Elbow Patches, Please.

Dear friends,

Some seemingly very simple projects are actually trickier than they look, you know? I remember reading an article on elbow patches from Stephanie Congdon Barnes (I think it was an older issue of 3191 Quarterly) and I remember thinking--anybody who can sew can figure this out for herself, right? (Let me spoil the story: Um, no. Not right.)

So I confidently attempted to make my first elbow patches on a beloved cashmere cardigan that had literally worn through the elbows. I cut my patches, stitched them in place, pulled the sweater on and smugly turned to the mirror only to realize that the patches were comically small and not actually sewn onto my elbows. Instead, they were sewn onto the backs of my forearms. Hrmph.

Had I kept that beloved article from the ever-talented SCB I could have saved myself some misplaced stitches. But I did not. So this week I set out to try again and this time I noted what I remembered of Stephanie's advice--mark your elbows before you begin! And that is the key to making elbow patches, my friends, mark your elbows. Sounds silly, right? I know. I totally agree. But it's actually the most important part.

So, I made patch patterns out of my trusty manilla folder scraps. I made them bigger than I thought they should be and when I checked them to the scale of my sweater they were just right--roughly five inches long and 3 inches wide. I rounded the corners by simply taking a roll of washi tape and tracing its perfect shape against the corners of my patch (any round flat object would do). I used corduroy scraps and took the time for the most important part--humbly asking my husband to put pins in the back of the cardigan arms at the points of my elbows.

Trust me: Do not skip this step! Put straight pins in the sleeves where your elbows hit. Pin the patches into place and then have your husband/ wife/ friend/ neighbor/ colleague make sure you have the patches in the right place when you try it on again. Then use a simple whip stitch and sturdy up those elbows before they wear out. This is a good trick for keeping your favorite old sweater around for just a few more seasons.

Phew. I had to warn you. I also decided to upgrade my buttons because this cute red cardigan had two broken buttons and it wouldn't stay closed. What good is a cardigan if it does not keep you warm? Not much, I say. So, truth be told, now I wear this old favorite all the time again. I reach for it first because, practically, I know it will stay buttoned and, impractically, the elbow patches give it new life and just make it more fun. A little upgrade in the elbows and new buttons and there you have it--a rekindled love affair in the cold of winter.



  1. I live in this purgatory of 'I can't sew, but I have it in my bones'. I actually have projects at home, waiting for my tutelage to be complete and have my fingers get pulsing across the fabrics and finishes. I do have a sweater, that I actually wore around the house this weekend, that is in desperate need of TLC and arm patches. I vascillate between throwing it in the Goodwill pile and actually fixing it with my future skills. I did sign up for a sewing class though! Maybe soon, I'll sport some patches. As for the scale of the patches (and other future sewing projects) I better have that right at least. It's a strength of an interior designer. See, I have the tools and the heart for it. I need to connect the hands to the heart now. I do, I do, I do! Great post, my dear.

  2. i have no less than 5, FIVE cardigans that need elbow patches, i actually have ideas for all of them - different shapes (like hearts & such) & just haven't gotten to the pinning part. hm. craft night saturday night, perhaps i'll be doing this. thanks for the reminder!

  3. Oh yes, cardies need to be buttoned to keep one snug.

    G xo

  4. beth: you could totally sew these! no sewing machine required. just thread, needle, a bit of corduroy, and some straight pins. hooray for your upcoming sewing class too!

    jen: let's do it. let's make a craft night. invite some ladies. make some cocoa. eat some cookies. and mend, patch, and fix. yes!

    gracia: agreed. they need to be warm and cozy and to keep closed!


Thank you for your comments, friends. I like to think we are creating a dialogue in this space--building a virtual community.