Today we present another article in our non-fiction writing contest – by Diana R. Smith
At work the other day, I noticed my co-worker’s uniform pants were separating at the seam. Fortunately, not in an embarrassing spot. When I commented that I could mend them if he wanted me too, he casually replied “Nah. I’ll just go to Wal-Mart and get some more.”
This attitude about clothing has become common. Hardly anyone mends, hems, alters or patches clothing anymore. Not even me, and I’m a seamstress. We are a throwaway society.
However, if the S ever truly did HTF, it is my belief we may last only a few years before we’re all running around naked unless we learn to maintain our clothing again.
I know how. My parents both grew up in the Depression. I knew from an early age how to darn a sock, sew on a button or patch, turn a hem or close a seam. Even my Dad sewed, often mending his own clothing.
I had originally thought of this article as post-scenario clothing maintenance, but seriously, there are some things we can do now to keep our clothing intact and get into the swing of things.
One, is that we can keep our clothes clean. The fibers in material are fragile by themselves. Leaving substances on them that can be abrasive or caustic can wear on those fibers and cause them to wear thin or break. It can be hard to totally clean some things—especially for those people who work hard, dirty jobs all day. Many of my husband’s old shirts still smell like oil and grime, or carry the stains of cement, paint and industrial substances. We don’t need to clean things everyday if they aren’t that bad, but just doing so will extend their life and our continued usage of them.
Another is to keep them hemmed. This is a constant struggle in our house because we are both short. The fashion industry has somehow decided that all women are 5’9″ and all men are 6′. This results in many, if not most, people wearing pants that are inches too long. Then we tread on them, trip over them, tear them, fray out the bottom and wonder why they look bad.
Another thing is to keep them mended. When we notice a hole developing in the knee, or in the back regions by the pocket, it is far easier to darn a small hole than patch a large one. Seams are better if they are caught and reinforced before they rip out all the way down the leg or provide us with some embarrassing air conditioning. It is better to catch a button while we can still see where it goes, or before we lose it and have to replace it with a white button among all the blue ones.
The same things go for socks, coats, shirts, gloves and hats. Also underwear. If we can keep our clothing clean and in good repair before the SHTF, it will still be there for us, and last us through some troubling times. It doesn’t matter if its just a personal SHTF moment or the big one.
Post-scenario, life gets a little more interesting. For one, (and I am using a severe scenario here, just for discussion purposes), we won’t be able to just run down the road to the store to go get new clothes or shoes, or even a needle and thread.
Cleanliness becomes even more important at this time. In order to maintain the health of you and your family, keeping things clean is the first line of defense. Some of us may be lucky enough to have acquired manual washing machines. The rest of us may be beating clothing on rocks, which I actually don’t recommend. The abrasiveness of rocks and scrubbing boards was notorious for wearing cloth thin back before washing machines. Far better to use a large tub and find someway to agitate the clothing in the water. Some may balk at this idea of using so much water just for clothing, but remember, the gray water can then be used on plants when you are through.
One method of agitation can be done by mounting a barrel or bucket on a pivot of some type, closing the lid, then manually moving it back and forth for about 15 minutes. Another method is to use a washing plunger such as those used for handwashing woolen or silk garments. A servicable plunger can be made by taking the smaller bathroom plungers (new and clean, of course) drilling 4-6 quarter-inch holes in the top and plunging up and down on the clothes in a large tub. Move the clothes about periodically so they can all have a turn. The only use of a rock that is actually beneficial was shown to me by an old Korean gentleman who owned a motel I worked at. Nasty stains of a questionable nature were first soaked in stain removers, then spread out on a rock and the edge of a credit card used to gently scrape away at the stain. Our fingers didn’t touch it, and the stain usually left. For this purpose, a washing rock may be very effective, and there is still a use for all those old credit cards and driver’s licenses that will no longer have a purpose.
With laundry, hot water brings a sterilizing power. Underwear, sheets, babies diapers and towels should be sterilized. Bleach is useful, but if you run out, hot water is one option. Sunlight is the other. Sunlight breaks down many proteins and amino acids. Many mothers used to hang their cloth diapers in the sunlight for an hour or two to sterilize and deodorize them. Sunlight also fades cloth, though, so I wouldn’t keep your regular clothing out for any longer than necessary.
Let’s talk mending now. For some folks, this sounds like too much work, but if you can catch things while they’re small, it’s not so bad. And, let’s face it—after stuff happens, you’ll have time to mend things, especially during the winter months and when it’s storming or night falls at 4:30.
Some folks think hemming a pair of pants is hard work, and it can be if you don’t have a lot of hand strength to pull a needle through heavy material. This is why I recommend a pair of needle-nosed pliers in the sewing kit, along with a small piece of 1×4 wood. The butt of the needle can be pressed against the wood to force it up through the material, and the pliers pull it the rest of the way through. Strong button thread or quilting thread is what I like to use on pants.
A good way to tell the proper length of a pant is to find where it touches the floor when the pants are worn with the top of them at the person’s waist (actual waist, guys, not the fantasy waist that lets your unders show.) This is where they should be trimmed off. The material you cut off can be saved to use for patches if you need them later on.
Turn the leg up half an inch, and then again and pin in place. Use a double thread in your needle, and tie a knot in the end. I find it easier to start with the knot near the seam. Sew from the inside of the pant leg. Catch a few threads of the cloth of the pant, then the edge of the folded-over part, then back to the cloth, etc., back and forth about 3/8ths inch apart until you get all the way around. Tie a knot in whatever way you can to end it and secure it and it is done.
Hemming shirts is done the same way, but you can use finer thread and a slimmer needle. To find the proper length of a long sleeve, extend your arm out before you. Mark the spot where your wrist bone is. That is where you will fold it under, so you must trim it below that point by about an inch. This doesn’t work on cuffed shirts. It is useful for suit coats and other coats that have a plain edge on them, though.
If the needle and thread seem to be too much to deal with, there are some very usable seam glues and hemming glues to be found in most sewing stores. It acts like a super glue, almost, but is for clothing. Actual superglue is caustic to the fibers. Elmer’s won’t stay in. Haven’t tried Gorilla glue, but it isn’t flexible after it dries.
Mending holes is another thing that can seem frustrating. A friend of mine announced to me that she intended to just have a large selection of iron-on patches available to make it easy. I asked her where she was going to plug her iron in for power. She just stared at me. It hadn’t occurred to her that the iron wouldn’t work without electricity. This is why darning them closed when they are small is preferable.
Darning and patching should be done with the clothing clean, unless you are afraid the hole will fray open too badly during the washing process. Sometimes a running stay-stitch around the edges of the hole will prevent further fraying. Patches should be of a similar material, similar in age to the item being patched, as weaker material may not hold, and heavier material may pucker. Also, newer material hasn’t been shrunk in the laundry, so when the item is washed again, it may pull and pucker at the stitches.
There are darning threads available on the market, and several colors may be found. These are a cotton blend, non-mercerized (not smoothed) and come in four strands. Generally, work is done with all four strands and a heavier needle, though it can be separated into 2 and 2 strands to use for lighter material. In the absence of darning thread, several strands of regular thread will do. In a make-do situation such as the world may find itself in, any thread/yarn/string will do.
My grandmother always sewed around the outside edge of the hole in a running stitch before darning. If this is a sock, hat, glove, etc, and you don’t have an old fashioned darning ball, something hard and slightly rounded should be placed inside for you arrange the hole upon as you darn it. Lightbulbs, cue balls, even a wooden cooking spoon will work (the handle will work for the fingers of a glove, too). The reason for using this is that it will help the darned area lay flat. If this is a sock, you will understand how important it is to be walking on a flat spot! All stitching is done from the outside.
I usually don’t knot the end of my darning thread, but after the first few passes of the thread over the hole, I tie one in it. The work lays flatter that way.
Starting on one side of the hole, a quarter inch from the edge, put your needle in underneath and bring it up.
Take the thread across the hole to the opposite side, and from underneath, a quarter-inch from the edge, bring your thread up on that side. Do not pull tight. Leave this thread as long as it needs to be to cover the hole.
Return to the first side and repeat, each time, bringing the thread up from underneath near to the last stitch on that side until your threads go across the entire hole.
Turn your work a quarter turn and begin to weave the thread under, over, under, over each set of four strands until you get to the other side, again, bringing your needle up from underneath to the top.
Criss-cross your work until the hole is covered by the newly woven patch. Anchor your thread and breath a sigh of relief. You have just darned a hole!
There are limits to how much a darned hole can cover. After a certain point, a patch must be used. As with darning, the hole must be laid flat. Sometimes I have used a hard-cover book, a board or even a plastic pencil case underneath.
Trim the hole of any long threads or frayed areas. Measure the width and length of the hole and add about an inch all the way around. Part of this will be turned under to keep the patch itself from fraying, and part is to overlap the edges of the hole so there is sturdy material for catching the thread. Be sure to measure past where the material may be too thin to take a stitch.
People like to do patches in different ways. Some people like to place them inside, so as much of the original material shows on the outside as possible. This is probably the best way to do it for nicer clothing, as you can trim and turn the edge of the frayed material so that it looks nice but is still secured to the patch from both sides.
For work clothes, however, it is better to have the patch on the outside. First of all, it’s easier to tack down. Second, it protects what’s left of the original material from further wear and tear from outside, and keeps it from being caught on boards, brambles, equipment, etc.
Once the patch is turned under at the edges and pinned in place, use a strong needle and either heavy button thread or two strands of sewing thread to tack the patch down. Stitches should be no farther than a quarter-inch apart, and for finer material, a little closer is good. Remember, your stitching will have to take on part of the work load of this material, so you want it to be strong and even.
Even if you’ve never sewn before, it isn’t a difficult skill. Many people state “I have no patience for it.” but if you need to do it, here are a few ideas to remember.
1) Never be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes in sewing do happen. I have caught other parts of the garment in hemming, or sewing on a button myself. The great thing is, most mistakes can be undone and things turn out fine. Don’t let this possibility make you nervous about sewing.
2) Take your time. Unless you need something patched in a hurry, let yourself take the time you need to do the deed. If you must hurry, and find yourself taking bigger stitches, come back later and reinforce those stitches with better ones.
3) If it’s getting on your nerves, walk away, do something else, and come back to it. Even if all you can make yourself do is sit down to do an inch at a time, it will still be done.
Clothing maintenance and mending is a never-ending task. It may be hard to get in the swing of it now, especially when we can simply replace something torn or faded, but it is a necessary habit for when the SHTF. It will be important to keep our clothing usable for as long as necessary, until we can discover ways to replace that clothing.
For those of us who already know how to sew garments, I would challenge you to put together a “go-kit” just for practicing this craft. For the rest, a simple sewing kit in your BOB should keep you clothed until you can get somewhere. Until then, keep your clothes in as good a repair as you can. It will safe you money (for more preps!) in the short run, and may save embarrassment in the long run.
Prizes For This Round Include: (Ends July 29, 2016)
- Gift certificate for $150 off of Handgun Ammo courtesy of Lucky Gunner.
- WonderMill Electric Grain Mill courtesy of WonderMill.
- 72 Hour 1 Person Kit courtesy of Augason Farms
- WaterBoy Well Bucket and Tripod Kit courtesy of Well WaterBoy Products
- 72 Hour 1 Person Kit courtesy of Augason Farms
- MRE-Star Case of 12 Complete MRE Meals.
- LifeStraw Portable Water Filter.
- One can of Yoders Fully Cooked Canned Bacon
- One Jumbo Roll Toilet Paper / Toilet Tissue – 2000′ all courtesy of CampingSurvival.com.
- Five Great Lakes Gelatin Collagen Hydrolysate 16 oz – Beef Kosher courtesy of LPC Survival.
- Ebook copy of The Prepper’s Guide to Surviving TEOTWAWKI.
- Ebook Copy of The Prepared Prepper’s Cookbook.
Please read the rules that are listed below BEFORE emailing me your entry… my email address can be found here – please include “writing contest entry” in the subject line.
The more original and helpful your article is, the deeply and less basic it is, the better the chance, that I will publish it, and you will win. Only non-fiction how-to-do-it type articles, please.
- The Prepper’s Guide to Surviving the End of the World, as We Know It: Gear, Skills, and Related Know-How
- The Prepared Prepper’s Cookbook: Over 170 Pages of Food Storage Tips, and Recipes From Preppers All Over America!
- Dirt-Cheap Survival Retreat: One Man’s Solution
- 31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness