Friday, February 26, 2016

fix all the things: an occasional series

Matthew Crawford, in his wonderful book "Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work", suggests that, in an era when more of the things we buy and own have become so complex that regular folks can't repair or maintain them anymore, we have become owned by our stuff. He's right. Manufacturers don't want us to know how to repair our own things, because frugality and resourcefulness are bad for a company's bottom line.

Too bad.

I believe that I should know how to repair and maintain as much of my stuff as I am able to. Not to cheat the manufacturers out of another buck (though that's certainly a good reason), but to be the master of my stuff. If I can repair it, it will last longer, and I will understand a little more of how it works.

My mother (z"l) taught me how to hand-sew when I was very young, no more than five or six. And since then, I've mended lots of my own clothes, bags and blankets; and even sewn a couple of quilts.

Here's a quilt I finished in the spring of 2000.

I sewed the whole thing by hand, using one of my mother's old top sheets as the backing (I folded the sides in on top of the quilt as a border). I use this quilt regularly in the summer as a picnic blanket, and sometimes in the winter as an extra layer when I'm relaxing on the sofa.

Recently, I came into possession of a Carradice Camper Longflap saddlebag. The Camper is the largest transverse saddlebag Carradice makes. Constructed of waxed cotton and leather straps, it retails for around $150 new. The seller had spilled some battery acid inside the bag and burned some holes into the fabric; he had also removed the dowel and replaced it with his mini-pump. He sold it to me for less than a third of the reatail cost, a heck of a deal even if I had to fix it up. The bag came to me with no dowel, no straps to attach it to a saddle, and still feeling vaguely of batter acid residue mixed with wax.

I began to figure out how I would patch the bag; the acid had eaten away entire square inches of the bottom of the bag and part of one of the outside pockets as well. After turning it over and over, I decided I would patch the holes in the bottom, then reinfoce the areas around the holes with more stitching, and finally reconstruct the bottom and sidewalls where the outside pocket once attached. I also decided I couldn't save the bottom of the outside pocket, so I cut it awat and closed it up shorter. it would be asymmetrical, but functional.
For patching material, I used a Thomson stem bag, doubled up and hemmed underneath, from a stack of these I got last year.

(I'm using doubled-up dental floss as a very strong thread. It also smells minty, not a bad thing in this case.)

After I'd gone this far, it occurred to me that perhaps it would be good to try and neutralize what remaining residue there might be. So I took the bag outside, and poured vinegar on the affected fabric. In a little while I'll boil some water and pour that over the area, and let it dry outside all day.
(It's waxed cotton, so I can't just toss it in the washing machine as was recommended by several sites.)
Then, once it's dry and I can continue mending it, I may add fabric inside to completely line the bag and keep any remaining residue from getting on whatever I carry. It's not a perfect solution, but it's better than doing nothing.

Admittedly the bag will look odd with Thomson logos covering the holes and reconstructing the sidewalls near the pocket. I have tons of this fabric, and it's pretty sturdy. So I think the liner will be made of the same material, several bags opened up and sewn together to make a large single panel that I can then trim and sew to fit as a lining.

I'll post my progress as the repairs near completion. If it works out I may eventually put this on the Bridgestone.

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