True Colours

Scratching The Itch

It has been two weeks since the incident with the rotary cutter. And while the wound has healed, the area is still tender and I still find myself struggling clumsily with simple tasks. Moreover, the sewing itch was growing. I miss feeling the different fabrics under my palms and listening to the sounds that my sewing machine makes.

Nevertheless, this break from sewing has given me some insights, such as how violently my sewing machine shakes my table at high speeds – sometimes the vibrations get so pronounced that I find myself holding down the table (not like that would do anything).

I decided to slowly inch my way back into the designing and sewing momentum again, and I was going to start with one of my first muses in my fabric adventure – sashiko.

And strangely enough, the opportunity presented itself when I was recalling the nature of sashiko being an instrument for mending broken or torn things.

The (Ad)Venture

I have a pair of Timberland Yellow Boots that I have not worn for some time because the top collar was coming apart. I bought it back in the autumn of 2017 during my exchange semester in Japan, after I quite unintelligently decided to wear my old pair of Timberland boots to climb Fuji-san. (No, they did not make it: the right sole came loose after the descent down and was holding on for dear life before finally giving way in Shinjuku station later that day)

After asking around the cobblers in Hirakata, they said that they could not fix my old pair and I eventually parted with the boots that I wore for a good 3 years. According to what I have gathered, Timberland boots are largely made using injection moulds: molten rubber fills the shape of the sole and provides a watertight seal with the body of the boot. However, this also means that the boot cannot be repaired once the sole separates.

A few months after, I came across a pair of Timberland Yellow Boots at the ABC-Mart near Shinsaibashi in Osaka-shi. I ended up getting those after the salesperson mentioned that it was waterproof. It’s funny how I did not question its waterproofing back then. But then again, I was already smitten with the Yellow Boot. It was my second choice had I not gotten my old pair of brown Originals 6 Inch Boots. People were wearing it, lots of them. Not to mention their iconic look has graced many different media.

I wanted it.

Fast forward three years after, and the spark for the pair has waned. Even after so many wears, the boots were still pretty stiff. Moreover, their design made it a hassle to put on – the shaft stays stiff and does not conform to my feet after wear, which made putting on and taking off a headache. It was unsurprising that they found an extended stay in the shoe cabinet, only seeing very occasional uses.

That was until… mould started growing on them when I took them out to wear one day. I admit – I was a lot more ignorant and indifferent about taking care of things I love back then. And my inaction had created more problems.

After taking it to a specialist and having the mould removed, I thought it was finally time to reunite with my pair of Yellows.

A few wears in and I found the ‘leather’ collar – the ring of padding that wraps my ankle/calf – had started to peel. It turned out that it was actually a ring of foam encased in faux leather.

I peeled the layer of faux leather off to reveal a fuzzy look but with a subsequent few wears, the foam was starting to dislodge from the shaft. And it was almost impossible to get my foot into the boot without tugging on the collar since Timbs hardly came with a pull loop or pull tab.

It was checkmate, even after all I have done to repair this relationship with the boot.

Getting Down to Business

Now while gradually easing myself back into sewing and designing, I set out to fix the collar of the right boot (the left was still fine and still very much intact). The boots were still in relatively good condition given their age and they carried sentimental value.

Moreover, I was thinking that I could finally use the curved upholstery needle that I was gifted a while back: shoutout to Zhang Ming and the awesome peeps at Konstrukt Labs. I have heard that it could be used for mending shoes since its curved design allowed it to fit in tight spaces while still retaining its rigidity.

Admittedly, I was also inspired by the work of modern Sashiko artists like Junale and having found out that he was self-taught after meeting him in-person when he was in Singapore in March earlier this year, I was even more motivated.

Junale’s embroidered Nike Waffle Trainer

Junale

Jun is an Osaka-based Japanese sashiko artist that weaves modern elements with the traditional art form of sashiko. His works were one of the first encounters I had with sashiko. And despite only seeing them through images on Instagram, they definitely were one of the many things that started the fire.

Junale combines modern materials such as nylon wires, neon cotton threads and even modern canvases such as sneakers, and meticulously (not to mention painstakingly) performs the art of sashiko and embroidery.

A curved upholstery needle can be found in sewing/haberdashery shops, and on online marketplaces such as Ebay and Amazon.

The Execution

Armed with sashiko threads of different colours (a birthday present from my close friends), it was now my turn to repair my Yellows. After laying down the first few stitches, it dawned on me just how difficult the task was going to be. The effort needed to puncture the leather was immense and this comes after finding out only recently that the leather used in Timbs were considered relatively thin in the leather boot community.

This was not what I meant by slowly inching my way back, but I figured to just keep pressing on.

Things took a turn for the better when I switched from the curved upholstery needle back to the regular straight needle. It was hard to get a grip of the curved needle because of its inflexion. Moreover, I could not use any tools (that I know of) to aid the process – I could not use a thimble because of its curvature and pliers would have damaged the needle.

The switch allowed me to embroider straighter lines and use the flat felled seams on a pair of old denim jeans as a makeshift thimble.

I also decided to stitch in different directions with different coloured thread, almost like a warp and weft that is found in woven garments. I varied the stitch length of some parts and used thicker treads at some parts too.

And after some hours and effort, I had mended the collar sufficiently.

Laying the first few stitches on the Yellows.

Closing Thoughts

Perhaps I should have seek the opinion or advice of a leather expert and used proper tools to work with leather. And I could have even used leather thread which are much stronger, to match the rigidity of the nubuck leather on the Yellows. And those are definitely things I will consider if I have to do this again.

I did encounter many other problems along the way, such as the holes in the foam merging because of the punctures from the needle but they were easily remedied.

However, the tapestry of mixed colours and textures I ended up with put a smile on my face. Moreover, since the thread used was made of soft cotton, the stitches did not conflict with the softness and cushioning of the foam for the collar.

However, the biggest lesson I learnt through this journey came as a surprise. It was the realisation that fixing my things taught me more about myself, in ways that I would have never known. I found out that I tugged more ruggedly on my right shoe/boot than my left. I also realised when examining the boots, that I seemed to wear out my right side more quickly than my left. Perhaps my right heel tended to slide around more frequently, which could also explain why the right boot gave way after the Fuji-san climb. I also realised that the tongue of my right boot had a higher resting position compared to the left – which makes sense because I only just found out that I have a higher instep on my right foot.

It is mind-boggling yet logical how this gets overlooked. But I look forward to fixing more of my belongings and finding out more about myself – my lifestyle, my bad habits and hopefully good ones too.

Check out the video of the process here.

– The Kind Oddball, 優しく個性的な人

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