Bad Seamstress Blues – Patchless darning is the same as free motion

The day I went to post bail for Lucey, it happened – riiiiiippppp.  Oh No!  My favorite jeans!  I’ve long since passed the age (and lost the figure) where I feel like I can get away with wearing ripped jeans, but patched jeans, especially form fitting ones are so uncomfortable.   I’ve used every sort of patch I can think of and they all leave a bump where they are and seem to chafe a little.  The best one to date though was a scrap of batik fabric.

The longer I quilt, the less I seem to be willing to “sew” – and that definitely includes darning – but not having an unlimited clothing budget means I don’t get to just throw out what has fallen apart at the seams or self destructed somewhere other than a seam.

Today, I want to talk about how to make darning a little less “horrible” for us quilters.

Ready?  Pretend you’re free motion quilting, but with less layers.

My jeans ready to be darned. I didn’t even raise the machine out of its table. I could literally take the jeans away, then put the plexiglas back and FMQ on it.

It’s true, when I set my machine up for darning these pants, it was virtually identical to the way it’s set up for FMQ.  In fact, the only difference was that I removed the base so I could use it free arm (open arm) style.

When we darn without a patch, we’re basically creating fabric where the old fabric has failed, which means we want to pay attention to weave and weft.  There are lots of pages out there where people talk about this, so I’m not going to go over it again, but basically with jeans for instance, if you look at them, you’ll see mainly a straight stitch and a diagonal stitch.  This is what we want to recreate.

So – put your free motion gloves on, put your free motion foot (also known as a darning foot, coincidence? 😉 ) on the machine,  set your stitch length to “0”, line up your edges (don’t schmush them together, this is unnatural for them and will create a pucker), and lightly couch the seams together and then pretend you’re quilting a tiny little quilt, and the goal is to make the fabric (and the hole) disappear.

Lining up the edges and getting ready to sew. Ideally, the small pucker you see at the bottom wouldn’t be there, but it formed while I was taking the photo.


Lightly couch the edges together to stabilize them, then go for it! Again, the pucker at the top shouldn’t be there and wouldn’t be once I was at it. Notice though how the grain basically lines up and I didn’t pull the fabric edges toward each other?  Pulling it together would have created a permanent pucker.

In fact, I sometimes put aside a few pair of jeans that need darning and do them up just before I free motion ( or stand and quilt at Lucey) to warm up and get my brain in free motion mode.  You’ll know you’re getting appropriate density when your stitching starts to sound like a needle break is imminent.

This is how dense your repair will be. This will cause the needle to thump a little. Listen to what your machine is saying. Some thumping as it’s going through is OK, needle breakage is not.

There were a couple of gotchas with my jeans and here’s how I got around them:

  • The patch was stiff – This is from the “new fabric”.  I find that scrunching it and even rubbing it back and forth on the corner of my sewing machine bed helps somewhat.  (I’ll do this with my plastic Pfaff, but obviously not a vintage machine with delicate paint or decals!)  This will also show up any spots that you may not have created enough fabric.  This will soften a little as time goes on (and through multiple washes) and eventually you’ll probably stop noticing it’s even there.
  • The patch “warped” my jeans – This is also “eased” somewhat by the processes above.  The other thing that makes a huge difference with the newer jeans – the ones with stretch in them – is to darn them “dirty”.  It’s amazing to see the shape of jeans change from clean to dirty.   I have 2 pair of the same jeans (I did tell you they were my favorite!) and put them side by side.  One clean, one dirty.  The shape in the seat after spending the day sitting and standing at a quilting machine is marked.   Now, by “dirty” I mean that you’ve worn them, not that you’ve made them dirty and grungy and they can stand up by themselves!  I prefer to sew on clean clothes, so what I do is wash the jeans, then wear them for about an hour and make sure they’re good and stretched (some knee bends will take care of this if it’s in the knee area.  This stretches them out to “normal” size.  If you darn them in their “shrunken” state, they will warp for sure when you wear them.     Of course carefully lining your rip up first is also important.  This will minimize the warpage, but it is likely there will still be some, thanks to the stretch in the jeans.
  • pucker up baby!  – This is warpage combined with the density of the patch you created.  Minimize it by doing the things I mentioned above.   The density is required, so you have to compensate with the other processes.
  • they had ripped basically at the end of a smaller previous patch – I’m notorious for this!  Patch to where you think you need to, then go about another 1/4″ – 3/8″ further on both sides.

In retrospect, I suppose poly thread instead of cotton might have resolved some of these issues.  If I hadn’t thought of this as I was literally finishing up the last stitches, I might have given it a shot.

(Why?  Poly thread stretches before it breaks, naturally.  Cotton is a fairly stiff fiber and relatively brittle, therefore it breaks instead of stretching.  This is also what makes poly more “forgiving” for newer quilters to stitch with when quilting than cotton.)

But then I never claimed to be a seamstress rockstar.  Quite the opposite actually. 😉

Now put your newly patched jeans back on and wear them for a few hours before you toss them back in the wash.

Old repair on the left – notice the thickness of it? The “lump”? (Hint, that’s not actually my kneecap) and today’s repair on the right. The weave mostly lines up and it lies mostly flat. (Yes, I trimmed that thread once I saw it in the photo! 🙂 )

Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone you used your “quilting machine” for anything other than quilting. 🙂


Today’s post is brought to you by Cinderella – Bad Seamstress Blues

2 thoughts on “Bad Seamstress Blues – Patchless darning is the same as free motion”

  1. Hey Sharyn,

    I corrected the link to your blog in your link. It was missing a “u”. 😉
    I hope you’re feeling well these days.

    I agree that it’s sad to see some of this knowledge and such disappearing. That’s what makes the Internet so great for a new sewist like me. So many people are willing to share that information for anyone who does want to learn.

    Some days the shake of my hands makes cutting no fun, so I can see the value in the cutters for some people. I’m one of the “once you learn the method, then you can use the short cut” people though . There’s a lot of valuable learning that’s missed by jumping straight to the “easy way”.

    I do think the general quality of commercial patterns these days has a lot to do with people not wanting to sew. Really, you buy a pattern you like, you pay a lot for fabric, you build the pattern over several days or weeks and it -doesn’t- fit. No matter how honest you were about your measurements. Now you have to tailor it too, but a lot of people don’t know about / how to do that step. They just have a poor fitting garment that they’ll never wear sitting there to remind them of their sewing project. Frustrating to say the least.

  2. Nice blog, thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    “The longer I quilt, the less I seem to be willing to “sew”
    Good point. I don’t know what runs the trend but it makes me sad.
    Automatic cutter machines and precuts are removing much of the knowledge needed as a basis of good stitchery. But what do I know 🙂

    thanks again, KalamaQuilts/Sharyn

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