When this fabric arrived, I looked at it and wondered,“What was I thinking?“
We’ve all done it. You’re shopping, feeling good, and you buy something that you think will be great or you need a couple more dollars in your cart for free shipping, or whatever offer you’re going for. You pick something out and then later, you’re staring at it in confusion. That’s kind of what happened here with this pique knit in navy blue. I opened the package, and said, “What did I do?”
I didn’t like it. It was medium weight, pebbly, and while the drape was okay, it wasn’t the kind of pique I was expecting. When I ordered it, I was thinking it would be more of a waffle texture, like a henley, but that wasn’t what I got. I hadn’t been sewing with knits much at that point, so I was understandably confused, not realizing ‘pique’ meant a lot of different things. Instead it was more bumpy, like the skin of a lime, and to my eyes, about as attractive.
Looking at it, my first thought was, ‘polo shirts’ because I grew up in the 1980s and that’s what everybody was wearing. It was the preppy yuppy look with lots of stretch pique knits and alligators embroidered on the chest. Ew. Even now, I cringe.
I think I might even have owned one, but my excuse is that I was a kid and my mom and grandma picked out most of my clothes and sometimes I just agreed with whatever they asked me about liking, because I was bored and wanted to go look at toys. At the time, I rarely appreciated long clothes buying sessions unless there were dresses. I was all about dresses. I still am.
But I digress.
The pique was unloved, initially. A mistake, I thought. Perhaps I could make it into sleepwear that would never see the light of day. I threw it in the antique steamer trunk that I use to store my fabric and forgot about it.
Time is a funny thing. We sometimes need time to come to a decision about something, even if it happens to be something we’re not actually thinking about. I am firm believer in walking away from something for a long time and then coming back to it with fresh eyes. More often than not, time away brings new ideas when I see it again.
I was going through some of grandma’s patterns back in the late winter, deciding what to make, when I saw this one little dress from McCall’s, #2127 dated 1969. Originally, I had thought to make it in some other fabric, but in the end, decided to try the pique knit. I cut the pieces and…did nothing for a while. I’m easily distracted, and I went in pursuit of spring/summer sewing instead, cranking out little knit tops, a rayon blouse and a pair of pants and then… I went through my project bins looking to clean them up. I do that periodically, because I promised myself I would complete at least half of my unfinished projects that were languishing in the drawers this year so I could fill them with… more unfinished projects.
That’s logical, right? Of course it is.
So, throwing my initial dislike out the window, I decided to give the homely fabric a chance. I mean, at least it was blue. I love blue. I wasn’t crazy about the texture, but maybe with the right pattern and jazzed up with some trims I could come to love it. If I didn’t love it, well, I could sleep in it, probably. Knits make good sleepwear.
I set to work, stitching up the pieces. I still wasn’t sure about it after cutting, as it still seemed like a polo shirt to my eyes. I was worried it was going to look weird after I got done, and not in an avant-garde, street style kind of way but in a train wreck, fashion-don’t kind of way. Still, I persevered and began stitching.
When I began check the fit, I found I had to run it in a lot. When I initially traced the pieces I made them a little too large for a knit, thinking I was going to do this pattern in a woven, as it was originally intended to be. That was way before I decided on the pique knit, naturally.
After I made a few adjustments and trimmed down the excess, it was a very flattering fit. So much so, I didn’t mind the pique knit so much. It had some cute details with the waist seam shaping, coming to a point just at my sternum and curving away gracefully with bodice gathers to enhance the bust. I found some nifty bubble trim on Etsy and it was the right length and color, so I hand-stitched it to the sleeves and down the center front. It’s a nice vertical element, and feels right for the design. Originally I was going to do buttons as decorative elements like on the line art the envelope is sporting, but once I had the trim it brought in some texture and interest, so I didn’t need them.
I liked that the design worked well with my narrow shoulders, too, which is always a problem for me with the more modern designs. My shoulders are narrow and small, and using modern patterns for me means that the shoulder seams are inevitably hanging a good two inches or three off of my actual shoulders.
My understanding is that the more common female body type in this century has broader shoulders and hips than the dominant type of the previous hundred years. This is probably why vintage patterns produce clothes that fit me better than their more modern counterparts; I’m literally built like an old-fashioned girl.
The pique was pretty easy to work with; it is a bit of a medium weight, so I used a thicker needle, a ballpoint 90/10. It is also very stable, as far as I can tell, if a bit unexpectedly clingy. I might not have cut the skirt quite so slim if I had known the knit was going to hug me like that. I don’t recall polo shirts doing that…so please remember, for your own pique knit sewing adventure: pique wants to get nice and cozy with you. It wants to hug you lots. Give yourself some ease space in this relationship or it will become incredibly clingy! (Perhaps this is due to my initial rejection and it feels insecure?)
My sewing form was a big help in this project, too. I don’t use it all the time, as I find it isn’t true to my size in spite of what the settings say. It is great with knits or loose garments, though, so I get some use out of it.
However, it comes in very handy with hemming to a correct, consistent length. I like to finish my hems by hand when possible. I’ve messed up too many hems by machine for my liking, I’m afraid. Few things are as painful as finishing a garment only to discover you’ve messed up your hem and have to rip most or all of it out. Ah, well. Live and learn.
The sewing form is also good for getting an idea how a garment will hang and for applying trim. I was able to pin the trim on very easily with minimal repositioning, which would probably not have happened if I tried it while either wearing the dress or having it lay flat in front of me. It’s not always so easy to run a long piece of trim vertically down a garment and have it look evenly spaced and lined up, but having it parallel to my line of sight was super helpful with that. I attached the trim by hand and that worked pretty well. I was concerned the heavy texture of the trim would mess up either the trim itself or the sewing machine if I tried to do it by machine, and since I had very little leftover I couldn’t risk damaging it. It worked out very well- I have about three inches of leftover trim, so I feel a job was well done here in using it up and applying it. However, as a perfectionist, I can still see a spot that might need adjusting on my skirt before I actually wear this cute little number out in public.
Overall, this turned out to be a rather nice dress that I like very much, which is surprising given my first impression of the fabric as ugly and not something I would ever wear. I love a happy ending, don’t you? I still have some of this fabric left, enough to make something small. I don’t know what, yet. Maybe some that sleepwear I was initially considering, or perhaps I’ll discover an unexpectedly cute pattern and fabric combination like I did here. Who knows?
That’s what I like about sewing: it forces me to be creative in ways I wouldn’t ordinarily consider, a result partly gained through my own inept blundering when I buy an ill-considered fabric, or when disaster strikes or I just plain mess up the process. It’s kind of nice knowing that however I might screw a given thing up, I can usually fix it if I just give it time and consideration, and it often turns out nicer than my original plan.