One of my planned sews this month was matching cardigan sweaters for my daughter-in-law and my youngest granddaughter. The project was supposed to be easy and fun. Even though I finished the sweaters in only two days, I’d hardly call them easy, and I certainly wouldn’t call them fun. Why not? Because I was making the cardigans out of jersey knit fabric. I didn’t like knits to begin with (they’re just so squishy and hard to handle), but having just finished this particular project, I now have very unfavorable opinions about jersey knit, and in particular where it comes from (hence the “dead dinosaurs” reference in this blog’s title; more on that later).
Let me first share how I came to my conclusions about working with knit fabric.
As I said, this was supposed to be a quick sew. I already had the fabric from a purchase last summer. It was part of an online fabric merchant’s grab bag offering. I had no idea I’d receive it, and no idea what I’d use it for. That last problem solved itself when the Patti cardigan pattern came out last month. I immediately thought of my daughter-in-law and granddaughter! I was excited at the prospect of using this fabric on a worthwhile project. First, I knew my special girls would love the colors, and second, I knew they’d love the fabric itself, as they’re huge fans of soft knits. So from the start, my confidence level was high for this project.
Then I started working with the fabric itself. After laying out all 4 yards on my multi-leafed sewing table, I painstakingly figured out the best way to cut the pattern for both sizes. It really was painful, as the fabric shifted and bubbled every time I touched it.
Once I finally got all the pieces cut out for both sweaters, I decided to start with my granddaughter’s, thinking the smaller size would give me an opportunity to practice handling this foreign-to-me fabric.
I followed all the rules for sewing with knits: use a ball-point needle, pick a zigzag stretch stitch, serge the seams, and lightly press with a steam iron to get rid of all the wonky lumps in the seams. To my delight, I was finally done with the first cardigan.
I waited until the next day to finish the larger cardigan. It went much quicker, largely because I had just ascended the learning curve on the smaller one.
By the time I had finished both sweaters, I had amassed a sizeable pile of scraps. Though a few were large enough to be made into headbands or doll clothes, most were useless. I’m not a fan of throwing away fabric, so I tend to save my scraps for eventual re-purposing on other projects. Unfortunately, this was jersey knit, so reusing the scraps later just wasn’t going to be in the cards. I asked my husband whether we could burn the scraps in our wood stove. He said yes, as long as they were small and not too numerous.
This got me to thinking, what is jersey knit anyway?
According to one online encyclopedia, “Jersey is a knit fabric used predominantly for clothing manufacture. It was originally made of wool, but is now made of wool, cotton, and synthetic fibers.” OK. But what are synthetic fibers?
Reading further, the article stated that “synthetic fibers are made from synthesized polymers of small molecules. The compounds that are used to make these fibers come from raw materials such as petroleum-based chemicals or petrochemicals. These materials are polymerized into a long, linear chemical that bonds two adjacent carbon atoms.”
So in the end, it comes down to chemistry and base components such as PETROLEUM. Knit fabric is made from dead dinosaurs? Yup, you could say that! Well, that even further lowered my opinion about sewing with knits! Let’s just say that I prefer to live a more environmentally sound existence. I choose to drive a Prius. I choose to heat my home with wood, a carbon-neutral fuel source that my husband harvests himself on our property, while also planting new trees regularly. I recycle and compost everything I can. And now that I have a better understanding about fabric, including where it comes from and what I can do about it, you’d better believe I won’t be purchasing any more knits anytime soon.
For those of you who are startled by this revelation about knits, you might find the following chart interesting and helpful. (And it might help you to think about some of your own fabric choices.)
So what am I going to do with my current stash of knits? I’ll sew with them, of course. But as for the useless scraps, I’ll just toss them — but not into a landfill somewhere. Rather, I’ll save them for a winter’s day just like this one, when I can pitch them into the blazing-hot wood stove. Here’s what it looks like!
My goals for this year now include purchasing renewable and/or environmentally sustainable fabrics. Last year I developed a real fondness for linen, which happens to be one of the most natural, sustainable fabrics out there, coming from the flax plant. And if I ever run out of linen, there’s always cotton!