Category: Patching

Aug 13

#heartstrings

 

June’s events here in the UK made pretty tough going. In our dejection at the state of the world, the regulars at the Big Mend came up with an idea: #heartstrings. We wanted to do something positive – something to celebrate connection, unity and diversity in our city – rather than sowing more division or wallowing in despair. We needed to find a way to take heart.

 

#heartstrings

The term ‘heartstrings’ originally described the nerves or tendons formerly believed to brace and sustain the heart. But it also refers to our deepest feelings of love or compassion. And ‘to hearten’ is to make more cheerful or confident.

 

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All senses held resonance for us. We wanted to join Ruth Singer in her healing idea of yarn-bombing racially or culturally sensitive parts of her locality with fabricated hearts – to craft for solidarity, as she has coined it, inspired in turn by the hashtag #randomactsofequality on social media.

Then we heard about the safety-pin campaign, a tacit way of displaying in public that one is ‘safe’ (tolerant and supportive) to anyone who might be feeling vulnerable or threatened. So, let’s join them together, we thought: solidarity, unity, community demonstrated in crafted hearts that are linked shoulder to shoulder. It all seemed to tie together.

 

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Embracing the city

So, in July we started making up #heartstrings at Protestival in Green Park Station, then had a session at the One Two Five Gallery in Abbey Green (see above). As our #heartstrings began to grow, we felt that we were metaphorically hugging our city with hearts – you can see Alison above, literally yarn-embracing ‘the hanging tree’ in Abbey Green – a tree with a troubling history as the location of the city’s public executions. 

 

Join us!

We’ve found that people really like the #heartstrings idea and want to get involved. Can you help?

We’ll really need your heartsindividually made or linked into strings. Hearts can be crafted in any material and method, any colour, embellished however you like. Just aim for them to be about the size of the palm of your hand, if possible. Follow any crochet or knitting pattern you like. You can simply cut hearts out of felt or fabric – a cookie cutter is a useful aid, if you don’t want to draw freehand. And please personalise your hearts with words, slogans, objects – whatever you like. We’d also welcome donated materials or safety pins. 

 

When and where?

We’ll be making #heartstrings at all the Big Mend mending sewcials over the coming year, and will arrange for periodic #heartstrings yarn-bombing of local landmarks, with a big city-crossing link-up on the first anniversary of the referendum in the third week June 2017But we’ll need your help to eventually cross the entire city of Bath with little linked #heartstrings!

 

If you’re in Bath, please come to two August events at which we’ll be creating heartstrings:

One Two Five Gallery‘s first birthday party in Abbey Green, Bath on Sunday 14th August from 3-5pm 

A Yarn Story in Walcot, Bath on Thursday 18th August from 7pm

 

By post 

You can drop off or post your hearts, strings or material donations to the Museum of Bath at Work at Camden Works, Julian Road, Bath, BA1 2RH or the One Two Five Gallery in Abbey Green, or A Yarn Story on Walcot. Please attach a label to your hearts telling us who you are and preferably with a contact name/number/email. Thank you.

 

On social media…

If you’re on social media, feel free to share your own images/selfies with your hearts or #heartstrings, wherever you happen to be in Bath or beyond.

 

 

 

 

 

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Jan 05

In with the old

 

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Floral scrap from a 1979 Sanderson furnishing cotton called ‘Border Incident’

 

Happy new year! You’ll find this a largely resolution-free, reflection-empty zone, which may come as some relief. It’s going to be a full-on 2016 for me, and I won’t have much time or opportunity for making. But I do need to carve out a little stitching in order to preserve my wellbeing. Rather than rushing headlong into something new, I’ve decided to finish some of the things I’ve already started. And this old hexagon patchwork quilt top is top of my list.

I started it, oh, twenty-something years ago, and can’t quite remember why the project lost steam – something to do with having children, perhaps…? Culled from 228 scraps (so far) of mostly vintage furnishing fabric (Sanderson etc) interspersed with rows of unbleached calico, it’s been packed away in three house-moves and lived deep inside a box for much of that time. I had it draped over one side of our sofa for a while (see below), the backing papers still basted in place around the edges, waiting patiently for the stalled process of precision tessellation to resume. And there it sat for another year or two. Well, enough’s enough; if this baby could talk, it would be crooning this little number at me.

 

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Slung for years over a sofa, unfinished

 

Those who’ve tried the very traditional method of English pieced patchwork (or EPP, also known as mosaic patchwork) can confirm that this kind of stitching is a slow and painstaking business. There’s no rushing it.  You have to take it just one piece at a time, cutting out your backing papers accurately, then covering each one with fabric, folding the edges over smartly to get those sharp, precise sides as you baste/tack them down in order to create the best possible fit between pieces. But joining each hexagon to its neighbour – seam by hand-stitched seam, two together with right sides facing – is simple and pleasantly mindless once you get going.

Or possibly mindful.

As more and more practitioners are pointing out, slow hand-sewing of seams brings its therapeutic rewards. Whipstitching hexagons together is a very absorbing, relaxing thing to do. For me, it works wonderfully to dispel anxiety and level my mood. And for those hung up on ‘wasting time’ (and who therefore might not go for a colouring book, say), EPP is ultimately a productive process too – if you ever get around to finishing whatever you’re making, that is…

It’s worth pointing out here that there is a certain leeway in the creative EPP process – it can be totally ‘hap’ and random: a pure product of the hand-stitched moment, joining piece to piece as you happen to pick them up. Or you can focus on a meticulous and fussy-cut result, carefully selecting fabric colour and design and pattern placement, forming your hexagons into clusters of rosettes etc – as I’ve tried to do here. 

Here’s the backstory. When I started this project, I wanted to create something that looked a couple of hundred years old – at a superficial glance, anyway. I was studying patchwork history at the time, and this kind of patchwork goes back to the earliest documented days of the English craft in the 18th century. This was also during IKEA’s ‘Chuck out your chintz’ period, so – because I’m perennially contrarian – I think I probably made this as a direct, defiant response. I don’t remember being influenced by any particular quilt, but by an amalgam of fabrics and 18th and 19th century styles. I wanted to convey something of that time when the new printed cottons were so treasured that your middle-class leisured lady patchworker would want to make the very most of every scrap and display each motif to optimum dazzling effect. And then I re-found my diary from 2011, with a distinctive V&A quilt on the cover which looks very, very similar to mine. But the diary was obviously produced many years after I’d started this quilt. It’s possible that I could have spotted the same one in a book somewhere and filed it away in my subconscious. Anyway, it was very spooky to note the similarity. There’s more about that particular quilt (which is dated 1797-1852) over on the V&A site.

Back to the business of finishing, as I said, I have 228 pieces joined together, including 19 seven-hexagon rosettes. I estimate that about 500 pieces will be needed in total (and another 20 or so rosettes) to create something close to a full-sized quilt top. I’m setting myself the goal of adding just one hexagon a day, which (at the moment) seems manageable. I’ll try to come back with periodic updates. There are more pictures of my quilt so far over on my Instagram feed.

What kind of unfinished craft business do you have lying around? What do you think prevents you from completing it? And what is stopping you from ditching it altogether? If you’d like to join me this year in completing something you started a while back, do leave a comment and, if relevant, a blog/social media link below. I’ll be happy to cheerlead and provide encouragement. 😀

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Floral motif (maker unknown) from my 25-year-old unfinished quilt top

 

 

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Oct 28

Jeans patch tutorial

 

 

My instructions for working this jeans knee patch technique have just gone up on the Sewing Directory site over here.

It’s a ‘tidy’ repair and so might not be to everybody’s taste. But here’s my elevator pitch. Mending, in general, offers bite-sized opportunities to test out a variety of needlework techniques. This repair is a great way to practise how to control a smoothly curved edge which is well worth mastering. Curve control is a type of fabric manipulation that’s used a lot in dressmaking (creating armholes, necklines etc) and in all kinds of other sewing projects (toy-making, soft furnishings etc), so it’ll stand you in good stead.

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In technical sewing jargon, this is also an example of ‘reverse appliqué‘ – because the patch goes beneath the damaged area rather than on top of it. So, you neaten the worn area and turn it into a kind of window, behind which your patch sits.  This repair is worked by hand, because it tends to be tricky to get a sewing machine into the restricted area of a jeans leg and (to my thinking, anyway) isn’t really worth the fuss of getting your machine out. But it doesn’t take very long to work, so please have a go. You should find that the resulting patch is smooth against the skin and comfortable to wear, while also feeling robust and secure. And if you try it and like it, then please come back and let me know! 

 

 

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Jun 04

Green your wardrobe

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Tomorrow is World Environment Day. To honour the occasion, I’ve arranged a little ‘flash mend’ here in Bath to try to raise a awareness about where our clothes go after we’ve done with them. I’ve called it ‘Green your wardrobe!’

I was pretty shocked to discover that so many unwanted textiles here in Bath get tossed straight into our regular bins (9 out of 10) rather than into the green recycling boxes (just 1 in 10). All the more shocking as we generally have a pretty good record of recycling things around here. I don’t know how much clothing is donated to local charity shops, though I suspect it’s a huge amount; that would be really interesting to know.

I’m hoping that our little mending ménage tomorrow can underscore some of the many alternatives to plain old wasteful binning tomorrow, one being the loving repair of our well-worn textile favourites. If you fancy joining us, that would be wonderful. We’ll be at the top of the escalators in Bath’s Waitrose at 1pm. You won’t be able to miss us: we should be wearing something green and carrying magenta darning mushrooms! Bring along something to mend, if you can. The idea is that we will gently darn and patch around our cappuccinos, space in the cafe allowing. If it’s crammed to the gunwhales, we might adjourn to the library next door – for a spot of silent slip-stitching, obviously. We should be there till a little after 2pm so just pop in for a moment or two, if you can.

And here’s a two-sided poster I drafted for the occasion. Feel free to share, if you like. Click on the top right arrow if you need to print.

 

 

green your wardrobe poster

green your wardrobe

 

 

PS Yes, yes, I know that this isn’t the promised Clothworkers post. The fatal error is that nobody pays me to write this poor, bedraggled and neglected blog. But soon…

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Mar 25

Mend with Mother

 

 

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Mend with Ma this Wednesday

 

The Big Mend this month will have a Mother’s Day theme. So there’ll be FREE CAKE for all mums this Wednesday 26th March at the Museum of Bath at Work, Julian Road, Bath7-9pm.

We’d also love it if you’d come along and share your mending memories with us. Memories of watching things repaired at mother’s knee, perhaps; memories of Granny darning, maybe. We will be beginning to record mending memories in our imaginatively titled Mending Memories Notebook and warmly invite you to add yours.

I’m aware that many of us don’t have mothers (myself included) but I hope that won’t deter anyone from coming; there’ll be FREE CAKE for motherless souls too… :*-)

If you are in or near Bath and haven’t attended one of the Big Mend sessions, here’s how it works. We always meet on the last Wednesday of the month to tackle whatever’s in our mending pile – or, at least, a small portion of it. Tools and materials* are laid on, as far as possible, though you might want to bring along matching thread, or the perfect button, if you’re picky about such things. Or your sewing kit, if you’re attached to your particular needles, sewing scissors etc. There’ll be advice and suggestions on how you might go about your textile repair, if you’re stuck. We don’t charge, as such, but ask a minimum £2 donation to help cover the museum’s costs.

The more is most definitely the merrier, so if you like the idea then please share this post with someone else who you think might appreciate it. Thanks. Oh, did I mention the FREE CAKE?

 

*we’re always happy to accept donations of sewing tools, haberdashery or scrap materials that we can use for textile repairs. If you have anything that you think might be suitable, please get in touch.

 

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Feb 23

Scrap of the week #36

 

Here are several scraps sneaking in together as #36.

I was delighted to have a huge bagful of fabric scraps donated recently for use by the Big Mend. Here are just a few, washed and pressed and ready to go. There’s a ’70s duvet cover (purple flowers), ’70s pillow case (yellow flowers) and an old tablecloth (brown flowers). All of these had been carved up for the upcycling exploits of the previous owner. Underneath that is a length of late ’60s/early ’70s furnishing fabric. They will all be available to use for patching at our skills-sharing repair socials (or sewcials, if you like a cutesy handle).

The Big Mend sessions are open to everyone and anyone to come along with their mending pile and get guidance on how to work repairs. I give my time and skills freely (as do all the generous people who help me run the events). We see all sorts of people turning up to do everything from sewing on a button to repairing the seat of their favourite jeans. Tools and materials are mostly laid on gratis, again by yours truly. Which is why it’s particularly lovely to receive supportive gifts such as these. All we ask of attenders is a very small donation.

Did you know that you should always pre-wash fabrics* before using them to patch clothes or linens? At least, for anything that you intend to wash once it’s repaired. If not, the patch will likely shrink and detach from the garment it has been applied to. Such textile-repair wisdom was once commonplace, so much so that Jesus used it as an analogy in a parable to explain how he saw the meeting point of the old and new kingdoms:

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:16-17

So, pre-wash your patching fabrics. You heard it here last.

 

*at least, when using natural fabrics – polyester, nylon etc won’t be so prone to shrinkage

 

The next Big Mend session at the Museum of Bath at Work takes place on Wednesday 26th February, 7-9pm. Besides these fabrics, there will be various materials to try your hand at working golden mends

We could always do with more sewing materials and tools, so if you happen to have anything you can donate to continue our skill-sharing in the community, please get in touch. Thank you.

 

Scraps for patching repairs

Patch-worthy scraps for the Big Mend

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Jan 19

Worn Wear

 

 

I only just discovered this film released by outdoor clothing company Patagonia last November in time for Black Friday. It’s a nudge not to buy new but instead to celebrate and love what we already have and what it means to us: a refreshing homage to significant clothing, and the stories we wear. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

 

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Jan 14

Scrap of the week #35

 

Boussac fabric samples

1993 Boussac fabric samples

Boussac furnishing sample, ‘Tsunami’, 1993, New York

 

I have a stylist friend in New York who understands my passion for fabric scraps. When I visited her in 1993, she presented me with a huge stack of rectangular home furnishing samples jettisoned from the Third Avenue offices of French textile company, Boussac. Such treasures! I had to buy an extra case to get them home.

 

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Third Avenue scraps – nothing but the best!

 

Poignant to think that I hadn’t even heard of the word ‘Tsunami’ when I was given these beautiful fabrics.

It can take me a while to find just the right use for a scrap. 21 years later, one of these Boussacs finally assumes its role as a patch for my student son’s jeans. He basically lives in jeans these days, and all his pairs are showing signs of wear. Here’s a typically shredded knee.

 

Jeans for repair

Jeans before

 

Jeans repaired

Jeans after

 

I love the rich shot effect of the red warp and teal weft of this fabric. And the 50% linen, 50% cotton feels great with the denim as it’s robust, yet yielding. I worked quite a traditional kind of reverse appliqué patch which should be super-secure (with 4 rows of stitching, though only 2 are visible). I hoped it would do justice to the Japanese influence of the fabric, with just a whisper of boro, the Japanese art of repair. What do you think? 

Jeans repaired plus Boussac samples

Jeans repaired plus Boussac samples

 

Jeans patch.

Four rows of stitching (two invisible) make this a really strong patch

 

And here are those jeans alongside another pair, patched with raw-edged scraps from my husband’s worn-out pyjamas. Both pairs had been in my mending pile (well, it’s more of a spreading mending cairn) for a while but were finally completed and delivered to the diligent student yesterday. He’s very happy  with them, despite their ostentatious repairs (which I suspect would be a little full-on for most blokes).  Their new wearer just told me that the patch is really comfy, hugging his kneecap and actually feeling much nicer than the non-repaired knee. So, a great result!

Two pairs patched

Two pairs patched

Would you like help repairing your jeans?

I’ll be teaching jeans makeovers to small groups in Bath this spring; Jean Genie sessions will show you several patching techniques (some very visible, some not) to re-knee your favourite jeans, plus the best way to shorten hems, narrow legs etc. Do get in touch if you’d like further details.

Patch-ology: I also teach a comprehensive selection of patching techniques for your whole wardrobe in small workshops. Do get in touch with me for more information.

 

 

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Sep 10

Patch-ology

 

 

Micro-patching is my current obsession. I’ve made up the term – at least, I think I have. It could already be some kind of hack in the world of software engineering (is it?) but here it succinctly describes using the teeniest textile scraps, usually of Liberty Tana lawn, to cover holes and other faults in a garment etc. Sometimes I apply them as reinforcements: around pocket edges, for example (see my purple granny cardi below). And sometimes I apply them just for the heck of it. To be honest, I need very little excuse to use Liberty fabric, so sometimes I don’t wait for a repair.

This week, my patch of choice has been circular, and my mission has been to cover genuine holes. Moth holes, to be precise.

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Micro-patches

 

If you have a similar woollen garment to repair, be sure to treat it first for moths; I hand-wash with an appropriate wool wash, air-dry flat thoroughly, then freeze for a week or two inside a zip-lock plastic bag. That usually shows the little blighters what for.

To make the tiny round patches, I’ve applied scraps of the lightest iron-on interfacing to my lawn scraps first, just to ensure that my patches are stable. This is my preference and isn’t absolutely essential as lawn is such a closely woven fabric that it won’t fray much (if at all) nor stretch out of shape, though it will get softer and collapse with wash and wear. So, I use interfacing to make them just a little more robust and shape-holding. Then I’ve cut out circles, using whatever round thing happened to be close to hand for a template: cotton-reels, buttons, money, thimbles, etc.

I had a lot of holes to cover, so arranging the patches was my next task. I tried not to draw attention to certain areas by using fabrics which toned with my flamey orange Brora cashmere tank top – a charity shop buy, incidentally, and cheap as chips because of its parlous moth-holed state. Other areas could carry more of a punchy contrast. You might feel a bit like a tattoo artist doing this, trying to figure where best to position a patch to enhance the wearer’s physique. Or not. If you have a really awkward hole (right over a sensitive part of the bosom, for example) you need to think very carefully about your repair. This might not be the right place for a micro-patch.

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Positioning patches

 

Once pinned into position, it’s a question of  tacking (even if you never usually baste or tack, I’d advise not skipping this stage for this type of work – it doesn’t take long and you can try on your garment more easily to decide if you’re happy with the result). Then it’s time for stitching over the patch by hand, getting decorative as the mood takes: spirals, concentric circles, radiating lines etc. I rather like a plain, simple back-stitch a few millimetres from the edge of the patch. Blanket stitch will cover the edges, if raw edges bug you, but it yields a slightly raised effect – fine, if that’s what you want. You could free-machine embroider, if you prefer; a few overlapping freehand circles would look really good. But this is hard (OK, impossible) to do on restricted areas such as sleeves etc.

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Back-stitched micro-patch

 

How small can you go with these micro-patches? Well, if you’re just covering a mark or soiled area, you can go very itsy-bitsy as there’s no repair to effect; so as long as you can secure it well to the background fabric, you can go wild with your teenies. If you’re covering a hole, however, I’d ensure there’s at least a half-inch margin of sound fabric all around the edge of the repair. Now, if you stitch well over your patch, it should hold up well. To be extra secure, you could even try sandwiching it, with one patch on the outside, another of the same size on the inside; this could be done without any interfacing for a softer, more yielding repair. And then you’re spared seeing the raw edges of your repair on the wrong side of the garment. 

 

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Radiating lines of split stitch

 

I get a real buzz from using up even the smallest jewel-like scraps of Liberty fabric. Do you? Seems almost criminal to throw them away. If you have a go, please show me how you get on. There’s a place to share your repairs, by the way, over here at The Big Mend group pool. Jump on in! The water’s lovely. 

I also love the satisfaction of working old-school tradition patching techniques which leave strong, finished edges; I will be teaching these (plus creative ways to repair jeans) in my half-day patching class, Patch-ologyPlease visit my classes page for details: forthcoming dates are Wednesday 18th September, Monday 7th October, and Friday 8th November. But I like to play it dangerously with my lawn, risking raw edges (which aren’t going to fray a whole lot anyway) and going smaller and smaller and smaller. Edgy stuff!

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Send reinforcements!

 

 

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