Tagged: Upcycling

Apr 26

The big mend’s 4th birthday

 

 

 the big mend[2] copy

 

 

It’s hard to believe that the monthly mending sewcials I kicked off in Bath four years ago are still going strong. We’ll be celebrating, true to form, with a spot of mending on Wednesday 27th April 2016 from 7-9pm.

Thanks to all the people who’ve come along to the Big Mend sessions over the years, especially those who have picked up the pieces and kept it going when I couldn’t (notably Alison, Annie, Su, Lizzie, Divya, Kathy and Hannah) and to the Museum of Bath at Work for generously allowing us use of their wonderful space every month without fail.

We must have repaired approximately 500-1000 garments and household textile items over the years, but have nurtured skills that must have saved many more textiles from the waste stream as the repair know-how has spidered out into local hands and households.

 

the-big-mend-a-repair-sewcial-in-progress-at-the-museum-of-bath-at-work

One of our repair sewcials in progress at the Museum of Bath at Work

 

Why has it kept going? I can’t exactly say, but people seem to want it and to value its esprit de corps. The sessions, I’ve noticed, provide a contained space where the cultural norms of consumption, ‘fast fashion’ etc don’t apply. In contemplative, collaborative, purposeful activity, we sit and repair, share skills and news and put the world to rights. It feels like a very old activity – and it must be. I’ve just written a piece for Selvedge magazine (issue 70, May/June 2016, the Delicate issue) exploring some of the history of mending. For that, I included evidence of mending from antiquity, and even pre-history. And it makes sense that the act of repair must be about as old as the hills and as ancient as sewing itself. Because making and mending are like chicken and egg; when early man/woman first stitched a pelt together with sinew and thorn needle to make it stay on that little bit better (creating a ‘garment’ rather than just a piece of animal skin), was that not technically a repair? Or an upcycle, at least. Discuss.

 

Flash mend event

Flash mend event in Waitrose

 

What have we achieved? At the Big Mend, we’ve contemplated our place in the world and how we’re connected by a long thread to all the people who make our clothes. We’ve considered what repair means to us – how it preserves objects that make us feel good, how it prolongs the wearable life of our clothing and demonstrates our resourcefulness and resilience. We’ve discussed whether we want our repairs to be visible – conspicuous even – or not and what wearing something with an evident repair says to others. We’ve made a stand against the brutality of ‘fast fashion’ – well, we’ve wandered around the city with our clothes inside out for Fashion Revolution Day, held ‘flash mend’ events and spoken to local people and retailers about inhuman factory conditions. Some of us have given up most of our clothing for a while to raise money for garment workers. We’ve planned a project to work with the city’s students on textile waste reduction (which, sadly, didn’t win funding) and taken part in numerous local open days and public-facing events. Now we tend to stick to the monthly meetings only, because we aren’t funded in any way, so the entire venture is one of generosity and open-handedness and has to be dovetailed in with our own demanding lives. I would do more, if I could afford to, but I can’t. However, the monthly session on the final Wednesday of the month is treated as sacred – not to be messed with unless medical emergency or a clash with Christmas absolutely prohibits it.

So, on we trundle. A fourth birthday sounds like a good opportunity for a game of Pass the Darning Mushroom or Musical Mannikins, but instead I’ve arranged for a visit from local tailor, Ben of City Tailors. He will be spilling the beans on some of his professional repair secrets. I’m looking forward to seeing some hard-won artisanal textile skills in practice – probably rather more deft and invisible than most of ours. Join us, if you can. Everyone is, as ever, very welcome to attend. All we ask is a small donation to help towards museum costs. So, please grab a tired textile to bring along and we’ll do our best to help you revive it.

 

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Dec 31

What 2014 has taught me

 

Here, in no particular order, are some things I’ve discovered in 2014:

1.

That very serviceable lotions and cosmetics can be homemade from nothing more than wild flowers, cooking oil (I used sunflower oil), beeswax and an old enamel bain-marie. Thanks to herbalist Zoe Hawes and Alice Park Community Garden for this revelation. I’m still using the Elderflower and Calendula lip-salve made at your workshop, Zoe, and it’s brilliant stuff. Homemade cosmetics and natural beauty products are definitely the way to go.

Elderflower and Calendula

Elderflower and Calendula

 

 

2.

That you can make yourself a really sturdy plant support from indigenous hazel branches and willow, provided you keep the pre-soaked willow sufficiently damp, and possibly cheat with the judicious application of cable ties. Thanks to Annie Beardsley for this new knowledge, and to APCG again.

Making plant supports at Alice Park Community Garden

Making plant supports at Alice Park Community Garden

 

3.

That you can make a perfectly functional barbecue from a large terracotta pot, a couple of bricks, some chicken wire and a discarded rack from a broken microwave. I had all these things lying around and pressed them into service on my allotment for Midsummer’s Eve. Look! It cooked chicken! 

 

An old flower pot, some bricks and a rack from a broken microwave.

An old flower pot, some bricks and a rack from a broken microwave.

4.

That even I can grow yellow courgettes, ruby chard, tomatoes, leeks, garlic, and sweet dumpling squash from scratch.

Grown on my allotment.

Grown on my allotment.

5.

That if you post a picture of your rear end in inside-out jeans on Twitter for Fashion Revolution Day, the sight might well collect 17,000 views. Blimey…

Rear-end selfie in inside-out jeans - all for a good cause.

Rear-end selfie in inside-out jeans – all for a good cause.

 

6.

That it’s possible to stop traffic on the A4 through central Bath wearing inside-out clothing. Nuff said.

 

7.

I hate to bang on about this, but I’ve found that it’s still possible to attract wolf-whistles when you’re 49. And I mean when not dressed provocatively or in inside-out clothing but, ironically, with minimal grooming: I’m down to an annual haircut, and you’ve already read about those homemade budget-beating cosmetics. This positive attention seems to be happening more of late but I suspect that some people might just need their eyes testing. Though one of my best friends has paid me the compliment of describing me as ‘like a teenager with wrinkles’. Please bear this in mind, all you TV producers; you’ll find my contact details in point 10.

8.

That it’s nice to make people happy, but that you certainly can’t please everyone so may as well stop trying. Do what you feel is right and ignore those who just don’t get it. There will be plenty.

 

9.

That if you require someone to knit a sweater for a real live Jersey cow, I’m a very good person to ask; I may not be able to do it myself but have all kinds of useful connections in the craft and making world. I was delighted to be able to connect the wonderful Send a Cow charity with the equally wonderful knitter Elise Fraser in Bristol (whom I met at the beginning of the year thanks to the Briswool project). And what a glorious jersey Gloria wore!

 

10.

That one might be asked to front a national BBC TV show, to write a book, and also to produce a regular column for a national craft magazine, but none of them may pan out for a host of painful and highly annoying reasons. Happily, I’m currently still available and open to offers, but you’d better get in quick before the rush. You might want to check out my professional website and contact me there to discuss any potential projects. I’d love to hear from you.

 

11.

That I can live without my beloved little car, the cuticle (‘cute’ + ‘vehicle’). Farewell, my little white Fiat! You are gone but not forgotten.

The cuticle always raised a smile.

The cuticle always raised a smile.

12.

That cycling is probably better for keeping me and my legs in shape anyway. And I love it, most of the time (barring uphill, or in horizontal rain, or when carrying very much). Here’s Violet, bought when I was carrying some very precious cargo: my younger son Joe in utero; he turned 15 years old earlier this month, so the old girl ain’t doing so bad.

 

Back to pedal power.

Back to pedal power.

 

13.

That, imho, my youngest son is a rather fine graphic designer already. He was aged just 14 when he sorted out a logo this summer for the Big Mend. Now studying Art GCSE. Anyone need a summer 2015 intern for an art-related opportunity? Do get in touch.

The Big Mend logo plus coffee.

The Big Mend logo plus coffee.

 

14.

That the ‘free’ coffee for Waitrose customers is a very useful thing indeed, and that people seem to like doing their mending in such public spaces. Thank you, Waitrose, for being so accommodating and allowing us to land on you for World Environment Day! And a big thank you to our happy band of menders! You know who you are. The Big Mend has now been going for almost 3 years, astonishingly. I wonder where it will head next?

Flash mend event

Flash mend event in Waitrose

 

15.

That if you put enough pressure on a carbon life form, it may well become a diamond – eventually. It’s been a very tough year or so and the screws have definitely been on. But I’m wondering if a ‘diamond life’ might possibly be in store for me after all in 2015. I really do hope so.

 

Thanks so much for reading my all-too-infrequent posts here on the subject of mending, thrift, textiles etc. Take care and have yourself a very happy 2015.

 

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Nov 11

Hotties

 

 

Lamsbwool upcycled hottie cover

Lamsbwool upcycled hottie cover

 

With her brusque but generous heart, Win fed me and brought me those English-homemaker panaceas – hot-water bottles and hot drinks.

From Ardent Spirits: leaving Home, Coming Back by Reynolds Price

 

My making this winter is indulging an affection for that great English cure-all, the hot-water bottle or hottie. Cosiness, warmth, comfort, consolation, care, motherly love – it’s all there. And for extra heart and soul, I’ve been upcycling soft cosies individually from old knitwear.

I start with an old sweater – usually fine lambswool or cashmere – that’s been shrunk (intentionally or not) and possibly developed the odd hole or other flaw. Happily, I’m keeper of what I laughingly refer to as ‘the National Sweater Collection’, having been compiling old knits for some time now. So, there’s plenty to pick and choose from. I meticulously launder and treat each source garment individually (often washing by hand in lavender-scented wool wash), dry it carefully, comb or brush it, then send it for a short stay in the freezer in a ziplock bag to ensure there are no unwanted visitors. By the end, I’ve completely revived and refreshed it, ready for its new life.

Sweaters for upcycling

Sweaters for upcycling

 

Then I make a bespoke pattern for the particular hot-water bottle as I want it to fit nice and snuggly. Each raw-material garment requires unique, thoughtful treatment.  It takes a little while for me to figure out how best to convert it – quite often I make the bottom of the garment into the top of the cover, for example. Then, once I have my pieces cut, I stitch each cosy together on a vintage Singer sewing machine. I’m now selling these rather sophisticated, soulful and sustainable hotties in my Etsy store. Each comes with a rubber bottle too so is great value, as well as being hugely cuddlesome. Perhaps using one will enable you to turn the central heating down a notch, so buying one may even save you money in the long run. This fabulously soft green cashmere hottie is available over here.  12/11/14 Just sold, but more are in the pipeline. Please get in touch if you’d like a particular colour or style. Thanks. – E x

 

Cashmere hottie with pompoms

Cashmere hottie with pompoms

 

And if you’d like a bespoke hottie, I can make something to your particular colour/style requirements from my stock of upcycled garments, or from a piece of knitwear you supply (perhaps something with sentimental value). So get in touch if you’d like one made especially for you. Convo me through Etsy, or take a look at my About page for my email address. There’s still plenty of time to get yours before Christmas.

 

 

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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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Sep 19

Insta-bag handle

 

This is an update on Scrap of the Week #32. That scrap was a little offcut of brown upholstery leather and I wanted to create an insta-bag (instant-bag) handle, rather like the fabulous Hiromi’s. Here’s how I got on.

 

IMG_4622

Insta-bag handle

 

Cutting out

I first marked up my strip (measuring 24 cms x 2 cms) with ruler and my pen-of-choice, the Pilot Frixion*: a really great tool for crafters which I first heard about via Julie‘s embroidery and knitting blog, Button Button. The pen, which you should be able to find quite easily in your local stationery shop, is marketed as erasable and just happens to work brilliantly for marking up non-washable surfaces such as leather as it will simply rub away afterwards.  Wonderfully, Julie discovered that it also seems to disappear with the slightest application of heat – a light iron removes it just like magic – so it’s extremely useful for embroidery purposes. Do try it, but please test it first on a teeny scrap of your precious antique textiles before scribbling with gusto! [NB Please see addendum below]

Having marked up my strip, I cut it out with a good sharp pair of craft scissors – no need for blade cutters or fancy cutting tools.

 

IMG_4616

Cutting out

 

Constructing the strap

I grabbed 4 old curtain rings (I didn’t have any nice enough D-rings) and some linen twine. The curtain rings worked well as a D-ring substitute, though it makes the handle look slightly like a horses’s bit (which, personally, I don’t mind). Being strong enough to hold up curtains, they’re also guaranteed to be strong enough to hold your groceries without buckling. Which is reassuring.

Now, the metal riveting on Hiromi’s original had foxed me. I didn’t want to invest in more hardware but to use up what I already had. And I couldn’t bring myself to use clashing rings and rivets, so I thought I’d play with some thread instead. When stitching leather, it’s important not to use cotton as the leather will rot it. Linen is perfect, however. I rootled through my vintage threads and found some likely candidates, including a reel of heavy gauge Barbour twine.

Turning over my handle ends about 2.5 cms, and with the two rings tucked in place, it was time to punch a couple of holes in my strap with a small leather punch (a useful piece of kit which I use routinely to construct my hanging tags, by the way).

 

IMG_4619

Making the stitching holes

 

I eyeballed my measurements, but you might like to mark up first to get the positioning just right.

 

IMG_4624

Leather punch

 

To sew it, I folded my ends over my curtain rings.

 

IMG_4620

Attaching the rings

 

Then I threaded my rather bulky linen thread through a tapestry needle and passed it out through one of the holes from inside the folded end. I left a few inches of unknotted thread  behind, enough to tie a good strong knot later. I worked the thread through the holes several times before bringing the thread out where I’d begun, tying a knot (reef, not granny) to secure it and snipping the ends so that nothing showed on the outside of the strap. Incidentally, you can buy little cards of bookbinder’s linen thread for about £1.50, or reels of fine linen thread from about £1.60.

 

IMG_4621

Done!

 

And that was it.

I’ve modelled it (badly, and in artificial light too) with a classic old hanky/neckerchief, just to show you how well it will hold a piece of relatively light cotton fabric. I intend to make a Liberty square for this one from the fabric shown, but I rather like the rustic Little-Red-Riding-Hood look, perfect for toting cookies to Grandma’s. I’ll show you my preferred methods for hemming a Liberty lawn square (for use as a hanky, scarf or insta-bag) another time soon. 

 

IMG_4696

Finished insta-bag strap in use

 

*A note on the Pilot Frixion. Thanks so much to Mimi Kirchner for sending me this review of the pen’s performance at low temperatures subsequent to ironing. In summary, be careful if you’re thinking of using this pen for art purposes and don’t intend to wash your finished creation: the markings may reappear!  21/9/13

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Aug 29

Upcycled spoon plant labels

 

Spoon garden labels

Upcycled spoon plant labels

 

In my continuing quest to find functional, affordable and aesthetically pleasing plant labels, I’ve been playing with old spoons.

A lick of blackboard paint and a fine white poster pen did the trick. Now I’m looking forward to planting these, handle first, on my allotment.

And planting the garlic which I bought at Hampton Court. I’ve got ‘Garlic’ on the convex side of the spoon’s bowl and the variety on the concave side.

IMG_4464

Garlic label

 

 

 

 

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Jul 01

Book review: Fabric Manipulation by Ruth Singer

 

Fabric Manipulation by Ruth Singer

Fabric Manipulation by Ruth Singer published by David & Charles

 

The subject of Ruth Singer‘s third book, Fabric Manipulation, is something I first encountered twenty years ago on a City & Guilds Soft Furnishings course. We were assigned the task of making a cushion cover using a fabric manipulation technique. And from the tutor’s first mention of the term, I had to giggle. Would we be coercing cloth, getting heavy with hessian, maybe intimidating interlinings?

Fabric manipulation is, of course, nothing to do with Machiavellian behaviour with textiles but about handling 2-D cloth with dexterity, arranging it into folds, tucks etc to achieve (usually) 3-D textural effects. You could call it sculpting with fabric. If you sew, you have fabric-manipulated without necessarily being aware of it: gathering a curtain heading, pleating a skirt, or creating a dart, for example. Fabric manipulation techniques crop up all the time in dressmaking, tailoring, millinery, soft furnishings, upholstery, dollmaking, soft sculpture, embroidery, quilting, and patchwork. And every area of sewing-related activity and design can benefit from further exploration of these dimensional techniques.

Singer’s books are always strong on both the design and the technical sides so I was really looking forward to seeing how she tackled this. And I wasn’t disappointed.  She had quite a hard act to follow. My fabric manipulation bible  for years has been The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff, published in 1996 by Krause. Wolff’s book is astonishingly comprehensive, if a little dry; it literally lacks colour, with all the pictures in black-and-white, and all the techniques worked in plain-vanilla calico. But everything is there. Ruth’s book, by contrast, is colourful, appealing, and much more approachable. The book is divided into three sections:-

  • Pleat & Fold
  • Stitch & Gather
  • Apply & Layer

Each technique is clearly explained with supporting colour drawings and photographs. You can really see what might be achieved with the method she’s showing you. This is particularly useful for the less advanced stitcher. American lattice smocking, for example, looks really sumptuous worked on velvet and not half as interesting in Wolff’s unbleached calico version. English smocking is shown with eye-popping pink stitching on grey linen. And box pleats really come into their own; I learned my box pleats in the traditional context of lined corner pleats on the skirts of loose covers (gah!), but by choosing bias-cut silk organza, Ruth takes them to another place as ethereal sculptural necklace (see below). I love her application for Suffolk puffs: an upcycled lampshade which looks like the puffs just happened to alight there, like a cluster of barnacles on a ship’s hull. 

Ruth is a natural tutor and encourages her reader to experiment. Certainly a little magic happens when you start to pleat, fold and gather. And one thing can lead to another. What if I made this bigger? Or cut here? Or made that square instead of round? Or used thicker fabric? Or thinner? Or pinked that edge first? Ruth encourages this process, coaxing the reader to broaden their horizons. Seeing a variety of colours, textures and weights of fabric used in the samples in this book seeds inspiration. There are nine projects included, but these present ideas rather than being fully instructional; they are jumping-off points. I find this refreshing when so many craft books are simply prescriptive and project-based.

 

fabric_manipulation_151112_034

Box pleat necklace

 

Informed by the beautiful textiles and historical methods encountered in her previous day-job as a V&A curator education officer*, Ruth clearly relishes her subject.  She collects antique and vintage examples of dresses, quilts etc and scours old sewing books for ideas. Re-using the old is literally encouraged too as Ruth is an environmentally conscious designer-maker who happily upcycles; one of her previous books, Sew Eco, explored the subject in some detail, and I’d highly recommend both these books to any self-respecting upcycler wanting to up their game. Try making the ripple brooch (shown below) which works wonderfully with felted sweaters. I can’t wait to have a go at the stuffed bobble technique using viscose velvet: the lightweight stuff, often with a little bit of stretch, which crops us as dresses and skirts in charity shops.

 

fabric_manipulation_151112_070

Rippled brooch

 

Fabric Manipulation offers unusual applications and delicious presentation. It will be valuable to anyone wanting to broaden their sewing repertoire, in whatever discipline.  What I’ve always appreciated about Ruth’s approach is that she is not ‘Sewing-lite’. Her offerings are well-written, beautifully illustrated, informed and intelligent. It’s a real irony that a book filled with so many stuffed techniques is so free of fluff and padding; she’s done her homework, alright, hasn’t cut corners, and knows her stuff (and stuffing) inside out. With 150 techniques included in the book, if you tried just one a week it would take you the better part of three years to begin to exhaust the possibilites. That’s real value for money. Please get hold of a copy and explore your manipulative side.

 

Ruth Singer’s third book, Fabric Manipulation: 150 Creative Sewing Techniques is published by David & Charles, price £19.99. You can obtain a signed copy here direct from the author. A second volume is in the pipeline.

You can meet Ruth in person at the Knitting & Stitching Show in October and the Selvedge Christmas Fair in November

 

*Sorry, Ruth! My reporting skills are rusty.

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Mar 04

Come to a Craft-Tea Party!

 

 

If you’re pushed for a Mother’s Day/Mothering Sunday* gift and live in Bath, I can help.

The Craft-Tea Party happens in Green Park Station this Saturday 9th March, 2-5pm. It’s organised by Oxfam Bath and timed to celebrate International Women’s Day (8th March).

Craft-Tea Party poster

 

I’m running a series of mini-workshops at 2pm, 2.45pm, 3.30pm and 4.15pm (half an hour each) to make a gorgeous flower brooch from upcycled felt. The £5 fee will go entirely to Oxfam as I’m donating my time and materials.

Here’s the felt we’ll be using. It’s lovely thick stuff, culled from endless sweaters, cardigans and scarves gleaned in numberless charity shops then boiled in my washing machine and steam pressed. Yes, a complete labour of love!

Felted garments

Part of the Scrapiana upcycled felt library

 

And here are samples of some of the loopy brooches we’ll be making. They can be loosely sprawling, dense and tight, single colour, variegated, buttoned or not buttoned, but each holds a charm.

Loopy corsages

Loopy flower brooches

 

Best of all, these loopy flowers are surprisingly simple and fast to make. They just need a little careful cutting (I have various sizes of scissors for big and little hands) and require a little hand-sewing, though I minimise this for those who find needle-and-thread stressful. I made these (and some other felt flowers) with the Bath WI last week and we had a really fun, highly productive evening. Here’s a write-up from fellow craft blogger and WI member Sue. I’m so glad to have pepped up her week and brought a smile to her face – that means such a lot.

Anyway, £5 isn’t much of an outlay to hit two birds with one stone, donating to the brilliant Oxfam cause and making something for your lovely ma. Better still, bring your mum along and keep her busy close by with some tea and cake (served on vintage crockery, of course) while you make her a surprise. You’ll have to tell her not to peek, but the sumptuous cakes on offer should provide sufficient distraction.  So, here’s how you book a space, to avoid disappointment. Hope to see you there!

 

PS If you don’t have a mum (and so many of us don’t), do please come make a flower for yourself, or for a lovely female relative or friend whose nurturing spirit you appreciate.

 

*which, in the UK, falls on 10th March 2013 this year

 

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Mar 24

Liberty bead workshop winner

 

I sneakily announced the winner yesterday, but so well hidden down in the comments that you probably didn’t see it. So, here’s the official gold envelope moment. [Cue drumroll] The upcycled bead was, in fact, … #4! Yes, the red one slap bang in the middle!

It was guessed correctly by the very first commenter, the keen-eyed Cat. Well done! If you can’t get to the workshop next Thursday, Cat, you can have a Liberty bead necklace kit instead. Just let me know which you’d prefer.

A big thank you to everyone else who took the time to guess, and commiserations to anyone who got the right answer but too late. Another time!

Liberty bead necklace

That particular piece of Liberty lawn, in a pattern named Matilda, came from a handmade blouse found in a local charity shop.  Here’s a glimpse of it.

Liberty Tana Lawn in Matilda

Blouse picked up at the charity shop

Maybe you wouldn’t have cut it up. I’m not sure I should have. But it was relatively cheap. And the making up wasn’t fabulous. It will certainly make an awful lot of beads. I also used a swatch of it when I made my everyday needlebook a while back. I tote it to workshops etc so gets hard wear. It’s the same one featured over here.

My scuzzy everyday needlebook

Matilda scrap on needlebook

If you’re interested in coming along to a Liberty bead necklace workshop, two are currently scheduled: Thursday 29th March (still spaces!) and one for Friday 18th May (each link take you straight to the bookings page). Both are morning sessions, 10.30am-1.30pm, here in Bath at Crockadoodledo, Larkhall’s lovely pottery-painting studio. Further details on my Classes page.

Tana lawn with wooden bead

One for the necklace

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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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