Friday, August 13, 2010
Guest Post: Cutting Knits and Other Tricky Fabrics with Alyson Clair
Welcome back to our guest series with Alyson Clair, who is our resident knits guru. Take it away, Alyson! And super big thanks! --Gertie
Hello readers! Sorry for the gap in my postings. My contract work, and Fall/Winter production of my line (and also planning my wedding!) have taken up a bit more time than I had planned.
Today I'd like to talk about cutting. For me, this is my least favorite thing to do. I think perhaps it is because I am usually so excited to sew what I am cutting out, my patience for the time it takes to neatly cut something is very small! I've been thinking about the best way to talk about cutting, and first I'd like to give you an overview of how it's done in mass production. I also hope this helps you understand the way things are bulk cut, and that if you're cursing your fabrics for shifting, running away, and rolling that is totally normal. When I'm sampling my clothing line - and only cutting out one item at a time - my sailor mouth comes out rather often.
In mass production, there are large cutting tables with spreaders that help hold and lay the fabric over the table. When you lay the fabric, you sandwich it between a butcher-like paper and the marker that you lay on top. A marker is basically a paper pattern layout that serves as a cutting guide, sort of like the pattern layouts you see in home sewing pattern instructions, but for more sizes at a time. A really good reference for photos on this stuff is the manufacturing portion of the American Apparel website. (If you're into nerdy things like that - I am!) After you've laid all your fabric you will use weights and clamps to keep it into place. Also, in this kind of cutting, you cut knits and wovens the same way.
I just cut out a marker of 2 sizes of this top:
Even though this shirt is made of a woven, the thought (and memory) of cutting it out one at a time is enough to make me want to cry. For the 2 sizes, I had 24 units to cut out (and still have 3 more sizes to go!) This meant serious action: the marker and my new favorite toy: a red Eastman Chickadee (a type of electric cutter). First I put down the butcher paper, then with the assistance of a friend, laid the fabric. I'm producing the top in two different colors here, so one is laid on top of the other.
Then we laid the marker on top of the fabric when we had enough layers. One thing I am lacking are proper weights. I end up using whatever is handy, which often times ends up to be odds and ends lurking about the cutting area. It also leads to questions like, "Why is there a pencil sharpener and spray paint in your cutting area?"
For this slippery fabric I wanted to be extra careful that nothing would move. I spied a box of clothes pins I had, and put them to good use. I was amazed at how well they worked.
Then it was time to play with my new toy! No more killing scissors or my hands on these things. I am now the proud owner of an Eastman Chickadee. This is one of the smallest electric cutting knives. It has a round blade and is great for small cuts. Think of it as an electric rotary cutter, that could perhaps take off a finger (wait, I almost did that with a regular rotary cutter!)
Ta-da! All cut, now it's just that sewing part left to do . . .
So hopefully that was a good explanation of how things are cut commercially. Now let's go back home to you all, and get right to any tips I can give on knits and other slippery fabrics.
It can be a wide part of your kitchen counter, your dining room table, or even a hardwood floor. Just make sure you have enough space to lay down the entire cut of your fabric flat. If you have any part bunched up, the slightest bump can skew it.
My own personal favorite is to get a large bulletin board from a garage sale or thrift store. Not only can you stash it behind a door if you live somewhere small, it's perfect for pinning your fabric and pattern down so it can't move. Or if you have particularity pesky knit that rolls a lot, you can pin the whole thing out and then place your pattern. I always get myself in trouble with these types of knits - they love to roll up on me. This one was EXTRA nasty($%#!*!).
Also there are those really nice large self healing mats. You can weight your fabric down and cut it out with a rotary cutter. I don't use this method much myself, since I took off most of one of my fingernails cutting out a camisole while in college, and I always end up bumping the table and shifting the weights around.
Laying Your Pattern Out
Question for you readers: How do you cut our your goodies? Do you lay down your pieces down and trace them with a tailors chalk? Or do you pin and cut around?
Either method will work when cutting knits, but both can have their drawbacks. If you are lifting the fabric to pin the pattern on, that can move it, and sometimes chalk can tug a little while tracing. If my fabric is more stable, I usually go for my favorite chalk - the lovely Chakoner! It's cute, looks like a radish and is refillable. The only drawback is that it is a bit more expensive than a wedge of chalk, but I have had mine for close to 8 years and only had to refill it twice. I always go for yellow since that is the color that will show up well on most fabrics. Once cut, you can dust the extra chalk off.
If I have a really pesky knit that moves a lot, I opt for Plan B.
Yes, that is a silver Sharpie. Traditional? Not so much, but it has saved my butt on a few occasions. Again, I go with silver since I find that it doesn't bleed too much, and shows up on darn near everything I have drawn on it with. If you end up using this method, sometimes the cutting is a little slower, as you want to make sure you cut off all of the marker markings on your fabric. I have used this on a lot of 4-way stretch power meshes, tricots, lightweight knit interfacings, and other super wiggly things.
The most important tip I can give is, make sure those scissors are nice and sharp. This will make your cutting go the smoothest. If you're using a rotary cutter, make sure you have a fresh, sharp, drawing-blood-worthy wheel in. I would rank jersey knits the easiest to cut, and meshes with Lycra the hardest. If you are cutting a fabric with Lycra, you may see the Lycra parts of the fabric catch on your scissors if they aren't super sharp. Depending on the percentage of Lycra, the more you can see. A huge peeve of mine is to be cutting and snag the fabric! I also find that I snag heavily on fabrics like shown on the blouse above: sheer silks. If your scissors need a little love, take them down to a knife sharpening shop, and you can usually have them restored to as good as new for around $10.
I hope that was helpful, and again, I'd love to hear and see what you are doing at home. I love learning new tips, especially the unorthodox ones! Back to fiddling with my newest toy, an industrial 5 thread serger.
I feel like I was just handed the keys to a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. Now if I can just figure out this 5th chainstitch threading . . .