Q&A with Olgalyn of O! Jolly! + sweater knit kit winner!

Olgalyn of O! Jolly sweater knit designer

Olgalyn Jolly of O! Jolly! Crafting Fashion wearing her color-grown cotton stripe jerseyYou may know Olgalyn Jolly as the textile designer behind O! Jolly!. But long before she got into designing machine-knitted fabrics, she had a career in show business. “I used to be in the performing arts,” says Olgalyn who lives in New York City. “I sang. I danced but I knew it was something that I didn’t want to do forever.”

I chatted with Olgalyn last week via Google Hangouts about how she launched her line of machine-knitted fabrics. During our hour-long conversation, I discovered that Olgalyn had always loved fashion and when she was still performing, she began exploring fashion as her next career. 

I’ve also purchased O! Jolly! cotton and wool sweater-knit fabric from Olgalyn’s shop. They are oh-so-soft and pretty. And you, dear reader, will have a chance to win this lovely sweater knit kit! Olgalyn’s special giveaway for my blog readers includes knitted fabric, ribbing, fusible tape, and thread. Instructions on how to enter the giveaway are towards the end of the interview. (It’s open to all – but if you live outside the U.S., you will get a gift certificate valued at $90.)

Win this O! Jolly! sweater knit kit! To enter go to CSews.com by 4 November 2016.

When Olgalyn was still performing, she bought a knitting machine, which she took with her on the road. After she retired from show business, she produced a fashion line for two seasons but she soon realized that “it wasn’t fashion so much, but how garments were constructed, and the textures that interested me.”

Then she focused on creating one-of-a-kind art coats, such as the ones pictured below, and projects to hang on the wall. Along the way, she married Ken Schafer, a physiological psychologist, designer and maker of music synthesizers, gave birth to their son, and took many years off to home school him.

One-of-a-kind art coat - machine knitted fabric - designed by Olgalyn Jolly of O! Jolly!

Art coat - machine knitted fabric designed by Olgalyn Jolly of O! Jolly!

When Olgalyn got back into textiles, she wanted to focus on creating fabrics. “Someone I worked with years ago contacted me because she wanted some wool jersey fabric she couldn’t find,” says Olgalyn. She knitted it, her client really liked it and she told a friend. Word spread and she began doing custom yardage.

Then she decided to go beyond custom orders and produce machine-knitted textiles to sell to home sewists. Here’s how she expanded O! Jolly! and opened an online shop in April 2015. (For links to her shop, blog, and gallery images, visit her website here.)

After you made the decision to produce and sell knitted textiles to the general public, what were your next steps?

I contacted mills and either they wouldn’t return my phone calls or the amount I wanted was too small. I investigated mills outside the U.S. but their minimum was 250 pounds [113 kilograms] of yarns. Also, the turnaround time was long for everything. [Note: A sweater/jumper is about 1 pound (about .5 kg).]

Then I saw a YouTube video of a new sweater line in Ohio and the designer said he worked with a mill in New Jersey, Fleck Knitwear Company. Peter Fleck, [the president of the company], was willing to work with me. Later through an associate I found another knitting mill even closer to me – American Sweater in the Bronx, which is owned by Adam Endres. Now I’m just a train ride away. I can see it on a machine very easily. And the people are a delight to work with.

Color-Grown Cotton Mesa Plaid
O! Jolly! Color-Grown Cotton Mesa Plaid

Your first knitted fabrics in your shop were sustainable cotton. Tell me more about sustainable cotton.

Sustainable cotton mainly has to do with the growing process. The sustainable cotton I use is grown on farms in California that use a biological pest control method, which means they don’t treat it with pesticides. They use other insects like ladybugs to deal with pests.

The farms are part of the Sustainable Cotton Project, which doesn’t use the toxic chemicals that conventional farms use. They also use less water to irrigate the crops. They use even less water than is used with organic methods. Farmers are more willing to grow sustainable cotton rather than organic because it’s not as much of an initial investment.

Can you describe your design process?

I sometimes try to see a design in nonfabric items. The example I always give is wood grain. I love wood grain. There are ways I can imitate wood grains. Window gratings are an inspiration for design. I like to find designs in things outside of nature as well as motifs in nature. I most likely won’t do a flower. I have done them in the past but I usually like something a little more abstract or geometric.

I like to find designs in things outside of nature as well as motifs in nature.

How long does it take for you to design a knit fabric?

It depends, but from start to finish, from inspiration to when I have the specs it probably between 8 and 80 hours of work, depending on how complex it is and how smoothly the design and development processes move forward.

O! Jolly! Wool Textured Washington Square Knit
O! Jolly! Wool Textured Washington Square Knit

Does your past career as a performing artist influence your textile designs?

Yes, I would say that it does. Fabric doesn’t stay still. You move, the fabric moves. So I’ll take yardage and put it over my arm and move it around. I see how much drape there is. When I’m working with more than one color I look at how the folds go around the body. The fabric changes when it’s folded or draped. If I can’t do this – [Olgalyn holds her arm in front of her bent at the elbow and sweeps it back and forth] – it’s back to the drawing board.

What advice do you have for people who haven’t sewn any sweater knit fabric?

Relax and have fun. The first step is zigzag or serge the raw edges before you wash it. You can even use a straight stitch. The next step is to wash the fabric. Then it will have less of a tendency to run. Washing it and drying it will make the fabric a little more stable.

My next bit of advice is to always practice your stitches on a piece of scrap fabric. It’s especially true with sweater knits. One sweater knit is not like the other. Each has to be treated differently. [Check out her blog Crafting Fashion for more tips on sewing sweater knits.]

One sweater knit is not like the other. Each has to be treated differently.

How do you finish your edges?

Binding your edges is a wonderful way to finish the edges. The edges of a sleeve don’t have to be finished with a rib, it could be a hem. [Read Olgalyn’s blog posts for more info on adding rib bands, part 1 and attaching rib bands, part 2.]

You can hem it, put a band on it or bind it with self-fabric or maybe another knit fabric or add a facing. My recent post is about stabilizing cardigans – using bias fusible tape on the neckline and shoulders to prevent stretching.

O! Jolly!'s example of binding raw edges of sweater knit fabric
Olgalyn’s example of binding edges

How should you wash these fabrics?

You can put the cottons in the washer (cold or warm water) and dryer. For the wool, I use regular detergent and lukewarm water, never warm or hot. I do not recommend drying wool in the dryer. If you washed it in a tub or something you can put it in the washing machine in the spin cycle to get excess water out of it. But I don’t recommend doing the agitation part of the wash cycle unless you’re trying to felt it.

What’s ahead for you in the coming year?

I have been slowly working on some winter fabrics. I still haven’t decided on the yarn. I’m hoping in the next few weeks I can start talking to a mill about producing it. I decided I’m not giving myself a firm deadline for it. When the wool comes, it comes. Believe it or not, I’ve sold wool to New Zealand. Sewing goes on year-round and I have a lot of international customers, too.

I recently started teaching at FIT. I really enjoy my students. I’m also teaching a Sweater Knits Weekend Intensive at Workroom Social from November 12 to 13, sewing cardigan sweaters.

Tell me about the great kit you’re offering for the giveaway, which is open to everyone.

The kit has one of my favorite knits – a textured sustainable cotton along with it a plain rib, which can be used as a band, binding, or maybe an insert. It comes with bias tape and thread so you can get a nice big cardigan out of it or a pullover. It’s all nice and soft.

Here’s what’s in the O! Jolly! kit:

Win this O! Jolly! sweater knit kit! To enter go to CSews.com by 4 November 2016.

The total retail value is $90. Olgalyn will pay shipping to U.S. addresses. Winners outside of the U.S. will receive a gift certificate with a value of $90 USD. Thank you, Olgalyn!

To enter the giveaway, please answer the following question in the comments section of this post by Friday, November 4, 11:59 pm, Pacific/California time:

“What do you imagine is the most challenging about working with sweater knits?”

The giveaway is over so any additional comments are not eligible for entering the giveaway.


I put all the names/comments in a hat and picked a winner. Here’s the video on my Instagram feed (@csews).

The winner of the sweater knit kit giveaway is Josie! She said, “I am worried about maintaining the shape of the desired garment. I have read about zig zag stitching over the unfinished edges to prevent unraveling and it works. But maintaining the shape is intimidating.” Josie – please send me your contact info. Go to my contact page to send me an email.

Thanks to everyone who shared their comments! Olgalyn will read all your comments and attempt to answer your concerns about working with sweater knit fabric or direct you to helpful links on her blog Crafting Fashion.

Read the interview with Olgalyn Jolly + enter to win a great sweater knit kit giveaway (2 yds sweater knit fabric, .75 yd matching rib, 1 large spool of matching thread & 1 yd fusible bias tape): Go to CSews.com by 4 November 2016.

Author: Chuleenan

Chuleenan sews, collects hats and shoes, and is a fabric addict. She is also the organizer for the Bay Area Sewists Meetup group.

80 thoughts on “Q&A with Olgalyn of O! Jolly! + sweater knit kit winner!”

  1. Thanks for a great, informative interview!

    I think the hardest part could be stabilizing the seams, as many commenters have mentioned– but I also worry, from the very beginning… that laying the fabric out perfectly straight to cut the pieces could be difficult if there wasn’t a strong visible grain line.

  2. I think the stretching of the cut edges would be the biggest challenge to sewing a beautiful garment out of this wonderful fabric!

  3. The most challenging is learning how to stabilize while sewing so not to distort the seams! Keeping the neck and shoulders from sagging over time.

  4. I am worried about maintaining the shape of the desired garment. I have read about zig zag stitching over the unfinished edges to prevent unraveling and it works. But maintaining the shape is intimidating.

      1. I have sent you my mobile and email for contact confirmation separately. Thank you and I am very happy to have won !

  5. Finding the right kind of stabilizer to avoid stretching shoulders is my challenge. Hope to win this beautiful knit.

  6. I find getting an attractive hem/sleeve finish challenging when not using ribbing. Also getting a pattern suitable to the amount of stretch in the fabric.

  7. I am always attracted to knits but find that matching the perfect pattern with knits challenging. There are so many variables to take into account, and even if it all works out great with one knit another can produce a completely different outcome. It is the all of the different properties knits exhibit that make sewing with them challenging.

  8. Great interview! As a person who can’t knit, I’ve browsed Olgalyn’s shop many times. What’s holding me back is that I won’t be able to finish the seams properly. Thank you so much for the giveaway!

  9. When working with thick knits, my overlocker has some difficulties to deal with the multi layers of neckbands and wrist bands.

  10. Anywhere there is a seam, it’s hard to not have ripples…even using a serger. Olgalyn’s fabric is so gorgeous that it’s worth the effort.

  11. I think the hardest thing would be cutting out the really thick fabric, accurately, and overlocking it with my serger. I’m not sure my serger could cut through a really thick knit like I’ve seen on Olgalyn’s website. It might be better to use a narrow zigzag for the seam, and then overlock a single layer of the seam, separately, without trying to use the serger blade to trim the edge.

  12. I think the biggest issue for me would be cutting it properly – I always seem to be off when I cut any type of knits. Still would like to try though! 🙂

  13. I think the thing that seems challenging is learning how to stabilize while cutting and sewing so not to distort the seams!

  14. I love working with sweater knits but find the biggest challenge in picking the right pattern for the material weight and knit design.

  15. I think it would be finishing the edges so there is no chance of unraveling. Also, I can imagine one has to get thread tension just right so stitching doesn’t pull and make the garment pucker.

  16. I love v-necks but even with stabilizing, the neck seems to grow to be too deep. Some more info on which stabilizers work with which knits and where to get them would be helpful.

    Also, hemming always looks home-made. I sew but barely knit. Any tips on picking up stitches at the bottom of a sweater to be able to knit a band to finish it? I like a 1×1 rib band, but don’t know how to attach it so it looks knitted on rather than having a seam to attach the band.

    I love O! Jolly! knits and have been saving some time to get enough yardage for experimentation!

  17. Getting over the fear! I sewed a cute red sweater knit back when I first returned to saying- and laid it cross grain- it wound up a very wide cropped sweater with impossibly long skinny arms. Took me 3 years to pick up a sweater knit again- but having screwed up so many other pieces over the years, lol, I finally went back to sweater knits, which aren’t all that easy to find, by the way!

  18. Sewjng two knits together (for instance, ribbing and the main fabric) together without rippling and/or stretching is a huge challenge!

  19. Keeping two knit surfaces (for instance, ribbing and main fabric) stretched just right so there’s not ruffling on one and stretching on the other!

  20. Thanks for all the great comments so far! I’ve refrained from replying to make it easier to select a winner using a random number generator. But I just wanted everyone to know that after a winner is selected, Olgalyn will attempt to answer questions or direct folks with problems to helpful links on her blog. So stay tuned!

  21. I think the most challening part of sewing with sweater knits is finding patterns that maximize yardage, yet look sweater-like.

  22. What a fascinating article — and thank you to all who shared your tips in the comments section! My biggest challenge is definitely stretching the fabric, especially while hemming the edges, but I’m also concerned about that happening because of the presser foot impeding the bulk of the fabric from feeding smoothly. I must check my machine for how to reduce pressure.

  23. I think I can offer a few suggestions here that have worked for me in handling heavier knitted fabrics. If the fabric has been folded or on a roll , I let it “rest” flat on my cutting table overnight., which is challenging in a household with cats . A good steaming also helps eliminate any areas of distortion in the uncut fabric.

    Even though I have a serger , I always do a single needle basting stitch with a walking foot before serging, which is invaluable to me in dealing with bulky knits. I use strips of 15 denier nylon tricot in side seams and armholes to add support , anywhere I don’t want things to distort and stretch . In cuffs , necklines,and shoulder seams I have had success with using strips of nylon/spandex mesh to reinforce yet allow for some “give” . There is an all bias knitted fusible interfacing that I use in my hems that prevent rolling and distortion

    And there are some bulky knits that just don’t do well in the serger , I I finish inside edges by hand with a neutral color yarn with what I guess would be called a whip stitch ?

    I hope these suggestions encourage more people to work with these knits, thanks

    1. Yes, yes, and yes, Karen! All excellent tips, some of my favorites! I have to admit I’ve never done a whip stitch on a bulky knit. I will give it a try the next time I find myself in a tough situation. Thank you for the idea.

  24. Like so many others, I think it’s the stretch and bulk factors of sewing sweater knits that seem worrisome to me. But, Olgalyn’s tips give me hope I could sew up something lovely that fits! Thanks so much to you both for such a generous giveaway!

  25. I think the most challenging about working with sweater knits is the shrinkage and the stretch when trying to measure a garment to cut. Also the

    1. Hi Cynthia,

      One way to get a nice finish without using a serger is to use a stretchy Hong Kong finish. A Hong Kong finish is a binding technique that can be used on seam allowances. This version is stretchy, so it works well for sweater knits. I happen to think it looks much nicer than a serged edge. 🙂

  26. I believe the most challenging part of working with this fabric is to not let it stretch out of shape – handle very gently and use a simple design to let the fabric shine.

  27. Thank you for the opportunity! I have trouble with the garment stretching and getting it to fit correctly. I sew a lot of jerseys and ITY’s, but other knits are more challenging for me.

  28. The most difficult part is knowing that undoing a seam is near impossible—although I have done it. However, the beauty and comfort of sweater knit fabrics far outweighs the few problems. Olgalyn’s fabrics are beautiful, and I’d LOVE to win. 🙂

  29. Interesting interview! I find it fascinating how people’s career paths wind along in different directions.

    I imagine bulky seams could be difficult to manage with the thick sweater knits.

  30. The hardest thing I imagine managing is recovery with sweater knits as I imagine them to not have great recovery. How would you factor that in?

  31. What an interesting interview, and what a cool career path Olgalyn has had! My challenge is that I’m never sure how to muslin stretchy fabrics — do I have to buy another knit with the same kind of stretch before I can make something?

  32. I think finishing the sweater knit well and ensuring the fit is proper (taking into account stretch and recovery).

    What a great giveaway. I love the classic pattern on the fabric.

  33. The most difficult part is finishing, meaning seaming and heming the garment together so that it doesn’t look “homemade”. Nobody wants to spend a lot of time and money on a project that looks like an amateur tried to pull it off.

  34. I suspect the stretch of the fabric is a bit challenging. I don’t imagine they recover as well as other knits.

    livingincolorblog(at)outlook(dot)com

    1. STH, most loosely knitted fabrics will have little or no recovery. A narrow rib sweater knit will sometimes have decent recovery. A sweater knit with a little elastane or spandex may also have good recovery.

  35. Stitching hems that don’t look like lettuce leaves is a challenge. Also, figuring out what tension to use so I don’t get a tunnelling effect when I use a double needle can be frustrating.

  36. The most challenging part of working with sweater knits for me is to keep the neck line from stretching out of shape and to have smooth seams without ripples.

  37. The most challenging issues are shaping and maintain the size (preventing the garment from stretching out). I don’t machine knit but I think some things naturally cross over. Blessings

  38. First of all, that orange, black, yellow jacket/art piece you have pictured above is absolutely amazing! What a fun interview, and I always love hearing about how different sewers, crafters and artists take their creative passions on the road with them.

    For me, the most difficult thing about sweater knits, in particular, is thinking more creatively about how they might be used, pieced. Maybe it’s the fear of bad stretching? All I can say is that orange jacket is going in my inspiration files.

  39. Possibly the bulk of the knit. I recently attempted a refashion of a large cardigan. After several broken serger needles I had to admit defeat. I love following Olgalyn and observing her beautiful knits.

  40. What a wonderful giveaway! I am definitely an admirer of Olgalyn’s work and approach to sustainability.

    I would expect to have difficulty finishing raw edges on sweater knits, and cleaning them would also require much more forethought and care for me, a habitual non-sorter of laundry! And with respect to the quality and specialness of the things O! Jolly! has in particular, I would also want to make sure my finishing was up to par–I definitely wouldn’t want to run these knits through my serger because it wouldn’t feel “right” for such wonderful fabrics. I’d probably end up doing a Hong Kong binding finish everywhere; it is more time-consuming but the fabric is special enough to justify it!

  41. I find the hardest thing to be predicting how the fabric will grow with wear, since they’re not as elastic as a spandex jersey and are often write heavy. The kit is gorgeous!!

  42. I find knits easy and fast to overlock together, but it’s tricky not to stretch out that last bit of the seam as you pull it from the overlocker.

    1. Hi Dawn,

      Be sure to continue stitching beyond your garment with your overlocker. Stitch a long tail. Then you can just cut the tail without pulling your garment. You will have to weave in the tail and cut the excess.

  43. I’ve always found sewing the seams without getting ripples to be challenging, especially when finishing edges. Sourcing fabric is tough too, because my.skin hates wool. I’ve been wanting to try her cottons, thanks for the chance!

    1. Hi Becky,

      I’ll be answering a few questions. You’re the first to ask this particular question about getting ripples that many seem to have. If working with a serger, be sure the differential feed is turned up high. A setting of “2” will usually prevent the fabric from stretching while being stitched.

      With a sewing machine, easing pressure on the presser foot and using a walking foot will do wonders. Tips 1 – 4 on this page will help.

      Olgalyn

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