mending: winter coat

My winter coat isn’t perfect, but I really like it. It’s wearing out but I would rather mend it than try to replace it. (Someday I’ll make myself a new winter coat, but that day is not today.) This is a Swiss army surplus coat, probably for a cadet.

The cuffs fold back deeply, which is one of the details I like about it.

This puts a fold at the wrist, which is subject to a lot of wear. The left cuff had some holes but the right was worn all the way through along almost half of the cuff. I don’t usually continue to wear items that are this damaged, but it’s my only coat and in this climate I wear it daily about 5 months of the year, most of the time with mitts, which helps explain the wear pattern.

I decided to put a long strip of fabric on the inside of the fold and stitch it to the cuff using a triple-zigzag stitch. I had two pieces of wool fabric that would work colour-wise. One was heavier – a melton I think. The other was a flannel. When I put the melton along the inside of the fold, it seemed too thick, so I used the flannel. Although the colour of the patch looks quite different, it’s actually very similar, just more saturated.

The thread was a reasonable match for the coat (though still far from perfect), and it helps the patch blend in the places where it shows.

(The dark grey visible inside the sleeve in this last photo is the evidence of the patch to the lining that was done in 2006 ago. I got someone to do this for me when I was overseas and away from my sewing machine. Must be polyester because there’s hardly any wear. The same can’t be said for the cotton lining that it’s patching.)

(This is the best I can do for an action shot with my current photography situation.)

organic, free range, cruelty-free, artisanal mending

This mending project must be all those things to explain why I didn’t finish until more than two years after I started!

I had darning needles and cotton yarn that was a good colour match for the sweater, but I stalled because I couldn’t quite see what I was doing where the threads were thinnest. (Also, I didn’t really know what I was doing.) I tried to work on it during the sunlit hours in the winter, when the sun was shining straight in and onto my work. However, sunlit hours in the winter are few. (But not far between – they actually tend to rather clump up.) I eventually put it away and forgot about it.

Then Carolyn posted about darning with her darning mushroom. Someone commented that you could use a lightbulb in a pinch. These days, non-curly lightbulbs are becoming somewhat rare so it took me a while to procure one.

Then, on a trip to Oxford, I found a shop called Objects of Use, which is filled with retro-styled, practical items, mostly made of wood, glass, enamelled metal, horn, ceramic etc. Imagine my delight to spot what appeared to be a darning mushroom! They billed it as a sieving mushroom, but mentioned you could darn with it too. (The wood is a bit rough, unlike the proper darning mushrooms I’ve seen online.)

During a recent purge of my sewing space, I rediscovered (for about the 12th time) my sweater in need of mending on one elbow and gave it a go. The mushroom holds everything even and stable. It’s much easier to see the stitches, see where to put the needle and keep good tension. Once I got going, it probably only took me about 15 minutes to finish up. Woo! (My technique looks nothing like the darning I’ve seen by people who know what they’re doing. Rather than take sewing-type stitches, I just tried to follow the twisting path of the original knit stitches. I like how it looks and I think it will work just fine this time, so whatever. In future I might try it the right way. See Carolyn’s darning mushroom post for instructions.)




shirt shortening, round 2

OK, now to the good stuff – stuff for me!

I bought these two linen shirts on sale (a few weeks apart) two, maybe three summers ago. My regular size seemed unusually narrow in the shoulders so I went up a size. Perhaps this is why the sleeves and body are so long. I’m not too fussed about the sleeve length because I usually wear them rolled up anyway. If I do wear them down, it’s to keep the sun off, and when the cuff comes down to my fingers, it keeps the sun off even better!

But the body was much too long:

I didn’t even steal this from my husband.

This was a little trickier than round 1, as I didn’t plan to take the same amount off evenly all the way around. I did the white one first because I wear it less often so I’d be less busted up if I mangled it. Bonus: the pencil line (2B) showing the new cutting line shows up quite well. I was happy enough with how it turned out, but not so happy that I wanted to trace the hem, which turned out a little too horizontal. Also, strangely, the white shirt was somewhat wider than the navy one. I suspect that the rough flat-felled seams on the white shirt due to insufficient SA may be connected to the width issue.

I wanted to be careful about how much length I took off at the sides because raising my arms will raise a boxy shirt more than a fitted one. On the other hand, I wanted to get a nice diagonal line from the higher sides to the lower front and back. A horizontal hem is not so flattering on me. I think the post-alteration navy shirt is about the best I could hope for.

Now it at least looks like this is actually my shirt.

I’m pleased to have managed to convert these two shirts from mere cover-ups for hot and sunny weather into items that I can wear in their own right. This provides some relief to my overworked and underfilled wardrobe, and makes me almost feel like I have new clothes.

More shortened shirts.

(I am fully aware that my photos are not going to win any awards.)

shirt shortening, round 1

Here’s another low-risk project to get the sewing juices flowing.

My husband bought four linen-cotton shirts – same cut, different colours – something like 5 years ago. He once mentioned that he found them a little long and if I felt like shortening them, it wouldn’t go amiss. At least I think that’s what he said – I probably wasn’t paying attention 😉

I successfully shortened all 4 shirts over the course of a week and a half. And the rather long initial delay followed by the choice to do them now has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I have a few shirts of my own that I’ve decided to shorten, nor the idea that it might be wise to have a go at a simple shortening operation before tackling my own shirts, which require some manner of reshaping. Nothing at all.

It seems to me that the main reason why I didn’t jump in on this alteration in the first place was because I got overwhelmed with picky, non-structural details. One intimidating detail was the odd little rectangular patch wrapping front-to-back around the hem at the side seams; I expected grief from fiddling with little bits of fabric, trying to press straight SAs, and negotiating thick and thin bits. I gave myself permission to just skip them.

The other item was a little hem detail at the bottom of the buttonhole placket where the raw edge is folded to the wrong side in such a way as to make a little triangle. I didn’t know how it was done and it seemed wrong somehow to just cut it off. I opened it up and figured it out and I decided (a) I kinda liked the look, and more importantly (b) it was actually quite easy. In fact, it’s a rather tidy alternative to the double-fold hem through a squillion layers – provided the shirt has a separate placket piece.

One of the shirts before shortening. He’s 6’/185cm tall, but the shirt this length makes him look a little schlumpy (though in this photo it doesn’t look too bad).

I got M to put on one of the shirts and eyeball how much shorter it should be. I added back ½” out of an abundance of caution, then remembered to allow another ½” for the hem allowance. The contour of the shirttail hem is the same.

When it came time to finish the hem, I pressed up the ½”, then folded the raw edge in and pressed again. The linen-cotton blend pressed beautifully. As it happens, the new hem width was pretty much bang on the same as the original. I used the same stitch length too, which worked out to about 1.8 – pretty small but an apparent indicator of good quality. The finished bottom edge is now 3″ higher than it was.

The shirt after. The trousers are the same cut in both photos. Most obvious difference is where the hem falls in relation to the cuff.

Each shirt took between around 60-90 min. While it got rather dull by shirt #4, it’s nice to have a project where you know how to do each step. Even if it is for someone else.

Shortened shirts.

Shirts 1 and 3 are woven stripes. Shirt 4 is solid. Shirt 2 is shot – red with white for a pink effect. Funny thing: I have reached critical mass with thread such that I almost always have a decent match on hand for any project, even if it’s not a perfect match. But I generally hate pink, so the best thread I had was the neon candyfloss colour that I bought because it was on sale and hideous, and would therefore be visible as basting on anything I might possibly make.

Also, it was Noko’s 19th birthday yesterday (as near as I can figure), so here’s a slightly out-of-focus Noko who is happy to be getting skritches.

Noko enjoying skritches.

20 Nov 2011 MAF

I know there must be at least a few people out in internet-land who actually mend clothes. Zoe, of ‘So, Zo…’, subscribes to the notion of “Make do and mend”, which she most recently discussed here. Mending isn’t exactly glamourous. Unlike when you make your new fabulous whatever, the whole point of mending is to try to make your work invisible. But unlike sewing from scratch, mending is often a fairly quick job: it’s much more satisfying to me to spend 15 minutes fixing a hem than making some quick craft, which will likely get tossed in the not too distant future. Just because you make something doesn’t mean you’re not also consuming.

On to the latest mending job. This green sweater is completely ungrateful. How else can you explain the fact that, after being rescued from the box of clothes to get rid of, it has required not one but two repairs?

This time I discovered a small hole in the ribbing on the back. (The fact that I have another sweater that got a small hole in the ribbing on the back some time ago suggests that perhaps this is a result of wear and not actually a flaw.) Left to its own devices, this would certainly worsen.

the hole, wrong side

I wanted to try to re-knit the parts of the hole that had run, but the knit is so dense that I couldn’t really see what was going on. So, with needle and matching thread, I just stitched through every loop to ensure that it wouldn’t run any futher, then stitched across the hole to bring the edges together. It’s not perfect, but no one will ever notice. (Well, except for the fact that I drew attention to it on the internets.)

the mended hole, right side (sorry about the focus)


12 Oct 2011 MAF

I can’t believe I found more of these projects to work on!

mending and altering/finishing

1. Green sweater. Mending: a vertical seam on the turtleneck had popped – easy to stitch closed again.

2. Wine tie-dye skirt. (I got so many people visiting the blog – mistakenly, I assume – when I used the j-word last time that I’m not going to drop it again!)

This one fits into both the altering and finishing categories. I had bought a skirt that was much too long and decided to shorten it from the top, which was fairly major surgery. I got to the point of basting the waist casing before I ran out of enthusiasm. (Sound familiar?) Having just completed the waist casing on the red linen skirt, I put this skirt on and tried the same adjustment (a slight lowering of CF), which seemed to do the trick here as well.

On one hand, I find it a little hard to believe (and embarrassing) that I let this sit for over a year (!) being merely wearable before I got up the motivation to finish it off. On the other hand, the old group uses black skirts and the new group uses solid jewel tones, so there isn’t a lot of call for the tie-dye. Also, it was a bit of a bother to deal with the two (loosely basted) layers of the yoke. That’s probably why I found it squirrelled away in a bin in the basement, lonesome and forgotten.

inside yoke of skirt, showing black linen underlining

In non-sewing news, I recently took my 18-year-old, but otherwise quite healthy, cat in for surgery to remove a cancerous growth on her toe. Unfortunately, it was necessary to take off the entire toe and we still weren’t sure if they’d get it all. The good news is that the test results are in and, yes, they got it all. So here’s my cat:

Noko doesn't seem to be too bothered about missing a toe.

[I thought I’d published this post already but I discovered it in the list of drafts. Oops!]

8 Oct 2011 MAF

Today’s alteration was to add a removable and washable sweatband to a summer hat. Here’s the hat:

floppy hat

It may look somewhat familiar.

I wanted a strip of fabric that was about 1¼” wide, with a fold on one side and raw edge on the other. I cut a strip of fabric that was the proper width for feeding through my bias-tape maker. Pressed the normal way, then opened up one side and pressed it out flat. Machine edgestitched the fold in place. Whipstitched the fabric to the existing (non-removable) inner band. Voilá.

Sweatband. I didn't make it full length as I was only worried about where the hat would touch skin.

Then I turned my attention to a rather complex mending project. My husband’s messenger bag was damaged – the top corner of a large front pocket on the body of the bag had pulled out of the seam. The pocket fabric is rubberized on the back but the SA apparently wasn’t wide enough. I ripped out all the stitching and started fresh.

Step 1: Rip out all the stitching.
Step 2: Stitch loose threads (still mostly stuck together with rubber stuff) back more or less where they belong using triple-stitch zigzag.
Step 3: Make a wrap-around patch from densely woven polyester.
Step 4: Clip patch in place.
Step 5: Machine stitch into place, catching the back at the same time.
Step 6: Clip pocket to one layer of bag body, backstitch using platinum needle (which goes through fabric like it was buttered - the needle, not the fabric).
Step 7: Clip to other layer of bag body.
Step 8: Backstitch together using stabstitch ("backstab-stitch") - produces cleaner results than regular backstitch.
Step 9: Clip seam binding into place. Backstab-stitch using doubled thread.
Step 10: Admire the tidy stitching.
C'est fini!

Did you think I was terribly well behaved and disciplined in order to get this done? I confess that today’s work is all about structured procrastination.* You see, while I was busy with these projects, I was actually successfully avoiding working on my stripey pants/trousers, which (if done) would be way more useful than either of these two projects. Hah! So clever 😉

* In fact, the author of this article won an Ig Nobel Prize for his work in Sep 2011.

2 Oct 2011 MAF

Those gold silk pantaloons I shortened? Test drove them on Saturday at back-to-back gigs. Didn’t step on them once while dancing, so it looks like the operation was a success. If I get a copy of a photo of the pantaloons in action (or even in repose) and it doesn’t suck, I’ll post it so you can see the full effect.

On to the recent tasks.


1. Olive green shirt. The twin-needle stitching at the hem was starting to unravel. Seriously, it seems like at least a quarter of my T-shirts have this problem. So annoying. Trimmed the unraveling threads and pulled them to the wrong side.

Did a mock-twin-needle stitch by hand. The work goes left to right. For example, bring thread through existing hole from last stitch on top line. Make one stitch to right. Then bring thread to existing hole from last stitch on bottom line. Make one stitch to right.

Because the top and bottom stitches line up with each other, when you go from top to bottom, the stitch on the wrong side angles backwards a little. The stitch from bottom to top is pretty much vertical. Clear as mud? The work ends up being quite neat on the wrong side, but it’s hard to tell as I left the tangle of loose machine stitches alone and just stitched on top of them.

2. Grey sweater. Somehow the seam allowances of the front neck seam were starting to unravel but fortunately hadn’t become visible from the right side yet. Did a frankenstein job on it by whipstitching with doubled thread around the seam allowance and catching all loops that looked set to run. Would have been even more hideous if I hadn’t used matching thread. Survived the washer unscathed, so that’s a good sign. Hopefully this warm weather will continue for a while and I won’t need it just yet.

3. Red skirt. I made this skirt over a year ago but just basted the waistband casing  with black thread! – so I could test-wear it. I was not intending to leave it this long, but as I mentioned before*, wearable is the climax and done is dénouement, so here we are.

After making my first pleated linen skirt in black as my standard dance performance skirt, I decided to make this one in red as “real clothes”.** However, black is verboten in the new group (which mandates jewel tones instead), so the red skirt has become my new dance uniform. That worked out rather conveniently!

After all this time, I did actually adjust the waist slightly, which fixes the slight droop I had in the hem at CF. I had been using a drawstring that I had made out of some linen that was a close enough match in colour but a heavier weight, probably with the thought that it would be more robust as a drawstring than the self fabric (handkerchief linen), which it is. However, it was also a lot coarser and rougher compared to the more refined skirt fabric. I was a little concernd that it would wear on the skirt fabric. I did up a new properly matched drawstring using (as usual) my 18mm bias tape maker and my favourite special-purpose foot.

Not sure what this foot is called - it's the first specialty foot I bought. (Is very similar to but not quite the same as the blind hem foot.) The white plastic guide on the right can be adjusted. Makes edgestitching drawstrings a breeze.

I’ve got a few more items in the MAF pile***, but otherwise I’m feeling pretty much caught up. I should be able to get back to some “real clothes” projects soon. This weekend was a bit of a wash, being taken up with two performances on Saturday (hence the somewhat rushed skirt project as I had decided to take out the basting earlier in the week), and some work on both Saturday and Sunday.

* Mentioned, in fact, in the original post about this very skirt.
** Or for the one annual performance where almost anything goes, or for underneath the black skirt. But mostly for real clothes.
*** Where does this stuff come from? There seems to be an inexhaustible supply – perhaps we could work out a way to run cars on it.

mending and altering

Much of the sewing related work I do is mending with a little altering, and the odd bit of finishing thrown in (MAF). Not necessarily sexy, but it explains why I may feel like I’m spending time sewing but that I have little to show for it. I also subscribe to the “make do and mend” approach. If something needs mending, it always comes out of the rotation until it’s fixed. So by mending (usually a brief process), I get another garment to wear – much more efficient than making a new one from scratch!

So, what have I done lately?

The mending and altering pile.

1. Gold silk pantaloons. After a couple of wears I concluded that they’re just too long. They were dragging on the ground, getting dirty and getting stepped on. I put in a tuck as low as I could (just above the slit) using a 4/8″ SA, which took out 1″. Doesn’t seem like a lot, especially because the leg is tightly controlled at the ankle, but it makes a big difference. I wouldn’t want to take out any more. (The ankle closure – hook and thread eye – still needs revision as the cuff pivots on the closure point. Looks like I need 2 closures per, and will likely swap the hook and eye out for snaps. But not today.)

2. Blue long-sleeve T. One of my favourites. Had worn a hole in the sleeve at the cuff, that had been Fraychecked once already. Fraychecked it again, then stitched closed by hand as it was now too big to leave alone.

3. T. My husband’s favourite. A tiny hole developed on the back shoulder (not near a seam). I had Fraychecked it once already immediately prior to the last wash, but that wasn’t enough and it grew a little in the wash and subsequent wear. I stitched it together then added a little more Fraycheck. A stitch, in time, saves nine, and this shirt will get worn until it’s unwearable.

4. Jeans. Starting to wear at the crease at top of thigh. This is highly unusual – my jeans usually start to go at the bum. It may have something to do with the bit of whiskering at the thigh, which I’ve never had before. I’ve already patched these up a little already in the same place so it was more of the same: glue structural patch to wrong side, let dry, mend from right side using matching thread on top and the long (3-stitch) zigzag, with a short stitch length.

5. Green cargo trousers/pants. The fabric of these is very thin – too light to be considered proper bottom-weight. I have already patched them numerous times, using the same complementary blue and green plaid each time. The plaid isn’t particularly colourfast so you can tell older patches from newer. This most recent patch, number 5(!), is the last, as it’s just getting silly now. Glue structural patch to wrong side, let dry, stitch around the edges of the patch, mend using 3-stitch zigzag, cut covering patch and fold raw edges under, tack raw edges in place with a dot of glue, glue patch to right side, edgestitch in place.

I used white school glue on all of these. Now that I’ve found my gluestick, that may see some use too. The glue seems to wash out just fine, even though it’s not specifically made for the purpose to which I put it.

6. (not shown) Underwear. A typical mending job – a little hole that formed right above the horizontal crotch seam at the front. Fraycheck, then stitch by hand to the seam to close.