mending tiny holes in a cashmere sweater

On this project, I’m back to mending with the goal of making the mend invisible.

The project

Mend a tiny hole in the waistband of my ash grey cashmere sweater. I don’t know what caused the hole — it was so little and clean, I thought maybe it had gotten cut by a blade before I bought it. I ended up revising this theory later.

Most of my mending serves to repair ordinary wear and tear, but this time I’m dealing with specific damage. Ultimately the goal is the same — to extend the life of the garment.

Tiny hole in the waistband

Why I chose to mend it when I did

This sweater sat in the mending pile for months upon months because I had very little experience mending knits and this one is cashmere and not cheap and I didn’t want to fuck it up. And I didn’t have any thread/yarn that I thought would work. Also, I’d been feeling more indecisive than usual due to some mental health stuff, and so much of sewing and mending is just making a series of decisions.

But then I was feeling more with it, so I took a look through the mending pile and found that this project now felt like one of the easier ones. A while ago, I fixed up a friend’s heavy wool-and-possum (it’s a New Zealand thing) cardigan that had been somewhat mangled by moths. The mends, though inexpert in some ways, were very much good enough. The hole in my sweater was much smaller than those, and also smaller than I remembered it being.

The process

The technique I found when researching for my friend’s cardi is to stitch a circle around the hole using ordinary sewing thread, draw it closed, and then stitch across to secure. I had asked in a woollens shop for some thread for such a repair and the woman there said she used ordinary sewing thread too, so I tried it. It got the job done but I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the results with that thread.

But then during a trip to Paris, I found some fine woolly 4-ply thread that looked promising. (It says Repriser, Broder, Festonner, which I now know means “darning/mending, embroidering, embellishing” — well, literally “festooning”, but I don’t know anyone who talks about festooning as a type of needlework.) I picked up a few colours that I thought would be useful, including a charcoal, but not an ash grey that would have matched this project because I’d entirely forgotten about it. But charcoal is close enough, especially on a hole this small.

So I had thread I could use, but just before I cut, I remembered that I’d gotten a short length of repair thread/yarn with the sweater when I bought it. (Does anyone ever use that thread? This was certainly my first time.) So, hurrah!

The technique I’d found seemed like it wouldn’t work well on a hole as tiny and linear as this one, so I ended up taking 4 stitches across, with the slight fluffiness of the thread helping to fill the gap. (Thus roughly 3 months of procrastination per stitch.)

Mended hole in the waistband

I returned the sweater to circulation and when I went to wear it proudly a few days later, I discovered another hole! Dammit! This one was a little bigger (though still pretty small) and looked more clearly like insect damage. I guess. I didn’t think we had insects here that would eat wool, so it’s not something I’m all that familiar with.

A less-tiny hole by the side seam

I assume now that the first hole is attributable to the same culprit. (I’m also choosing to believe that this hole happened about the same time as the first one, and not while sitting undisturbed for months waiting for the original hole to get fixed.)

I stitched across the hole with a ladder stitch from one end to the other and back again.

Mended hole by the side seam

I wonder if circling around the hole would have been more effective on this one. The mend is less apparent now that it has flattened and stretched a bit with wear. It’s just to the front of the side seam, at the lower ribs, and thus often hidden by my arm. No one will ever notice.

So, as I suspected, woolly thread when mending woolly knits is definitely the way to go, if you can find the stuff.

silver project 1: sleek maxi skirt

IMGP0910 IMGP0915So this worked surprisingly well.

Back in June, I made my first project using the silver knit (probably considered a sweater knit) and plain grey knit described here. I bought the silver because I had been thinking about some sparkle for stage and thought this would complement my soft summer colouring. I don’t know that the fabric is a direct hit on soft summer – I’m not sure that it’s sufficiently muted. But then “muted” isn’t necessarily the first choice for stage either ::shrug::

I used rectangular construction: 4 equal gores/panels; seams on the princess lines (rather than at centres and sides). For width measurements: I measured below my waist (where I wanted the waistline to sit) as well as around my stride at the ankles, divided each measurement by 4 (zero ease), added 1/2″ SA to each seam. For the length: I measured waistline to floor plus 4″ for casing, hem allowance and just in case. This results in a trapezoid shape. For efficiency of cutting and minimising waste, I drew 4 nesting trapezoids directly on the fabric. The fabric has a faint horizontal stripe effect but I wanted the stripe to be vertical because I need all the help I can get in the height department, so I cut my fabric on the cross-grain, knowing that I was breaking the rules and that the outside of the skirt would probably grow in length.

Once I had the skirt and lining assembled, I put on the skirt to figure out where I wanted the waistline. I did my new standard adjustment: waist is 1″ lower in the front. I drew the seam line, sewed it, trimmed it, turned the skirt and lining right way out, and ran another line of stitching around the waist to form the bottom of the casing.

Once I had it wearable, I put it on from time to time and just to wear it or to practice my dance piece. This helpfully let out some of the inevitable stretch in length that resulted from cutting it out on the cross-grain. (It also ended up affecting the choreography because some moves looked more interesting in this “frame”.) The idea was to see if I needed to adjust the shaping at all. I’d thought that I would need to shape the seams at the top, but the stretch + zero ease + angles actually worked out just fine. The skirt is a long, narrow A-line, but it stretches around my bottom a little and looks like a slight mermaid cut.

I trimmed the bottom of the skirt and lining to give them a proper curve. I wanted the outside to be a little longer so the lining wouldn’t show. Because the outside and lining were cut exactly the same but the outside stretched in length a little, I was able to trim the same amount off of the bottom of both layers and still have the lining hidden. Slick!

It turned out better looking -and with a lot less effort – than I expected: win! I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the fabric (especially the lining) is more comfortable than I anticipated, though the fact that it’s synthetic makes it a little more sweat-inducing than I like, but it’s a small price to pay. It’s super comfy and allows a surprising range of motion considering how narrow it looks. When I was making it, I thought I’d wear it for 2-3 performances a year. Now I like it so much that I’ll be looking for excuses to wear it as “real clothes”. Quick, someone invite me to a wedding!

Ordinarily, I agonize when making clothes, and yet this project went smoothly and never got stalled. What gives?

  • Knits are so much more forgiving than wovens. It would take a major screw-up before this project was going to feel uncomfortable.
  • It was meant as a costume. It just has to look good in short bursts.
  • Skirts are easier than pants. The only section of this skirt that affects comfort is the top – from waistline to hip (widest part). Below that, comfort isn’t an issue – it’s just drape.
  • Oddly, I have a lot more experience making costumes out of geometric shapes than making real clothes using commercial patterns. My plan was to put this together on the basic lines and then fit the skirt more carefully by taking in the existing seams (the way I made my Viking apron dress). But when I tried it on, it was good enough as is and I didn’t see the need for any tweaks.
  • I started with 4m of fabric, 150 cm wide, for which I paid the princely sum of $10. It’s unknown fibre, and I expect it’s 100% synthetic. I like it enough but I don’t love it. It’s not perfect. It looks like speaker fabric mixed with steel wool. It’s the opposite of precious. When I bought it, I had one project in mind that would take about 1.5m and I had no idea what I was going to do with the rest. This turned off the perfectionism and I allowed myself to just use it.

What I learned about myself:

  • My HSP conscientiousness manifests itself with a preference for natural fibres and worry about proper disposal of waste, or, even better, avoiding it altogether. When it comes to sewing, this tends to paralyse me: it’s impossible to sew and be 100% waste-free, especially when trying something new. Rectangular construction, however, is a very low-waste approach, which allows me to relax.
  • Since I have more experience with rectangular construction than commercial patterns, patterns may also overwhelm me because there’s too much that’s new -I’m starting from scratch.
  • My HSP heightened body awareness and need for comfort coupled with my current skill level re fitting make knits an excellent choice – no matter how much I enjoy feeding crisp linen through the machine.
  • My HSP awareness of subtlety gives me a good eye for proportion and details. It may be that I get overwhelmed with the info that wovens provide in a garment (e.g. I see all these drag lines but what do I do about them all?). An eighth of an inch doesn’t matter in knits so I get to use my eye in an artistic way, rather than a scientific way. Refreshing!


IMGP0670So far so good with these fabrics. The one on top I’d describe as a fine sweater knit – black and grey, with silver threads that turn into glitter and get everywhere when cut. I scored 4m for $10, 100% unknown fibre. The one on the bottom is a very plain poly knit, to be used as lining. I’d bought it a while ago with a different project in mind; I’m glad that it’s not quite as icky as I remembered it. I usually avoid synthetics like the plague, but this is for costume and I’d be surprised if I spend more than 10 hours wearing it over the course of a year.

I’m working on getting the main piece (and, with some luck, a secondary piece) done by June 22, when I have a solo at our student show.

Berroco Captiva yarn (label says the colour is 5507, but it may have recently been renumbered 7507 – Polished Iron), sequinned fabric in a stormy grey, liquid metal fabric in straight up silver.

I have some ideas for some coordinating costume pieces that I’d like to make out of this stuff, but they may or may not happen. My solo is in a style other than my usual, and our studio has no other performers and no classes in this style. If I don’t get my ideas made before this show coming up, there’s not much reason to make them afterward – unless I go out of my way to look for more opportunities to solo. The costume for my usual style is very colourful, so it could be hard to integrate any of these ideas into regular rotation. Still, I’d like to see them take form.

a simple dressy top

I’ve been looking over the body shape analysis over at Inside Out Style, and I figured that I was likely an X (hourglass) or A (pear). If I’m an A, then the wisdom would be to keep hips free of ornamentation, show the waist, and add fullness at the shoulders to balance out the hips – so I bought this pattern:

Butterick 5497

But then I kept reading the blog and found other body shapes, like the 8 (similar to X but carrying weight higher on the hip). I then looked at how she measures shoulder width, and I think my shoulders may actually be wider than my hips. So I’d be a V (inverted triangle). In short, I have no idea, so I’ll just have to make up the damn thing and see how it looks.

I picked up some interesting black synthetic knit with silver thread in it. I don’t expect it to be particularly comfortable (I rarely wear synthetics) but that’s OK because it’s meant to be a special occasion top.

Black sparkle knit. In real life, it reads much more black. The sparkle is silver - not sure where the aqua tone came from.

I didn’t make a muslin but started mucking with the pattern right away. I’m doing the long-sleeved version (view C) and I noticed that the sleeve is drafted at a rather low angle for being so loose at the top of the sleeve and so narrow at the wrist. My worry was that this would constrict the range of motion.

Butterick 5497 diagram

Because I can’t leave well enough alone, I redrafted it so the top of the sleeve is on the horizontal. Hey, while I’m at it, why not put that horizontal on the fold? The shoulders are supposed to get some ruching by means of short lengths of elastic stitched into the SA. Only I don’t have an SA there now. Not sure exactly how this will play out, but I’ll think of something when I get there.

My first draft is not made of win. The measurements suggested that the length would be fine from shoulder to below bust. Not so much. It looks sloppy and dumpy, but if I hoik it up an inch or two, it’s not bad. And then I could just shorten it using… that seam I just drafted out of the pattern. Oh well. I guess I’ll have to rip out the under-bust seam. There’s a funny curve on the front seam, which bows up towards the bust. I’m sure this is supposed to have some practical application, but the effect is to create an extra flap for drooping. Not good. Since I’m ripping that seam out anyway, I’ll straighten it out like I wanted to when I first eyeballed the shape.

As this top wasn’t going terribly well, and because I’d like to make a pair of pants/trousers by early May, I thought I should put this project down and start on the trousers. Was going to get rolling on it last night, but oops, somehow this fabric escaped the pre-wash. Washed it and hung it up to dry this morning, and thought I should at least pull out the pattern pieces and see about marking the fabric. Oops, I have no idea where that pattern is après move.

three for three

I finished my third long-sleeve T-shirt a few weeks ago and just haven’t had time to post about it.

deep red T-shirt

The neckline ended up a little snugger than I intended. I misremembered what seam allowance I’ve been using, and my SA accidentally ended up 1/8″ narrower than what I had been using. (I figured out what I had done right after I did it, and if I was extra clever I even wrote it down somewhere. I hope.) On top of that, I think I’m doing the front neckline a little too high. As a result, the neck is a bit small: the front ought to be about ½” lower. (You can see a little wrinkle in the front of the neck.) However, the (so-called) binding went in nicely so I didn’t bother to try again. After a few washes, it’s still holding its shape nicely too. Fortunately I’m not particularly sensitive to tight collars.

The sleeves are neither too tight nor too loose, but just right, as far as I’m concerned.

The side seams at the hem still look a little odd (at least, when I first put it on – it’s not visible in this photo, which was taken at the end of the day). I didn’t do anything creative with the side seams – just sewed them at the regular SA as usual. I’m getting a little poke out at the sides and I’m not sure why. I imagine it has something to do with the extra width at the hip (and in back) and my clumsy attempts at fitting this area.

Wore the shirt all day so the fit is a little sloppy. Not sure what’s up with the wrinkle at waist.

I have this horizontal wrinkle at the waist that I can’t quite figure out. I don’t think it’s too tight as I definitely have ease there. When I snug it up around the waist, the wrinkle becomes a little smaller but doesn’t go away. I don’t have a swayback, but I’ve got a bit more in the trunk than average (not that this photo shows it). I wonder if I should add more room in the back from the waist down, and maybe raise the waist a little? But I pretty much tried these adjustments while I was making it and nothing seemed to work.

Any ideas?

stash: -1.5m

T-shirt 2

After the heady success of making a T-shirt that I actually want to wear, I decided to have another go using another piece from the stash.

While making t-shirt 1, I added the adjustments to the pattern as I went along so I was able to cut t-shirt 2 with the knowledge that it was going to more or less fit. What a treat that is!

I did the shoulder seams, stabilizing with scraps of the same fabric cut on the straight grain, as per my inspiration shirt. (I hate the idea of having to buy all kinds of notions for a project. I particularly hate the idea of buying plastic for the purpose.) I stalled until I could have a look at the neckline tutorial again. I only had to put the binding in once this time, although I did have to go back to remove a pucker. It was a snug fit over my head, but close enough. Now I think I may actually prefer it this way – I suspect it’ll help prevent the neckline from stretching out of shape.

I topstitched the neckline with the double needle, which seemed to work rather well. Then in a (for me) fit of productivity, I sewed the side seams (leaving a little extra room at the  hip to try to address a fit issue at the back waist), trimmed the seam allowances, pressed the hem and cuffs, and sewed them up. Bang – wearable – just like that! (Yes, for me a week is “just like that”.)

black t-shirt
I get wrinkles across the small of my back. My thought is that the waist could be taken in and the hip let out, both on the back piece. Not sure.

I’m sure I’ll make more of these. I have one more piece of fabric in the stash to get through before I’ll permit myself to buy anything else. The neckline takes a bit of finessing and while not difficult, is just tricky enough to make me think twice about getting out my scissors right this moment.

Finally! Free of the shackles of the callous t-shirt overlords!

stash: -1.5m

T-shirt win!

Well, it took a month and a half, but I finally have a wearable T-shirt! Not much of a sweatshop at this rate 😉 I tried to ignore the fact that the pattern is described as “very easy”, because I expect it to be fast. But it’s only fast once (if!) the fitting is sorted out.

100% cotton rib knit (red) for my first T-shirt

I rarely have time for (or interest in) an all-day sewing binge. I figure that if I do a little sewing here and there, it’ll eventually all add up to something. Like trying to break out of prison using a spoon, I’ll eventually get where I’m going, and with sewing I don’t even have to worry about the guards noticing what I’m up to.

RTW T-shirt that I used for inspiration. I have a total of 4 of these in different colours.

1. Neckline

After accomplishing a neckline that wouldn’t admit my head, I redid it using the method shown here: And it worked! It’s just what I was going for in look and fit. I topstitched with a zigzag to keep the seam allowance in place. It looks a little odd to me since I’ve never seen ready-to-wear (RTW) finished this way, but it does the job and doesn’t look bad.

2. Sleeves & body

I inserted the sleeves flat, leaving the side seam/sleeve seam for last. Why do the instructions always insist you insert them in the round? RTW sleeves aren’t done that way, and I figure they probably know what they’re doing.

I easestitched the sleeve caps as per the instructions, the first iteration (at 4/8″ SA) working better than the second (at 5/8″). I pin basted it together to try on and the sleeve caps looked really odd: too much height and no obvious need for easing. The body was loose as well; while it resembled the drawing on the front, it’s not what I wanted.

I took it apart, narrowed the high bust by shifting the armscyes inward, and at the same time made them smaller. I also narrowed the body by taking in 1″ (4″ all around!) at the waist and below (after I had sized up at the hip for my pear shape), and tapering to ½” (2″ all around) at the bottom of the armscye.

The pattern made the sleeve cap way too high, so I faked it: I trimmed ¼” off each side of the sleeve (using my existing shirt as a model), then pinned the sleeve to the body so that it seemed to lie nicely. I didn’t make any effort to maintain the apparently excessive ease. Using this method, I took 1″ off of the height of the sleeve cap! But it works.

3. Sleeves and body part 2

I put everything back together and found it was still a little loose. Referring to the existing shirt that I was trying to replicate, I ended up narrowing the sleeve another ¼” per SA (½” total), and the side seams another ¼” per SA (1″ total).

4. Hemming

I thought I’d try a double needle. Lo and behold, they were even on sale! It was tricky to do the (narrow) cuffs, but I just went slowly and it turned out surprisingly well.

Of my photos of the shirt, this one sucks the least.

Sewing with a knit was new for me, as was the double needle. It was also a novelty to make something so, well, ordinary. I haven’t made a lot of “real clothes”. The delightful upshot was that the next morning I put it on and wore it all day – and was comfortable. That’s not something you can easily do with medieval costume, dance costume, or special event fancies.

How cool is it to make your own wearable clothes? How odd is that I’ve been sewing for years and I’m only figuring this out now?

stash -1.5m

attempt at a T-shirt

Inspired by Tanit-Isis, like so many others, I decided to try something out of my comfort zone. For me, this was knits.

I wear a lot of long-sleeve T-shirts, so I thought this would be the place to start. It also has the benefit of being a bit of a stash-buster: I had the same bright idea a number of years ago but didn’t get beyond “step 1. buy some fabric on sale”.

I was looking for plain, long-sleeve, crew-neck, fitted. View B of Butterick 5386 (leopard) was the closest I got, and the only thing missing is the crew neck. This one is more of a scoop. And it was cheap.

I traced the pattern pieces, shortened the torso by an inch, and redrew the neckline smaller. The shoulders looked way too sloped, especially compared to the T-shirt I have that I was using for inspiration, but I figured I should at least try to make it according to the pattern, so I left it as is. I sewed the shoulder seams, tried it on, and ended up with flaps near my ears. Then I angled the shoulders down so they looked right. And they were. Lesson learned: I have a fairly good eye for proportion and angles; I should learn to trust it.

I then cut the neckline (having just cut straight across at first). I’ve actually done a number of simple necklines, so getting the right shape wasn’t too hard. I was extra pleased when, after I’d already cut it out, I folded the shirt-to-be in half along the CF-CB line and found that the two sides matched pretty much perfectly.

I didn’t want to finish it according to the instructions. In fact, I’m doing very little by way of assembly according to the instructions. It calls for the neckline to simply be turned under and stitched. At first I was going to attach a band (so that the folded edge of the band is the inside circumference of the neck), but then I decided to bind the edge the way my inspiration T-shirt is done. (This is basically the same as binding with bias tape, only because it’s a stretch you don’t need to cut the tape on the bias.)

I stitched the band to the wrong side using a shallow zigzag for some stretch. For the right side, I couldn’t figure out what stitch, if any, I had on my simple machine that would look decent and maintain the stretch. So I decided to hand stitch it. Looks not bad. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be able to get my head through it now.

This will slow things down a bit. Some possible ways of getting past this issue:

  • give up on my method and do it according to the instructions
  • use a double needle (which involves walking 20 min to the fabric store, buying a double needle, 20 min back [for a total of 40 min of winter] and figuring out how to use it)
  • go with my first thought of how to apply the band

However, I’m busy with work these days (and teaching my first dance class tonight!), so it’ll have to wait.