the construction…a giant rectangle with two holes where the arms are attached. How had I not noticed this before? I’ve had this sweater almost two years! I am a sometimes irritatingly clean person; had I really not washed it? Gross! To my defense, it is more of a jacket and jackets are not washed with every wear.

You will need:
  • 2-4 yards of Jersey knit fabric, no less than 36” wide.
  • A sleeve pattern
  • Straight pins
  • Tape measure
  • Sewing machine – very small amount of sewing
  • Hem tape
  • Iron/ironing board

Let’s talk about choosing your fabric. Given that I went to design school, I have large tubs of unused fabric. You may not have the abundance that I do, but this project still should not be very expensive.

You want to find a jersey knit. Something just like your favorite t-shirt is fine or you can even use something heavier like a wool blend, but most importantly you want a knit fabric. Why do you want a knit fabric? Because you want it to hang correctly; this is how you achieve that free-form relaxed look that these sweaters are so famous for.

How are you going to wear this garment? What are you going to wear it with? I love these drapey sweaters for a couple reasons. First, I’m always cold. I hate being cold especially in restaurants, shopping or anywhere I have made an effort to dress myself in a decent manor. In these instances, it makes a perfect little cover-up to stay warm and still show off an outfit and it is removable in the fluctuating
 Oklahoma temperatures. (like today where the high is twenty degrees cooler than yesterday) Second, I’m most often in work-out clothes. Spandex, lets say, can be flattering in the gym, but not always the best attire for the rest of my daily errands. I am looking to wear this piece mostly for function and not to make a statement, therefore, I will be choosing a very thin, lightweight jersey knit in a light heather-grey.

My fabric was about 56” wide. This is important. You want to find a fabric that is wide enough to stretch width-wise the length or your back and anything else you may want to cover with about an additional 8-10 inches to create the drapey folds around the back of your neck and create the front side panels of the garment. If this sounds confusing, take two yards (give or take) of fabric hold it across your back where the fabric width is vertical or perpendicular to the floor. Wrap it around you as you would a blanket bringing it up over you shoulders. Turn loose of the ends and let it hang. This will help you judge if your fabric is wide enough. Does it cover your back? Butt? Does it cover too much? If so, that is where you will want to cut it parallel to the selvage. Look at the front. Is it hanging vertically over your chest covering you adequately? If so, place two fingers widths at the top edge of your shoulder (farthest away from your neck and right hand to left shoulder). Place a straight pin at the inside edge of your index finger. Repeat on the opposite shoulder.

This gives you three measurements: the width between arm holes, the height of the neck rise, and the length you want the sweater to fall. Novel, huh? My former teachers would be so proud…I’ve actually managed to place my lack of pattern making into teachable format. (Sorry guys, I know you tried.)

Now that you have these measurements you need to know if you will be cutting off enough of the fabric to make the sleeves. Remember, back a ways where I said if it hangs too long cut it off parallel to the selvage? (By the way the selvage is the tightly woven edges at the width of the fabric.) This is what will be left to make your sleeves. If your fabric was not wide enough you will need to buy an extra yard for sleeves. This explains the 2-4 yards. I could get by with 2 yards at 56” wide, but I am a tiny person and that is all the fabric I had. It would be suggestible to use 2.5 – 3 yards at 56” wide and of course add a yard if needed for sleeve. Check the remnants pile at your fabric store first. You can save money that way.

Pictured: my original sweater lain over the fabric I used for this sweater and a sleeve pattern marking the excess I would need.

Now, let’s work on the sleeves. I just bought a simple, one-piece sleeve jacket pattern at a thrift store for something like 25cents. It does not need to be a full-length sleeve just a basic straight sleeve. In my opinion, remember I hate sewing, having basic patterns on hand like t-shirts and pull-on pants is really to your own benefit. Follow the instructions on the sleeve pattern. It will have arrows to lay parallel to the selvage and placement details. Cut 2, one for each arm. Fold the fabric and cut them both at once, if you can, it will save you time. Pin the sleeve into tubes. Make sure they fit you, marking the top edge where you placed your two fingers earlier with a pin, then sew. Now you should have two tubes with one pin in the top of each. Measure the circumference around the top of the sleeve where it will meet the sweater. This will be the size of the circle you want to cut from your rectangular piece.

Fold your rectangle piece of fabric in half (hamburger fold). You should have three measurements from before, you are about to use them. From the top of the fold move down the distance you measured for neck length add ½”. Place a pin. Divide your total shoulder width in half and measure that distance out from the pin you just placed on each side of the fabric. Return to the neck pin. Measure down, along the fold the length you want the bottom hem to fall and add ½”.

You already know the size your circles from your measurements at the tops of the sleeves. Cut a circular hole with the top of the circle at each pin placed at the shoulders. Align the shoulder pin in the sleeve and the shoulder pin on the body. Attach the sleeves to the body. Right sides together. Sew.

I do not like to sew anymore than I have to. If I am working on something for my own use I will often use hem tape to save time and frustration. This is how we are going to finish the edges. The instructions are on the hem tape box. Press the sticky side of the ¼” tape to the right side edge.
Remove the covering.

Fold under.


Even if you have to buy fabric, thread, hem tape and a pattern this project should not exceed $20 if you shop smart.


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