Thread Theory

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Mend, don’t toss! Visible mending, up-cycling and fitting.


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After posting about recycled plastic fabric a couple of weeks ago, I was interested to read your many thoughtful comments on the subject of sewing and sustainability.  One of you pointed out that I had not included second hand fabrics within my list of personal preferences when choosing sustainable materials for my sewing projects.  Another person explained that choosing North American cottons (grown and manufactured) over internationally produced natural fibres (such as hemp and linen) is actually a more sustainable option since the environmental impact of transportation is huge.

Thank you for engaging and for encouraging us all to think critically about our fabric choices!

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I think I will continue this line of thought today by talking about mending, upcycling and fitting the second-hand and home-made garments that Matt and I have in our closet.  By mending and altering the garments that are already in our closet, my sewing list and my consumption of new fabrics decreases hugely.  There is a bit of a problem with this approach though…I love planning creative new sewing projects and detest a large mending pile!

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In encourage myself to mend rather than start fresh I have found it necessary to add a creative element to each mending project.  Visible mending is a perfect example of this!  These jeans were bought for Matt from a thrift shop a few years ago and have slowly worked their way through Matt’s hierarchy of denim from “best pair” to “Morgan will complain if I wear these out of the house”.  Their knees and pockets were, until recently, more hole than fabric.  I decided to try my hand at visible mending using sashiko embroidery thread, a scrap of denim from a past hemming project (to fill in the holes), and a Netflix movie.  Once I got the hang of working within the confines of the narrow jean leg it went very quickly.  At first I tried to use an embroidery hoop but actually found it easiest to ditch the hoop and just use my hands to put tension on the fabric while I stitched.
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The finished patch isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I am sure, but Matt really likes how it looks!  There are many styles of visible mending that would suit the aesthetic you want to achieve (tidy, scrappy, minimalist, or artistic).  I’ve included a couple of links at the bottom of this post so you can view the work of two of my favourite visible mending artists and see their skill instead of just rolling your eyes at my first messy attempt!

When I purchased the sashiko supplies for myself I decided to add a few extra skeins and thimbles to my order in case you wanted to try it out too!  I’ve added them to the shop today and you can have a look at what I used below.  Just click on each picture to be sent directly to it in our shop:

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I love the look of white sashiko thread on faded denim but if you have dark indigo denim in need of repair, this navy thread could produce a sophisticated understated mend:

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When sourcing the thread I came across these neat leather Sashiko thimbles.  The thimble sits at the base of the finger and allows you to push the needle through many layers of fabric while creating a running stitch:

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I never quite got the hang of the proper method while repairing Matt’s jeans but I look forward to experimenting further to increase my efficiency!

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I actually mended Matt’s jeans in the late winter and then, after greatly enjoying the process, moved straight on to a pair of second-hand work jeans that I had bought for myself in anticipation of gardening and fence building this summer!  I was drawn to them because they are a very soft and lightweight denim making them comfortable for crawling around in the garden on hot days without dirtying my knees.  Unfortunately though, they were a very impractical style for work pants – their legs were palazzo style (extremely wide)!  So to make these jeans work for me I decided to employ three creative approaches to mending…upcycling, fitting and visible mending.

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I doubt many people would have chosen palazzo jeans over more conservative styles in the thrift store but my ability to sew and my lack of interest in sewing a fresh pair of jeans from scratch led me to buy them second hand and adjust them to my style preference (upcycling).  It took only some chalk marking, pinning and a couple of minutes of sewing to change them into tapered legs.

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I then hemmed them to suit my short legs (fitting) and decided to have some more fun with embroidery thread by adding feathers and sashiko stitching over the intentionally distressed thighs so that they would be less likely to fall apart after hard wear (visible mending).  Having a bit of fun embroidery to look forward to after upcycling and fitting made the earlier steps more enjoyable.

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I love how they turned out!

Here are a few of the tools that I used while upcycling these jeans:

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The Clover Chaco marker has been an essential tool in my sewing kit for many years but I did not add it to the shop until just now because they are so readily available at local fabric stores…it feels strange to add something to the shop that may not be in high demand but I am dead set on my dream that the Thread Theory shop will one day include everything you need for your menswear projects – hard to source tools or otherwise – so I thought it is time to fill this gaping hole in our inventory!

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If you happen to live in an area where no fabric stores are within easy reach or if your fabric shop, for some mysterious reason, does not stock this essential tool, now you can add it to your next Thread Theory order.

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This Jean-a-ma-jig, on the other hand, is a very new addition to my sewing toolbox and has already proven useful for all sorts of menswear and bag making projects!  It is a spacer that you put under your machine foot when you are about to stitch over a thick ridge – it acts like a smooth ramp for your foot to travel up so that your needle does not get caught on the ridge.  It is intended for hemming jeans (it helps you travel over the bulky flat fell inseam) but works great for many other menswear situations involving thick layers.  For example, the Jean-a-ma-jig is useful for stitching over thick wool darts while attaching a welt pocket as you would when sewing the welt pockets on the Belvedere Waistcoat.  It is a very simple tool and yet it is incredibly effective in reducing messy snarls and skipped stitches!

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Lastly, I have added two more thimble types (in addition to the sashiko thimble) to our increasingly vast selection of thimbles.  As I’ve been told by many of you each time I add a new thimble to our shop, the perfect thimble is a very subjective thing!  We already have quite a diverse selection in our inventory but it isn’t yet comprehensive.  This time, I’ve added what is, in my opinion, the perfect embroidery thimble and, in my sewing friend’s opinion, the perfect hand-stitching thimble:

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My ideal thimble while embroidering and visible mending is this leather one – I use the size medium.  My hands manipulate the fabric and re-thread needle so often when embroidering that I find metal thimbles are always slipping off.  The leather thimble stays put and allows for very good grip.  It can be placed on whichever finger needs protection and will mold perfectly to that finger’s shape over time.

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My friend, who likes to hand tie quilts occasionally, prefers to use adhesive thimbles.  She uses a flexible plastic type that offers a moderate level of protection but I was excited to recently find this type which offers more thorough protection – a stainless steel plate with an adhesive back!  The beauty of this sort of thimble is that you can adhere it exactly where you need it and leave the rest of your finger unencumbered.  Depending on your stitching style you may need protection near the tip of your finger or off to the side, this stick-on thimble can be placed accordingly.


In case these tools or my visible mending projects have you inspired to delve further into your examination of sustainable sewing practices, here are two of my favourite websites to get you started!

SashikoMendingSamples by Katrina

Katrina Rodabaugh: Fiber Art. Sustainability. Slow Fashion.

Shoe repair by Tom of Holland

Tom of Holland & The Visible Mending Programme: making and re-making

Do you hate mending?  Love mending? Only mend certain items and rag bin the rest?  I’m so glad I have added a bit of creativity to my mending approach so that I actually enjoy the process now…maybe you will find the same!

14 thoughts on “Mend, don’t toss! Visible mending, up-cycling and fitting.

  1. Pingback: Behind the Scenes: 2017 recap and looking forward | Thread Theory

  2. I do garment alterations and repairs for a living. If I have a pair of jeans or trousers that need attention to the knee, I rip out (usually) the side seam on the jeans and then the leg of the jeans is accessible on the sewing machine. It’s a quick job to just re sew the seam when the repair is done.

  3. What an interesting post.
    My mother always had something that looked like the top of a large mushroom (think portobello size) made out of wood to use for darning. She inherited this tool from my grandmother and had it in two sizes. The purpose of the tool was to insert it into, or under, the item being darned to provide a hard surface to stitch against and to nicely tension the fabric. They made darning so easy, even for a novice. When she moved into a nursing home, these two items were lost and I wish I knew where to find such a thing now as they were very useful. I googled darning tools and found articles on items called darning eggs which are useful for socks but these larger forms that my mother had were really useful for bigger areas. I would love if you could carry these items in your store.

  4. Nice work. Very creative styling. Keep up good work

  5. I so wish I had some denim to mend! Thanks for the inspiration. I just adore the embroidered feathers!

  6. This is a fun and thoughtful article. I’m also not a big fan of mending, but I do like the look of visible mending, so maybe it’s about changing your perspective like you did. The sashiko thimble looks interesting! The leather thimble you added is my favorite and the kind I use. I’m also a fan of the Chaco liner.

  7. I like the look of decorative mending but have never tried Sashiko Embroidry. I need to change that.I do mend but tend to procrastinate . With so many projects that are waiting because of lack of time mean that I resent spending any of it on mending. That being said once I begin it is quite meditative and satisfying. I have up cycled but once again this is something I could improve on . I often joke that I sew because I dislike shopping so much which unfortunately includes second hand shops. I just don’t enjoy the chase as much as the creating. Knowing how to do/ create/ repair the things you utilize daily is a priceless skill, and sadly one that is being lost. I find that I am more eager to mend those items that I value because either I put a lot of effort into making them or they are of a quality that they have lived with us a long time like an old friend. Kudos for bringing this topic forward and highlighting how being creative can make mending a thing again!

    • Ah yes, if you don’t like second hand shops then upcycling would not be the route for you! I hate shopping in new shops but enjoy heading to a second hand shop usually once per season to get two or three things to upcycle or wear as-is for the coming season. Doing this allows me to focus more of my time on sewing menswear and all of the other creative pursuits I enjoy!

  8. I have really enjoyed your past two blog posts. I haven’t historically done much mending, but it’s something that I am interested in now, and I appreciate the links to Tom of Holland and Katrina Rodabaugh.

  9. Had not thought to use sashiko for decorative mending,. That’s a neat idea. When the knees in my jeans start bagging and getting a bit thin I open up a seam at the knee from about 8-9 inches above and below and find some inexpensive cotton ( a plain sturdy quilting cotton works) for a reinforcing patch. I cut the patch on the bias and cut it the same width of the jean front, a bit shorter than the opening, baste it in and then run stitching lines like quilting up and down and back and forth. The bias will give and conform to the existing bagginess and this allows me a few more months of wear. When the jeans finally give up the ghost they usually shred above the patch.

    • Thanks for describing how you patch your jeans! I like the idea of a contrast cotton patch and also of installing it on the bias since many of my jeans are very narrow at the knee. It sounds like a good way to prolong the life of your denim and also to add some interest! The next time I get a hole in the knee I’m going to open up the seam as you suggest and insert a quilted layer featuring sashiko stitching, some thin batting and cotton or scrap denim so that they can operate as knee pads for gardening.

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