Mended Underwear, 2017  

Mended Underwear, 2017 

This morning I set about mending underwear-- bloomers that are wonderful to wear with dresses and skirts. I've sewn a few pairs over the years--for winter using soft merino wool and in finely ribbed cotton jersey for summer, trimmed with lace (see photo). Good design, good material--worth mending! 

The channel that holds the elastic at the waist had come unstitched in incremental sections on two pairs. A third pair of bloomers had a couple small runs in the lightweight knit fabric, leaving horizontal lines of thread like a ladder missing the vertical threads. Usually when getting dressed in the morning, extracting one of these pairs of underwear from the drawer I'd notice the flaw and reflect, "this needs repair." Meanwhile they were wearable.

Yesterday I washed three yards of navy blue linen fabric in warm water to pre-shrink it and added the unmended bloomers to the laundry load. Hanging them to air dry overnight, the cotton jersey fabric was slightly crisp in the morning, a perfect texture for sewing. Swapping the red thread in the sewing machine to black, I alternated between a zigzag stitch to close the gaps in the elastic channel and a straight stitch to repair the runs in the material (sewing a virtually undetectable fisheye dart to encase the fray). With a few snips of thread it was done! Kind of cathartic.

When a Scrap Isn't Scrap: When It's Material.

Doll, 2007
It feels discordant to throw away fabric. Perhaps it is due to the fact that linen and cotton are grown in soil, and wool and silk are spun from fibers made by living creatures. Maybe it is because there is use to be found even for small pieces of cloth.

Several years ago made a doll out of the remaining parts of a pillowcase (white cotton). It is stuffed with tiny fragments of the case. Areas of the fabric were mended to sew the doll's dress and there are folds in the cloth that an iron failed to remove even on the hottest setting. The doll has a blouse with a Peter Pan collar, a dress with a ruffled border and an apron (in blue and white fabric) with straps that cross at the back. The hair is rayon seam tape. The eyes and lips are embroidered. Am not one to name things nor assign a backstory yet this doll has a name--Clarissa. It appears she works in the household of an estate. hum...

Detail: Mended fabric with creases.
When cutting a garment small scraps of material that remain go into an open box beneath the table. These are extracted to test machine stitches, experiment with the tension settings on the overlock/serger, to try out a technique or made into mini-samples, used for facings, pockets, etc.

Transformation of a Calico Sheet

Calico Sheet
There was a calico sheet. Laundered and laundered over the years, eventually only its edges had any fortitude. Cut it apart. Sewed the strongest fabric into pajama pants. The weaker pieces made soft dust cloths, patches and a hat lining.

Hat Lining from Calico Sheet
(The bow is tying an interior band that adjusts the fit of the hat.) 

In time the pajamas began wear out. Have enough dust cloths and a shoebox full of fabric for patches. How else to make use of the fabric?

Tiny Patch from Calico Sheet  

Tore the fabric from the pajamas into long strips... What was a sheet, then pajamas has now become part of a woven rug.

Rug in Progress


Darning, 2013
A shawl that has been worn in the wintertime for years had a small hole which had begun to widen.

In the evening darned it, weaving fine wool yarn across the gap. The next morning examined the shawl by daylight. Spread it wide. Turned it over. Was unable to find the mend. It was as though it had healed. Ludicrous. But it did take awhile to find it.

There's an economy to fixing things and an environmental advantage to preserving rather than discarding. What is it about mending that is so satisfying? There are benefits beyond the practical.

Louise Bourgeois

Mending, 2013
In the garment district there's a small shop that stocks corsetry supplies. Its focus is as narrow the pathway between its counters and shelves. A shallow rut has been worn into the floorboards over the years by costumers and designers, interns and students.

Like well-trod floorboards when a garment has been much worn there's a paring down to the underlying structure. Threads become visible. Movements leave traces of friction--cuffs fray, elbow areas wear out. 

A sweater bought years ago had developed a hole in each sleeve. The sweater with its many virtues--of color, warmth and delicateness--deserved a decent mend that would benefit both its function and appearance.

Rather than use a darning needle took an alternate approach: crochet. Am utterly without practice in this area of needlecraft. The process was a discovery. With a crochet hook looped yarn through the knitted stitches around the irregular periphery of the opening. While darning is grid-like, crochet naturally works in a spiral. Proceeded along the border spiraling into the interior. Worked the stitches in the first sleeve until the spiral closed. The second sleeve had a larger hole. When all the loose stitches had been incorporated into that mend there was an opening which was left as is.

The result might be reminiscent of a crochet covered window shade pull or the web-like embroideries of Louise Bourgeois. Craft and art.

Before mending (gap approx. 2" wide) 

After mending!

It's soothing to work stitch by stitch in the round. Another sweater [these two are stalwarts of the winter wardrobe] had gradually developed a gaping hole at the hem of the sleeve. With this new approach and a spool of darning yarn had a remedy. Now the mend is a design feature.

"You're sewing!" exclaimed the flight attendant...

Sewing on airplane. (Note pocket of seat in front.)
"Yes." I smile.

"I sew too. Buttons, when they need to be sewn," she adds, pantomiming wielding a needle and thread before beginning the official pre-flight safety demonstration.

Stitched snaps to a newly designed blouse and hand stitched a few seams where (my) machine stitching had been overzealous and had to be reworked. 

The announcement at take-off and landing is streamlined: "turn off anything with an on/off switch".  Electronic devices all around. Stitches are sewn without interruption.

Marvelous to be at this juncture with access to innovation and able to savor the inheritance of ancient skills.

Travels with Needle and Thread

The good folks over at Brooklyn Brainery have a wonderful space. Join me for Garment Maintenance for Guys on Monday, December 17th. Learn how to sew buttons on shirts and coats with the skills of a tailor.

Last night was at Fixer's Collective where a woman brought in a leather handbag she'd found. It was torn along one seam. Got her started with a whip stitch (a stitch that winds over a seam on the outside like the stripes on a barber shop pole). Then she took over with gusto! An inherent aspect of Fixer's Collective is that while "master fixers" are on hand to help figure out how to do repairs and mends, much of the work is done by the person who brings in their object. She was beaming when she left with a newly repaired bag!

Bees Gotta Fly and So Do I!

In My Grandmother's Sewing Kit: Bee's Wax in a Slotted Holder 
Been traveling of late. Airplane flights are conducive to working on mending and other hand sewing projects. (Blunt tipped child's scissors make it through security screenings.) Coating thread with bee's wax straightens it and gives it more substance, preventing the thread from becoming tangled as one sews. (Hand sewing has such an ancient vibe!)