I try not to do not buy RTW clothing. Since I started sewing, I feel that my expectations about quality have been raised beyond what most stores I can afford can match. And there is a lot about the fashion industry I am angry about. Because I sew, I know how much garments are supposed to cost. I know that low prices can only be possible because of the exploitation of workers. I am also painfully aware of the ecological devastation caused by the fashion industry pollution. So it is with a pang of guilt that I confess that I bought a long cardigan from Old Navy recently. I was not going to buy it, but I was seduced by its cheap price and the perfect fit. I love the thing. It is comfortable, warm enough for a fall evening in Los Angeles, and black. I needed more cardigans like this one, but I really did not want to buy any more RTW.
Enter the Blackwood cardigan. I had been eyeing the Blackwood cardigan by Helen’s Closet for quite some time, and I finally bought it in July when the pattern was re-issued. I was planning to sew my first Blackwood by the fall, but summer decided to overstay its welcome. I only felt the need for a warm and cozy garment in December, when winter finally hit (or maybe it was my obsession with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and its villain Blackwood that inspired me to sew the cardigan… guess we will never know). This pattern was on my cutting table as soon as winter break started.
The Blackwood is a cozy cardigan designed to be a layering piece. The little bulk of its body and extra long sleeves are meant to be worn under heavier jackets and coats. The pattern comes in two lengths—a shorter version that hits the hips, sans pockets, and a longer version with patch pockets. There is no hemming as all edges are finished with bands. The pattern is meant for knit fabrics with at least 40% stretch widthwise and 20% lengthwise, and it works well with a variety of fabric weights. Just keep in mind that the heavier the fabric, the bulkier the seams, and there are a lot of seams intersecting here.
I needed a cardigan that would keep me warm in cool weather and layer easily under a coat for colder days. I wandered around Mood touching everything that looked suitable for this project until I came across something that looked AND felt good. I found this Italian black/beige double faced wool knit and after some heavy fabric petting, I got 2.5 yards. This wool knit was not cheap ($18.99/yard), so I wanted to make sure that I was not going to destroy it in the wash. The super nice salesperson at Mood gave me a big swatch to throw in the washing machine. The wool knit handled the wash really well. Not wanting to press my luck, I hung the fabric to dry. More and more, I have been avoiding the dryer when dealing with my handmade garments. I think it really helps them live a longer life.
I started my second Blackwood as soon as the first one was done. I went to Joann and got this black terry knit . The wrong side of the fabric was facing out on the bolt, and I had a head-scratching moment trying to figure out what I was looking at. I asked the store clerk, but she seemed as puzzled as I was. I decided that I can make my own rules, and if I wanted to use the wrong side of the fabric, I would. It turns out the textured side is the right side, so I did not have to break any rules. Maybe next time.
Because the Blackwood is slightly loose and meant to be worn open, my only concern was making sure that it fit the shoulders properly. I made a muslin for a B-cup size 22, but it did not pass the shoulder test. I could have made another muslin, but I felt pretty confident just by looking at how far the shoulder seam was from the hinge of the shoulder that the next size down would do it. One great feature of the Blackwood is its (new) size range. It is not uncommon for me to find some cute indie pattern that excludes me because of my size. Yeah, I know I can grade up… but why not make patterns that fit a wide range of bodies? Just sayin’.
For me, the most time-consuming step in the Blackwood cardigan construction was sewing the patch pockets. I followed Helen’s tutorial on using Wonder Tape to get the pockets prepared and her tip to place tissue paper under the fabric to keep things stable. I had a lot of trouble with the wool knit when sewing the pockets because the thickness of the fabric made it difficult to get things going. Whenever I tried to sew from the top of the pocket, the uneven surfaces made the presser foot get stuck. The workaround was starting to sew from a couple of inches below the edge of the pocket and then flip the cardigan and finish stitching the pocket to the edge. It was a few tries and a bunch of unpicking before I had the stitching perfectly aligned. I was not happy with the pockets but decided that if I wanted to get rid of them, I could do it once the cardigan was done. I am happy I gave myself that time because I like having pockets, and they are staying.
The rest of the cardigan came together pretty quickly. I used twill tape to stabilize the shoulder, zig-zagged all the seams, and finished everything with the serger. Because both fabrics were on the thick side, some seams got quite bulky. With the knit wool, my machine struggled to sew through where the hem band and the front band met. The bottom of the front band was also challenging; I started a couple of inches from the edge and sewed all the way to the other side. Then, I finished the band from the body to the edge. This way, the presser foot had an even surface, and everything looks neat.
I LOVE this pattern. I cannot say enough good things about it. The pattern is really well drafted, and the instructions are very clear. There is a sewalong on the Helen’s Closet website with pictures and lots of great tips. The Blackwood comes together quickly (I sewed the second one in a day), and it fits beautifully. Since I finished the two Blackwoods, I have worn them everywhere—they even followed me on vacation to Austin. After sewing two very utilitarian pieces, I will indulge in some frosting and sew a black velvet Blackwood. What a most appropriate way to honor the Blackwell who might have inspired this cardigan fever.