Sunday, 5 September 2010

Sewing, mending and making do ~ looking after the good stuff and making things that work

I don't know what I'd do without my sewing machine.  From what I can find out we are roughly the same age, and I must say its youthful performance and longevity are something Bernina and I can both be proud of: they have built a good machine and intended it to last, and I have looked after it well and maintained it carefully over the years.

"Bernina, Bernina, so easy, simple and versatile!"

My machine and I have been working hard lately catching up on a number of long-deferred sewing projects, making some new things and mending others.  

All my mending and scrap fabrics live in labelled bags in the hall cupboard.  Recently when I was struggling to fit more in I realised that everything had got badly congested and something had to be done!  Sorting it became a priority. My resolve stiffened by determination I dragged it all out and into my workroom and emptied everything onto the floor.  What a heap!

But everything was clean, and while some garment were past the point of no return their materials still had good wear in them.  I considered what I wanted to make and picked through them carefully: a slightly stained pillowslip of good stout polyester became a candidate for prototype vacuum cleaner bags; a thick jersey which was completely unwearable looked suitable for hottie covers, as did an old hoodie and a pair of sweat pants; and tassels from old cushions looked perfect for cat toys.  That seemed like a good start.  So it proved to be.  It also proved to be a lot of work.  But so what!  I could have sat and watched tele or something likely to be similarly unrewarding and been none the better for it. 

Vacuum cleaner bags: buying these expensive paper bags gets right on my wick - they have to be one of the most senseless things in the modern world.  I detest paying for them as they simply shouldn't be necessary, and after I bought the last lot I promised myself I'd have a go at making some.  That pillow slip looked just the thing.  I unpicked it, pressed it and measured it carefully.  At the end of a long afternoon spent fussing with measurements, seam placements and pull-cords I had my product: four neat bags, which can easily be emptied into the compost, washed out, dried and re-used - perfect!  And one bonus I didn't expect - the vacuum cleaner actually sucks better - considerably better in fact!  Oh happy days!

Another afternoon was spent contentedly making half a dozen hottie covers.  I mixed and matched different sorts of fabric as I didn't have enough of any one thing, and now have a very characterful family of them.  Sewing on the domes took at least as long as the rest of the job but I listened to a couple of talks on the radio while I did so and am really pleased with the result. 

The cat toys were made in a trice and immediately became the object of pounces, somersaults and races up and down the stairs.

In addition to these creative adventures I mended a number of things that had been languishing there for ages and it was good to get those things useable once more. 

Some days later I sorted through the remaining bits and pieces.   A few garments that were still good which I decided I no longer wanted went into a bag for the local charity shop, others went into a rubbish bag, and the remaining items were folded neatly and re-bagged.  Back  they went into the cupboard.  That was odd: I had taken out a lot of stuff, but somehow the space didn't seem much less crowded.  Oh well, I was happy with what I'd done and the things I was putting away were worth storing, for a while longer anyway.  

I picked up the rubbish bag to take it downstairs.  And put it down again.  Back out came the faded yellow linen trousers I'd loved so much.  That material still had loads of wear in it.  What if...?  Out came my tape measure and my big sharp scissors! 

Some time later, quite a lot later, I became the proud owner of a new linen shopping bag.  I could now finally toss out my old one the handles of which had become so shabby.  It had been made for me by a dear friend but I had to be decisive - I cut the handles off so I couldn't use it again.  I hesitated.  I looked at that rejected bag one more time.  Without the frayed handles there was absolutely nothing wrong with it and the colours did tone well with the yellow...  I looked at what was left of the linen pants, took up my measuring tape and out came the scissors one more time.  An hour or so later I had two 'new' shopping bags - just the thing and so much nicer than bought ones, and every time I pick them up I'm delighted!

I do like to make my own things when I can.  Sewing is a marvellous skill and not difficult.  It's rewarding, thrifty and very practical.  I have to be clear about one point though: people who are creative in making things often have quite a bit of stuff - collections of things that might be useful.  These do take up space.  This can be a challenge and should not be allowed to run unchecked, but it can  be worthwhile: all the things mentioned here were made out of materials that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill.  They were all no longer suited to their original purpose but are exactly right for their new ones.   

In addition to some used garments and lengths of left-over fabric I keep lots of bits and pieces: from those things that do make it to the rubbish I remove anything that might come in handy for something else: buttons, cords, elastic and zips if they're still good, and so on, so when I do need some oddment or other I've often got something that will do. 

Here is a photograph of items indispensable to my efforts: my basket of threads, a pin cushion stocked with plenty of glass-headed pins, a needle case, a tape measure which is usually draped around my neck, a pair of good sharp small scissors, a button jar the contents of which change gradually over time, and an excellent pair of large dress-making shears.  Many things can be accomplished with these simple tools.

Writing this reminded me of a photograph in an old Geographic magazine: it showed a sign propped in the window of a store run by a group of resourceful women.  It read: "Need a helping hand?  Look on the end of your arm."  Touch√©!


Penelope said...

Good work, Leigh, and what a beautiful basket of cottons. I'd wondered if I was the only person to don gloves and extrude the fluffy, mitey, hairy innards from vacuum cleaner bags, so we can re-use. Disgusting and fascinating all at once, I confess.

Leigh said...

Thanks Penelope. Ah, I can think of worse things! A bag with a pull cord that empties easily makes everything much more civilised I can assure you. :-) Those paper bags really were frightful.

Grace Dalley said...

Delightful piece, Leigh. :-)