Even though I found them on the deep discount rack at REI, my Prana cargo pants were quite a splurge. But in the spring of 2008 I was on my way to East Africa for two months, and the pants were so light weight, had a touch of spandex that made them perfect for everything from hiking to yoga, and had that appealing Prana too-hip-for-you styling. I bought them, and it was one of those purchases I never ever regretted.
I wore them almost every single day, exploring Kenya and Tanzania. When we entered a village where the women were required to wear skirts, I simply tied a kanga around my waist, over the pants. In the heat of Africa, where a daypack added a layer of heat and sweat to even the shortest walk, I gained a new respect for my pants’ cargo pockets, which until then I’d though of as an unflattering aesthetic adornment. On short hikes, my pants could hold lunch and water for Claire and me, a notebook, and my big field guide, The Birds of East Africa.
After Africa, I still wore my Pranas several times a week, on all my Pacific Northwest adventures, both urban and natural, and then climbing the ruins of Tulum last spring. So you can imagine my despair when, while hiking in Joshua Tree a couple of weeks ago (in the Pranas, of course), Claire chimed in with, “Hey mama, I can see your undies.” Sho’nuff. There was a hole sprouting on my Prana bum that could no longer be ignored.
Getting rid of the pants was not an option, so when we got home I dug through the scrap bag to find a reasonably thick, but also pretty bit of fabric that would serve as a good patch. I chose a flowered corduroy leftover from a skirt I’d made for Claire last year. I wanted to do something a little playful, so cut the patch in the shape of a pear.
To make an applique patch: draw your design on paper in the size and shape you want, outline this with an extra 1/4 inch, then pin to fabric and cut out your patch. Clip curves, and press the 1/4 inch under. Don’t be lazy like me–take the extra 30 seconds to baste the patch in place, rather than just pinning it. For applique, I usually like to use a blanket stitch, but since this patch would be on my bum, I thought the extra threads from blanket stitch might get caught on things, so just used little slip stitches. I sewed the patch on with two strands of embroidery floss in a contrasting pink, then embroidered a little leaf and stem. If we’re going to bother to repair our clothes, why not have little fun with it?
For more inspiration on clothing reclaimation and whimsy, check out the beautiful new book Sew Liberated, by Meg McElwee . Her emphasis is not on patching per se, but many of her ideas could be applied in the area of clothing repair.
This Christmas, everyone gathered at our house. In a quiet moment, my mother-in-law asked my Grandmother Lyanda, who is 93 years old, to tell her about her life–an open-ended question that left the elder Lyanda a bit confused. But finally she said, “I made all their coats.” They were my mother and her two brothers, my uncles. And my grandma didn’t make their coats out of wool from the store, but out of adult coats that had worn through at the elbows or elsewhere. She took them apart, reclaimed the fabric, and made them into something beautiful and new.
She sewed my coats, too, when I was little, also made over from adult coats. I remember a soft charcoal wool with covered buttons, a blue silk lining, and a fur collar that could snap on and off. She made khaki coveralls for my sister and me, out of her sons’ army clothes. She was a wonderful seamstress. I wonder how we came to this day, where the first impulse when something is a bit worn is to replace it with something new?
What have you creatively rescued? Clothes? Furniture? Fabric? We’d love to hear about it.