somewhat visibly mended shirt

The project

Mend small tears in a shirt caused by wear and strain.

Why I chose to mend it when I did

Not long ago, I noticed that this summery linen-cotton shirt of G’s had become damaged and I put it in the mending pile but I wasn’t quite sure what fabric I’d use for the patch. A little while later I was reorganising my sewing stuff and fabric scraps and came across an off-cut from when I shortened this shirt along with the three others G has in the same style. In essence, that eliminated a decision, making the project feel easier.

Then the other day, I was washing those other three shirts and, noting this one’s absence, asked him if he knew where it was. It took a while for me to clue in.

Anyway, it’s perfect weather for this shirt so I figured I should get it back into circulation before the weather turns cool again.

The process

I already had fabric that matched perfectly. Next was to choose the thread. I looked at my collection of heavier threads and embroidery floss and found a white linen as well as a pale blue linen (both actually intended for weaving rather than sewing) that was pretty much a perfect match. (My pointless superpower is always having matching thread.) I preferred the white. It’s “somewhat visibly mended” because I wasn’t trying to make it invisible, but I also didn’t want to make it into a big feature because G prefers low contrast looks.

I rotated the patch so the stripes were perpendicular to the body of the shirt, partly for visual interest and partly because it would look weird to me if the stripes didn’t match up and there’s no way they’d match up. I tacked down the remainder of the patch using running stitches to strengthen the whole area, which was rather worn. (Technique inspired by Mending Matters,  discussed here.)

Then, as I was about to toss the shirt into the wash, I noticed the other tear, which I’d known about but forgotten. Damn.

If you want proof as to why it’s a bad idea to stitch down pleats, look no further. The back pleat is supposed to give extra room for movement through the shoulders. Stitch down the pleat, lose that room. Duh. When I originally noticed the tear in this shirt, I immediately ripped out the stitching in the other three. I don’t need to do any more patching than absolutely necessary!

The back patch was very similar to the front patch except for the placement: the front patch location was informed by the presence of the placket, while the back patch needed to relate to the (now-released) pleat. The back patch is virtually centred on the hole. It didn’t seem necessary to tack down this patch, not least because the source of the strain had been removed.

I glued this patch in place with a glue stick rather than pinning.

As it happens, I discovered this article yesterday via FB: The life changing magic of making do. “[G]etting mileage from our things should at least engender a sense of pride, and of mastery,” and for me it definitely does. Odd as it seems, it takes effort and skill to completely use something up, and I enjoy that sense of accomplishment.

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.

visibly mended coat pocket

This is my first project directly inspired by the techniques in Mending Matters.

The project

Mend the pocket of my coat, which had developed a big hole from carrying keys. The fabric of the pocket (as well as the lining) is cotton so it wears more quickly than a synthetic would. Both coat pockets have holes, so I chose to repair the easier one first. The coat is only partially lined and thus the pocket bags are very accessible.

Why I chose to mend it when I did

I’ve had holes in both pockets for years now and just worked around it. I could often get away with not taking my keys at all because my partner and I were both working from home. If we went out together, he’d take his keys and I’d leave mine behind.

He has since gotten a job that’s not only out of the house but out of the city, and suddenly I had to carry keys again. I was tired of the workarounds that I’d used when he’d been away studying before, which was usually throwing the keys into my fabric tote bag (I don’t carry a purse). But then the keys are at the bottom of the bag and possibly bruising the fruit and vegetables I’d just bought.

The process

This mend is visible in the sense that I chose non-blending fabric and thread for the repair, but only if I show it off because this area is of course ordinarily hidden inside the coat.

For my patch, I used a scrap of robust cotton twill that was originally from a project I’d made many years ago for my partner. I chose it for practical reasons, but I found that connecting this project for me to that older one for him was also rather satisfying.

I’d cut the left edge previously by following threads. The new chalk marks are square and show just how off-grain the fabric is. That’s not too surprising though, as twill often skews like this. I left the selvage on because it avoids a raw edge (helpful with an area that gets a lot of wear) and the different weight and tension of that bit of fabric wouldn’t cause any problems.

Usually when I apply a patch, I’ll glue it in place using an ordinary glue stick so that it doesn’t shift while I’m stitching. But that’s usually for jeans or other clothes that are getting washed and I’m not sure whether the glue would cause problems if it stays in indefinitely. This time I skipped the glue and tried the safety-pinning method shown in the book.

The safety pins worked just fine, but I still prefer gluing. I made sure to put the right side of the fabric facing out.

As luck would have it, I was in Japan in November and when I was at a large department store with a great craft and sewing section I remembered that I was considering trying out sashiko embroidery. At the time I was envisioning the classic white-on-indigo look, so rather than availing myself of the good range of colours they had (where do you start? where do you stop?), I just bought one skein of white to try it out.

I considered using that white cotton sashiko thread here but found that it looked a little harsh with the fabrics of the coat and patch — the lining fabric is a slightly warm grey. So I chose a cream-coloured cotton embroidery floss instead, which I found to be much more complementary, and the tint is so subtle that it still reads as white. Yes, the floss has a bit of sheen that the sashiko thread doesn’t but it’s not noticeable unless you’re looking for it.

All of the stitching was done with three strands of floss. The rectangle is the first part to be completed as its function is to secure the patch. I did the bacteria-like mend next, and rather than whip-stitching according to the book, I did a blanket stitch. The finished look is almost the same, but the blanket stitch effectively outlines the hole in thread which gives it a little more protection from wear. Because I’ve done more blanket stitching than whip-stitching, I also find it easier to do evenly. Finally, I threw in a few gratuitous lines of stitching because (a) I like how it looks, and (b) it gives a little more stability to the “white space” of the patch.

I’ve had this coat (and its twin — that’s another story) for many years already and had been idly thinking of a succession plan since it is (they are) showing a fair amount of wear. But wear is love, and now I’m inclined to keep it (them) on the road as long as I can.

visibly mended gloves

I first heard of visible mending years ago, online somewhere, but almost certainly in reference to Tom of Holland, who is its biggest proponent. Tom is mentioned in Mending Matters, but I fixed up these gloves before I bought the book and with just my dim memory to inspire me.

The project

Mend a pair of good woollen gloves that my partner had received as a gift from his mother. She’d bought them on a trip to Australia, if memory serves, and so an exact replacement wasn’t possible.

Why I chose to mend them when I did

It was winter and he didn’t have any proper gloves. He had also just gotten a job in a nearby city and I wanted to send him off a little more prepared, since I now wouldn’t be able to present the mended gloves to him just whenever I felt like it. (Which, if past experience is anything to go by, is possibly never.)

The process

This mend was visible of necessity. I have only two types of wool thread in weights that I thought might work: this blue, and a red. The red was too much. I like the blue with this grey, and despite the fairly high contrast he was OK with it too.

I bought these wool threads at a weaving shop in London, so it’s not like I can just pop round to pick up a better match. Of necessity I got creative with what I already had, which is kind of what mending is about anyway. While working on this project, I was reminded of the Christmas when these gloves were given, and the field trip with friends to the weaving shop out in a part of London I’d never been to before and haven’t returned to since.

I didn’t try to make the mended patches into any particular pattern. I just reinforced what was worn. The gloves are seamless (sorcery!) and I couldn’t quite figure out how the joints on the thumbs were achieved, but there wasn’t much wear there anyway so I just skipped those bits.

The blue thread was too thin on its own, but doubling it gave it just the right weight. I folded it and threaded the resulting loop through the needle so it was easier to unpick if necessary. (And it was necessary.)

I’ve learned that the technique I used is called Swiss darning or duplicate stitching. You follow existing stitches with a sewing/darning needle.

I didn’t keep track of how long this took me, but it was a long time and a labour of love. Six hours sticks in my mind but that might be for one rather than both. *shrug*

The stitches are small enough that my eyes were starting to cross, but I also did enough of it that I got into a state of flow, which kept me stitching longer than I would have predicted I’d have the patience for. I’m not a knitter, but I got a taste of the meditative nature of knitting, in addition to the satisfaction of providing for a loved one and keeping textiles out of landfill.

Visibly mending a mass-produced item is a way of asserting one’s personality over potentially dehumanizing mechanization, like an abandoned car becoming overgrown with weeds. It’s a small and cozy act of rebellion.

mending matters

I haven’t blogged here in over 5 years.

I wasn’t enjoying sewing and at the time I didn’t understand why at first. I wasn’t sure if I even liked it. Sure, I mended stuff from time to time but never thought much about it, other than feeling that it was something I kinda wanted to do but also that it was some kind of obligation. I didn’t mind mending, and I preferred it over new projects, but it wasn’t something I got very excited about either.

Over the years I’ve figured out some of my issues with sewing (a discussion for another time), but it’s this book (a recent find) that prompted me to kick-start the blog again: Mending Matters by Katrina Rodabaugh.

Mending Matters by Katrina Rodabaugh (New York: Abrams, 2018)

It offers some basic techniques and ideas for mending and reusing textiles in the context of a strong visual aesthetic that happens to be Very Much My Style. And the whole book is so up my street, I’d offer to feed its cat if it went away on holiday.

This book validates my instinct to mend rather than toss damaged textiles, whether it’s jeans, knitted gloves, canvas tote bags, socks, underwear, or my much loved (and thus somewhat threadbare) winter coat.

Can I afford to buy new things to replace the ones that show some wear? Sure; this isn’t about personal necessity. But I have a very keen desire to keep stuff out of landfill if at all possible (and if not, then as long as possible), and that goes to a bigger picture need to minimize my impact on the planet.

In fact, it’s so very easy to just buy a new whatever, that it takes time, effort and determination to actually wear something out. It feels like an accomplishment, and it’s one that I’m proud of. Some of my partner’s T-shirts recently got beyond mending so I rendered them down into new dishcloths. (I like cloths that are 12″/30 cm to 14″/35 cm square, just by the way.)

And mending, like sewing, is a way of providing for yourself. It builds skills and, in the process, a sense of self-efficacy that simply cannot be bought. All of this contributes to self-esteem, which is no bad thing.

When it comes to clothes, buying a new whatever is actually not the easiest for me since it’s difficult to find things that fit. If a piece of clothing is damaged, I take it out of rotation so the damage doesn’t get worse. Mending is thus a strategy for adding an item (back) into my wardrobe, and as such, it’s much more efficient for me than shopping.

I’ve mended lots of items over the years, but one of the ideas in Mending Matters that was new to me was to take the opportunity to make the mend attractive in its own right as a design element. Some mends are better if they’re invisible, but visible mends can fuse craft, art and utility.

So I’m going to keep mending but I’m going to try to bring more creativity and enjoyment to the process, as well as acknowledging that mending is valid and good and worth talking about.

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.)




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.