We all have items lurking in our wardrobe that we don’t wear any more, but can’t bear to throw away. Cardigans with a frayed cuff, a tear in the fabric of a favourite dress or a hole in the elbow of our snuggliest jumper. Instead of letting these much loved items languish in your wardrobe why not try revamping them? With a little imagination and some basic crochet skills we can easily give our wardrobes a new lease of life.
Enterprising crocheters may already be familiar with extending the life of handmade garments for babies and toddlers by adding a decorative frill to lengthen a dress or jumper. This was fairly common in my childhood, and a habit I continued with my own daughter’s wardrobe. A strategically placed piece of crochet applique can hide all manner of stains and fabric mishaps – and patches are no longer the preserve of 1970’s denim – think of a floral embellishment to cover a rip as a “woolly tattoo” or a badge of honour awarded to your favourite jumper for years of faithful service. It may surprise you to know, that for some time it has been possible to buy “Clothes Plasters”, beautiful embroidered patches, designed to cover up holes, rips and stains in the most attractive way. In fact, it was coming across a display of these in a store which prompted me to pick up my crochet hook and make my own repairs.
While we’re used to crochet motifs embellishing our clothes, “visible mending” or the art of the decorative repair is less well known and I think it’s high time we began to think about celebrating those “battle scars” (the stains, the tears, the worn fabric) and putting a little effort into extending the life of our favourite garments There is a growing fashion movement which rejects the “fast fashion” of the high street, preferring instead to search out second hand, vintage or “preloved” clothes and alter them for modern figures and lifestyles. Once you begin to see the possibilities to revamp, repair or refresh a preloved garment with crochet you will begin to see stains and tears as an opportunity rather than a misfortune. And you’ll be in good company. The much admired textile artist Tom van Deijnen (known as “Tom of Holland”) has been championing the old and the imperfect for some time and his Visible Mending Programme has inspired many of us to see our wardrobes in a new light. He certainly reminded me that shop bought clothes deserve just as much care and attention as the ones we make for ourselves.
Just as the Japanese art of Kintsugi makes a virtue of cracks and flaws in pottery by infilling with gold and precious metal , a creative mend or patch enhances the original garment and tells the story of how it has been worn and loved. Once you begin to consider repair as a way to extend the life of your clothes, the mends, darns and patches become opportunities to personalise your wardrobe and each “fix” simply adds another detail. A patch can add a splash of colour, an embroidered flower turns a hand me down scarf into a brand new item for a younger child, while a darned sock reflects the pride taken in making the original pair.
The projects shown here are garments from my own wardrobe, none of which I made myself. Nonetheless, they are much loved and I definitely consider them “wardrobe staples”. The cotton tunic which I wore so often the fabric began to fade and perish was no longer fit to be seen in public, yet I was loathe to throw it away. Instead I chose a few complementary colours of 4 ply yarn and hooked up some simple flowers. I’ll admit that it took longer to sew them on than it did to crochet them, but an evening spent hand stitching has been well rewarded. The tunic now has a new lease of life. It is often admired and has sparked many conversations. Yes, it has to be hand washed, as I fear the patches may fade or shrink in the wash, but that is no real hardship for those of us who are used to handwashing our crochet or hand knits.
The possibilities for embellishment and decoration are endless and only limited by the time you have available. They are also lessons in thrift and ingenuity. The elbow patch pictured here was made using tiny scraps of yarn left over from a previous commission. Too small for anything else, these “ball ends” would most likely have been thrown away, so their reinvention as a floral elbow patch also rescued them from landfill.
The cardigan may look like a deliberate act of crochet enhancement, but it hides a frayed cuff. Now, instead of being a cosy “comfort garment” picked up for a couple of pounds in a charity shop, it has been promoted to “going out” wear. I am tempted to add more buttons, more floral patches to the front and around the collar and each time I open my button tin I see more opportunities for enhancement. These days I look twice at clothes with small flaws, seeing a chance to get creative without the effort of making a whole new garment from scratch or spending and afternoon searching for a replacement on the high street.
The simple projects here should be seen as inspiration, use them as a starting point to revive your own wardrobe and a chance to reveal your personality. Invest some time in creating a woolly tattoo or a crochet plaster – you’ll be in good company – and you’ll have a truly unique item of clothing.
This feature was first published in Issue 74 of Inside Crochet, photos by Kristen Mavric are reproduced with permission of Tailor made Publishing
I used two simple flower motifs, sew them together to make a larger patch or sew individually to cover those pesky holes in t shirts.
Flower One (written in UK crochet terms):
Motif is made in a spiral with right side facing. At the end of Rnd 1 do not turn or make ch, simply continue with next Rnd.
Make 6ch, join with a sl st to first ch to make a ring.
Rnd 1: 10dc into ring, sl st into first dc.
Rnd 2: 5tr in next dc (sl st in next dc, 5tr in next dc) 4 times, finish with a sl st into same place as sl st on Rnd 1. Fasten off yarn.
Weave in yarn tails and press lightly if desired before stitching to fabric.
Flower Two (used to make the elbow patch):
Make 6ch, join with a sl st to first ch to make a ring.
Rnd 1: (3ch, tr cl into ring, 3ch, sl st into ring) 5 times. Fasten off leaving a long tail. Weave in beginning tail.
Sew 9 flowers together to make each patch (following photo as a guide to placement), using yarn tails to join each flower. Sew to sleeves of sweater using matching thread.
Read this blog post from Dottie Angel on her love of the woolly tattoo and admire beautiful examples of her work
Tom van Deijnen holds regular workshops and writes about the art of the visible mend on his website, where you can also view examples of his work.