Slow Stitching

My Aunt Jane was a professional dressmaker and alterations instructor. She has excellent hand and machine workmanship but if she could avoid handwork and accomplish a task on the machine, she did. Focusing on her work she found the most efficient way to get the job done without sacrificing quality.

In her later years, retired from teaching and sewing for others, Aunt Jane learned to quilt. She showed me a series of hand appliqued and hand quilted wallhangings that she made in a class. As she held them out for me to see, she groaned and said, “All that handwork!” But she did it. And her quilt work is as beautiful as her dressmaking.

Last month I visited my aunt, now 85 years old. I showed her my new book, “Back Basting Applique, Step by Step”. She looked at every page in the book then closed the cover, handed it back to me and said, “It makes me want to cry.” I asked, “Why?” She smiled and said, “All that applique! It makes me want to cry!” Ah yes, it’s handwork, of course it makes her feel like crying!

As for me, I love applique. I’ve been making appliqued quilts for over 25 years. When I learned to applique in the mid-1980s I stitched entirely by hand. Then I found ways to speed up my sewing – I discovered freezer paper applique and clear nylon thread and was soon making and teaching invisible machine applique. It was fun. It was fast. I was hooked.

With my Bernina sewing machine I got good results but my students were not always successful. Some came to class with old machines prone to tension problems expecting the same results I got with my machine. They were frustrated and so was I. So, I made a decision to quit teaching invisible machine applique, saving us all the aggravation.

But I didn’t stop teaching freezer paper applique – I just switched back to hand sewing. I got nice results. My students got nice results. Everyone was happy.

I wasn’t intentionally setting out on a grand return to hand sewing. I didn’t plan to abandon my sewing machine in exchange for needle and thread.

But something was afoot. Enthusiasm for handwork was spreading. At Quilting Bits and Pieces in Eudora, KS, where I teach appliqué and quilting classes, the customers come from miles around to shop for supplies and inspiration. Known locally for hand work, specifically twilling, embroidery, applique and more recently, Brazilian embroidery and crazy quilting, the shop is a haven for hand stitchers.

When did we slow down? When did I slow down?

I thought back to a visit with my friend Rachel in the summer of 2000. As we chatted I pulled out my handwork and enjoyed her shock when she saw me sewing by hand. When we were neighbors a number of years prior, I was all about doing things fast – and all on the machine, yet there I was doing hand stitching – slow stitching.

Rachel’s amusement at my hand sewing in the summer of 2000 marks a transition in my quilting life. It was the beginning of my return to doing more hand applique. In 2002 I learned about Back Basting Applique – a needle turn, hand applique technique. Now it’s my favorite appliqué technique.

I had no idea that a movement was underway – a slow stitching movement. Just recently I heard the term for the first time, so of course, I did an internet search. I was curious. What is ‘slow stitiching’ anyway?

Slow stitching is embroidery and applique; it is handwork and machine work. It’s stitching – any stitching that is slow, careful and methodical. I found images of hand stitched garments and quilts. I found stories of taking time and developing a relationship with your needle and thread as you sew. You might say that slow stitching is an attitude. Sure, it’s mostly about handwork but it isn’t exclusive to handwork. I think my Aunt Jane’s perfectly machine stitched cuffs and collars and beautifully machine bound button holes are slow stitching too. Aunt Jane didn’t like all the handwork associated with dressmaking; she was focused on the finished product and getting the job done and yet she never lost sight of the importance of working slowly and carefully toward her goal.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not giving up my sewing machine, but let’s slow down. Let’s get to know the feel of the fibers in our hands as we move the needle and thread through the cloth or as we pass it under the machine needle. Let’s enjoy the journey and do some slow stitching!


Patching Jeans

Some mothers pass secret family recipes to their daughters. Some mothers teach their daughters how to grow heirloom tomatoes. Some mothers pass down family histories. My mother, among other things, taught me how to patch jeans.

Raising five boys on a farm gave my mom plenty of experience in patching jeans. In fact she patched so many jeans that she developed her own special patching technique. The fashionable denim pants that we buy today are already washed and faded, halfway worn out when they come home from the store. But on the farm there are still plenty of traditional 501 Levi Jeans. If you want to extend the life of a pair of  pants that you wear for farmwork or gardening and don’t mind wearing patched jeans here is the patching method I learned from my mom.

Start with a pair of denim jeans that are worn through at the knee. Using a piece of chalk, draw a line framing the area that will be replaced with the patch. Be generous – if you replace only the small section where the hole is the pants will soon wear out above or below the new patch and the jeans will end up right back in the mending pile.


When a pair of jeans were too far gone to patch mom cut panels from the backs of the legs and saved them to use for patches. Cut a panel of denim long enough and wide enough to cover the entire front of the leg.


Remove the stitching in the hem along the side seam. It is not necessary to remove the hem all the way around the leg-just enough to get the side seam opened.DSC01901Often a pair of jeans has one seam that is a flat felled seam (shown at the bottom of the photo below) and the other seam has a serged edge. It is easier to remove the stitching from the seam that is serged. Use a seam ripper to break the stitches and open the seam. Once you have about three inches near the bottom opened you may be able to rip open the remaining seam. Remove the stitching all the way up to the pockets. This will allow you to open the leg to an almost flat work area.DSC01904

Using the chalk line as a guide trim with sturdy, sharp shears, cutting away the worn area from the front of the leg leaving a window. Leave a ½” seam allowance inside the chalk line.


Snip in at the corners.


Place the replacement panel in position filling the window that was cut out in the step above.


Working from the right side, fold the seam allowance under at the chalk line, finger press and pin in place all the way around the patch.DSC01909

Top stitch sewing approximately 1/8” from the folded edge. Grey thread is a good color choice. You may find it helpful to use a denim needle in your sewing machine.


 Top stitch a second row of stitching ¼” away from the edge stitching.


Turn the leg wrong side out and trim the excess fabric away from the patched area.


Re-sew the side seam stitching in the old seam line, if possible. Serge or zig zag the raw edge and trim away any unraveling.


Re-stitch the hem.


Congratulations. You did it! You’ve patched your jeans.DSC01914