Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Cashmere Mending: Patchwork, Sashiko, and a Bit of Play

 A week or two ago I posted this image on Instagram: a patch I'd sashiko'd over a hole in a cashmere sweater, and I had a request to explain the process here on the blog. (Oh, and I should explain the terminology, as I understand it. Sashiko is the stitching technique, and Bora is the use of it to mend and the overall process, and perhaps also a philosophy, of mending garments, re-using fabric, right down to the last scraps.)

Given that I've only taken one class in sashiko, I'm mostly going to direct you elsewhere for specific instructions and materials, but the gist is pretty straightforward for anyone who can wield scissors, thread, and needle.

Before taking that class with my daughter back in May, I'd seen and been intrigued by many examples of the technique used to mend denim, and I'd studied posts such as this one and this one, which take you step by step through the process (and should you need more inspiration, Holy Pinterest, Batman!

But I hadn't really envisioned being able to mend sweaters -- knit rather than woven garments -- this way until our instructor suggested the possibility.  I tried it first with a moth-ravaged cashmere (Bompard, sigh. . . ) cardigan. Nothing to lose, after all, with holes chomped all over, so I just set to with my sashiko needle and thread and I played. . . .

 I had an old purple cashmere scarf that had similarly been enjoyed by creepy-crawlies and I used that as a source for patches. There's no intention, with bora mending, to hide the patch itself. This is nothing like "invisible mending," but rather there's an appreciation for what emerges, over time and use, through wear, through life even, through process. . . . That gave me all kinds of permission, right?
 I simply cut a patch from the cashmere scarf, of the shape and size I wanted. I didn't worry about hemming, as the scarf had been washed a few times; the edges of the patch won't likely fray. And then I simply threaded my sashiko needle with sashiko thread and had some fun. Truly, for a sweater-mending project, I would use regular embroidery needle and floss, and I'm probably going to try some embroidery with sock yarn (a fine, wool yarn). You might worry about the floss colour running or about whether whichever thread or yarn you use responds differently to washing than the cashmere fabric of your sweater -- But personally I always hand-wash my cashmere and block it carefully to dry, so I'm not concerned. . . And, after all, the sweater was already lost to those dastardly moths anyway. . .
But back to the exterior patch on the grey sweater. This one really hurt, not only because I only bought the sweater (Bompard again) in Paris three or four years ago -- it's practically new! -- but also because I can't blame the moths for the damage -- this hole was ripped by my belt buckle!
 I'd accepted the demotion of the pullover from Simple Polished to Relaxed-Sloppy, but now I saw that it might get bumped up at least to Boho-Street, something Lisa's Sturdy Gal might wear gardening or running to pick up milk, but that her Artsy Cousin might throw atop a gorgeous long skirt or velvet palazzo pants for a gallery opening. . . .Yeah, that last might be a stretch, but I can dream, right?
I'm still dreaming, actually. Dreaming about words I might embroider up one side of the neckline's V, perhaps. . . . And will I, or won't I, add another patch (or two) to blanace the odd placement of this one? I've been contemplating for weeks this brilliant idea for upscaling a thrifted sweater, and I have a canvas to work on now, a cashmere canvas or two. Um, thank you moths?

Any of you tried any sashiko or bora mending? Or just the kind of mending our mothers or grandmothers taught us? At least, mine did -- did yours as well? Would you wear something that's visibly mended or would you be uncomfortable with the attention that might draw? (There are class implications here as well, aren't there?  It's a luxury for me really, to be able to flaunt a visibly mended garment in a way that my grandmother could never have enjoyed, poverty too constant a threat in the first half of her life. . . . And some of you had mothers and grandmothers who never needed to mend, who could afford to have someone else do that for them.) And, of course, some of us are simply not interested in any needlework, whether practical or creative, nor do we have the time, especially since garments can be so affordably replaced these days. . .

You know the drill: Comments below, or questions, welcome, as always. 

27 comments:

  1. There is something beautiful in visible Sashiko mending-not only visual but deeply philosophical and emotional,a very Konmari Thank you to the piece of clothes. I'll maybe make it bigger (like those you've made on beige sweater-lovely!)
    We have learned to stich and mend in primary school (ordinary things).
    There are some things I love and I'm not ready to part with them after some accident or other (moths are not in this category,I'm too afraid)-so I'll make alterations (myself or go to the seamstress),try some embroidery-if it can't be totaly invisible than I'll accentuate it :-)
    Dottoressa

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    1. I love the idea of mending being important enough to include in an elementary school curriculum. I suspect many children now have no idea how to stitch a button back on -- and, of course, they grow into adults who lack such a basic skill. .. .

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  2. Oh, I love this! Somehow patching the wear balances the uncomfortable expense of the purchase. I hope I'd be the arty cousin wearing it, but who knows. That little heart is so evocative, having fallen down from its rightful place, like the last fall leaf.

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    1. Yes, it does balance the cost of a purchase -- and perhaps also justifies/honours that cost.
      I'm treasuring this perspective of yours, the heart as fallen, leaf-like, and I'm thinking how I might follow up on it . . . thank you.

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  3. When I entered my local library for the first time after retiring, I went to the handicraft and needlework section, just to indulge in some wild projects. When I saw two books on sashiko, I remembered your post and took them home and was hooked. Now I am in the middle of upcycling a navy sweatshirt which has some permanent stains I hope to cover up with all-over free-style sashiko.
    At school I learned to put patches on sheets, but I never put that into practice and I do not think I ever will. I also learned to darn socks, and I do when the socks are hand knit. I might go for some more exciting colours in my darning yarn in the future.
    As for your sweater, I can see it with some more patches of different shapes, scattered all over, and perhaps stitched with yarn of various colours.
    Or, more subdued, three or four more hearts next to the first one, like a little heap.
    I'd love to embroider my own statement shirts or sweaters, but I do not trust myself with letters.

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    1. It's such a fun technique, isn't it, and yes, it's also perfect for covering stains. Thank so much for that idea of more heart patches, tumbled in a little heap. I might use this. . .

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  4. Had to darn my socks as a kid for economic reasons so will give up something else before wearing darned socks. But for years I patched "rockin" jeans, the ones worn by my husband as he made kilometres of stone walls around our farm. As these had to be durable, I used my Bernina and colourful threads to create webs and diagonals of stiches to hold the patches underneath, never trying to hide the fact that they were repairs. Somehow, on heavy manual labour jeans, these felt whimsical, just right.

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    1. Yes, me too, so I will, like Eleonore, darn hand-knit socks but not others.
      I love that image of P's "rockin" jeans and I wonder who, in the years since, has been thrilled to discover them in a thrift store. . . .

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  5. Thank you so much for such a detailed post Frances.Echoing what Dottoressa had to say ... It really is beautiful ..making your sweater look quite unique. I really appreciate you taking the time to explain this. It's certainly inspired me to look at how I can work with what I have to make my cardigan wearable again ...very sad to say the moth nibbled at it before I actually wore it! I have had a favourite sweater "invisibly" repaired before but I really like the idea of doing something that maybe enhances it, making it more individual ..
    Thanks again!
    Rosie .... loveswitzerlandsnow

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    1. You're very welcome, Rose -- and thanks for your interest. How horrid of the moth larvae to nibble even bore you had a chance to wear your sweater. I hope you have fun mending it now. . . .

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  6. That little purple heart cheered me up the first time I saw it, and again just now. Believe it or not, I love to mend. Find it so relaxing.
    A.in London

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    1. I'm not sure I could ever say I love to mend, but there's something very satisfying about being able to do so. . .

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  7. I like the whole thing.....the concept, the yarn and patch selection, the darning and then the enjoying of the new look!

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    1. Yes, I love that it's process and product both, if that makes sense. . .

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  8. That looks like a fun way to fix holes. I've noticed a few around the neck of my cashmere cardigan. Your little patch would appeal to my younger students. Do you know the Phoebe Gilman story, Something from Nothing. I like the idea of mending.
    My nana taught me to darn when I was a Brownie.

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    1. I didn't know that story, but I just found a synopsis of it -- delightful notion, and now I'll have to get the book from the library to read to the grands...

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  9. I am amazed that you so often address an issue in my life with a creative solution - I hope soon to open that drawer containing the beautiful, moth-eaten sweaters that my daughter gave me, which I have not had the heart to throw out, and see what I can do with them using your technique! Thank you.

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    1. I'll be curious to hear what you do with those sweaters now.

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  10. I like this approach. I wish I'd read the post earlier as just this week I threw three merino wool sweaters with holes into the washer on hot to felt them. I plan to make mittens for the grands as Christmas gifts.

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    1. I know what you mean! I was excited about how well this worked, and asked my husband for his cashmere sweater that had a few little mothholes -- I would happily have adopted it as a creatively mended boyfriend sweater. Turns out he'd given it away in the Thrift Shop Bag months earlier -- someone creative will surely be sporting it now. . . Your mittens sound like a very good repurposing, upcycling project -- I bet the grands will love them.

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  11. Saw your lovely 'repurposed' jumper with mending heart on Instagram and am very taken with this useful post. ( will check your Sashiko references, but mostly I appreciate the permission to stitch in a wonky fashion !!
    My craft skills are more on the enthusiastic than accomplished spectrum , but I quite enjoyed darning.
    Maybe because I am too impatient to do big projects so the micro sewing and making a weave to darn a hole appeals to me.
    I have a few moth chewed favourites - a black cashmere 'comfort' hoodie that is more daylight than cashmere, so I might use that as a first project.
    I also have a treasured cardigan that was my late fathers , and I am pleased to see that this year cardigans are very on trend - so that may also be open for repurposing.
    on catch up with my blog faves - and trying to keep some momentum with writing, but I feel connected via Instagram, and hope all well with you.

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    1. Permission to be wonky is always good, right?
      A comfort hoodie would be the perfect project for some sashiko mending. I don't think that the patches need to be made of cashmere, either, although I think it's best if they come from something knit rather than woven.
      I love the idea of mending and wearing your father's cardigan, so meaningful.

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  12. There is a gallery in Stinson Beach,CA that sells "recycled"--I think from thrift stores cashmere sweaters with holes. The artist has not tried to mend the wholes, but whip stitched the edges with contrasting colored yarn, then stitching flower petals, so the whole is the center of the flower. They are adorable--and over $200!

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    1. what a wonderful idea! Good for that artist/artisan, keeping garments out of landfill. . .

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  13. oops,I mean "holes," of course--not "wholes"

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  14. Very creative indeed! I would have bought the grey jumper with the purple heart patch if I'd seen it in a shop. I have patched jeans, and in my adolescence in the 1970s, used floral fabric which was very 'of the moment'. I sort of learned to sew and knit at school and hated both, but did have a self-motivated phase of patchwork in my late teens. If I had wanted to I would have had good sewing skills through the school curriculum. Now that's not the case. My mother's generation learned to do ferocious hand sewing - I have her samplers with all sorts of fancy stitches, buttonhole stitches etc, and she was an ace darner. Coming from a poor fishing family darning and hemming, also altering, were essential skills. The men in the family could all knit, because they knitted their sea stockings and jerseys when they were away on fishing voyages. I will still darn socks and gloves, and it irks me that my darning is not very skilful! As far as comfort level wearing something that was visibly mended, if it was for everyday wear I wouldn't give a hoot.

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    1. What a great heritage, not so very far back! My mother-in-law's father knit as well, in the evenings, just to keep his kids in warm socks (a single dad for a few years before re-marrying). My mom was a good darner as well, and taught me how but I'm not sure how comfortable my stitches felt underneath my dad's foot, poor man. . . .

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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