To Patch or Not To Patch

Amid frigid temperatures last week, I found myself on St-Hubert Street, north of Jean-Talon, trying to find of all things, iron on-patches. And with all the fabric stores and sewing accessory shops you'd think that it would have been easy. But I was directed and redirected to a number of stores before I finally found what I was looking for. It would appear that people don't patch anymore.

My son, Sacha, now six years old won't stop growing. I bought him two pairs of jeans in September, and they're already too small. This winter, he's been wearing navy blue hand-me-down snow pants, the ones his sister wore 5 years ago. But because he likes to rough-house, there are holes in the knees. I could go out and buy him a new pair, but these snow pants still fit him.

To patch or not to patch? This is a makeshift solution, not altogether aesthetically pleasing, but an attempt to salvage rather than discard. This wasn't a protest against the flood of cheap Chinese imports as some of you might imagine. Instead, this was brought about by pure nostalgia. I wanted to see the steps my mom, a single mother, had gone through to patch clothes.

When I found the patches I was looking for, "Made in Canada" was printed on the label, something I have not seen in years. Factoring in the dust and the metal hook I found the patches on, I guessed that they might be decades old, possibly hanging in that exact same place.

Now some of you will smile at my attempt to iron patches on snow pants because, as I soon discovered after reading the patch instructions, you can't iron rayon. It melts. But now I was determined to find a way to do it.

While in Accessoires de Couture St-Hubert, I was also relieved to find "Made in Canada" cotton socks. Although much more expensive than their "Made in China" counterparts, they come with the added bonus that they don't strangle your ankles. But don`t talk to me about the Chinese-sizing conundrum. In November, I spent an hour in a department store trying to find winter boots for my daughter, but nothing fit her size-5 foot, except a size-7 boot. But I digress...

The new cotton socks were placed around the edges of the patch so the hot iron would not come into contact with the rayon snow pants. The sock solution was my contribution to the iron-on patch effort. My more patient husband volunteered to do the ironing portion. To some, it would appear that he had hijacked my pious effort to revisit my late mother's memory, but in fact his help was greatly appreciated. We could share the blame if it all went south.

I was able to revisit my late-mother's memory vicariously through my husband's ironing. It all came rushing back to me, leaving me to wonder why I'd wanted to stroll down memory lane in the first place.

I suddenly remembered her saying "Shit!" as she ironed on patches because there was never enough glue on the edges for them to stick properly. But my more virtuous husband just pressed his lips together and then calmly said, "The patch edges aren't sticking." Then I remember my mother grumbling, "God damn it! Now I'm going to have to stitch around those useless patches!" This involved more work and created another problem. My mother was a perfectionist, particularly when it came to sewing, and the strongest hand-sewn stitches would show, a major sewing faux pas, the mark of an amateur.

My husband did suggest using the sewing machine to sew down the edges, but I told him that the pants were too thick for a sewing machine needle. "I'll sew around the edges," he offered. I cringed. I watched him do a whip stitch around the edges, the weakest and most obvious stitch, but at least he tried to match the colour of the thread.

In the end, my son's snow pants looked only marginally better than when they were ripped. As can be expected, after a few falls, the whip stitch came apart. But overall the patches are still intact, and the pants should last the entire winter. Every time I see his snow pants I laugh, and I'm sure my mother would have laughed too.



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