Friday, August 14, 2009

Too Special to Throw Away

“Happy are they that can hear their detractions and put them to mending.” -Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing

My mother saved stuff -- zippers, buttons, pockets cut out of trousers and even some of my baby clothes. She gave the baby clothes to me when I got married. I couldn’t put them on Eric and Joe, so I saved them and when Val was born, she wore a few of the things. I loved putting her in the little flannel jacket my mother had made and embroidered. She wore my flannel-lined pink corduroy coat her first winter.

When Valerie discovered that she is expecting a girl, I looked in my cedar chest to see what I might have saved for her. We found the dress and bonnet my friend Courtney brought to the hospital for Valerie to wear home. Courtney insisted that Valerie could not wear the yellow pajamas I had packed for the baby and so she ran out to Woodies (an old Annapolis department store- dependable as sunrise and sorely missed) where she bought a little white dress with a pink ribbon trim and a bonnet to match. How right Courtney was-- how generous and thoughtful! The tenderness and awe I felt when I tied the bonnet’s bow beneath her chin is with me every time I see Val today.

We also found a lovely pink sweater and cap.

Don't you love the collar? The top part (yoke) of the sweater is a different kind of knit, closer and made to fit. Then it blouses out below the yoke.

I think these were mine, but I’m not sure. The pink is that warm color of ballet shoes or the inside of sea shells. Both items are knitted in tiny stitches of the softest wool. The sweater has an intriguing tag explaining that it was hand knit in Sweden. Both items were yellowed and stained. I soaked them in Oxi-clean and then in Clorox II. The sweater emerged with two faded spots on the front (where the spots had been) and I noticed a couple of holes. The cap brightened up beautifully but also showed a couple of holes.
As I stared at them, at the beautiful needlework accomplished so long ago, I thought… I wonder if I can perk these up and fix them? I wonder if I can make them look like chic and original and beautiful?

Valerie and I found a scrap of wool and decided to make pockets for the sweater that would cover the faded spots. I lined the pockets with soft white flannel and stitched them on by hand. It needed something else. What about a ruffle of the same wool on the bottom? This will make the pockets look less like the patches they are! I cut a thin strip of wool, finished the hem with a tight zig-zag stitch, touched the edges with Fray check (this is a fabric finisher that is just what it sounds like). Valerie chose bright red buttons to replace the oversized, chipped ivory ones on the front placket. To tie the design together, I sewed the last two red buttons on the cuffs and turned a spotty, worn sweater into a chic original.
Above is a photograph of when we were trying out the pockets and the buttons to see how it would look. Val suggested red buttons and they were just the right color for blending the orange/brown of the pockets and the peachy pink of the sweater.

It's finished!

The cap’s remake was next. I used a bit of the same wool to make a wee rose and sewed in its middle a red bead. This echoed the sweater’s red buttons. I sewed the rose to the side of the cap beside the delicate chin strap. A strip of the same wool made a narrow ruffle for inside the cap where there was a brim made of 1/2" cream-colored lace. I sewed the ruffle beneath the lace for contrast. Because it all felt sort of wooly, I lined the cap with fabric from an discarded, soft as a whisper T-shirt. I want the baby to be pretty and comfortable!
The handiwork in this cap was too delicate and special to discard. Better to mend!
To mend the holes in a knitted sweater or cap is easy.
Find thread the same color.

Hold the hole open by placing your finger beneath it.
Take tiny stitches all around the hole.
Begin to weave the hole closed. This must be done carefully, catching single threads and gently pulling the hole closed as you weave threads first one direction, then the next.

Below the outside of the sweater (isn't the pink so lovely?) is shown with the hole mended! Result? A sweater and cap – redeemed!


  1. Redeemed and loved. Thanks mom.

  2. You are both so creative and the source of such joy!

  3. Wonderful! I have tiny baby knitted and sewn outfits my great aunts and grandma made for me, and my girls have also worn them briefly, so this type of lovely "repair" is much needed. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. I just spent about two hours reading your blog. I am, as usual, in tears. You amaze me. I was sooo glad you included the changin' o' the sweater. I am catching the vision for passing the sewing skills down to the younger women. Can't wait to talk to you more about it.