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(Yes, I am a bad blogger. A blogger who needs flogging. Sorry. There’s been a huge pile of crap between now and the last post – most good and fine, and most recently quite awful.)
I spend a lot of time looking at a lot of brands of children’s clothing, and I almost never look at the girls’ side – I have only boys, for one thing, but for another – frankly, boys’ clothing seems a far better barometer for the level of talent/innovation/whatever a line has. It can be difficult to make a truly amazing dress, certainly, but it definitely seems like tons of children’s designers let prints, ruffles, and assorted “stuff” do the work for them.
Clothes for boys require restraint. There are a few designers, admittedly, whose clothing I love (like Tulip & Nettle, and sometimes Bobo Choses, though I’m not as hot on them as many are) but would never ever buy – because I wouldn’t make my poor kid wear knickers and a poet shirt to school. Even a Montessori school.
Also, once past a certain age (2? 4? I have no idea. I didn’t care about clothes when I was little, myself) girls seem to take serious interest in what they’re wearing. Many or most boys care about how things feel a lot more than how they look. (Although my son would prefer to be dressed in head-to-toe neon orange at all times.)
This is not just my – sensitive-to-a-fault, sure – kid. I know many, many mothers who say the same things. This is what I find to be true for our boy clothing needs (please note that “rugged” is present but not that high up on the list, actually) –
Number 1. It MUST BE KNIT.
My son has a couple of pairs of woven pants that I can sometimes bribe, cajole, threaten, or otherwise jam on him, but he would REALLY prefer not to wear them. He has one button-down linen shirt I made him that he will wear without a fuss, though I’m not sure why.
Most of the kid pants I see – even for babies! Why would I put a baby in denim? – are woven. My kid, and many other kids his age, refuse twill, denim, corduroy – basically everything out of which you are making pants. This forces parents into Old Navy for ugly sale sweatpants with giant numbers and branding on them. Tea has great French terry cargo pants, Mini Boden has some nice ones, and there are some highly idiosyncratic knit pants out there for boys, but those are very expensive. It’s practically a wasteland between Circo and Tea/Boden.
Designers! Give us decent knit pants, for around $15 – $30 (definitely no more than $30/pair. That’s a LOT.) I bet if you think real hard on it, you can even make them attractive!
Number 2. Illustrations are not that big a deal. Cut it out.
Even Tea and Boden are guilty here. Parents of boys get: 500,000 t-shirts with assorted robots, monsters, animals, and rock-and-roll-related devices on them. Whatever whatever at this point. If you go and get one or two (and I would stick to that number, seriously) really, really, really great, super-interesting illustrators (of which there are MANY), fine, give us a few super-cool graphic tees. But you know what? We have them. We have graphic tees coming out of our ears. We have them expensive and we have them – sometimes nearly as attractively – super-cheap. We have them from indies in Brooklyn (umpteen thousand of them) and we have them from Target.
Opening up a catalog or looking at an online shop and seeing nothing but fifty graphic tees – no matter how super-dupes cool they are – is disheartening and annoying.
Number 3. Only the children of celebrities want to wear skinny jeans
And probably not even them but they have a lot of paid staffpersons around to feed them candy until they are back home
Number 4. Make most of your shirts long-sleeve, knit Henley-style or similar collarless shirts.
If you want to show variation, go here. This is what we need more than anything. Plain short-sleeve t-shirts are a dime a dozen and most parents I know will not spend a lot of money on them, so again – unless you have something really killer there, you’re probably just going to wind up with a lot of inventory.
Boys need long-sleeve, comfortable, big-enough-to-go-over-an-undershirt, knit shirts for a huge chunk of the year in a lot of this country. Make them striped, make them buttoned, give one or two a collar but mostly not because they are annoying, make them not pique for the most part – interlock or jersey, fine – make a few with illustrations, make two dozen color variations, and we will buy them.
I do not need another plaid button down (basically ever.) My kid hates them, they don’t go with anything because he won’t wear jeans, and if I did want them I could get them for $3 at consignment. If you absolutely just simply must have one in your lookbook then so be it – at least make it a soft flannel instead of rough shirting cotton.
Number 5. Fashion-interested parents of boys become attuned to subtleties.
This is something you can capitalize on! We don’t get ruffles or ribbons or tiers or trims to distract us, so we become preternaturally attuned to minor differences in tone and color. We notice stitching, pocket placement, welts, and yokes. We learn what our boys prefer and we look for variations on that theme.
If you are used to making clothes for girls, you might feel like you are just making the same pair of pants with minor variations from season to season – but that is fine! If you develop a couple of really really solid boy pants and shirts for your company, yes, yes, go ahead and continue producing them in almost exactly the same fashion from year to year! Absolutely make them in 12 different colors, please, do! Yes, put cargo pockets on some pants and only hip pockets on others, and slap a knee patch on for fall or whatever. Make 14 different sturdy knit Henleys (only one or two with a graphic) and I bet you will sell them.
We LIKE solid, go-to pants and shirts. We LIKE seeing your colors and fabrics and details and we will notice them and also we will buy a lot of them if we like them and they are reasonably priced.
Number 6. Will somebody please start making decent, reasonably-priced socks for boys?
We need socks that are: not thick. Not as long as tube socks but not the wee anklets many stores sell. Preferably minus giant seams at the toe. I can get socks like these for grown-ups anywhere – why do they not exist for kids? Etiquette comes closest that I’ve found but they are still not long enough and have big seams. Also they are very expensive and shrink a ton.
Number 7. Sure, rugged, yeah.
I mean, don’t make clothes that fall apart. Were you going to do that? I hope not. Reinforcing the knee is fine but I have no problem accepting that a boy in routine daily life is probably going to wear down a knee or two, so don’t go bananas or anything.
Now, obviously there are boys out there who don’t care if their pants are knit or not, and I’m sure there are one or two who are honestly perfectly happy in skinny jeans (maybe they stand a lot), but what I know for sure is that when I look at the clearance sections? It’s the twill. The knit pants? Are always sold out. I could get fourteen designer button-downs at 60% off but I will never find the striped Henley there. And we all have our limits on the graphic tees, for the love of Pete.
I never buy the expensive Euro stuff. Except I did buy this orange-and-red striped Stenzo jersey from Banberry Place, which at $14.50/yard is a LOT for me. But to say that my kid loves orange is a tremendous understatement. In fact, I can guarantee you that you will see a GREAT DEAL OF ORANGE here if you return. And the price did get me to be less lazy and change to my twin needle for the hem, which always looks amazing when I bother to do it.
Anyway, the shirt turned out great and the kid loves it, so I suppose it may have been worth $14.50/yard. Though I’m still not sure. What I don’t get is why US producers can’t apparently make stripes this cool. Just look at this amazing Campan stripe by Hilco – I mean, it’s just a damn stripe, but it’s a NICER stripe than we have here. This is why Mini Boden is way cuter than our stuff. I get all mad about this.
Ok so ever since I saw this pin I have been completely turgid over this village and I finally just bought it on Ebay. Apparently the company no longer sells toys in the US. I expected Señor Lights and Buttons Robot Man to disdain and was hoping the baby would evince some interest, so I was pretty happy when Jasper (oldest, big on things with wheels and noisy business) was into playing with it. The baby was interested, but mainly in throwing the pieces on the floor or taking them off somewhere using his newfound walking abilities.
And I figured I would throw together a quick block print tutorial which I think I shall have finished tomorrow and which will add only a little bit of new information to what’s out there already, but – as far as I’m concerned, anyway – they seem to be somewhat critical pieces of information, especially when printing light ink on darker ground, and perhaps will help someone else who was having issues.
They are manta rays on blue linen (the blue didn’t photograph very well; I might try again tomorrow. It’s a lot bluer than it looks right here.) Jasper’s been into space with some sea thrown in lately – especially octopuses and manta rays – and I figured they’d make a cool print not to mention fast fast fast to cut a block. I think it took me about 7 minutes to cut this block, including photographs and answering Jasper’s questions while doing it.
Been busy working and making stuff, with not enough time left over to post the results here. The woven romper pattern is still in the works and maybe I will just put up the knit version since that’s so much simpler for me.
In the meantime, I made Jasper a lunch bag based on this great tutorial at Lemon Squeezy Home. It’s this Orange Woodgrain with a white flocked owl cut with my Silhouette on the outside (that I drew when we had a raptor presentation for his fourth birthday and I made a ton of t-shirts for the kids), and this fabric, which is supposed to be food safe and waterproof, as a lining.
And I’d made him a long-sleeve version of the below shirt for the fall, causing him to pitch a fit that he could not wear it right this very second, so of course we had to make a short-sleeve version. Amusingly, he’s not really that into pirates, but he likes this fabric tremendously for some reason. Another flocked Silhouette cutout of an anchor on the left sleeve.
The pattern originated as Ottobre’s 3/2011 short-sleeve t-shirt, but it’s been heavily, heavily modified over the past year.
The pirate rib is from The Fabric Fairy and I forget where I got the black interlock and the grey rib I used for binding.
Amidst working on this endless romper pattern I am fiddling with other things. Block printing some linen to use for one of said rompers, for instance, and making a Kindle cover based on this nice tutorial at Charm Stitch.
I added a flap closure rather than just a button-and-loop, so fluff wouldn’t get into the Kindle cozy thinger. And I got to use some of my Spoonflower Pomegranate fabric, though it’s the older version of it – I’ve updated that design to be brighter.
Eventually I hope to put up some information on block printing on fabric – I’ve had a frustrating time of things with it and I’ve felt a bit let down by many of the tutorials out there that don’t cover what kinds of ink to use or what kinds of problems one might run into (of which there are many, it turns out.) I think I’ve finally solved some ofthose problems, so when I get two minutes to rub together I’ll try to post something about it.
The Charm Stitch tutorial was great. I adapted it for different measurements, and I cut one piece of lining and one piece of the main fabric about two inches longer and curved the corners. From there it’s more or less the same – sewing the pockets on, sewing the two pouches each together, then sewing all along the opening – pivoting to sew up around the flap – with right sides together, leaving the opening to turn. Turn, press, topstitch; buttonhole, button. The usual. It came out nicely, I think.
So many people are apparently frightened of sewing with knits. So much so that many, many fantastic bloggers have posted tons of information and tutorials on the subject. That said, I never spotted anything that I felt really laid out the relevant specifics of the knit fabrics I see online. There’s some good information out there, certainly, like this Threads magazine overview, but – and maybe this is because I work mainly with kid’s clothing? – it never quite hit the sweet spot for me.
And one quick thing before we move on to the show: one of the trickiest things about knits is that, yes, the fabric will pucker when you hem it. There is an easy answer to this problem: a hot iron. Hit your hems with a hot steamy iron right after you sew them and your puckers will all but disappear.
(Some people advise a walking foot. I have one and I don’t like it, but that’s just me.)
Jersey is the most ubiquitous of the common knits, and you can usually get the broadest range of patterns in jersey. I like jersey fine, but I find it to be incredibly difficult to gauge how heavy or light the fabric will be when buying online since most shops don’t bother to state. I’ve gotten jersey so light it was transparent and far too light to be anything even my baby would wear, but I’ve also gotten quite robust, heavier weight jersey that I am happy to make t-shirts and rompers out of.
So: if you don’t know exactly what you’re getting – I’d say either don’t bother or ask the shop owner about the fabric. Fabric.com is pretty good about stating the weight of their fabrics, but I find their “lightweight” is often not as light as other places. You can also always request/order samples/swatches, of course, but I’m usually not that patient.
Jersey fabric has a right and wrong side, and it curls – some more, some less, but all of it curls some – at the edge. The curliest can be quite tricky.
I’ve also found that some jersey with spandex will pill up badly. These days I try to stick with 100% cotton or, if necessary, a very small amount of polyester or lycra.
- Ubiquitous: easy to find in most fabric shops in a wide variety of patterns, colors, price ranges, and fiber content
- Definitely the knit with the most available cute kid patterns in this country
- Comes in various weights for several purposes
- Often very curly at the cut edge
- Difficult to hem nicely
- Can be hard to pinpoint weight online
- Skirts (depends on the pattern and the wearer and the weight of the jersey, though)
- Babywear, especially if lined, particularly pre-mobile babies
- Linings of knit garments (this is very common in Ottobre magazine, for example.)
As far as I can tell – answers vary a little bit – interlock is, essentially, two pieces of rib (I’ve also heard jersey) fabric knitted together such that it is heavier than a standard jersey and has two right sides. This Threads article says:
“Description: Compound fabric made by “inter-knitting,” or interlocking, two simple ribbed fabrics, each made with single yarn. Has fine ribs running lengthwise. Fabric’s face and reverse look same, making it reversible.”
Interlock is, by a fair margin, my favorite fabric to sew with for my boys. It’s heavy enough for a solid t-shirt or long-sleeve shirt, it can be used to bind sleeves, cuffs, necklines, etc., and it can be used for baby pants, rompers, hats, etc.
There are tons of fantastic prints on interlock…in Europe. Here in the U.S. we can either pay through the nose for those fabrics or make do with what we’ve got, which is mainly solids, some stripes, and Michael Miller prints. I do like many of the MM prints but be forewarned: they shrink a lot. Prewashing is a must with Michael Miller fabrics (well, I pre-wash everything now, having been burned one too many times, but I’ve seen MM interlock lose up to 10% or so!)
- Great hand, strength, and drape
- Far less stretch than jersey (can be a con too)
- Many uses
- Does not curl!
- One of the easiest knits to sew
- Difficult to find affordable good prints in the US
- Shrinks a lot
- T-shirts – long and short-sleeve, either gender
- Light use pants or shorts (it’s not really a bottomweight but I’ve done it) – for adult women it probably wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s not the best choice for, say, an active boy’s pants.
- Dresses & Skirts
- Babywear of all kinds – rompers, hats, pants, shirts…
- Light pullovers
- Binding (I use interlock for binding regularly)
- As a heavier lining for a warm garment
Rib knit is another favorite of mine. It’s great for t-shirts, especially with a slim fit – in my opinion often better than jersey. It does have a right and wrong side, and it has a lot of stretch horizontally. It’s lighter than interlock, but it can still be used for a great binding. I’ve done summer rompers in rib knit successfully, though I think it would be a little light for fall or winter wear. I buy more rib than I buy jersey, because I find its weight to be much more consistent.
One of the trickiest things about rib knit is how many variations it comes in. 1×1, 2×1, poor boy, baby rib, microrib…etc. 1×1 is a very narrow rib, though not as narrow as baby or micro. 2×1 rib you’ll often see on the neckline binding of t-shirts for women and children – I personally prefer 1×1 for binding but I have some 2×1 as well. 2×1 is incredibly stretchy. Poor boy is too light for anything other than lady t-shirts & dresses, in my opinion. Baby rib and microrib are both great for baby wear and shirts. (It is possible that my mystery fabric described below is actually “baby rib,” but I have no confirmation of that.) There is also some heavy duty ribbing often referred to specifically as cuff ribbing, or sweatshirt cuffing, or something similar, which is very heavy and not what you’d be sewing garments out of.
You will see hem puckers on a rib knit. See above about the hot iron. You can also try the walking foot, as mentioned, or a twin needle, which I use sometimes but usually I’m too lazy. I have a serger so I serge everything I can, but that doesn’t help on a hemline. Someday I’ll get that coverhem machine, but until then, the hot iron it is.
Rib Knit Pros:
- Can be very form-fitting if desired
- Soft hand, nice drape (in between jersey and interlock, often)
- Many uses, great for binding
- Does not curl
- Fair number of cute prints at good prices on rib
Rib Knit Cons:
- Very stretchy – can be tricky to sew
- Several variations of rib knit/ribbing available and can be confusing
Rib Knit Uses:
- Binding – rib knit is the best and easiest-to-use knit binding
- Dresses & Skirts
- Baby tops, light rompers, hats
- As a (very stretchy) lining for a warm garment
French terry is super for bottoms. I keep only buying one or two yards at a time and then bemoaning myself when I run out. It makes great shorts and pants for big and little kids, and I’ve made rompers and long-sleeve shirts from it as well. Not nearly as stretchy as other knits, and fairly heavy, it’s sturdy and an easy knit to start out with if you are nervous. You could do a great french terry pullover, too.
French terry has a smooth front and a looped back, which is sometimes brushed for softness. I’ve been seeing more prints and stripes in french terry, too. It’s also usually very reasonable – one can easily find 100% cotton french terry for around $5/yard.
It makes lousy waistbands, though, if you’re doing an attached waistband, since it doesn’t stretch enough. Found that out the hard way. Not a good binding choice, either, but it takes interlock or rib binding just fine.
French Terry Pros:
- Not especially stretchy
- Very strong/tough
- Fairly easy to sew
French Terry Cons:
- Edge will curl
- Not a lot of variations out there – mainly solids – though people do seem to be starting to make more of this fabric
French Terry Uses:
- Pants and Shorts
- Heavy shirts/pullovers
- Heavier skirts/winter dresses
- Baby pants & shorts
I like stretch terry for cheap shorts, pullovers, and beach coverups. It’s looped on the front side (as opposed to French terry, which is looped on the back, and is a little like a soft, thin, stretchy towel.
It also makes an enormous mess when you cut it. Not tons of this fabric around, but every once in a while I find a cute cut and it’s always a cheap fabric.
Stretch Terry Pros:
- Fairly tough
- Very affordable
- Good for beach/pool stuff
Stretch Terry Cons:
- Makes a huge mess
- Edge will curl
- Tends to look “homemade” and not in the good way
Stretch Terry Uses:
- Pants and Shorts
- Beach cover-ups
- Baby pants & shorts
Velour is growing on me, especially for long-sleeve shirts and baby wear. It tends to be very soft, so my kids like it. Definitely on the warm side, and with a fuzzy nap. It has the bonus of looking a little bit like velvet, so you can use it for something more formal without having to use velvet.
Not a ton of stretch and hard to find in 100% cotton, but I like it for winter wear, and it’s fairly reasonable in price ($8/yard or so.) Easy for a new-to-knits person to sew, for the most part, and Ottobre has many velour-oriented patterns.
- Somewhat tough
- Fairly affordable
- Warm and soft
- Edge will curl
- Not many prints/patterns/variations
- Loungewear/track suits
- Pullovers & hoodies
Sweatshirt fleece is probably fairly familiar to you already – it’s what sweatshirts are made of (surprise!) It tends to be smooth on one side and have a looped back that is often brushed or fleecy but not always. Lots of name-brand activewear pants and shorts are made from sweatshirt fleece or French terry.
It’s good stuff for exactly what it’s for!
Sweatshirt Fleece Pros:
- Super tough
- Often quite affordable
- Very warm, often very soft
Sweatshirt Fleece Cons:
- Edge will curl
- Not many prints/patterns/variations
- Very heavy (not really a con per se)
Sweatshirt Fleece Uses:
- Pullovers & hoodies
- Pants and shorts
There is a magical mystery knit fabric that I can’t figure out the name of, but that I adore. I’ve seen it called interlock and I’ve seen it called rib – especially baby rib – and maybe even other stuff too. The fabric is…fuzzier, a bit, and the knit seems to be very, very marginally looser than that of a more standard interlock or rib. It feels much more “knitted” and cozy than what one usually gets. I sure wish I knew exactly how to call it because I would then be better able to buy it.
Ixat has some, and I’ve gotten it other places as well. It’s the absolute best for baby pants. This grey stripe, the blue and oatmeal stripe here,and this navy stripe at Banberry Place are all the kind of fabric I mean, and I have some of each of them.
Here are some links to other sites with good knits info:
While working on the pattern for this romper, I looked online for various vented hem or split hem tutorials. I found a couple, but I was surprised that there were not more. There are several ways to create a vented hem, including using a hem facing, a kind of funnel-hem dealie (hard to explain) or leaving tabs hanging off at the vent to fold in. I personally find this to be simpler while still creating a very finished look. Continue reading Tutorial: Turn & Topstitch an Easy Vented (Split) Hem
Got the baby into the Irish linen romper today, and it fits really pretty well for a baby romper in a woven. It looks super-stylish even with the edits I’ll make, so I’m very happy about that. Continue reading The baby actually wearing the Irish linen romper
I’ve gotten the knit version of this romper pattern pretty well nailed, I think, and I’ve been working on a woven version now. I know everybody thinks knits are scary and hard and wovens are so much easier, but man, stretch really can do wonders for you, especially on fat babies with funny shapes and enormous bottoms (and thighs.)
My older son likes (inexplicably) long lectures on topics that interest him. He’s not so hot on school – even his super cool Montessori school – but he routinely wants me to talk for an hour about whatever. The past few months he’s been interested in space, so I’ve started working on printouts for him to look at and me to refer to, since I am now required to be an expert in such subjects.
He can’t read yet, so he’s wholly dependent on us (mainly me) for information like this. So this is designed to give either a parent or a much older kid a reasonably significant amount of data while providing younger kids cool pictures to look at. I usually print these out and laminate them two-sided.
More to come, I’d imagine.
Been dying to do more with Spoonflower for years now, and I’m finally getting around to it. Here’s a red car and teal camper based on a photo I took at an antiques fair a good while back.
I did this one for the pomegranate contest. I still have a lot to learn about how everything displays on Spoonflower – the zooms in particular are incredibly disappointing. I really wish we had much more control over the zoom view; there is a ton of detail here that is impossible to really discern in the Spoonflower views, unfortunately. And the design is large enough on the print that the details would certainly be visible on the fabric itself. Frustrating.
This is a pattern I’ve been working on for a bit, in a couple of variations. This is the nearly-final 12m version – it needs a little more length in the body and I want to make a gusseted version, but otherwise I’m happy with the proportions.
I love the fabric. It’s not a typical rib knit – it’s a little heavier and softer, and…knittier-feeling, for lack of a better term. I wish I knew the technical term for it, but even if I did I don’t think I’d be able to find it more easily since I’ve never seen any seller refer to it as anything unusual. One person calls it interlock while another says rib knit and as far as I can tell it’s kind of neither, but who knows? Anyway, I’ve been able to find at least three stripes in this kind of fabric and I use them like mad.
It took me a few tries to figure out all the construction details. Binding the neckline was no good, or at least not for me, with those narrow tabs. It looked awful and bulky. Perhaps a more experienced sewer could manage it, but while I still put the bound version on him, I cross my eyes at the binding every time. Finally I settled on facing the top down to about two or three inches under the armpit, and interfacing just at the closure spots – interfacing the whole facing was a mistake on a small knit like this.
Eventually I’ll post the pattern here and more progress pictures. It’s just marker on drawing paper, and I’d have to figure out how to scan it, but if anyone wants it I’ll put it on up.
This is an idea I’ve had for a while. I think the U.S. needs more and better printed knit fabric – stuff like they have in Europe. I’ve put together a very short survey to see if enough people agree with me that I can prove it to investor-type people. You can see it (and take it) here:
I’ve kept various blogs for (very) varying lengths of time since probably around 1999 or so. Many or most are offline now and have been for ages. Mainly for the best, frankly.
Now that I’m old and fat and have two kids, I don’t have time to segregate my interests anymore. I can’t try to keep blogs dedicated to one particular thing I do – it’s just too much. I barely have time to do anything, up to and including sleep and shower, if I want to cram in everything else I want to do (…much like every other mother.)
So here we are. I’ll post whatever I feel like posting, in whatever category of things I’m doing at the moment, and if you are interested, more’s the better.