Waiting for winter to blow away…

Six months between posts? It won’t do… but there you go. I just didn’t feel I had anything interesting to say, but I did have far too much to do, as usual. And here we are, at the end of a cold winter that seems to have ground on and on; my head thinks it’s time to start planting this year’s food, yet my heart misgives me, as another, vastly more talented, writer once put it. Instinct tells me we’re not quite there yet… though the signs of spring are slowly increasing with every passing day. My propagator is full of things that need a long growing season, like tomatoes & chillis, but it’s still too cold to transfer them to my little greenhouse.

All sorts of interesting thoughts have wandered across the wrinkled surfaces of my mind in the last six months; most of them have promptly exited stage left, never to be seen again. (Can you tell we went to the theatre last night?!) Today’s random distractions are the scenes depicted on old Japanese china, some of which has ended up in this household; I’m not in the slightest bit interested in financial value, and these battered old bits probably don’t have any. But what are these guys (and gals) doing? How are they doing it, and why? Are there well-known & familiar stories being depicted on them, or are they just pretty scenes dreamt up in the artist’s imagination? Enquiring minds (well, this one, anyway) wish to know! More images will follow…

Who are these guys? What are they up to? One of three pictures of them on this broken vase.

What else has happened? On the creative front, I’ve made a number of items; from new-bought material this time as I’m struggling to find secondhand stretch fabric that’s sturdy enough for re-making. I was very fed up with not being able to find tops that fitted & suited me, in fabric I liked, so when I found a pattern that had the right neckline, the right mount of simple shaping, and variable length sleeves so a sensible result was actually possible, I leapt into action, visited the fabric shop down West, purchased some good-quality stretch cotton jersey, and have duly made myself two ¾-sleeve tops, and two short-sleeved. Plus three simple nighties that might last longer than a couple of months, cut out round an existing one that fitted well but was long overdue for ragging. Three straightforward vest-tops from the (ample) offcuts; the nighties were cut from the edge or the fold & there was a lot of fabric left in the centre. All the fabrics I used had enough left over to make some more “underthings” too. I’ve started another rag-rug on the twining loom, using up an old favourite duvet cover that had worn very thin. I’m continuing to reduce the mess in my sewing room; I shouldn’t have “rescued” so much stuff when my mother went into her care home two years ago, as I still haven’t managed to sort it all out & move it on!

Padded jacket from old curtain fabric…

I’m currently working on some “visible” mending projects and have made another simple jacket from an old curtain, a cheap throw & a duvet cover. So yes, still busy on the upcycling front, and back trading every now & then.

Embroidered bees hide stains on a beautifully-soft child’s pure wool jumper.

Off now to hunt for some more intriguing scenes from old Japanese china! Here’s one from a lovely necklace created by a friend:

What’s going on here? Are those “prayer flags” hanging from the “washing” line, on their way to Heaven? Is the presumed supplicant asking the probable-scholar to write a prayer for him? And – which volcano is that, erupting in the background?

A stitch in time…

Mending is a thing right now, and that makes me very happy! For a very long time I haven’t wanted to support the fast-fashion industry, partly because of the horrendous level of waste engendered, partly because of the chemicals and processes used, and partly because of their exploitation of desperate workers . Yes, I know, those workers do need to support themselves & their families, but our addiction to cheap “disposable” clothing has forced their employers to push prices, and therefore wages, down to the minimum, and their hours up to the maximum, leading to people becoming economically enslaved & working in dangerous & demeaning situations. There has to be a better way, for all concerned.

I do try to buy well, when I have to buy at all, but I don’t have the kind of money to buy the clothes I’d ethically approve of, and, to be fair, they’re probably not designed for people like me anyway. (What looks good on a 6′ size 6 model drifting through a field of sunlit daisies looks quite silly on a short, round lady of a certain age trudging up a muddy allotment path.) So when I do invest in something I like and that suits me, I want it to last. Especially when I’ve bought it secondhand; chances are I won’t be able to find a replacement easily.

So mending has been part of my way of life for a long time (I grew up in the 60s & 70s, when it was quite mainstream, if not something to be proud of) and I’m beginning to see it not as a chore, but as a creative process. I learnt early in life how to do more-or-less invisible mends, but thanks to those indefatigable engines of creativity, the Japanese, and the public’s growing awareness of our looming environmental predicaments, “visible mends” have caught people’s imaginations lately and have even become saleable. My skills are suddenly in demand, with the added twist that I can start to have some fun with the idea now!

So I thought I’d share the process of retrieving a rather nice polo-necked jumper; not a top-notch “designer” garment, but a respectable make and made from cashmere, a rightly-expensive fibre that I’d struggle to justify buying new for myself. I found this one at the recycling warehouse, for 50p, well-nibbled; one of the main problems with cashmere is that clothes moths simply adore it. (The other is its tendency to shrink & felt if not treated with the utmost respect.) Luckily they’re not good at surviving very low temperatures, so it spent a month in my freezer before being assessed for mending or upcycling; if I’d judged it too hard to mend, it could have become fingerless gloves, or possibly leg-warmers, or any number of smaller, useful items.

Moth-nibbled cashmere jumper

There were lots of holes around the hem, and on one cuff. Apart from that, there were very few holes on the body, arms or neck, just a few tiny nibbles. So I machine-stitched around the ribbing (thank you to my friends on the Fashion-on-the-Ration thread on the MSE forums for the idea!) above the worst of the damage, and cut the lower bits away, then stabilised the few mostly-tiny holes left by stitching all round them with cotton, tightening & tying-off. Both cuffs were stitched & cut off, for symmetry’s sake, even though one had been undamaged.

The worst of the damage cut away

Luckily I had some tiny sample skeins of cashmere in sympathetic colours, so I crocheted round the cut edges (straightforward double-crochet, or single for our American friends, basing each stitch just above the machine-stitched line) in one direction in a lighter blue, then the opposite way in a darker one. The last step was to felt round the edges slightly to bond the different yarns, by dipping them in hot water & soap & rubbing them gently between my fingers for a few minutes. Then it was washed & dried.

A bit more wearable…

I’m going to wear this one myself, mostly underneath other garments, and am perfectly happy that it now has what looks like a little lacy trim!

Just right for trudging up allotment paths!

As a “vintage” market trader, I’ve always mended worthwhile items to sell on, as well as for my own use, and have never considered wearing mended clothes to be a sign of moral deficiency. We have to stop shopping ’til we drop & throwing or giving stuff away after a couple of uses. Instead we need to buy carefully & consciously, and take proper care of what we have, wherever it come from. Part of taking care is mending when necessary, visibly or otherwise. Learning to mend could save you lots of money, or make it possible to buy things of a quality that would otherwise be out of reach. It’s a better use of precious time than endless binge-watching TV, and can even be combined with it once it becomes automatic.

Darned vintage cardi by Susan Duckworth, visibly-patched 5 y.o. Levis & crochet-hemmed Johnstons of Elgin cashmere jumper.

And when things go beyond the point of mend-abilty – upcycle. Felted jumpers make wonderful cushion covers!

A favourite jumper, shrunk & felted way past wearable, makes a cosy cushion…