Tent stitch tutorial

Once upon a time, I was a Girl Guide. It was so long ago, that I was a Girl Guide who camped out in the bush under canvas. Yes, in tents made of cotton canvas, and held up with guy ropes made of natural fibres that did not have cleats and required some sophisticated knot tying, to be adjusted into a nice taut surface. In tents that were not waterproof, so that they needed to be taut, and to have a separate (taut) canvas fly also held up with actual rope, to help keep the water off, and a nice trench dug around them to redirect rain if rain fell. In tents that did not have floors sewn into them. In that time, long ago and far away, I learned how to mend tents with hand stitches, and the kind of mending we most often did was to repair rips in the canvas that needed to have their edges drawn together. The canvas was so stout that I don’t remember the kind of wear that creates a bigger hole.

Maybe someone can set me right about the name of the stitch I learned to achieve this: I have always called it tent stitch, probably because that is what my Guider called it!

Example 1: crotch tear in jeans, right along the line of the seam. I have used tent stitch to pull the edges of the tear together tidily so the patch I sewed on inside in the next stage of this mend will not yell out its presence. The wearer of these jeans doesn’t want attention drawn to this part of himself, any more than I would.

This stitch has many uses. I most often use it these days to pull together the edges of tears where there is no real amount of fabric missing, or hardly any “hole”. The fabric is still all there, it’s just that it has been torn in some way. Three corner tears can be repaired this way. Jeans that have torn along a seam can be repaired in this way. I like to start with tent stitch if I want a tear repaired to minimise its visibility, even if I will also apply a patch on the inside for strength. Using this stitch means the fabric is returned to something approximating its previous shape and pattern.

Example 2: this is a wheat bag made of corduroy that has begun to split along the wales and leak wheat. I’ve used tent stitch to mend it in sashiko thread. It’s just late night hasty mending really but it makes the stitch a lot more visible.

How to: begin with your torn fabric.

This is perfect (looks like someone cut it!!): the fabric is basically intact–but there is a tear there that needs the edges brought together to be repaired.

Choose your thread. Thread needs to be strong enough for the job, but not so strong that it will pull through your fabric. I remember mending a sarong that had been hanging on a wall from some map pins. One pin tore through, creating a three corner tear which I repaired with machine sewing thread to match the weight and colour of the fabric.

Here, on medium weight cotton drill, trying to make what I am doing obvious, I’m using sashiko thread (quite thick cotton thread). In the jeans above, 2 strands of embroidery thread, allowing for a strong but colour matched mend.

Knot the end of your thread, and pull it up through the fabric to the right side, beside the end of the tear. You can even “make believe” that the tear is a bit longer and do some reinforcing stitches that extend past the end of the tear, if the fabric needs reinforcing.

Push your needle up to the right side, and then slip it in through the tear to the wrong side. Push it up through to the right side again.

That’s basically all there is to it. Keep going. The needle comes up through the fabric on the right side, on one side of the tear. Then down through the tear and up to the right side again, on the other side of the tear. To spread the load on your mend, alternate between a long stitch and a short stitch (optional but fun). If you want to make this very neat, draw or tack two lines on each side of the tear and parallel to it, and use them as guides for where to push your needle up on the right side each time. I turn the work each time.

You can make it decorative by creating a shape with your stitches. It doesn’t have to be a rectangle (sort of) like this one–you could create an oval or a leaf shape, for example. Just draw the outline on the fabric, or tack it on and use as a guide for your stitches.

Tips for success: as you put your needle in through the tear, shuffle the previous stitch up against its neighbours. Keep the stitches close together for a neat, effective mend. Keep an eye on your tension. Too tight and you will have a permanent pucker in your fabric. Too loose and the edges will not be pulled together, when pulling them together was the whole point.

Finishing off: once you reach the end of the tear, take at least one stitch where you put the needle through the fabric beyond the end of the tear, so that you can tie off on the wrong side and the knot will not pull through. Congratulations! That’s tent stitch!


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So much mending…

Mending ebbs and flows in this household, and I think it tends to flow when the seasons change. It’s because instead of mending when things are put away at the end of a season (as I no doubt should), I tend to pull them out as I want them and find that they need mending. This winter, this blanket finally got a nice new edge, complete with leaf and bud prints. It has waited several years, but now it’s done.

Then there is the woollen singlet mending. I’m addressing a combination of wear and moth damage, I believe. Some places, I darn.

Others require a patch. This one on the inside.

And of course, there is more than one garment requiring mending. Some of them I started mending in wild mismatched colours. This one, I usually mend with whatever is left on a needle in my needle book. I counted, and there are now upwards of 30 mends on it. No, I haven’t figured out when I’ll stop!

And of course, there are random buttons that need to be sewn on, and mends that are so depressing I didn’t photograph them. In fact, the garment in that last picture accompanied me to a lovely Zoom event that was all about textile art. Clearly the fact that I was sewing was observed and some folks wanted to see what I was doing. I was just too embarrassed to show my very worn, very much mended, undergarment (even on Zoom)! I’ve been through a few old posts and found this singlet being mended in July last year, and already overdyed and being darned in many colours in 2016, and in its original colour with three different coloured darns in 2015, and its first darns in 2014. The one above appears here, mended, in 2015. Well, that’s a reality check on how long I’ve been mending them, and how likely it is that I am now mending wear rather than insect damage. *Cough*!

Then there was the garden glove mending. Waxed linen thread is my preferred option.

The dodgy back pocket mend on one of my pairs of gardening jeans…

Then I decided that I’d wear this top more if it was slightly longer. So I took out the hem and substituted some leftover quilt binding, so that the total length of the garment is slightly greater.

And–more mending on the leg of my gardening jeans. You can see I’ve overlapped the new patch with the old one, and added stitching to secure the overlap.

And then, there’s touching up the quilt where some patches have pulled apart, and stopping the wheat bag from leaking. And… you get the picture!

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Preserve me!

The lilly pillies in the local park called to me. I made them into lilly pilly jelly. Then a friend needed help with their mandarin crop, and we are both in the fruit fly zone (there are strict restrictions on moving fruit). I made it into marmalade at her house. 29 jars of it! I had to do a bicycle mercy mission around the neighbourhood to find more jars. And then I scored the very last of the cucumber crop when the plants were pulled up at our friends’ market garden. A few more jars of pickles resulted from that too…

Happy times in the kitchen, and so much sharing to be done! And here is a small ode to the local lilly pilly, in the local park at sunset.

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Pedestrian making

My sweetheart’s last round of pyjamas grew so worn that they had to go to rags and compost. So I made two new pairs. Nothing can make a pair of PJs into an exciting image. The only thing less exciting is the three pairs of running shorts I have made myself. They are made from black knit that has come to me from other stashes and a garage sale. They are boring and black. They use elastic with a channel through the centre, with a drawstring. I bought a bag of it at an op shop at least 20 years ago and I am still using it. There is nothing romantic about these items, but they are very much used in this household. I think they are super important. They are comfort items that do the job they are designed for. They get washed and worn and washed and worn.

I copied a pattern from my previous running shorts to create the new ones. I bought the first round of running shorts of my life as “a runner” and had to buy men’s shorts to get something made of cotton and involving no lycra. I do indeed stand out a bit, especially at yoga. I wore them to rags. Then I bought the same shorts again, only to find, once I got home, that they were now made of cotton and polyester. That’s it. Never again. I’ve worn them to rags and I intend to cut them into strips and include them in a cushion stuffing to keep them from landfill. I won’t buy more, and that is why I have made a series of three myself. But there are no exciting pictures of the other pair of pyjamas, and no pictures of any of the running shorts. So here is a cute caterpillar!


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Socks forever!

It wouldn’t be right, life without a sock in progress travelling along with me.

These are merino lamb handspun legs in the “whimsical cable” zone; with a sturdy hard wearing handspun foot + sole (the breed of this yarn escapes me though). I’m using up all the ends of skeins in the handspun sock yarn stash, which led to the heel and toe peeping out like sunshine…

And for those who enjoy them, here are details. They have gone to a dear friend who has sent pictures of these, on her snug warm feet!

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Catching up

So much has happened since I did some regular posting, dear reader. This image was the view at winter solstice as our friends walked in the deep dark, with the children carrying hand made lanterns. For me, winter is very often a season of mending. This year was certainly no different.

I also got some “commissions” (cue cackling laughter!) this one is a dog nappy, which arrived with the request I make it larger to fit the incontinent dog in question. Yes, the orange is the expansion!

There was a week with a nappy theme! These came to me for velcro replacement, in preparation for a very much anticipated bub in my circle of friends. My gratitude to Joyce for supplying the velcro. I bet her children had cloth nappies with nappy pins!

The garden jeans got yet another patch.

One of my beautiful silky merino tops sprouted holes. M*ths, I’m looking at you and your hungry babies.

Then there are the gardening gloves. This is just the start. Or perhaps not even the start… there has been another round of finger tip mending since this one!

And…that could be enough mending for one post! Here is a gratuitous image from Black Hill National Park.


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Virtual Mending Circle–Join us!

In the lead up to the upcoming #stitchitdontditchit mending action outside H & M on 14 September from 12-2 pm (see previous post), Extinction Rebellion SA are running a virtual mending circle online: Friday 3 September 7-8.30 ACST; 7.30-9.00 AEST.

Folks who planned to join this action in Melbourne, are in lockdown right now. So this event is part regenerative mending and socialising opportunity, part lockdown love and solidarity. Bring your mending/craft, bring your beverage of choice and find out about #stitchitdontditchit. Mending help will also be available! All ages, all genders, all levels of mending skill welcome.

If that sounds like fun, send me a message and I’ll send you the login details for the Zoom call. It will be fun!

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Mending event in Rundle Mall coming soon!

Greetings, dear friends. I hope that you are able to keep sight of all that is good in your life and in the world, at this time of suffering for so many.

This is a little date claimer for folks who are local to me. Covid restrictions permitting, we will be gathering in Rundle Mall outside H & M (the second biggest producer of clothing in the world), for some socially distanced public mending on 14 September.

Image: The leg of a mended pair of jeans, on a beautiful coloured rug.

In 2018, the average person in the USA bought 68 items of clothing every year. As long ago as 2015, a British study found that the average garment in that country would be worn 7 times before being thrown away. The sheer volume of textile waste is overwhelming: “Australians discard an average of 31 kilos of textiles per person annually, at a national rate of 15 tonnes of textile waste every ten minutes” according to the Federal government.

There is so much to be concerned about in the story of fast fashion: the conditions and pay of garment workers range from exploitative to lethal. The environmental impact of textile waste (without even discussing manufacture) are offloaded from countries like Australia onto countries with much less wealth. For example: there was a recent Foreign Correspondent episode about the toxic outcomes of Australian textile waste in Ghana.

The extremely awesome Sweet Honey in the Rock were raising the consciousness of folks such as myself on these issues, back in the 1980s, in song. Check it out!

Image: A gardening glove in need of a mend, photographed on the blue lid of a rubbish bin.

And of course, every kind of waste impacts on the climate crisis. Fossil fuels are embodied in many synthetic fibres–which one of my friends has long called “petrochemical by-product” and which I now refer to in my own rude way as “plastic s***”. Energy is required to grow and process or manufacture the fibres from which clothing is made. Energy is required to turn the fibres into cloth and to make buttons, zippers and such. More is required to turn them into clothing. The energy involved in the transportation of raw fibres, and then cloth, and then clothing, and then textile waste–it all adds up, and especially when each step is done in a different part of the world. And of course, this is only a partial accounting of the costs of our clothing. If you want to know more about the climate cost of fast fashion, I recommend the Climate Council’s explainer.

Image: Well worn, stained old jeans being mended yet again.

And so, to mending! And mending in public. I doubt you need an explanation of the connection, if you are reading this blog. If you are able to join us, please do come along to #stitchitdontditchit in Rundle Mall on 14 September. We will be there from 12-2. Come along, bring a folding chair if you can (and a spare one if you can). This event will be Covid compliant, so bring your mask and wear it, check in when you arrive and we warmly welcome you. Bring your mending. Someone will help you, if you are a beginner. All ages, genders, and skill levels are welcome. We will be participating in a global event. If you are on Instagram, you can follow @streetstitching and/or #stitchitdontditchit. You can follow me as well if you like! @localandbespoke.

Image: A person mending in Rundle Mall, seated on a folding chair with a #stitchitdontditchit banner hanging from the back of the chair.


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Mending Circle

Dear and patient readers, this is a message for those of you who live locally.

Next week I will be running a Mending Circle at Fabrik, on August 19, from 1-4. Fabrik is a glorious arts space in the heritage buildings where the famous Onkaparinga wool blankets were once made. This event will be a chance to hang out and hand mend in fine company. You can learn new skills, share your existing skills, and revel in the joy of extending the life of your favourite items. I’d love to see you there if you are able to come. You can book a ticket here.

It doesn’t matter whether you want to learn to darn a sock (or the elbow of your jumper); or how to extend the life of a collar that has work through on your shirt that has worn into holes (as above)… we can work through a variety of techniques. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a skilled mender who has a big pile and would really like company; or a beginner who really wants some assistance. Both will be on offer. Everyone can go at their own pace. The fine folks at Fabrik are creating a lovely environment for us and I’ll be bringing mending kits for you to take home, each in its own little tin or box, and each containing upcycled treasures from those who have gone before us (and left their button collections and excess embroidery floss as evidence)!
You can try visible or not-so-visible methods (and enjoy seeing other folks choose the other path).

By all means bring your fine merino knits. Or your jeans. A singlet. Or a slipper. Even your gardening gloves. Do bring anything you think might help your treasures come back into use (patching, leftover wool, needles, thread or a button that matches). Now more than ever is a good time to extend the life of the things you own and use, and prevent them going to waste. And besides, it will be a joy. I’ll bring examples of my mending, good and bad, simple + functional or whimsical + time consuming. All mending is good mending in my book. I’d love to see you there.


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Sedge planting

There has been quite a bit of sedge planting. These are going into the banks of the local creek, Willa Willa. Here, the day myself and a friend planted what you can see in my bike trailer, as well as the sedges my friend had propagated. We were joined by a local person who came across us guerilla gardening on his bike route, and stopped for a chat. He was keen to join us, so we got in touch and he came over to plant and weed.

On another day, I went to the same spot with my daughter and granddaughter. They brought a picnic and I brought along a bee motel in process and some more sedges to plant.

Here is my load heading out. I also had parcels for the grandbub to open! The hat, and a jumper that’s about to pop out of that package… This was a moment when I realised that I was wearing #memendedMay but she was wearing #memadeMay (pants, jumper and hat all made by yours truly).

Anyway… we found bamboo and other plants suitable for the bee motel. My daughter and I pulled rubbish from the creek. And the grandbub and I planted the sedges with glee.

Eventually the fun was over and I headed home again.

Here are my before and after pictures of another trip over to plant… and litter pick.

I’m happy to say that a lot of the sedges we planted last year are still there. Some are now a decent size, and others are established enough not to be washed away should winter bring us more rain. It’s promising.


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