I used to sew a lot as a youngster. I wasn't brilliant at it, too slapdash, and school needlework was a nightmare; a 'waist petticoat' consisting of a rectangle of white poplin with one French seam (what? Who'd want to be bothered with a thing like that, seaming twice when once would do fine... Come to that who the hell wants a poplin waist petticoat anyway?) and elastic round the top took me all of a school year, since the (possibly clinically insane) needlework teacher sent me back to unpick it time and again until it was frayed with wear, grey with fingermarks and brown with rust from the pins. However, I really did learn to sew at my mother's and my sisters' knees, it was a source of enjoyment and challenge, and if making something myself was an option I'd usually give it a try; bras and jeans could never quite match the bought versions for fit, but most other things could be attempted, and in those days home made really was often cheaper, especially when you had a mother whose idea of a good Saturday afternoon out was market stalls selling fabrics.
Nowadays though, I've come to realise that sewing isn't really a great pleasure for me any more; it seems to be one of the many things I'm letting go with relief and without regret*. I will make the odd curtain or cushion cover or other item for the house if called for, but I don't really enjoy it that much, and getting the machine out feels like a chore, it's strictly about the product not the process. I have a small pile of interesting fabrics, for which I had a few plans, but lately I became aware that looking at them made me feel tired and weighed down and guilty. The awareness came to me because of the difference between that feeling and the one engendered by the prospect of my stash of knitting wool, which is always one of exciting possibility and tingling in the fingers at the projects it represents, even though they may not ever come to fruition.
However, there is one area where I regard a bit of sewing quite cheerfully, and that's in the area of mending. I know a lot of more gifted and serious needlepersons regard mending as a dreary horror, but I'm genuinely quite happy to do it, and always have been, in fact. A patch represents a manageable morsel of sewing for me, and darning a rather charming little symbiotic flowering of weaving or embroidery. The work brings the item back into commission, but its existence isn't dependent on it. And more recently I've become quite taken with the possibilities of more creative mending, using it to embellish and make things unique. It helps of course that I now live in such a way that eccentrically mended and tatterdemalion clothing can be worn as no one much sees it anyway. Though I've always been rather drawn to motley; there used to be an urban tribe of dreadlocked anarcho-feminists who hung out somewhere in north London when I lived in the city in the eighties who wore jeans and leather jackets entirely composed of shreds and patches, and I often looked at them rather enviously. I doubt that I would have qualified to join, my half-hearted reading of Bakunin and Malatesta and occasional purchase of 'Green Anarchist' weekly (their recipe for chickpeas with apricots was a blow-out, green anarchists must have had hearty appetites) probably wouldn't have been enough.
Anyway, here are some examples. Tom's favourite Black Watch M&S shirt, worn at the collar then torn on the sleeve on a nail, I really actually no kidding turned the collar! I have never before done this, it looked a bit odd and I had to stitch it down a bit or it stuck up but it's wearable. Then I patched the tear with a piece of green cloth table napkin someone gave me, and I decided we were never going to use leaf green cloth table napkins:
Whimsically I made it leaf shaped. And I was very pleased with my patience because I didn't tell him but put it away in the wardrobe at the end of the summer so he didn't find it done till he got it out in the spring (it's a quite thin cotton shirt).
I decided I liked the leaf motif, so when I found I had spilled something nasty on my old plummy-browny-purply yoga pants which caused a kind of stained and wrinkled splodge, I used it again:
We both wear rather a lot of polar fleece. Sometimes I feel a bit conflicted about this, it's rather nasty cheap synthetic stuff really, and contrary to some belief is almost never made from recycled plastic water bottles. It is however lighter than wool and warmer than cotton, doesn't itch, comes in nice colours, is economical and dries from the wash in the blink of an eye. If it ever scorches, though, which is an occupational hazard with a wood fire, or even from leaning over the stove, it melts in an instant, which was what happened to this purple one, of which I really was very fond because it's a very good colour.
Oh, and another thing about it is it doesn't felt, unlike wool. I have a number of old felted sweaters in my piles of stuff, and sometimes I chop them up with a view to doing something creative with them. So I made a big pocket from the bottom of one and used it to cover up the scorch mark, and as it didn't have a pocket this was quite useful. Then I put more whimsical leaves on the elbows which were a bit thin and worn, and some other totally unnecessary bits in other places too.
At this point it becomes clear how much dark reddish, brownish and purplish clothes we have in our wardrobes. Like my best linen trousers, which I thought I took good care of but then splashed some bleach on them through the laundry basket. The resulting white spot had to be covered up. Spiders' webs inspired the repair this time.
They're really redder than the above one, the camera tends to a bluish cast, this one's more like:
I still don't mind wearing them for best, it's quite a small mend and doesn't stand out.
Sometimes mending and knitting can be comined, Tom's old Shetland jumper, which has been in his life longer than I have, went through at the elbows, so I knitted some elbow patches:
In fact the jumper's so thin now that I think it may not really have been worth the effort, but not to worry.
I like this red and purple stripe so much that I started knitting myself a hat with the same wool, but then I needed the needles for something else.
There are quite a few other half-completed mending projects in the bag: woolly walking socks with soles cut from felted sweaters waiting to be slippers, other old sweaters with their sleeves cut off to be made into waistcoats, the sleeves perhaps into boot toppers. They may not all get finished, and it's all quite unnecessary, inexpensive and perfectly adequate new clothes can be bought, but it's fun, and satisfying, and no one else has got them.
*Many of these - drawing, painting, writing poems... - are quite possibly just on hold, and I'll come back to them later, for the moment I simply don't feel I need to be doing them.