A morning’s work

We seem to be in a bit of a transitional season here at casa Pennylegion. Tertia is a sturdy toddler now, and so I have had to start deciding to do with all our baby things: what to sell, what to donate, what to put away for sentiment’s sake, what simply needs to be thrown away. And of course, in late October, the season is in full transition as well; after some unseasonably warm weather we are now indisputably into fall. And while it’s still warm enough when we’re walking Anselm to school in the morning that snow suits would be overkill, it’s still cold enough that little legs need a little more coverage in the stroller.

Happily, this all afforded me the chance to kill two birds with one stone. After a morning’s hand-sewing, Tertia now has a lovely warm stroller sack, and I have three fewer flannel baby blankets in my cupboard.

These blankets were all square, which meant a certain amount of experimental folding and pinning before I got a shape with which I was satisfied. The sports panel in the middle is folded in half, and the outer striped panel is folded to meet it, which gives three layers of flannel over the portion that will cover her torso. The back half is a leg pocket, made of the dotted blanket. That was been folded in half one way and in… sixths?… the other, which allowed it to join up nicely on the sides with the front half, and will leave her legs with three layers on top and two behind.

From the front the whole thing is much less busy — all you see are white and grey stripes, with some purple stitching (blanket or whip, depending on the section). And while getting my sewing machine working would certainly have made this a lot quicker, there is something about hand sewing that I find very satisfying — perhaps not despite, but because of its slowness.

One day this quilt will be all patches

Almost exactly two years ago, I posted about mending our wedding quilt, which I chose to do by employing visible mending. I love the philosophy of making repairs visible; they become part of the item’s story, a testament to the love and care we (hopefully) take with our things. Since that post I have put on a few more patches, using different colours and patterns of fabric from my scrap bin. The process for these is exactly the same: iron, cut, press seams, hoop, stitch, fini. I put on a large block patch over a long rent in the border, and a series of smaller ones that fold over some tattering edges.

Well, the quilt has continued to wear, as these things are wont to do, and it was recently time for another round of repairs. There was one hole I found in the centre of the quilt, but the borders showed a lot more damage. (Which makes perfect sense as those are the parts that get yanked on while making the bed or adjusting the covers during sleep.) And since I was a bit bored of patches, I decided to see what I could do with embroidery. Here is satin stitch covering the tear in the middle:

Another example of satin stitch on the border, as well as some… star shapes? We’ll go with that.

For this long rent, I decided to do a backstitch outline/border around the tears, and fill it in with running stitch. I like the effect of not patching this and letting the batting show through. Time will tell if the running stitches are enough to hold it in place, but I think they’ll do fine.

I did a few small sections (only one pictured) in a loose cross-stitch:

And finally, the part that took the longest: a blobby, backstitched spiral around and onto another large tear. It reinforces the fabric around the tear as well as being decorative.

All of this took me several good evenings of work after the children were in bed. It reminded me how much I enjoy hand sewing, and especially embroidery — which, prior to these repairs, I hadn’t done for probably a good fifteen years. But I’ve got the itch again; I’ve sent off for an embroidery kit, and I’m working on adding some embroidered embellishments to a heretofore rather plain tshirt. That will be revealed when it’s finished — well, at least if it turns out!

Old jeans, new jeans

Lately I haven’t been able to crochet much, due to a persistent arm injury I’ve been dealing with since our move. But that creative itch still needs to be scratched, and so — partly inspired by Rebecca doing the same — I’ve been slowly tacking my mending pile. A few weeks ago I patched our wedding quilt. Today I decided to deal with my favourite pair of jeans, which recently blew out a knee.

Poor knee. It didn’t look quite so gaping before I started; this is after I trimmed off most of the extraneous bits. These jeans came from a thrift store, and I don’t know how old they are. I do know that they’re the best pants that have ever fit my weird mom body (seriously: ever), and so I wanted to preserve them if at all possible. And since that size of a hole would be impossible to repair invisibly, I decided to embrace some visible mending and see if I could funkify them a bit while I was at it.

I started with just a quick blanket stitch around the edge of the hole, to reinforce it against further tearing (I hope!). I used regularly embroidery thread for this. Sidebar: remind me to buy a needle threader one of these days because shoving six strands through a needle at once is awful. After the hole was reinforced, I cut a patch out of some scrap denim and used safety pins to hold it in place. The patch is disproportionately large compared to the actual hole, in part because the fabric around the hole is also weak, and in part to have more room for some decorative elements.

I kept the jeans inside-out for all of my sewing, doing a running stitch back and forth across the fabric. It helped to be able to sew ambidextrously here! That meant I could just alternate which hand was sewing and which one was inside the jeans supporting the fabric, without having to constantly turn the jeans around whenever I got to the end of a row and changed direction.

Above is a progress shot. You can see that I kept the stitches very loose; since this is all going over a knee I didn’t want things to get too tight and start pulling more holes as I bend and move.

And finally, the finished jeans! I love how fun they look and the patch feels extremely secure (I’m wearing them now). I’m very pleased to get more wear out of these pants. We’ll see how long it is before I have to do something with the other knee, though…! Perhaps I will reinforce it with some decorative sashiko stitching before it comes to that. We’ll see.

Mending the Wedding Quilt

My husband’s mother died long before I met him, but we do have one especially precious remembrance of her: our wedding quilt. She was working on it until she couldn’t anymore, and it was finished by a neighbour, then carefully boxed up until we received it the night before our wedding. After seven-plus years of regular use, though, it’s started to wear out in a few places. I knew I should fix it, but hemmed and hawed for a while (or rather, didn’t hem (ba-dum tschaa)) as I tried to figure out the best way to do it.

Enter visible mending. I first ran across this idea on reddit — mending with the intention of showing, rather than hiding, the mend. Visible mending celebrates taking care of our items instead of throwing them out. So instead of trying to do invisible seams and hide the fact that our quilt was getting old, I chose to accentuate the fact — to take it as an opportunity to add to the quilt’s story. So with a few patches in a contrasting colour,

a hoop,

and some thread,

I was able to give new life to our wedding quilt, with just a few hours’ attention (my hand sewing is fairly slow). This small (2×2″) patch covers a place where one of the smaller squares had come un-seamed and was flapping around:

And this larger patch (3×4″) mends a place in the border that had some parallel rents. As a bonus, it serves as a handy directional guide (no more guessing which is the short edge and which the long when making the bed!).

A few months ago I probably would have just tried to sew the tears up as invisibly as I could, and probably would have ended up feeling pretty frustrated since that is hard to do. Instead, I got to add to the quilt’s story — and, I think, its beauty — and became the third woman to put her needle to its fabric. That’s neat.

Home horse repair

Back in grades seven and eight, the school I attended offered several non-academic classes to supplement its regular program of languages, math, etc. Besides gym and typing class (which was very strange for us to begin in grade seven, given that we had been typing assignments since about grade three), every year the senior students would get to take both shop and home economics. I don’t remember what we learned in shop class, besides how to use drafting paper to draw rectangular prisms, but in home ec we cooked a bit and we also learned to sew. We used the machines — old, trusty tan-coloured Singers — to make drawstring bags and aprons.

We also learned to sew by hand. At some point our class was sent home with a flyer full of stuffed animal sewing kits to choose from. I picked two horses: one brown, one black. We learned how to sew from a pattern, how to cut and join and stuff, and how to use a punch to properly secure the little plastic bits like noses and eyes. I haven’t seen the black horse in years and years, but the brown horse has survived many moves over the past two decades and now finds itself one of Perpetua’s “crib friends”. It is, alas, showing its age, with several seams burst open and the stuffing showing (though, thankfully, not yet coming out).

So I sat down the other day to see what I could do to fix it up. I didn’t have anything on hand that I thought would work especially well as a patch — and anyway, sewing patches is totally annoying — so I decided to try just sewing the holes closed. This wouldn’t be as easy as it sounds: the horse’s fabric is a bit brittle and crumbly now, and if my thread was too thin, it would just rip through the edges and make the holes larger.

Instead, I decided to use embroidery thread, with a full six strands. And since it was what I had handy, I used dark blue. The stitches definitely show — but I like to think of it as stuffie kintsugi.

Some edges came together very neatly:

In other cases, the gaps were too wide to be drawn together. But that’s where the embroidery thread came it handy. It was thick enough to cover the gap on its own. There’s still some space between the threads, but not enough to let any stuffing out:

Now, from the state of the seams, this probably only going to be the first round of repair. Which is fine. Horse-the-horse may not last another twenty years, but at least I know I can give him a fighting chance.

Quick-sew notions bag

I had occasion to whip up a little project this afternoon.

For the past while I’ve been keeping my crochet hooks and whatnot in a plastic Ziploc baggie — or rather, in several successive baggies, since they inevitably either get pierced through or decide to split up the seam (I blame the tapestry needles). It was past time for something sturdier and more permanent, and so I went diving on my much-neglected fabric stash.

It has been a long time since I’ve sewn anything, really. Part of that is not wanting to start anything new while still under the weight of several half-finished projects — but most of it is because my sewing machine is broken, and I can’t decide whether or not to get it fixed. It’s an older machine, second-hand, and if its mechanical issue gets sorted out I think there is still a lot of life in it. But what I get stuck is on the fact that having it seen to and repaired would cost about the same, or perhaps more, than simply acquiring a new machine. On the one hand, it seems extremely wasteful to buy something new when the old one could be repaired. On the other hand, it seems silly to repair the old when a new would cost the same and have all the advantages of newness. And so I perpetually dither, and neither replace nor repair my machine, and my fabric whiles away its time in storage.

But then there are days like today where I suddenly remember that, duh, I know how to hand-sew.

The whole thing took perhaps half an hour, start to finish, including choosing and ironing the fabric. I didn’t work off a pattern — it’s just a drawstring bag — but your basic process is to find a piece of fabric about twice the width of what you’d like your bag to measure and fold it in half, pinning the right sides together. Sew down the long edge, starting about an inch from the top, and one short edge. Fold down your un-sewn short edge to make a little tunnel for your string, and sew along its edge to seal it, being careful not to sew your bag closed! Use a safety pin or similar to push your string/cord/whatever (I used braided yarn) through that tunnel. TIe it off and then turn the entire thing right-side-out. You’re done.

It’s very satisfying to work something up so quickly, especially when one has larger projects on the go (and go, and go…). And this will do me much better for carting my things around than a plastic bag. So here’s to hand sewing!