A Mending Morning: Set up Your Sewing Basket

I love hand-sewing, and I always have–ever since I was a little girl.  I also love mending.  It makes such good sense, imparts calm, gives you a pleasant sense of accomplishment, and is something nice to do for your family.  That said, it’s been a mystery why, these past few months, the family “to-mend” pile has been growing high while I avoid it like the plague.  Last week Claire said, “Mom, you still haven’t fixed my winter coat, and now it’s almost June.”  It’s true.  There’s a ripped seem under the arm, a cinch to stitch up, but  three months after discovering the tear, the stitches haven’t happened.  Why?  Deciding to break through the mysterious mending ennui and just do it, I pulled out my handsewing box, and I think I discovered the psychological culprit.

The box was a mess.  I couldn’t find anything I wanted, and every time I tried to pick out a needle, or pin, or my beautiful little crane-shaped embroidery scissors, they would be attached to everything else in the box by a multi-colored tangle of thread.  Stressful.  So in the spirit of “tidiness breeds inspiration” I took five minutes and cleaned it up.  Entropy is a physical law, so it is normal that a handsewing box will collect things over time that belong elsewhere:  bobbins for the machine, elastic, bits of ribbon, ends of cloth, and many many spools of thread–all of these have their proper place in the sewing area, but a good mending basket should have just the essentials.  The weirdest thing I found in my cluttered box was this group of five flicker feathers.  Where did they come from? You know it’s time to clean up your basket when pieces of animal start turning up.

The tidy box looks so inviting!  I was actually thrilled when Tom came to me this morning with pants that needed a button. Of course it won’t stay this perfect, but I DO plan to spend a few minutes every month to put it back in good stead.

My sewing basket is a plastic fishing tackle box I got at a yard sale for 25 cents  when I was in college (new with the tags on–no fish-egg slime).  It’s perfect.  It holds an assorment of needles and pins, a few basic thread colors (yes, in our house magenta is a “basic”– and sometimes it’s fun to mend in a contrasting thread color), a tape measure, chalk and a fabric pen for marking, a stash of safety pins, a small collection of buttons (more buttons live in a big button jar by the sewing machine), my good embroidery scissors and fabric shears, snaps and hooks-and-eyes, tape measure, seam ripper, and thimble.

Years ago I was sitting in my great-aunt Irene’s living room in Iowa, both of us with sewing in our laps.  She said, “I don’t know how you sew without a thimble, Lyanda.  If you start, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without one.”  I have tried and tried, but I cannot sew nimbly with a thimble on my finger.  I do, however, use it frequently for pressing needles through thick fabric.

My three favorite things in the box:

1)  The seam ripper.  It’s useful of course, but what I really like is that I’ve had this same little orange plastic seam ripper since my junior high home economics class.  That happens sometimes.

2)  The little crane-shaped embroidery scissors.  They are beautiful and incredibly sharp.  They delight me every time I use them.

3)  My pin cushion.  It was made by my mother when she was a Brownie, and is filled with sawdust that sometimes escapes.

I encourage everyone to make up a little box or jar to keep mending supplies at-the-ready.  You don’t need all the stuff in my box, just a little thread, scissors, pins and needles, all kept in one place–a canning jar or basket or cardboard box.  That’s all it takes to set yourself up for  a lovely, calming,
practical art.  Think of all the things we can save from the out-box with just a little bit of care and thread.

For inspiration and how-to, see my previous Pretty Patching post.  Also Craftzine’s Mending Month recap from a few years back.


  1. Nice post. Mending, for many, is a lost art in North America. I still have a bottle of buttons from my dad’s mom. They have both passed on. Sewing one on a coat or blouse reminds me fondly of them.

  2. The Velvet Bulldog

    I wrote a Facebook post just the other day that mending clothes makes me feel both self-sufficient and poor. Probably because I’m pretty bad at it, so my clothes never really look better when I’m done. They just look like it’s time for me to buy new clothes.

    I have found, however that replacing buttons on something from the “button jar” (does everyone have one of those?) makes me feel pretty good. I’ll take what I can get!

  3. I couldn’t be without my sewing box. I’m forever doing little repairs on things. Like you my seam ripper is one of my handiest tools. For years I had a felt hedgehog pincushion that I made when I was young. My eldest two kids would make patterns of the coloured glass headed pins on him, but the youngest would put all the pins at the mouth end to be teeth! My poor hedgehog finally fell apart recently!

    1. lyanda

      Kort–yes, aren’t they so pretty?

      Nancy–Thanks for sharing. Yes, buttons are magical, somehow, aren’t they? Full of memories, and creativity, and completely irresistible– when we see them in a jar it’s impossible to keep our hands off of them.

      Velvet–it’s true it takes some practice to mend well, so that the clothes actually look good instead of cobbled together. In some circles the cobbled look is “hip,” but usually we want clothes to look like themselves again. It takes practice, but also instruction–it really is hard to figure out how to sew an invisible seem, or darn a hole all by yourself. Mending truly is an art. Next time you pick up your needle, maybe ask a friend with know-how, or consult the Google Oracle–there are countless “how-tos” online, including many videos. Practice on fabric scraps. I pondered doing a basic mending how-to here on the Tangled Nest (and still might), but so many good ones are already out there…Good luck!

      Dana–wow! It’s kind of miraculous, isn’t it? I’ve been trying to think of anything I have, and actually use in my current life, from so long ago. There must be something, but I can’t think of it.

      Stephanie–Yes, seam rippers. What would we do without them? I love your hedgehog pincushion story!

  4. Do you know that pin cushion must be at least 60
    years old. So glad it has such a happy home in your
    mending basket. And I love the fancy heart shaped felt one you made for me.
    Gotta love the seam ripper!

  5. Barb

    I know this is an older post but I was looking for info on sewing boxes and found this. You unexpectedly identified some feathers that I found in Las Vegas while on vacation. A hawk killed and ate a bird near the pool of my hotel. I kept some of the beautiful feathers but never knew the identity of the bird. Thank you for that. Now I just want to know why there was a flicker in the heart of Las Vegas, which to me just seems like a bird wasteland.

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