Monday, January 7, 2019

Sew You Say

The question "What would be good things to have in a SHTF basic sewing kit?" was recently asked in our Facebook Group.  Erin referred that question to me, the go-to seamstresses of the writer group.

My personal "emergency" sewing kit is likely a lot more extensive than most folks would ever need, use, or want to haul along with them, mostly because it contains extra items  that only someone who sews frequently would have a clue what to do with it all. I'm paring things back to the bare basics for this little tutorial, to dump all that extraneous "stuff" most of you will never need.

Barest Basics
At its most simple, an emergency sewing kit should contain four items, all of which are small enough to be folded up together and placed in an EDC kit:
  1. A needle
  2. Black or white thread
  3. A couple of all purpose buttons
  4. Something to cut the thread with, such as tiny scissors or a small folding knife that's nice and sharp. 
Since most of us keep one or more sharp pocket knives in our EDC anyway, that last item could easily be omitted from a sewing kit. 

If you have poor eyesight or a lack of coordination, you might also consider a needle threader as the fifth piece to this utilitarian kit. This is a tiny, flat metal disk "handle" with a wire attached in a loop, and which can be more easily poked through the eye of the needle and used to pull thread through without making yourself crazy trying to get it done. I use them often, even when I'm working with a sewing machine.

To make a pocket kit of this type, start with a small square of scrap cloth. (Any sort of cloth will do; it doesn't have to be anything fancy.) This cloth serves two purposes: first, it serves as a place to store your needle, thread, and buttons in a single little packet; second, it can serve as an emergency patch for whatever it is you need to repair in a pinch.

Stick your needle through your cloth square several times to hold it in place and to keep it from accidentally stabbing you or other things in your EDC. Place the buttons, thread, and threader (if you've chosen to include one) onto the center of the square over and around the needle you've made safe. Now it's simply a matter of folding up the cloth, holding it together with a safety pin, and sticking it into one of the various places where you keep EDC or emergency items. 

Voila, you have spare buttons if you lose one, something to make a quick patch with, and needle and thread to attach either of those to whatever they need to go on.

Stepping It Up a Bit
If you're looking for something a bit more inclusive than that barest of basics set-up, you have a lot of options open to you. Some of them not only remove the guesswork of what to include, but come at a price that even a die-hard penny-pincher can appreciate.

The upgrade that tops my list is a $1 sewing kit that I purchased at Dollar Tree not far from home. (Yes, the same Dollar Tree where I managed to put together a comprehensive medical kit for $30.)  This sewing kit comes in a small clear plastic case with handles, so that you can easily see everything it contains. Around the size and shape of a deck of standard playing cards, these weigh in at only 2-3 ounces, making them very portable.

These kits come with 5 to 7 small spools of thread in assorted colors (typically black, white, red, green, navy blue, and gray) as well as a thimble, a short measuring tape, a seam ripper, a tiny pair of (not terribly sharp) scissors, an assortment of needles in their own case, an eyelet needle threader. and a small box of "extras" like multiple buttons, safety pins, and both sides of a couple of hook and eye closures.

Truthfully, this may seem like a lot more "bang for the buck" than that bare basics throw-together kit, but its honestly not. While it falls under the category of "the absolute minimum that I'm personally willing to keep in a bag, and only because I have to save space and weight for other things!", for most folks this is going to be all they ever need.
  • Realistically, most folks aren't familiar with the use of a thimble these days, and therefore are more likely to ignore it or promptly lose it than they are to utilize it for fingertip protection while doing quickie hand sewing. 
  • Measuring Tape? Sure, folks like Evelyn and I are going to dig those out and use them often, but what about normal people? Men, how much more likely are you to dig that measuring tape out to use in a woodworking project, and then forget to put it back where it belongs? Then again, that measuring tape is an automatic multi-tasker, since it can be used for things other than sewing!
  • The box of "extras" to keep all the buttons, safety pins, and other types of spare closures in is nice for organization and neatness, but unless this is going into a bag you expect to be living out of for several days at a time, how likely are you to need more than a couple of buttons or a single safety pin? 
  • The same can be said for the multitude of needles in a dedicated disk case. You aren't likely, most days, to need more than one - and if you weave it through your cloth patch, its going to stay in place and be easy to find.

The Mother Lode
This is where we delve into the deep end of the pool with all my eccentricities.

While either of the above styles of sewing kit are easy to throw together, and come with price tags that range from $1 up to about $15 depending on how many colors of thread are included and where you happen to purchase them, now we're going to get into a "Seamstress's Choice" of emergency sewing kit. This style of kit isn't for the faint of heart, or for those uninitiated in sewing. Kits of this sort are not available through places like Amazon or Wal-Mart or Target; they're personally put together by the seamstress (or tailor) in question, and as such tend to vary wildly. Due to the nature and extent of the variants possible, I'll only be going over my Personal Mother Lode Emergency Sewing Kit.

NOTE: this is not my standard traveling kit. This is my "TEOTWAWKI has happened, I'm packing up everything I can and will never get to return" kit.
  • We'll start with my mini portable battery operated sewing machine. Yes, my personal kit contains an actual sewing machine. While this isn't the exact model, and it's slightly more expensive ($19 as opposed to $14),  it's very similar to what I have and is the current equivalent to my 10 year old portable. It comes with an AC adapter, so it can be plugged in when outlets are available, as well as being capable of running on AA batteries. It only produces a basic machine interlocked chain stitch, but honestly that's all it needs to do. 
  • The one available on Amazon also has the option of adding an "extras" kit, which I have for mine. These extras are a variety of colors of thread spools, bobbins wound in the same colors, a good pair of scissors, an extra measuring tape, needle threader, seam ripper, thimbles, and hand needles. This extras kit can actually work as a "beyond the barest basics" emergency kit for most folks as well, though at $10 instead of $1, the only serious improvement is a significantly better pair of scissors.
  • I have two pairs scissors in this Mother Kit. One is a dedicated pair of fabric scissors, which do not get used for anything other than cutting fabric. Talk to any serious sewer you happen to know, and you will find they have a pair that they will threaten gross bodily injury over if you use them for cutting anything else. The other pair of scissors is a "catch all" pair and honestly, you can use them on almost anything and I don't care as long as they go back in the box when done.
  • Next in the Big Box of Emergency Sewing we have a zip top gallon baggie, in which are a pair of replacement zippers (one black, one white or grey) 2 rolls of elastic (1 each of 3 yard length 1 inch wide and 1/2 inch wide) to repair things like waist bands or cuffs, and several colors of bias tape - usually three yard lengths of black, white, red, blue, green, purple, and yellow. This may seem like a lot, but those in the know have a myriad of uses for bias tape that run the gamut from creating a quick and easy casing for an elastic waistband to using it for a simple hem that won't fray. 
  • There's also a quart zip bag full of various colors, widths, and lengths of ribbon usable as everything from shoe laces to a short length of cordage to tying your hair out of the way.
  • Where smaller kits typically have a tiny box of odds & ends with a few buttons and safety pins, I have the Big Bag O' Buttons. It's a 1 quart size zip top baggie, stuffed full of buttons of every size, shape, color, and material you might imagine. Every shirt or skirt or pants that I've owned has had their buttons removed before scrapping and stored in this bag. Every spare button purchased as a set that wasn't needed on the project went into this bag. 
  • I also have a box the size of an Altoids tin which contains safety pins. A second, smaller box contains hook and eye sets and snap sets. A third small box contains straight pins, both with and without the plastic ball caps on the non-sharp end, enough to lay out at least 2 full patterns at any given time.
  • I have a trio of chalk pencils, used for marking fabric along cut lines and instructions and in different colors so I can use what shows up best on any given fabric. 
  • There are also no fewer than 4 seam rippers in the box, mostly because I tend to toss my spares in there when I wind up with a new one.
  • Finally, because I deal with a lot of costuming I also keep an unopened package of plastic featherlight boning to fix corsetry accidents, as well as horsehair braid to help stiffen hems. I also try to keep a roll of instant hem tape because it makes for a quick and dirty repair of a folded seam.

What You Should Know
Even I keep one of the small Dollar Store kits in my normal BoB/GHB. It's light, it's portable, it doesn't take up space that could be used for something more critical, and it has everything I'm likely to need in a pinch. My Mother Lode kit is for extreme conditions, and even I don't take it out of the closet lightly! Unless you're a serious die-hard tailor/costumer/sewer, the Mother Lode Kit is so far beyond normal as to be impractical for most SHTF applications, even for someone as flamboyant and impractical as myself!

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