I promise that this is a blog post about how I made the Jalie Alex Half-Zip Pullover. But it’s also a post about how I almost didn’t make the Alex Pullover, and why – in the end – I am so glad that I did.
When I began my sewing journey 6 years ago, my main goal was to learn how to make clothes. I envisioned a new wardrobe – a new me! – that people admired and envied. I saw myself sashaying (yes, sashaying!) down the street, draped in a handmade outfit so flawless that passersby would take a second look and wonder “is that couture?”.
This, I think, is a common occurrence among new sewers. We see beautiful fabric and modern patterns, and our sewing fantasies supersede our abilities. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, but when big dreams lead to big failures, the trick becomes getting up, dusting yourself off and trying again.
I want it all
Just days after starting work at the Confident Stitch, I already had a list of garments that I wanted to make. A Breezy Blouse, a Wiksten Shirt Dress, an Ogden Cami – no, TWO Ogden Camis! I couldn’t help it, I was excited! But – as I actually began to dive into these projects – my excitement steadily transitioned to overwhelm.
Sure, I was making clothes, but no one was going to mistake them for couture, and I didn’t feel like the chic socialite I’d hoped I would when wearing them.
My Ogden Camis? Cute, but the half lining in each is just a little too short. The Breezy Blouse? Fine, but I didn’t lengthen it correctly. And my Wiksten Shirt Dress? Well, lets just say that after a mishap with the scissors left me in tears, I haven’t revisited it.
Wake up call
If I’m being honest with myself, this failed attempt with the Wiksten is truly what knocked me off the horse. I felt discouraged and embarrassed. Why was I so bad at this?? It’s just cutting out pieces and reading a pattern. Kate makes new clothes everyday and they look great. Why did none of my clothing turn out right?
So, I took a break. Hid the pieces of my unfinished (unfinishable?) Wiksten away in my tub of scraps and switched gears. I started making pillowcases – fun, simple, hard to f*ck up – and then quilts. And I was surprised to discover how much I loved quilting. Picking out the fabrics, cutting and piecing, seeing how it all comes together, and (best of all) no altering or fitting.
When it was all said and done, a finished quilt – even one that didn’t turn out perfectly – was a cozy blanket that I could use and be proud of.
Back on the horse
For a year I hid from my tub of incomplete clothing projects and dove into quilting, telling myself ‘You’re better at this anyway. You enjoy it more – what’s wrong with that?‘ What was wrong was that I hadn’t stopped making clothes because I loved quilting more (Although I did love it!). I’d stopped because I was afraid of failing – of being disappointed again. I realized that because quilting came to me more naturally, it felt like the safer option. I was using it as an excuse to avoid sewing clothes.
Then in January, as a staff we had the idea to share our New Year’s ‘sewing resolutions’ in the newsletter. We were each tasked with writing a list of things we hoped to make in the coming year, and – as I sat down to write – the fantasy of a flawlessly-dressed me turning heads on the street re-entered my mind.
I did want to make clothes. I wanted to make garments I was comfortable in and felt proud to wear! So, I decided it was time for me to face my long unacknowledged fears, and get back on that horse.
The Alex Half-Zip Pullover
While I was finally ready to give sewing garments another try, I was (and am) not ready to revisit my tub of half-baked dreams. (I think that’s okay – one thing at a time!) Instead, I decide to embark on a project that had occurred to me months (even years) previous, and finally, this is where the Jalie Alex Half-Zip Pullover comes in.
Back in 2020, Bonnie made a pullover using this Jalie pattern, and I fell in love. (If you don’t believe me, go back and take a look at that blog post. I was absolutely PSYCHED about this pattern!) Since then, it’s been in the back of my mind, and then, six months ago, I discovered the perfect fabric combination: the Enviro Repreve Fleece in Rose and the Boiled Wool Sweater Knit in Mauve.
My choice in clothing almost always centers on comfort/coziness. I rarely leave the house without a good sweater, and so I knew that a pullover like this (if I could make it fit) would see plenty of good use.
What's my size?
Because I wanted my pullover to be loose-fitting, I decided to base my size off of my hip measurement, 42″, and so settled on a Jalie size ‘X’. However, after delving into the instructions, I discovered the finished measurements table, and suddenly I was unsure about my choice.
The finished circumference measurement for size ‘X’ was 44″ and I worried it might be snug in the hips and shoulders. Suddenly I remembered – the pullover Bonnie made in 2020 was supposed to be for our then photographer Bess. But the finished product (even though the correct size had been selected) was too tight for Bess’s liking and so, instead, went to the smaller Lane.
Help from a friend
So where to go from here? I wanted my pullover bigger, but how much bigger?? As I stood pondering, I was reminded of something Bonnie had once said to me: ‘use the measurements of an existing garment that fits you well to help you determine the size of a garment you’re sewing.‘
Perfect. I took a tape measurer to my favorite sweater – a plaid monstrosity I picked up at the Goodwill years ago and which fits me in all the right ways. From neck to waist it measured 25″, from shoulder seam to wrist, the sleeves were 22.5″, and the circumference was 45.5″.
These measurements felt like an awesome cheat code! Before having them as a reference, I was having a difficult time picturing how the Alex pullover would fit me. Now the pattern sizes were put into context, and choosing one felt like less of a guessing game.
I revisited the Alex size chart. The finished circumference of size ‘Y’ was 45″ so I decided to start there rather than at ‘X’. While the circumference of size ‘Y’ was right, the length was 2″ too long and the sleeves 3″.
“Okay Maisie“, I muttered, trying to bolster my fragile confidence. “Looks like we’ve got to alter this dang pattern”
The long and short of it
Kate is, by any standard, a tall woman and so I’ve definitely become familiar with the concept of lengthening a pattern over the past several years. Pattern shortening however, not as much. So I did a quick google search, and found a blog/video tutorial from another one of our fave pattern companies: Tilly and the Buttons. (You can watch the video here!)
Tilly’s blog got me on the right path. What’s more, from Kate I’d learned that if you’re lengthening or shortening more than a few inches you should adjust the pattern piece in more than one place. This will help you maintain the integrity of your pattern piece, especially if there is a large curve or steep angle.
I applied this method with the sleeve piece, shortening it in two places and stressing all the while. Because the body of this pullover is basically a box, I felt comfortable shortening the back and front pieces (B and D) in just one place above the pockets.
These pattern alterations took much longer than they needed to – I fretted over each piece before making the change. But at the same time, I felt encouraged that I’d realized the pattern would need to be altered at all. Maybe I wasn’t completely terrible at this. The thought propelled me forward.
Time to cut
With the pattern pieces altered, it was time to cut the fabric. To keep my pieces on grain I paid attention to the selvedge, especially when it came to cutting on the fold. I made an attempt to pattern match my pocket and front body pieces, but I wasn’t quite sure how to account for seam allowance and so I wasn’t really successful. Oh well! That’s a challenge for a future me.
Finally all the pieces were cut out. I breathed a sigh of relief. Now it was time to sew.
It's all coming together
I’m happy to report that with the correct needle (90/14 Stretch), the sewing of this pullover was painless, and even (dare I say) fun! In addition to the instructions, I discovered a video tutorial on the Jalie website which helped me through the trickier parts of this pattern. (Find the video tutorial here!)
The first hurdle I encountered had to do with the zipper, but surprisingly not the insertion of it. The zipper foot for my Pfaff works like a dream and I was feeling pretty good about the collar of my pullover in general until I was instructed to sew the yoke to the bodice across the top of the zipper.
Had my choice for zipper been a nylon coil, this would have been no trouble, but – and don’t ask me how I know this – it’s absolutely impossible to sew across the metal teeth of a zipper without snapping your needle in half. Very loudly. Scaring yourself and your sister in the process. I would imagine.
Before sewing the collar of my pullover, I had not realized that I would have to cut my zipper down. In fact, I had purposefully chosen a zipper that was exactly 12″, thinking this would make it so I didn’t have to do any cutting. (That’s what I get for not reading through the instructions before getting started.) So I had to think a bit outside the box.
Sewing across the zipper teeth is important because, once the bottom has been cut off, the zipper has no stopper, and you don’t want your zipper pull to come right off the end. I had to come up with another way of stopping the zipper pull without sewing across the teeth.
I started by sewing as close as I could to the teeth on either side. Then I sandwiched the bottom 1/2″ of the zipper between two pieces of leftover ‘zipper tape’ (taken from the excess zipper I’d already cut off). I stitched on either side and across the bottom of this tape, once again, as close to the teeth as I could get. It’s not pretty, but the added tape acts as a stopper and will keep the zipper pull in place.
If you want to use a zipper with metal teeth for this project, I suggest measuring your collar pattern pieces and selecting a zipper length based on that measurement instead!
The next problem I encountered was sleeve length. You’ll recall that I purposefully shortened my sleeves 3″. But, after setting them in and doing a quick try on, I realized that they were a bit short. (Dang it!)
I could have added a cuff using my leftover Enviro Fleece, but then I thought, ‘why not add a cuff with some more stretch?‘. Our Designer 9 Wale Corduroy Knit in Brown is soft and stretchy (similar to a rib knit) and looked great with my other fabric selections.
Fabric secured, it was time to operationalize my idea. So I did another quick google search: ‘How to attach a cuff to a sleeve‘ and discovered something even better than I’d anticipated!
Overlock and Roll
My google search produced several YouTube videos titled things like ‘How to sew a cuff using an overlocker’, and suddenly I was excited. I’d read about overlocking but had never attempted it before. I pulled out my Pfaff manual and found what I was looking for: the overlock stitch.
As you probably know, overlocking is basically the sewing machine’s version of serging, but without all the complicated threading. I could use this stitch not only to attach my cuffs, but to finish all the interior seams of my pullover. (I recognize that serging is a skill worth learning, but it is a skill I will be learning some other time!)
One final hurdle
The last snafu and (partial) triumph of this garment was the buttonholes.
The Alex gives you the option to add an adjustable elastic at the hem which I definitely wanted. (It keeps cold air out for maximum coziness!)
The concept is simple enough: sew two, side by side button holes an inch or sew from the bottom hem. Fold the hem towards the wrong side and stitch it down. Feed an elastic, via one buttonhole, through the hem and out the other button hole. Add a cord lock and a knot, and voila! An elasticized hem.
The only trouble? I’d never sewn a buttonhole before.
The thing was, at this point in the project, I was feeling WAY more confident and competent than I had in a year. Sure I’d encountered a few problems sewing the Alex, but I’d found a way through each of them. What’s more, my try-ons were looking good. Really good! The length and fit was right, and my added cuffs were spot on.
If I could figure out how to do all that, then I could handle a few buttonholes!
Back to google. “Pfaff 620 ambition + buttonholes“. A handy video!
Looking good, looking good! And…oh. Oops!
Because the boiled wool is stretchy, I stitched a rectangle of interfaced quilting cotton to a section of the hem so that my machine could make buttonholes more easily. Then I neglected to line up my machine correctly. One buttonhole was stitched superbly! The other…well let’s just say it gets the job done.
Getting back on the horse never paid off so much. I am really proud of myself! I love this pullover, and it fits exactly how I wanted it to. Throughout this process I took chances, made innovations, learned how to do new things on my machine, and reminded myself that I can make clothes!
At the start of this project, my perceived lack of fitting, fabric, and pattern knowledge was making me feel like I shouldn’t even try because I didn’t know where to begin! But the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
I’ve learned that the answer to my question is out there. I just need to have the courage to ask it.
My Alex Pullover isn’t turning heads on the street, but many people have complimented me on it. And it feels so great to get to say, “Thanks! I made it.”
Shop the fabrics and pattern Maisie used by clicking here.