I’m working on something at the moment that is relatively simple in design. Lots of plain knitting, but now the fun begins, since its devil is definitely in its detail. This garment is all about the finish, and I’ve re-worked the bottom hem and its edging several times to get it just right. Despite ripping out, and working back, and fashioning acres of time-consuming i-cord, this process has been a genuine pleasure — for there is nothing more pleasing than the perfect hem. The me of just a few years ago would be astonished to hear me say that: for I was once definitely of the mind that it really didn’t matter what your hem looked like, or how neat your finish was, as long as it didn’t really show too much.

My ma tells a story which combines one of my (many) fashion disasters with my generally slip-shod attitude to finishing. While a student away at college several aeons ago, I had found a 1970s wrap-around skirt in a charity shop: one of those nice, naturally-dyed Indian cotton hippy things with generic elephant design. I really liked the fabric, but I wasn’t that keen on either the mumsy length of the skirt, or the potential of the wrap-around to display one’s underwear in a breeze. (This last is rather ironic, since the use I later put it to ended up being far more ‘revealing’). I decided I would transform the knee length skirt into full length trousers. But they would be no ordinary trousers: they would be glorious, enormous flares. Indian elephants would proudly march around each of my legs and I would look the business. So I simply chopped the skirt in two, and hand-sewed each half into a gigantic cone. The top of each cone was the width of my thigh while the bottom edge was over a metre in circumference. These were going to be fantastic pants! But hang on, at the moment they were only fantastic pant legs: I had merely created two ankle-to-thigh-length leg cones with no actual trouser part. No matter, for I had an excellent idea. I chopped off the legs of an old pair of leggings, put on the resulting stretchy shorts, then, with a handful of safety pins, attached the elephant cones to the raw edges of the short-legs. My pants were complete! Brilliant! Now I just had to make sure I wore them with a nice, long sweater that disguised my unusual tailoring solution.

When mum and dad arrived for their parental visit, I was clad in a huge grey sweater, a pair of voluminous elephant legs, a ripped up pair of leggings, and 30 safety pins. What a fabulous outfit! Just the thing to buzz around town in with mum and dad! I thought my finishing secret was safe, but when I moved about or sat down, the sweater of course rode up, revealing several inches of my pinched, bare, safety-pin adorned thighs, and a hint of arse, uncomfortable in its torn-off leggings. The horror! I considered myself at the vanguard of style, but I was merely a figure of fun. I wore the elephant ‘pants’ just that once. I think they later became a headscarf.


Anyway, here is my hem from the right side. I wanted to have quite a plain, stark, i-cord edging, but found that the i-cord on its own wasn’t robust/ stable enough to stop the stocking stitch from curling. I am knitting top-down, so my eventual solution was to create a turned-up hem along a row of purl stitches, to pick up another row of stitches along the raised-purl bumps, and to bind them off in i-cord. It took a while, but I love it. So neat!

And just to prove that the wrong side doesn’t involve safety pins and raw edges:


I like the contrast slip stitches along the hem’s cast off edge — and keeping them at the same tension as the knitted fabric makes for a flat and a flexible hem. In fact, I have been foolishly admiring both the right and wrong sides of the fabric in equal measure.


is it possible to be drunk on i-cord?

30 thoughts on “finish

  1. I too have been thinking about finishings, and edges lately. I have the urge to knit thick winter warmers now that’s it’s gotten reasonably warmish out (but, you know, it’s Scotland, and winter will come again. Very soon).


  2. The elephant pant story has made me collapse in hysterics. I also wore a lot of such garments which i thought were the “business…” mainly involving tie-dye and also those trousers that do up at the side and show everybody your underwear when you sat down which I thought was cool. I also spent a disproportionate amount of time customising clothes with incredibly bad sewing, wonderweb and safety pins. The worse case situation I got into involved a leather basque top at rocky horror show night that I had bought reduced because the zip was broken and I had “mended” with safety pins. I was dancing to the time warp and the garment pinged off. I spend the rest of the evening in the toilet until I found my friend James anorak to go home in. Suspenders and anorak is a look I don’t anticipte reviving any time soon…


  3. Hah! Great story. I had my own lovely misguided fashion denials over the years, but I don’t think I can beat yours.

    Indeed it is possible to be drunk on beautiful finishing! Sometimes I admire my mattress-stitched seams for hours before I’m willing to give the sweater to the intended recipient.


  4. i am crying with laughter at the big elephant pants story – you can certainly tell it! I couldn’t begin to tell you all my fashion faux pas over the years – suffice to say one of them was a pair of canary yellow platform shoes – stunning – then sprayed silver for a party – I shudder at the thought.


  5. We certainly had a laugh going down memory lane — what you omitted to say was that the whole outfit was completed by an amazing snow hat with ear flaps — Truly a memorable sight — Ma


  6. thank you – i got a good belly laugh out of your elephants pants!
    and this is the BEST looking edge i ever saw. waiting to see the sweater in it’s whole glory….


  7. I love the elephant-pants story! I owned two of those skirts and wore them unaltered, without irony.

    I did however – and this shocks my knitting sensibilities now – boldly lop the neckline from a beautiful, raspberry coloured vintage mohair sweater and then unashamedly stitch it in atrocious blanket stitch so that it could hang off my shoulders revealing black lacy bra-strap everywhere I went.

    And I also refused to wear any trousers apart from pyjama bottoms.

    But your elephant-pants top it all.

    I share your giddy excitement at all the lovely i-cord and the pleasingly constructed hem that you have fashioned. I cannot wait to see the completed creation.


  8. Lovely edges, can’t wait to see what the rest of it looks like.

    (My mom owned that same elephant skirt until about 1980 when she suddenly decided that she needed a more “professional” image. The transformation included changing her name from its diminutive to her full given name, and the elephants were obviously incompatible with this new person. I always wondered what happened to them- I hope their history was as exciting as that of your skirt!)


  9. The finishing is lovely, can’t wait to see the whole thing. On a side note I was wondering if you could clear something up for me????please, please! I’m working on your Owls (LOVE IT!) this is my first ever sweater:) I’m stuck just after the short rows. I’m knitting the s size and had prior to starting the short rows 110 stitches as per the pattern…. this is were it get tricky… the short rows worked out great… but in the end after the co’s I now have 118 stitches, not the 104 stitches as per pattern. What am I messing up? are there suppose to be decreases in the short rows? please help, I’m sooooo very excited to be this close to starting the owls chart.


  10. Gorgeous finishing, gorgeous hem. Far more gorgeous than my attempts have been. I loved the story about the elephant pants. As fashion misadventures go, my worst one WAS captured on film. For my high school senior pictures I chose to wear an acid-washed overall miniskirt over a red polo shirt. The kicker is that I was photographed (with my excellent big hair perm) in a wheat field. Oy! For the record, though, I didn’t sew my overalls. If I’d known how to I probably would have had them in every color.


  11. Oh yes – I’ve been totally drunk on icord! It’s so simple, and yet it takes a garment from homemade to professional in an instant. I was amazed when I applied icord edge to a Tomten for the first time. It had looked fine pre-icord, but it looked so much better after.

    I am working on something now where I’m terribly happy with the hem, and I, too, keep taking it out to stare at it. A good hem is a small domestic miracle.


    1. “A good hem is a small domestic miracle.” Indeed!

      In hand knitting, the details are everything. Adding an element that both aesthetically pleasing and very functional to a garment is definitely a reason for self-satisfaction and general gloating, or drunkenness.

      It is always fun to hear of other people’s wardrobe blunders. In one of my more memorable ones, I wore a sleeveless cotton wrap-around dress and 3″ heels to visit the city of San Francisco in summer. No cardigan because I did not have one that matched exactly. First off the bus, I nearly froze to death in the fog, even though I was hiking up hill and down dale in those heels. Then the wind kicked up and the entire city got frequent glimpses of my underwear (which probably did not match).

      In time, I grew into more sensible footwear. Now, like Kate, I base the choice on the amount of territory I can cover in said shoes.


  12. I think you were just really ahead of the times. Harem pants are really in right now and yours sound just like the ones I keep seeing in Vogue. I am just grateful to be a bit on the tall side for even contemplating adding acres of fabric to my very long legs, although I have convinced myself that in no time at all I will be able to whip a skirt off my sewing machine, even though all I’ve sewn so far are sachets.


  13. I so wish you had a photo of those elephant trousers!!
    Your finishing does indeed look very pleasing…and the colours soothing….look forward to seeing it in full!


  14. And it’s certainly very much possible to be drunk on your designs, Kate. I myself am currently drunk on Paper Dolls – it’s like a book that is so good you can’t wait to see how it ends, but at the same time you enjoy reading it so much that you never want it to be over… :)


  15. Reminds me of many of the more interesting fashion ideas I had once I left home in Orkney to go to college in Edinburgh and it’s absolute treasure trove of secondhand shops. Quite a few jumpers I made then were more punkish in style than originally intended (unable to shape stuff, read a pattern properly, understand tension). Combine with a late 80’s spiral perm to complete the picture?!


  16. There is no better feeling than the knit-happy drunkenness obtained from the perfect i-cord start or finish. So simple, so clean, so perfect.

    (see above from Ysolda — she isn’t kidding: I immediately cast on for the cuff of Coraline after seeing it in person just so I could work that i-cord. *sigh*…..)


  17. Thank you so much for sharing your elephant pants story! That really made my morning – especially as it sounds rather like something I would do in my own rather haphazard approach to sewing!


  18. If it makes you feel any better I once wore a dress that was fastened all the way down the back with safety pins – to school. My pins did have bows on though.

    If (zeitgeist yarns) Kate’s reaction to coraline is anything to go by you can most certainly be drunk on Icord.


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