Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Simple sewing

I am no sewer - sewist - seamstress? - what name do you talented people that turn yards of flat fabric into useful objects go by? I have failed many a time when I picked up a needle and thread - catastrophically so if it involved a sewing machine too - and so have not generally bothered, apart from to affix the odd button. You may remember that I gave away most of the vast aspirational stash of notions that I had accrued over the years, when it finally sunk in that I would probably not be picking up needle and thread for a very long time, if ever again.

Well, times are a'changing again. I wrote over at The Co-op of my desire to be a better stitcher. Being able to cut and sew 'waste' fabric together is one frugal and green skill that is worth its weight in gold. I think this might also be a case of pregnancy hormones affecting my brain again - I keep seeing pretty sundresses and hats everywhere and thinking (probably somewhat over-optimistically) 'I could make that...'.

Patchwork has always appealed to me precisely because it was traditionally all about creating useful items from meagre scraps at a time when fabric was expensive and waste wasn't seen as beneficial to the economy. In more recent years it has been turned into an art form - fabric being bought, cut and patched together to to fulfill a preconceived design. The results are usually beautiful, but it is the roots of the craft that appeal to me, rather than the potential for artistic greatness. So as not to ruin my chances of successfully completing something, I am starting out really simply with a stack of old jeans. Really simply:

1) Wash the jeans and cut along the seams so that you have nice flat long swathes of fabric to use - the legs. Iron said swathes.

2) Cut out a square template of the desired size from an empty cereal box and reinforce the edges with sellotape. Be happy that your Other-Half has taken to eating prepacked sugared-cardboard breakfast cereal again instead of nice wholesome-but-minimally-packaged oats.

3) Lay the template on to the fabric, lining up the edge of the square with the grain of the fabric as best as you can, avoiding the worst of the tears, paint and mud stains. Draw around the template using one of your child's (sharpened) colouring pencils in a nice contrasting visible colour.

4) Cut out the square leaving a 5mm seam allowance around the edge.

 5) Place two squares, right (unmarked) sides facing each other, and pin together at the corners, ensuring that the pin passes through the marked corner points of both squares to align them. Add a pin in the middle of the line for good luck, again ensuring that it passes through both marked sewing lines. Sew together along the pencil line with a crude running stitch which will improve with each attempt.

6) Repeat with a third square along opposite edge to form strips of patches 3 squares in length.

7) Iron  the strips so that the seam allowances lie flat all in the same direction. Stand back and be impressed they are even vaguely straight.

8) Pin the strips together in the same manner as for individual squares, ensuring the corners and marked lines match up. Sew the strips together into blocks and iron once again.

9) Stand back and be disproportionately proud of your slightly lumpy skewiff handiwork.

10) Work out what use you are going to put them to. I am thinking a rugged picnic blanket eventually, perhaps with some embroidered motifs, though I will need a lot more denim than the four pairs of jeans I have gathered. This could be a WIP for several years.

So far I have four blocks and have been too busy to cut any more patches this week. I think I will cut all of the fabric in one go so I have patches on hand in my spare moments. I have realized just how much I like denim - the faded, nubby surface of worn denim is quite beautiful, yet it doesn't appear anywhere in our house bar the wardrobe. It still has years of life left in it, albeit in a new form. The squares actually only take a few minutes to pin and sew each, much much quicker than I was expecting - and even when I made a mistake, each length is so short, it wasn't too much of a chore to unpick and resew. The strips can be stacked up and ironed in batches when the mood strikes. In short, a perfect pick up and put down project, which is good as my crafting time is about to get even shorter and fragmented.

So, what are you all working on at the moment? Feel free to leave a link if you have blogged about it - I enjoy being nosy looking for inspiration : )


  1. I am delving in the world of patchwork quilting! These are my fabrics... I wanted preloved/ vintage/ reclaimed fabrics, but couldn't find anything suitable. I figured if I chose my fabrics carefully & picked 'classics' then at least this throw rug for the lounge area would last a really long time... making up for it?! I've enjoyed cutting my fabric out using a template and couldn't wait to cut them all out before I started placing them in patterns to create my 'design'!!


    Good luck!

  2. I have STACKS of old jeans that I have saved for this exact purpose! It's one of my many "someday" projects. Your progress so far looks great! I know what you mean about the look of worn denim, I love it too :)

  3. I love the fabrics Dixiebelle, such lovely reds! Will you be hand sewing or machine piecing it? And what shape will the patches be? Hope you will post pictures when it's done?

    Stephanie - just do it! :) No, seriously, it always is a case of finding the time isn't it? It is easy to pick up and put down.

  4. Hi, I have actually cut denim jeans up and incorporated them into quilt squares. The result was quite nice. I like the fact that you're making a picnic blanket. That sounds quite practical. My friends have also used old jeans to create draft stoppers (I live in the Midwest in the US and it gets very cold here!).

  5. Heartland Frugalista, thanks for stopping by. Draught stoppers are also on my list - certainly not as cold here, but still breezy! I have some old pillowcases I am going to use. I also thought a picnic blanket could be a sturdy sofa cover or car seat blanket for most of the year, solving the storage problem.

  6. By email, from Sadge over at Firesign Farm. Thank you!

    "I can't seem to post a comment on your denim post on your blog. This is what I was trying to say:

    I made a patchwork cover for my breakfast nook cushions, using a strip patching method: stitch long strips of denim together side by side, then cut that across to make strips of squares, then stitch those strips back together flipping every other one around the other way. Photo here: http://firesignfarm.blogspot.com/2009/11/crafty-camouflage.html

    Here's an easy one: http://simple-green-frugal-co-op.blogspot.com/2008/11/bring-back-draft-dodger.html

    And not denim, but a good beginner project: http://simple-green-frugal-co-op.blogspot.com/2009/11/make-pillowcase-apron.html

    And when you get a bit more confident, a jeans skirt isn't too difficult: http://simple-green-frugal-co-op.blogspot.com/2010/07/make-jeans-s "