To Mend Or Not To Mend

Medieval viking reenactment from Pixabay In the last few years I’ve become much more aware of my consumption habits. Until recently this was coupled with a distinct shortage of pocket money, and the combo led me to focus on buying less in all areas of life. Retraining myself to simply want less is part of it – there are a lot of things that I can easily do without, and getting out of the habit of allowing myself the brief acquisition high relaxes its hold on me (I find the same is true of eating sugary things). Serviceable clothing isn’t something I can do without, though.

There are plenty of pieces of advice for stretching your budget on the shopping side of things. I shop sales and try to anticipate my seasonal needs; I haven’t had much luck with finding my everyday clothes at thrift stores, but I shop there for dressier and costume pieces. Another tip I’ve seen frequently is to choose pieces that all coordinate with each other. I wear v-neck knit shirts and jeans almost every day of the year, with cardigans on top in the winter, so as long as my sweaters coordinate with a wide variety of colors I already have that covered. My spin on that advice is to also avoid really distinctive, noticeable items that I won’t want to wear more than once a month, lest people think I just wear them all the time and never wash them. Dress clothes get a pass, since I am not going to wear those frequently regardless.

The third prong, after reducing quantity and shopping thriftily, is mending. I’ve been trying to determine the cost/benefit ratios of different mends, and here are my thoughts.

Worth It

darning jeans –
Jeans are expensive and machine-darning them is quick. Tears are easier to fix than wear from rubbing, and the mends last longer, but both are worthwhile. Save fabric from dead jeans for later repairs – my husband has a collection of identical jeans and he gets a lot more mileage out of them since I can patch his knee tears with matching fabric so they still look good enough for work. More on this next weekend.

mending bras –
Up to a point, of course. If the fabric or elastic is worn out, doesn’t have the oomph it should, then it’s time to say goodbye. However, if the strap has torn off the band or the underwire is poking out but the material is still good, it’s certainly worth fixing. Again, bras are expensive and the fixes can be quick.

overdying shirts –
Don’t bleach them, because it will thin the fabric, but blah shirts can be revived for a while with an application of dye in a coordinating color. Darkening the fabric not only makes the shirt feel new, it can help thinning shirts be more opaque.

reattaching underwear elastic –
Sometimes the waistband or leg bindings of underwear come loose from the fabric, and it is a quick matter to reattach them with a zigzag stitch, stretching the fabric and elastic while you stitch.

darning sweaters –
For me, sweaters are worth even more than their purchase price, because I have spent a long time finding the ones in my collection. I can’t wear wool sweaters without irritation, and high quality cotton or acrylic sweaters are hard to find. Even though a good mend on a sweater has to be done by hand, it’s worth the time.

replacing coat zippers –
This is typically not as difficult as you might think, and coats are another expensive item. If you have a puffy multi-layer coat the trick is to baste all the layers together maybe half an inch in from the edge of the zipper tape so they stay aligned while you remove and replace the zipper.

Not Worth It

(of course, this is unless it’s an article of clothing that is special to you)

darning socks –
This is a lot of work and most socks aren’t that expensive. I have fixed a lot of socks, but in the future I will only fix the superfancy ones (such as Smartwool), because the amount of time it takes to darn a cheaper sock is worth much more than the amount of time and money it takes to replace the pair. The mends are difficult to make well, also, and can be very noticeable and not very durable.

mending holes in shirts –
I don’t know how to make a mend on the little pinholes that t-shirts develop over time that is not hard, thick, and very obvious. I live with the pinholes until they are too much; fortunately for me that tends to coincide with the overall death of the shirt. I have once or twice taken care of a pinhole by shortening the shirt so it lay in or below the hem, but of course the shirt has to be long enough to allow that.

Maybe, Maybe

replacing jeans zippers –
If the jeans fit well and have good life left in them, and there isn’t a lot of hardware or excess stitching making the zipper replacement trying, then do it. If the jeans aren’t that great or are on their way out, or the replacement process is going to be a lot of labor, I’ll take a pass.

replacing coat linings –
If you love the coat and it’s in good shape on the outside, this is probably worth the effort. This is a LOT of effort, though, so choose carefully.

replacing PJ pant elastic –
Since pajamas don’t get the kind of wear that, say, pants you wear to work do, the fabric often lasts a lot longer than the elastic. The elastic takes wear from machine drying, but also will simply harden with age and get crackly. The reason this is in the “maybe” category is that there are two ways PJ elastic is typically installed: threading through a casing or stitching flat onto the inside of the waistband (generally with many rows of stitching). In the latter case it is probably not worth the effort (though if you have vaguely matching fabric you can cut off the old waistband and make a new one that does thread the elastic through the casing). In the former case, provided the fabric is still good, it probably is worth the effort.

Travel Craft Case

Beginning a monthly (or perhaps twice-monthly) craft night at the Sew-op gave me the urge to sew up a travel craft case that was more of a hussif than a bag. This was the spur for making my host of little felt patches, since I wanted one instead of a cushion for needles and pins. After I finally set out to work on it, it didn’t take too long to get this:

photo of craft case interior laid flat

I chose the felt for it based on liking the color contrast and shape of the patch. After that, by coincidence, I found I had both bright green buttons (from my late grandmother’s stash) and bright green elastics (the cut off ends of no-tie shoelaces). The denim is the last remains of my wedding jeans, including the coin pocket.

photo of craft case rolled up It is messy and where the elastic ends are stitched down there are wads of top thread on the wrong side, but it works for me. The main body is three 6″ x 9″ pieces zigzagged individually, butted end to end and joined by zigzag, and then zigzagged around collectively in a sort of double figure 8. Everything else is stitched flat on top of that. The inside button that doesn’t hold the felt is mostly there for decoration; I don’t know that it accomplishes anything in terms of holding in the scissors. I may find a use for it later. The elastic that holds it all shut has two knots so it can be strapped around the roll at multiple sizes – tuck four full-size spools of thread into the innermost end and you’ll need a longer strap than with a few embroidery floss bobbins.

I always seem to have more than enough crochet to fill the evenings my husband and I spend hanging out and doing nothing, so with some exceptions embroidery and hand-sewing get postponed indefinitely. I’m hoping craft nights will help me get through more of my handwork.

Fleecy Felty

I made half a dozen little patches of felt this week, plus one larger one (and one failed even larger one). Turns out it’s super-quick to make felt if it’s small enough to fit on your palm.

The idea: Lay some fleece out on a needle-felting brush, needle it until it can be transported without coming apart (5 minutes if you’re being careful, with flips), take it to the sink, soak it, rub it between your soapy hands for another 5 minutes (also with flips) and rinse – done.

finished small felt patches

For all of the smaller patches the fleece barely overhung the felting brush. My goal was thinner pieces of felt than the last time I made felt; those were too thick to expect to keep needles in. To that end I used thinner layers of fleece, which also meant they were somewhat irregular. I stuck some crewel yarn in several of them; in the photos it’s between layers but it can also be on top – just hold the ends down with your fingers while you needle-felt the middle until it’s stuck, and then needle-felt the ends until they’re stuck too. It takes a little more care than just fleece but it isn’t fussy. If you put it in between it may or may not show well.

To flip it helps to have a cat brush that you can get underneath the fleece through the felting brush bristles. I also tried to needle in the edges in particular so they wouldn’t get thin in the wet-felting step. You can see in the third picture below that the size has already decreased quite a bit.

I don’t have photos of the wet-felting step, but it’s straightforward: run warm water, soap up your hands (I tried glycerin hand soap and liquid dish soap and would recommend the dish soap), wet the fleece, and rub it between your hands – gently at first and then more vigorously when the patch shrinks enough to fit entirely between your hands. Flip and rotate it so you hit it from multiple angles. The patch will not be a regular square and I saw no way to influence the shape – it probably depends on what parts of the fleece patch were thicker to begin with.

The first time I tried to make a larger patch it was simply long – and not just that, long in what was already the long direction of the brush. I believe I did not make the fleece thick enough, but it was also quite difficult to wet felt because of how much larger than my hands it was. You can see in the photo below that it really didn’t come together at all.

The more successful larger patch overhung the felting brush some on all sides, for a total that was a bit smaller than the failed one. It had to be needled in sections: first the middle, then in thirds from end to end. The wet-felting was slower but the same idea. Unfortunately I ended up with some gaps in the finished felt (this happened to a much lesser extent with a couple of the smaller patches), so I needled some additional fleece over them and performed a second wet-felting.

You’ll see most of these patches again in upcoming projects. I’ve been crafting steadily; it’s mostly been on things that wouldn’t be interesting blog posts, but there are a couple more photogenic projects in the pipeline!