Mender Be!

1 capris

1t hole in carDo you rush from one new sewing project to the next while turning your back on an ever growing pile of not-quite-wearable items that could be put right in an hour or so?  Do bits of your children’s uniforms go missing at school because you can’t be bothered to sew on name tapes  – it’s too boring?  And has your husband been asking for months when you’re going to stitch up that hole in the car flooring which you gouged out driving in killer heels?!

Ok, so that last one is a bit specific 🙂 but if the above ring true, then  you’re like me.  When you could be like Lesley, who first fixes something from the unglamorous pile.   In ‘Mending is Good for the Psyche’, Lesley says: the mending can be anything big or small, sometimes the thing I mend is very quick, it depends on how much time I have, but I feel justified in moving on to other more exciting projects having completed my ‘work’.  How sensible is that, not to mention virtuous!  I’m thinking of adopting Lesley’s strategy though it’ll take some discipline.

Here’s a quick embellishment project in which I mended a situation.  Last year, I bought some Primark jeans and I’ve been looking at them ever since.  Initially attracted by their colour and cheapness, I tried them on in the changing room and they seemed to adequately cover my backside – a rare treat in low-rise skinnies.  Unfortunately, within minutes of putting them on for wearing (i.e. walking and sitting down, rather than standing in a changing room) the fabric, which is a cotton and polyester mix with 1% Lycra, would stretch and stretch turning the jeans saggy and turning my mood instantly to drab.  It seemed cruel to pass them on to a charity shop for some other schmuck to buy, thinking she’d grabbed herself a bargain, so I eventually pressed them flat inside out and sewed 1cm into the outer seam, from the hip rivet to just below the knee.  So now they fit better, like slightly wrinkly running tights, but with spring in the air, I no longer needed tight jeans.  I needed something frivolous and summery, like these jeans cut into capris that I spotted on Pinterest (click on pic for tutorial): 1 original plan

I planned on using leather instead of bias binding (I hear you’re getting sick of my ever-giving bundle of leather.  Me too!).  Unfortunately – and I wonder how I didn’t foresee this – leather straps when folded like bias strips end up really thick and don’t tie so well…  So then I thought I’d do a button trick recently pulled by  Tialys, so I cut the ties, closed the keyhole and covered up raw edges with two buttons.  This looked well cute but now the leg openings were so tight around my calves, we had to call an ambulance!  1 Warts and all

Once I was cut free, the capris were shorter still, but I remade the keyholes further up and used straight 3cm leather ribbons as ties.

I just about got away with it.  I think!

 1 Side capris

The tutorial

– The optimal hem length for capris is below the widest part of your calf muscle.  For me, this would mean an inside leg length of 54.5cm (but my final version is above the calf muscle, on account of things going wrong…). Never cut at the widest part of the leg.

– This is a straight-forward hemming with bias binding procedure without finesse; you probably don’t need a tute at all, but if you’re a beginner and something’s not clear, just ask!

– To make denim bias binding for the keyhole, I used the leg cut offs.  I had to join two pieces to have sufficient length of binding for each keyhole.

– For the topstitching in the final step, I used tough upholstery thread and a new (sharp) leather needle.

– This would look charming with 3cm double-sided strips made of patterned lawn/poplin  or denim on the reverse.

Ok, here we go:

4cm denim bias binding made of cut offs

Step 1: make 1cm bias binding out of 4cm strips. Length required = length of keyhole plus 2cm, more if you can spare. One for each leg!

Draw a keyhole shape on bottom side seam.  Try on the jeans.  If the keyhole stretches too much, redraw.  Stich along line to staystich then cut close to the stitching line.

Step 2: Hem jeans to desired length *not shown, sorry * Draw a keyhole shape on bottom of side seam. Try on the jeans. If the keyhole stretches too wide once your jeans are on, redraw. Stich along line to staystich then cut close to the stitching line.

1 strips of leather or ribbon 3cm by 19cm approx

Step 3: Prepare strips or ribbons, 2 for each leg. These are leather: 3cm by 19cm each. Fabric strips can be shorter as the knots will be less thick.

1 pin leather with bias binding to keyhole

Step 4 a): Pin right side leather to right side garment. Pin bias binding to the wrong side, 1cm folded under

1 wrong side

Step 4 b); view on wrong side. Stitch along 1cm line. Before reaching opposite end of keyhole, arrange second leather strip right sides together as in Step 4 a) and fold bias strip under 1cm then stitch to end.

1 rightside, pinned for topstitching

Step 5: on right side, pin and topstitch the bias binding. Fold strips/ribbons back over the keyhole and topstitch. Use contrasting thread if you like.

1 leather ribbon capri embellishment detail

Finished: a bit rough-hewn but quick and effective.

I’ve another hardly worn pair of jeans – flares from Boden, in fact — that I’d like to restyle.  If you have any nice ideas, let me know!

Mao Top and Jodhpurs Jimjams

After borrowing Akiko Mano’s book from a friend, I bought the French edition Jolies Tenues Pour Fillettes Coquettes.  Although my French is basic, I’m finding the book easier to use than the original because I can type any unknown phrase into Google Translate and it comes up with the English equivalent.

Well usually.  Not always.  I did freak out when “…rabattre les marges de couture vers le col…” came out of my magic interpreting machine as “fold the seam allowances toward the cervix.”   😯

But mostly it does work.  I wish I’d used it before cutting my fabric, as half-way through the project, I discovered two facts which you’ll need to know if you too can’t resist sewing from this beautiful book (but don’t actually speak the language it’s in): 

 1.  The patterns do not come with seam allowances: you’re supposed to add them….  🙄  Well I never.  This explains why the neckline and the armholes on the Bubble Dress seemed so wide! 

2.  The sizes at the top of each page of instructions are finished garment  measurements, not body measurement (see below for how I found this out :oops:).  To determine the size you require, go the page 35 (in the French book) or check here:

Size in   cm
Height 100 110 120 130
Chest size 54 58 62 66
Waist size 49 51 53 56
Hip size 57 60 63 68
Length of sleeve 33 36 40 43
Head circumference 51 51 52 53

A Note on the Fabric Used

I love good-quality shirting fabric – which isn’t cheap – so I’m reluctant to throw away DH’s work shirts just because they’re worn at the collar and cuffs.  Instead, I keep them till I have enough to sew something for my daughter.  When she was a toddler, I’d make her Betty Draper-style dresses with voluminous skirts.  

These pyjamas are made from 3 shirts, two shown above, and one plain blue.  Can you see where the released back darts of the shirt are visible on the back legs of the jodhpurs? 

If you have other ideas for how to upcycle small pieces of (usually striped) crisp cotton, please share here.  By the time I next have a shirt stash, DD will be too tall for everything but bloomers!

Pattern C: Jodhpurs-Style Trousers

These trousers are comfortable.  They can be worn all year round.  Choose colour and fabric that most suit you.”

Difficulty Rating: Advanced Beginners.  These are quick to make, though you might like previous experience of making buttonholes.  The cuff construction diagrams are minimalist but adequate.  If you’d like more pictures of the cuff-making process, see below.

Sizing: I went for height 130.  I mistakenly used the finished garment measurement to pick a hip size.  Yup, I learn by mistakes.  This has made the trousers narrower than they should be though they fit fine.

Modifications: I substituted the corded waistband with an elasticated one – it makes getting changed so much quicker.

Constructing the Jodhpurs Cuffs: a pictorial supplement!

Starter kit: all the pieces you need (8), interfaced and with the inside leg seam (entrejambe!) sewn then pressed open.  The bottom row is the facing (the inside of cuffs).  I’ve pressed in to mark the buttonhole area.  The facing has been pressed under along the top seam as in the instructions.  I’ve flipped the bottom right piece over to show the reverse.

With right sides together, pin cuff to finished trouser leg.  Pin from buttonhole marker to the seam allowance edge (1cm) on the opposite side.

Stitch.  This is what it should look like when done:

With right sides together, pin cuff facing to the cuff: pin from the buttonhole flap downwards then along the bottom seam then up the opposite side.  Leave the pressed edge on top unpinned.

Stitch then trim seam.

Turn right side out and handstitch the pressed edge of the facing to the inside of the trousers (or you can topstitch: it’s quicker).  It might be wise to have a fitting at this point and see whether the cuffs are going to be on the tight side or too wide.  You can then decide where to place the  buttonholes.

Pattern H: Chairman Mao Blouse

Would this blouse design be inspired by the famous Chairman Mao who stalks this blog, seen here sleeping on calico and pattern paper?

No, not him


This blouse can be worn over other clothes.  It is better to choose classic colours.  The centre seam construction makes it easy to sew.”

Did  you see that?  No buttons!  Not even the setting in of sleeves!  I dare say you could make this for a boy too, and  – the real Chairman Mao would surely agree – it would be a very practical, day-wear top, or substitute for a school uniform where your school doesn’t have one. 

The Centre Front Seam

Remember to cut a 4cm seam allowance for the centre seam.  You then sew it wrong sides together, press open and press under the last 1cm of the SAs. Sew this down then sew rows of parallel stitching (which I didn’t do as they wouldn’t have showed up on my stripy fabric).  Add cute detail!

Easy Sleeves

Sew shoulder seam, lay shirt open and pin gathered sleeve to it, right sides together.  Sew.

Finally, sew the side seams all in one.

Difficulty Rating: Beginners welcome!

I look forward to making this in linen next year.