Mar 22

Mend It Better review and giveaway!

My! We are Giveaway Central at the moment! And this isn’t even the last one, so do stay tuned.

It’s an exciting day when the book you’ve contributed to arrives. You open it at your page to feel a surge of recognition followed by mingled joy and disbelief. Small wonder that authors often refer to books as their children; the parallels with gazing at your own baby for the first time are obvious. Though I’m not really the parent here. More of a distant cousin. Anyway, that happy day came a few weeks ago when my contributor’s copy of Mend it Better (subtitled Creative Patching, Darning, and Stitching) by Kristin M. Roach plopped onto the doormat.

I was delighted to be picked for inclusion in Mend it Better back in the spring of 2011 because mending is a subject very close to my heart. There are issues on which the world divides cleanly into two mutually exclusive halves. We have the lovers and the haters of marmite, the watchers and the non-watchers of The Apprentice, and then we have the menders and the non-menders. It seems that you either get the concept of mending, thrift, recycling, conservation etc or you don’t.  Long ago I had a very interesting discussion with a friend who didn’t get it at all; in fact, she found people who upturn their washing-detergent bottles (in order to extract that last little drop) positively repugnant: “cheese-paringly mean” was, I think, the term she used.  As a fairly compulsive bottle-drainer myself, I felt a little jarred by the strength of her feelings on this point. I can’t quite remember how the conversation progressed from there, but there was probably a tumble-weed moment.

The rift between the two camps can be explained (at least partially) by the moral high-ground implicitly adopted by the thrifty, possibly imagined by the non-thrifty and felt by them as an unspoken rebuke. Most of us really don’t like shoulds and musts and uncomfortable being-told- what- to- dos, even if they are not actually uttered. Sometimes the mere presence of people doing-the-right-thing is enough to set off the won’t-do-it-and-you-cant-make-mes. Back in the old days, we used to call this ‘conscience’. Me, I quite like conscience. I think it can be telling us something useful. But I digress.

Into the gaping chasm between the thrifty and resolutely non-thrifty ( I see it rather like the Grand Canyon!) Kristin M. Roach rides, cheerfully a-whistlin’ a tune. Her panniers are full of  jaunty calico iron-on patches, prettily painted darning eggs, shiny skeins of embroidery silk and boundless enthusiasm. With these she can charm the birds from the trees (or do I mean cacti?) and persuade even the most militant non-mender that mending might be OK. Fun even.

The first thing that strikes you about Kristin’s book is how neat and tidy it is. The small scale — just 18.5cms x 21cms — is genuinely handy, perfect to slip into the mending bag. It’s purse-friendly too at just $18.95/£12.99. The book is laid out very appealingly; check out the perky appliqué fabric-letter graphics and the vintage sewing effects peppered throughout. This pretty book functions beautifully as a call-to-mend, with joy and creativity the main flavour and just the subtlest hint of virtue as an after-taste. As Kristin’s site says, ‘With Mend It Better, every garment and fabric repair is a chance for self-expression and fabulous creations.’  Yeah, the creativity card might just win it!

Title page

And now for the nitty gritty:

Who is the author? Kristin M. Roach lives in Ames Iowa, is a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Northern Illinois University) and she started writing her blog Craft Leftovers in 2006 as a way of keeping on top of her craft supplies — using up what she had rather than buying new. It’s a great source of inspiration for making the best of what’s already to hand.

What’s in the book? After a sweet introduction (in which Kristin pays homage to the significant sewing females in her family) there’s a brief foray through the evolution of sewing (which is possibly extra to requirements but enjoyable all the same) before Kristin tackles the basics. How do you assess if a piece is worth saving? What do you need in your essential mending tool kit? This includes instructions for a mending bag and upcycled tool clutch (see below). What basic stitches will you need? – both hand and machine. These can then be practised to make a cute needle book.

Mend it Better contents page

Next come all sorts of inspirational projects, each setting out a particular method or type of repair. As well as showing her own makeovers, Kristin has curated often bold and inspirational mends from other crafters, including Susan Beal, Rachel Beyer, Deb Cory, Carina Envoldsen-Harris, Crispina ffrench, Jennifer Forest, Diane Gilleland, Pam Harris, Marisa Lynch, Francesca Mueller, Cal Patch, Stacie Wick and Sherri Lynn Wood. Additional contributors are Caitlin Stevens Andrews, Maja Blomqvist, Cathie Jo, Ágnes Palkó, Megan PedersonLeah Peterson, Jamie Smith, and Yours Truly. Areas covered include: patchwork (including Leah Peterson’s  gorgeous reverse applique shown below),  seam fixes,  secret pockets, clever ways to adjust hems, waistband repairs, darning (by hand and machine, and an ingenious way to make your own darning egg using a wooden egg and a Shaker-style peg), fasteners, zip replacements, handling fancy fabrics, and decorative embellishments (including applying beads round a moth hole to create a flower motif).

Who will the book work best for? Kristin has clearly worked hard to make this an inclusive book, and I think it will work both for the absolute sewing newbie (who needs guidance through even basic stitches) and the more seasoned sewist (who can flip past that). Because it’s aiming to appeal to a wide audience, it crosses into the territory of some broader sewing manuals (such as this excellent one from Ruth Singer), but mostly includes what is relevant. I fear that it would frustrate someone expecting to find a lot of fancy hand-stitches as the ones included are fairly basic. I love the first few sewing projects which include a bag to hold your mending (upcycled from a damaged tablecloth) and a mending kit to hold your scissors, needles, marking gauges etc (upcycled from a felted sweater). Kristin conceived it as a book you can dip in and out of as necessary, whether you want to sew on a button or fit a hidden pocket.

Most inspiring mends? For me, it’s the reverse appliqué patching. I also liked the machine-darned jeans on the opposite page. Both are beautiful. There are a few other mends featured which go well beyond the purely practical and are aptly described as devotional. I also loved the crocheted sock darning done with oddments of yarn. It looks stunning, appears to be very robust, and I can’t wait to give it a try.

Mends by Leah Peterson and Jamie Smith

I must mention in passing that though I really loved Kristin’s make-your-own darning egg project (using a wooden egg and that Shaker peg) which she includes because she says they’re hard to find in the US, darning mushrooms etc are fairly commonplace  over here in the UK. You can also buy vintage ones at a certain Etsy store.

My contribution to the book was a mended apron (which you can see over on my In Print page). It wasn’t done for the book  – can’t you tell? – but was a favourite of mine I’d fixed. It’s not what I’d call exciting but its mother loves it.  And that’s one of the points Kristin makes; unless very ragged, something is worthy of fixing if you happen to cherish it, for whatever reason.

We may be stuck with a pretty dodgy economy for some time, and I doubt that spending our way out of it will be the answer — wasn’t that what got us all into this mess in the first place? Most of us will have to tighten our belts and take our dose of thrift as palatably as possible. Happily,  Mend it Better helps the medicine slide down.

OK, I’m convinced. Where can I buy it? Look for it at your local bookshop, and please ask, if you can’t find it. If you’re within spitting distance of me, I have a few copies available so email me. If you’re a bookstore or making establishment in the UK and would like to stock copies, get in touch with Melia Publishing Servcies. You can also get a signed copy direct from Kristin.

And finally to the giveaway! I’m really thrilled that the nice people at Storey Publishing (here’s their Facebook page, by the way) have offered to send a FREE copy of Mend it Better to one of my fortunate readers. The offer applies to readers in the US and UK only so if you’re hoping to learn to mend elsewhere, I’m sorry to disappoint. To enter, please leave a comment below. You can tell me what you have that needs mending, if you wish. A detached button? A tear to a precious dress? The knees of your favourite jeans? I’d also love to hear about any encounters you’ve had with the non-mending, thrift-intolerant portion of the population. But there’s no right answer, and a winner will be picked entirely at random. Entries close at midnight on Sunday 1st April, and the winner announced here on the blog on Monday 2nd April. Good luck!




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  1. MelodyJ says:

    I need to sew buttons back on a few things.


  2. Cornelia says:

    I am fascinated by the ‘gaping chasm between the thrifty and the resolutely unthrifty’ that you describe so poetically and think it important to distinguish between being thrifty out of choice and being so out of necessity. I see examples of both camps in my extended family with each at times claiming the moral high ground! The different outlooks are epitomized in two, very dear, relatives – now in their eighties – who each grew up in poor households, each were evacuated during the war, to less than kindly hosts, and each of whom has enjoyed a comfortable income in adult life. Over the decades, Ron has continued to ‘make do and mend’ and to be extremely careful with money. He hoards anything that might be useful to make into or repair something else, is a great DIYer and vegetable gardener, loves to potter around markets and charity shops in search of an interesting bargain (he always wore charity shop suits in his professional life) and is quite scathing of people who automatically turn to ‘shop bought’ goods and services. Elsie, on the other hand, buys the best she can afford of everything and seems to find the idea of second hand or homemade to be distasteful, or even insulting. She has always hated cooking and needlecrafts and her reaction to any breakage is ‘never mind – making a new one provides work for someone’. Another relative, who takes a similar approach, explained that, whilst she diligently recycles all that her local council will collect and donates all her unwanted goods to charity shops, as she doesn’t need to shop there herself, she feels it wrong to do so and that she should leave them to those who cannot afford to go elsewhere. As for me? I have a loft full of ‘stuff’ and get a real kick out of mending and making. My sixteen-year-old son and his friend are going to a fancy dress party tomorrow evening and have asked me to help them make their costumes, as they don’t want to go in anything ‘generic’, and I’m thrilled at the prospect!

  3. irishhistoricaltextiles says:

    yes! bring back mending I say! much less wasteful. anyhow, I do have a mending bag, and I try to tackle it periodically. at the moment it has some handmade by me socks in it, as they are showing signs of wear and I need to darn them. very boring!

  4. Helen says:

    I've noticed a change in my spending habits as I get older. Partly because, as you say, the economy has not been Team Happyplace's friend for the last few years and partly because I hate clothes shopping. Who hasn't walked into a clothes shop and had their heart sink to their boots at the racks and racks of man-made fibre cheap as chips stuff? So these days when I buy I buy better. Better quality, better fabrics – things that are worthy of the time and effort to mend. My favourite jeans have been dyed twice to keep them at their original French navy best, but the knees are going now, they remain the most flattering garment my bottom has ever known and I'm not parting with them yet. Ditto the worn out elbows on the lovely Kiwi's favourite jumpers – which if I can't find a fix-it for them will soon find themselves in my 'to be felted' pile.
    I love your comments on seeing the book come to life, as a former editor I always considered myself the midwife of the book production process. From the gently encouraging 'you can do it, you're doing great!' to 'PUUUUUUUSSSSSHHHH dammit!' at the late-delivery of manuscript stage. It's always a marvel that it's taken shape, leapt off the computer screen and become a real, live book!
    Great post – the book looks wonderful!

  5. Helen says:

    I've noticed a change in my spending habits as I get older. Partly because, as you say, the economy has not been Team Happyplace's friend for the last few years and partly because I hate clothes shopping. Who hasn't walked into a clothes shop and had their heart sink to their boots at the racks and racks of man-made fibre cheap as chips stuff? So these days when I buy I buy better. Better quality, better fabrics – things that are worthy of the time and effort to mend. My favourite jeans have been dyed twice to keep them at their original French navy best, but the knees are going now, they remain the most flattering garment my bottom has ever known and I'm not parting with them yet. Ditto the worn out elbows on the lovely Kiwi's favourite jumpers – which if I can't find a fix-it for them will soon find themselves in my 'to be felted' pile.

  6. Magpie Mimi says:

    I try hard to mend things, only thing is I know have a pile of things that need mending. Mainly my other half's work clothes…

  7. Kiwijo says:

    Oh Id love a copy. :O)

  8. em says:

    What a lovely little book! Would love the chance to win. I love make do and mend, thrifting and re-cycleing so out would be perfect for me! At the moment I have buttons that desperatly need sewing back on my favorite coat and my little dog also tends to make alot of mending work for me :) fingers crossed x

  9. knitsofacto says:

    My Grandma Eva taught me to darn socks. It wasn't fun!. I'll mend most things but I just refuse to mend socks … good job I don't knit them!

    Great giveaway!

  10. I always fix my clothes until they can't be fixed, then repurpose any part that's still useful. Right now I've got a pillow on my bed that's made out of a T-shirt I bought in 1996. My wife is stunned while I actually let something go.

  11. Claire says:

    Congratulations on being in print :)
    I have a lot of socks that need mending from the men in my life who both walk heavily through them. i even have my nan's old darning thingy to do it with. Now I only need to mend my ways and actually repair them!

  12. Jane C Woods says:

    What a lovely post and well done on being part of it. I’m loving the sound of this book. It made me think of patchwork quilters and using every last bit of fabric.

    Once I have no use for something, or acquire odd bits of fabric (like the net sometimes around bouquets) it makes it to my material box. Last week my prospective daughter in law and I had fun looking through it for suitable bits for wedding bunting. Not quite mending but definitely making do.

    As well as being extraordinarily useful, this book also sounds to me like a celebration of women’s work over the years, the ‘silent work’ that usually goes unnoticed. As such, I am wondering if I should review it for my own site!

    Congratulations! I hope the book is a huge success! Jane

  13. @EcoEcoHope says:

    Brilliant post, Eirlys! I found the discussion on the rift between the thrifty and non-thrifty particularly interesting. I think it also sums up the gulf between recyclers/environmentalists and those who just don't get it. Not sure what the answer is except to try and make it fun, as you suggest.

  14. sweetmyrtle says:

    as you know i love to recycle and am passionate about using up every last scrap of fabric. i also like to refashion but i am guilty of having an ever growing mending pile. not for want of doing the repairs but mostly as i am busy sewing for others. i did however mend one of my fav t.shirts just last night. mending to me represents not only thrift but also of care and respect. i do regulary mend my husbands jeans… it's his big thighs you see, he is always splitting the seams! anyway sorry to leave you with that image.. and please do add my name to the giveaway as the book looks delightful! and congratulations for being included too.
    ginny xx
    p.s. also a fan of reverse applique x

  15. Mulene says:

    Wow gorgeous book!

    My lovely mother has holes in some beautiful sweaters at the elbows. She wants me to patch them up for her so that she can have them see her out of her end days (she’s 84!).

    Myself? I have jeans that need patching up, I have a gorgeous tea dress in 40s style that could so benefit from the seams being re-inforced and a couple of patches here and there that the moths sadly got to.

    I’d love to have the book and be able to use it to help me mend things that I never want to wear out!

  16. aileen says:

    got a problem with putting bias binding around a handbag im making =( it is at a standstill as im onlt starting out

  17. My favourite bag which I was given for my birthday a couple of years ago needs mending – it's a beautiful velvet handmade bag, but the handle has come apart at the seems, no matter how I sew it I can't seem to get it to stay fixed for long. Perhaps this wonderful book has some suggestions for me? ^_^

  18. Jennifer says:

    What do I have that does not need mending is the bigger question? I do have a lovely marled grey turtleneck wool sweater that could clearly be nursed back to health if only it's elbows were to be contiguous fabric once again. A precious cashmere with an unfortunate nick of unknown origin. Who knows what else lurks in the large pile, threatening to take over a significant portion of my bedroom's real estate…. gee, do I ever need this book!

  19. @cathiesue says:

    Socks, stocking and sweaters. Hems and darts. Aaack. I'm realizing I need this book to even know if some of this stuff CAN be mended.

  20. andrea says:

    We knitted socks this year; now I need to learn how to mend them!

  21. julie says:

    This book looks fantastic – I've added it to my Amazon wishlist just in case I don't snag this one. 😉 I've got a sock darning stack to deal with, which I swore I was going to finish over the Christmas holidays. Sigh. It just takes too long and isn't very exciting – I'm very intrigued by this crochet darning technique! I do have a vintage darning mushroom, which I keep meaning to blog about, and that's just about the only good thing about sock darning.

    Despite my darning despair, I am with you on the mending / re-using – things just aren't made to last anymore, and we've been trained to just toss something out over something as minor as a tiny hem tear. I volunteer at a charity shop warehouse, sorting donations, and sometimes I just can't imagine why those nearly-new things were discarded. Sigh. I always think, what would Ma Ingalls say about that waste?! :)

    And on a completely different note – you're such a beautiful writer! I love reading your posts. I just wanted to mention that. :)

  22. Judy Fain says:

    I love mending ! My next mending chore is a favorite pair of jeans whose front pocket has blown out. I’m going through my scrap stash to find the perfect bright fabrics to use to remake the pocket. Please enter my name I the book give away.

  23. tamsyng says:

    I can make and create things, but not so good on the mending. This little book looks so inspiring. Your review of it is also lovely and so well written :)

  24. scrapiana says:

    It's a sweet book, Tamsyn. With your creativity, you'd run with the mending, I have no doubt. All the best with the draw!

  25. Victoria says:

    I've inherited a darning mushroom, would love to be able to use it properly! This book looks like a delight.

  26. I'm trying to mend a cord jacket I love as the lining shrunk back in the washing machine (even though it was machine washable) and ripped. It's taking a long time!

    What a fabulous book : )

  27. It’s my husband and son’s trousers that always need patching but I’m always interested in learning new ways to make do and mend! Looks like a great book!

  28. Erin Wyman says:

    I mend knees on my jeans, and also my dog toys! Would love to learn more about darning socks. Why is it that my favorite Paris always get holes? Fingers crossed.

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