Sometimes people ask me if sewing clothes saves money. The shortest answer is no. There’s a bit of nuance to it, but between the cost of good materials and the time it takes and the mistakes made and projects thrown out, there are few to no savings of time or money. It’s a pleasure and a hobby more than a habit of frugality.
However. Mending and alterations absolutely do save money, because I can make items last much longer with a very small investment. I’m going to bunch these little fixes together as I work through my mending pile.
October 27: A cardigan. I bought it from Joe Fresh around 2012 or 2013. It’s been demoted over time, from a synagogue/holiday sweater, to a nice school sweater, to a casual-only sweater as it’s gotten more faded and ever-so-slightly pilled. It’s got plenty of life yet, but I wanted to stop it from gaping. My grandma taught me to sew up my cardigans to keep them from gaping; it makes it function like a plain t-shirt while looking nicer. I just did two invisible lines of hand-stitching, one on either side of the button-band, to keep the front shut.
Terrible photos, but you get the idea. No gaping!
October 29: I put on my socks and noticed a hole. I took the same needle that I used two days ago, still with a tail of red thread, and took about 30 seconds to do ladder-stitch it shut. Ladder stitch is stretchy, but only in one direction; I worked the hole shut horizontally to maintain the stretch of the sock.
November 7: Darned a sock! Since there wasn’t actually a hole yet, I stitched perpendicular lines, kind of weaving them in and out over the area with a single strand of embroidery floss. We’ll see if it holds up. It doesn’t seem to have made the area less comfortable, which is good. These are just wool socks from Costco, but I love them and if I can get a few more months’ use, I’ll be happy.
November 9: Stitched shut a hole in the armpit of a cotton waterfall cardigan. This one’s OLD. It’s from Jacob, well before they shut down in 2014. It’s really not in good condition, but this fix took about 30 seconds so it’s worth it, in my mind.
Well, this didn’t reduce the mending/alterations pile by much, but off to a good start! Next in line are such thrilling things as hemming pants and machine-darning jeans. In addition to being virtually free, it’s probably still faster than driving to a tailor.
*Edited Dec. 8 2018 to change the title from “Can She Fix It? Yes she can!” to “A Stitch in Time” because originally I was absolutely sure that there was a proverb about mending but I couldn’t remember what it was, so I went with Bob the Builder’s catch phrase, but once the saying, “A stitch in time saves nine” came crashing back into by head, I decided to go with that, instead.
Here is my new alpaca hat! As in, made from alpaca fleece, not alpaca-themed. Over the summer, I was in the petite and lovely province of Prince Edward Island. In addition to seeing the famous red beaches and Green Gables, I also visited an alpaca farm.
These ladies were recently shorn when we met them, and you can see that they’re fairly small animals. They’re docile and were curious about us, but to my disappointment, don’t like to be petted. Instead of cuddling a camelid, I splurged for a skein of their worsted-weight yarn, and tucked it away for the making of a hat.
Enter, the Historical Sew Monthly theme for October: fabric manipulation. My original plan was to make a pair of crocheted slippers decorated with pleated ribbon (these) but the yarn I used wasn’t right and my attempts to make it work…didn’t work. I realized I was on my way to making a pair of ugly, ill-fitting slippers, so I scrapped the project.
I decided that since knitting generates fabric that has been manipulated seamlessly into the exact shape one wants, with the exact grain lines one wants, I could justify a nice historical hat. With a pom-pom, of course.
I knew I wanted something round, like a beret or tam, but not the perky little berets perched jauntily on the heads of the ’30s and ’40s gals. No, I wanted something the size of a dinner plate, with a drape suggestive either of an elegantly droopy Gibson girl coif, or perhaps of a cephalopod trying to eat my head. I want to be engulfed by my hats, people; It’s cold outside.
I looked at some 1910s historicalpatterns on Ravelry but, feeling that I’d already spent enough money, used a free pattern as my guide. I didn’t want ribbing, so I just started the brim with stocking stitch. I reduced the length of the body of the hat by an inch because I was running out of yarn, but when I was done I had enough to knit down an inch at the brim to create a deeper fold. I sewed the fold in place to keep it from curling, which stocking stitch always does if there isn’t something like ribbing to keep it flat.
I actually used a wool blend from another project for the pom-pom, because I used all but a meter of the alpaca on the hat itself. It was an old gauge swatch and the yarn was a bit wrinkly, so I soaked it and hung it from my laundry rack before giving it a haircut.
Knitting with alpaca was a new experience. It’s very different from sheep’s wool. It has virtually no stretch or springiness, and was oddly reminiscent of good-quality acrylic in that regard. It’s also insanely slippery; the stitches would just slide off the needles and drop three rows down the second I turned my head! This particular yarn also shed a lot, covering my pants in white fluff, and seemed quite delicate. I don’t know if that’s characteristic of alpaca or just this specific yarn. I found that pulling out stitches even once was enough for the yarn to start to look ragged. On the plus side, though, it’s incredibly soft and silky.
Pattern: Based on the Persephone Slouchy Beret pattern from shinyhappyworld.
Materials: Approx. 250 m alpaca yarn, knit with 3.75 mm bamboo double-pointed-needles. And a toilet paper tube for making the pom-pom.
Approximate Cost: $40 CAD. This was definitely a “fancy souvenir” purchase. It was challenging-but-lovely to work with, and I love the softness of the final product.
What didn’t go well: Not much! I didn’t achieve nearly the level of slouch I was aiming for, but as you can see in the catalogue pictures below (see the green hat on the upper left), mine is not inaccurate for the mid-to-late 1910s.
What went well: I got a warm, silky soft, slouchy, reasonably historically plausible hat. I don’t think alpaca would have been used in Canada in the mid 1910s, but if this exact hat were made in sheep’s wool, it would pass as historical. It’s always nice to have a project go fairly smoothly!
I learned this summer that hospitals and clinics are freezing cold all year long, so I decided I want some winter-weight layers that feel summery. If I’m going to be spending my days in freezing, windowless environments, I want to at least mark the seasonal change by wearing lighter colours in the summer! Hm, that sounds more depressing than it is. I just know that I get tired of my dark winter clothes by spring.
I bought a pile of light grey wool to make a cropped cardigan, but after seven (seven!) attempts at my chosen pattern, I admitted defeat. Still smarting from paying for a pattern I couldn’t use, I opted to download something free and simple. Enter the Harvest cardigan pattern.
The whole process of making this version was smooth, except for the part where I (GAH!) ran out of yarn with half a sleeve left and had to buy more. I used the cheapest 100% wool I could find, and while I’m amazed at how well it tolerated being knitted and frogged (and then knitted and frogged x7), it’s so rough that I can sometimes feel how scratchy it is through my shirt. Maybe I need to start ponying up for nicer wool! I love the colour, though. Light grey and white marled together are so pretty.
The whole project was started in May, but it took three months for me to give up and switch patterns. So I finished this sweater in two and a half months, which is a record for me. That time period included two trans-Atlantic flights and a bus tour, which provided ample opportunity for knitting.
The holes you see are from where I tried to add waist shaping. I ended up deciding against it, so I frogged those individual stitches and re-knitted them. This is faster than frogging the whole thing, but it leaves obvious holes. With some pulling and tugging plus a good soak, I think they’re at the magnitude of “No one will notice unless they’re staring directly at my waist from the side at eye level,” which, really, if someone’s doing that, I have other questions.
I omitted the buttonhole because I wasn’t confident I could find a button the size of a Ritz cracker that I liked. The only ones I’ve ever seen that size tend to be made out of brightly-coloured layered leather or oven-bake clay (or both) and tend to be in “funky” designs. Not really my style, although I do prefer wearing cardigans closed and just used a bobby pin to see what it will look like. I’ll keep my eye out for a nice, unobtrusive pin at craft fairs this winter.
Pattern: Harvest by tincanknits. I made the M/L size, and would make the sleeves a bit bigger next time; I find them a bit snug when worn with a layer underneath. My failed attempts were with the Salal cardigan pattern. I’ve knitted more complicated lace in the past, so I don’t know why it went so badly. If I hadn’t read myriad glowing reviews, I’d just say that it’s a poorly written pattern, but since so many people seem to love it, maybe the way Andi Satterlund writes patterns and the way I understand them are just not compatible.
Yarn: Patons Classic Wool Worsted, 5 balls (with most of the last one left over).
Approximate Cost: $28 for the yarn–3 balls at full price and 2 half-off. If this was math class I’d ask you to calculate the regular price. Show your work, please.
Closing thoughts: A sweater! I’ve worn in twice since completing it and it’s really nice and cozy.
Three weeks ago, I had the good fortune to be in the temperate Emerald Isles, instead of the disgustingly moist heat-trap that is southern Ontario in August. I expected it to be around 12 °C (54 °F) and windy, so I knew I’d need a way of keeping my ears warm.
I’ve knitted the Parisian Twist Headband Ear Warmer before, and it’s great. It’s deceptively simple and knit with worsted wool held double, so I started and finished it on the August long weekend. I intended to use the leftovers from a pair of mittens I made in the fall, but the mittens themselves wound up having to be cannibalized. I’m fine with it; I didn’t love those mittens anyway.
As you can sort of see above, using crinkly frogged wool made that end of the headband a bit crinkly-looking. I wet-blocked it in the hopes of making it wider, and that smoothed it out a bit. Ultimately though, the headband’s purpose is to keep my ears warm and unless someone’s inspecting the back of my head, they aren’t going to notice slight crinkling anyway. I stuck on a wooden button, tucked it in my coat pocket, and headed across the Atlantic.
Ireland was a good vacation spot. I spent about a day and a half in Dublin by myself, then joined a bus tour for five days.
I enjoy bus tours when I’m traveling alone, because even though not everything we do is what I’d choose to do myself, I don’t have to plan it or drive it. Better yet, I wouldn’t have known to try some of the spots we went to–I heard some really good live music in Ennis, joined in on folk dancing in Galway, and visited the Aran Islands.
In a fit of temporary insanity (and some serious FOMO), I decided to bike all 14 km (8.7 mi) from the port to the ancient fort of Dun Aengis and back, despite not having ridden a bike for a good fifteen years. Turns out, you really don’t forget how, even if it doesn’t feel easy or safe and is hell on the buttocks.
I was excited to see some real thatched roofs, since reading about how they’re made in Craeft by Alex Langlands (and watching him and Peter Ginn build one in Tales from the Green Valley). The one below is on a coffee shop in Killarney National Park. A thatched roof can last up to 25 years, just like a tiled roof, if it doesn’t catch fire. That big “if” is why they aren’t particularly common anymore.
The first picture in this post is also from Killarney National Park. It wasn’t on the official itinerary to actually go in, but since there’s also a Killarney National Park in Ontario, I felt I had a duty to see the original! I woke up early on the last day of the tour, walked through the park to Ross Castle, drank a small thermos of tea while enjoying the view, and then hoofed it back to catch the tour bus back to Dublin.
Very quickly, the trip was over. Within two days it felt like it had happened a loooong time ago. Within three days, I was already behind at school–though to be fair this might be because I read the entire Innkeeper series by Ilona Andrews in two of those days…whoops. I’m so glad I went, though. Who wouldn’t want this in their memories?
The prompt for the Historical Sew Monthly in July was “Sleeves.” Initially I had grand plans of making an Ionian chiton and even dove far enough down that rabbit hole that I was reading an archaeological journal article from 1928* to understand ancient Greek fastenings…but it was getting a bit overwhelming, so I turned to the 20th century, instead. I turned exactly to 1921.
Is that even historical? A plain shirt with cut-on sleeves and some gathers at the waist? Yes! Below is a set of instructions for a pattern that you could buy if you were a reader of the Woman’s Home Companion in 1921. As a source, it has several exciting features: an exact year, period-accurate instructions for a home-seamstress, and, conveniently, the actual shape of the pattern piece. Pattern piece–singular–because as advertised, it’s Cut in One Piece.
I also found a Sears catalogue page from around the same year. I liked the blue one on the upper left, and based my own on that.
…please ignore the 21st century laundry basket.
You know, if I walked down the street in 1921, I don’t think anyone would point and shriek at the time-traveling lady.
Of course, this isn’t a totally accurate reproduction. I sketched up a pattern based on my best guess of how it’s supposed to fit; I couldn’t find an extant example. Regarding the embroidery, which is the most obvious difference–I researched hard to justify not doing any. Alas, the style was for large-scale, symmetrical motifs in at least two contrasting colours. Even the Woman’s Home Companion version includes fringe and satin stitch. My double-line of running stitch represents the the most I could handle and still took two full episodes of The Night Manager (special thanks to Olivia Colman for being excellent). I’m thrilled with how crisp it came out, but it has zero historical basis that I could find.
To my credit, though, I sewed the whole shirt by hand. I wanted to practice my hand-sewing, and it was (surprisingly) pleasant, just very slow–those underarm seams are French seams. I don’t see myself doing that again any time soon.
The rayon poplin is a substitute for tricolette, a fabric I’ve never seen; it’s is a drapey knit of rayon or silk. I finished my version with facings and hems instead of bias tape, because hand-sewing rayon bias tape sounds like a shifty, slippery nightmare.
Fabric: 1 m rayon poplin
Approximate Cost: $13.00 CAD ($10 for the fabric, $1 for the embroidery thread, $2 for a box of metal snaps)
What didn’t go well: The sleeves should be about 50% wider at the hem, and the puffs at the waist could less puffy. For some reason, the snaps don’t lie nicely when I wear the shirt, and look like they’re straining even when they’re not. Maybe they’re too heavy? I also managed to cut a slice out under one arm near the seam and had to patch it.
What went well: The embroidery went much better than expected, as did the hand sewing. The facing went in smoothly. I drafted a pattern myself and it worked! Most importantly, I got a new shirt that I plan to wear regularly. Hurrah!
*Kate McK. Elderkin. “Buttons and Their Use on Greek Garments.” American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 32, no. 3, 1928, pp. 333–345. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/497471.
Last month, I decided to sew myself a dress for my end-of-year formal. I talked myself into it, really, promising myself that it wouldn’t be stressful. It would be relaxing! I wasn’t going to spend more than a few hours on it! I definitely wasn’t going to stay up late for it!
In retrospect, it doesn’t sound convincing, but I fell for it hook, line, and sinker.
I decided to make a version of this dress by Chi Chi London. Princess bodice with lace overlay and a gathered skirt? Seems pretty straightforward.
I picked out my pattern, feeling smug about my ability to look past the sample because…well. Look at it.
I even managed to find fabric at a thrift store; a length of polyester crepe-back satin that someone used as a tablecloth. I also bought a lace tablecloth for the overlay. I figured I’d dye the whole thing pale blue or dusty pink so that it wouldn’t look like a wedding dress. This clever and thrifty shopping had me enormously feeling self-satisfied.
Initially, it was all going smoothly. I took extra time to cut everything symmetrically and decided that I wanted a full lace motif over the front bodice. That meant doing applique seams.
Ta-DA! It was all going so well! And here, of course, is where it all started to go very, very badly. See the orange marks on the lace? Generally, I use Crayola markers on fabric; they’re cheap, accessible, and water-soluble. This time, I’d absentmindedly grabbed a highlighter. By the time the bodice was done, I’d already spent something like eight hours with all the careful cutting and hand-sewing so I thought I’d just double check that the marks would come out and…yeah, as it turns out, highlighter’s not water-soluble. At all.
I soaked it overnight with detergent. No change. I tried alcohol hand sanitizer. Nope. Acetone (i.e. nail-polish remover) had a slight effect, but I was still looking at a dress that had a lurid orange frame around my chest. Could I chuck the whole thing in the dye pot and hope for the best? Nope. I had assumed that the tablecloth was polyester, but it seemed to actually be mostly cotton. Polyester and cotton require different kinds of dyes, and accept dye to different degrees. Given all the hand-sewing I’d done (untidily, in polyester thread, on those applique seams) there was a good chance that either the overlay would dye dark but the seams would show as scraggly white, or the thread would dye but the fabric wouldn’t. So I doused the thing in nail polish remover, hoped that it wouldn’t dissolve altogether, and left it for another day.
At this point, it was Monday and the formal was Friday. After even the dry cleaner refused to try anything, I grabbed some Oxi Clean. I misunderstood the instructions and wound up using two cups instead of two scoops of the stuff, but after a day and a half of soaking and a run through the washing machine, the orange was finally pale peach. I dabbed some white fabric paint over the remaining marks and called it good.
Late on Wednesday night (through til early Thursday morning, because I ignored everything I told myself about not staying up late) I used some RIT Dyemore in Kentucky Sky and Frost Gray to dye the remaining crepe-back satin.
Thursday afternoon, I sewed a green floor-length gathered skirt with pockets. I didn’t have enough lace left to make an overlay for the skirt, so I changed my plan to go for something like this instead:
Unfortunately, I looked in the mirror and realized that I had managed to make a perfect fake-Edwardian 1980s bridesmaid’s dress. So, on Thursday at 11:30 pm, I re-cut the skirt into a waistband and a half-circle skirt with another set of pockets. I was in a doggedly stubborn place where I couldn’t give up on the pockets. I couldn’t.
The next day, the waistband and skirt were attached, the zipper was inserted, and I sewed the opening of the upper back shut ( because it was looking droopy). I finished hemming and ironing it and then headed straight over to a friend’s to get ready. The choruses of “You MADE that?!” have never been so sweet.
Pattern: McCall’s M7321. It’s decent, and I’d use it again, but I’d try to raise the armscyes and get the whole thing a bit more fitted.
Fabric: 2 m of polyester crepe-back satin, 1 mid-sized lace tablecloth
Approximate Cost: $40.00 CAD ($12 for the fabric, $12 for the dye, $10 for the pattern, $0.30 for the zipper, and $5 for the thrifted dye pot–though that’ll get reused)
What went well: I got a usable dress! I really like how the lace motif on the front looks. I’m pleased that the sleeves, back, and sides are all symmetrical. It was my first time trying applique seams, and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. And I’m really glad that I stuck with the project and finished it.
What didn’t go well: Highlighter fiasco aside, I think dyeing the fabric was a huge pain. With polyester, you actually have to stir it over the stove for the colour to take. The fit could be better. It wound up costing more than I wanted it to. The lapped zipper is pretty bad.
Closing thoughts: Overall, I’m happy with this project! And it was fun, even though it got a bit crazy in the middle.