Old men’s shirts

So you’re a diligent mender and repairer (you’ve been mending from long before visible mending became a “thing” on social media), and you’ve repaired and repaired your husband’s shirts, adding patch on patch …You’ve diligently stitched over those elbow holes …You’ve turned the collars … And now yet more mending is required as the cuffs start to wear away. What to do?!I guess a lot of folks would consign old shirts in this sort of a state to the rubbish, or perhaps useful rags. But these are such old friends! They are worn so soft and tender by literally years of wear. And the memories! Here’s Stephen in New York (averting his eyes from the buttons – which he hates) in the red shirt with patched elbows above …And there’s Stephen in characteristic worn check shirt opening the doors onto the overgrown patio of our new home  …And here he is – intensely focused – as he started to learn how to play the Northumbrian pipes. He’s wearing the shirt with the very worn cuffs above …So I’m far too much of a sentimental, soppy sort of person to just dispose of these old soft friends.  Indeed I have a track record of finding new ways to reuse old treasured fabrics – way, way back I made us a quilt with exactly the purpose of preserving old fabrics with old stories.

This time I decided to make us a new duvet cover – something we badly needed anyhow. So not just a sentimental project, a practical one too.

I’d already picked up some ideas from fellow Instagrammers. Both these quilts used strong bands of colour to frame the disparate pieces of patchwork …So I dug out some strong plain colours from my stash …And assembled the old shirt pieces. These were all cut to the same length, but were of varying widths …I incorporated some of the patched pieces too …Laying out a rough template of what the finished duvet cover would look like …Here is the finished project!After a nice cleaning blow in the soft Northumbrian seabreezes …But there were lots more lovely soft pieces – hmmm, what to do with them? (Apart from letting the cat sleep there …)Somehow – I’m not quite sure how – they presented themselves to me as the perfect materials to stitch together for a little doodle stitcheryThe corresponding lines work so well together. And I could incorporate those old loving patches …Along with some fun re-interpretation of plackets and buttonholes … I used old cotton bags as the backing on which to place and stitch the pieces – you know the sort of ones that companies give out at every possible opportunity along with biros and mouse mats.   They are such uninspiring bags but they do provide fine firm fabric for projects such as this …I started just to stitch and stitch, not really knowing where I was going …Gradually the idea formed in my mind that I could make a nice bag of this. However my piece wasn’t large enough for such a project, so I had to add some more cotton fabric. A really good idea as it firmed the bag up where the handles would be fitted and a lot of the carrying tension would lie … Soon these extra strips were incorporated into the whole …Today, this is still very much a work in progress – I am in no hurry to finish it as I am enjoying the stitching so very much …

I have it mind to add some more of the buttons that I cut off from the shirts when dismantling them …And I also want to add some words – but I am still wrestling with exactly what words. I wonder if anybody can help me out with a poem about the pleasures of old fabrics, of soft worn shirts?

Definitely something more exciting than this is needed …There is still plenty more old shirt fabric to use …But don’t worry, I’ve left Stephen just a few shirts to wear for the moment …I am still stitching …



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8 thoughts on “Old men’s shirts”

  1. I think one word that should definitely be included is “dedication”! The detail and quality of your stitching adds so much to what were already very lovely projects. 🙂


  2. Fantastic! I’m not into quilting but seeing such a sentimental piece makes me (almost) want to give it a go 😀 I love how you’re creating new memories out of well-loved things, and prolonging their life. Makes me less afraid of wearing out certain beloved items… thanks for the inspiration.


  3. Your duvet cover is wonderful. A real treasure.

    I love that you’ve found a good use for all those dratted bags too. I have a stack of them, which are too small to be of any use but I realise now would make excellent backing fabric. I’ve just made a wrap skirt out of strips of old fabric – not in the same league as your duvet cover, but very satisfying.


    1. Thank you Anne 🙂 I was pleased to realise I could reuse those “dratted” (so well put) bags like this! Your wrap skirt sounds lovely – perhaps it deserve a blogpost of its own? 🙂


  4. Oh Waste Not, Want Not always comes to mind. Textile Ranger is right, dedication! I can almost feel the softness of those shirts and your stitching is truly lovely. Glad you left a few shirts for Stephen to wear!!! thank you for this post and reminder of things past to the present.


    1. For certain generations “Waste not Want not” is almost engraved on their hearts, isn’t it?! it’s not just the wartime folk – it’s their children who grew up with it. And actually its not that bad a motto to live by – just our parents’ generation took it rather to extremes. So glad you enjoyed the post, Susan 🙂


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