About 8 years ago I went backpacking with my Dad for the first time as an adult & I had NO IDEA what to bring with me. I was so new to the gear world, and happy to borrow whatever he had to spare. He gifted his old camping hammock to me, a simple dark green cocoon with mesh net. It wasn't anything fancy you can spend $100-300 on today, yet it got the job done.
I used the hell out of that hammock & sadly it had to be retired, but hey I'm a seamstress. It couldn't be so difficult to repair, right?
To give a little context on my past with sewing & repair, I've spent hundreds of hours ripping apart clothing/accessories over the years for alterations pojects. My professional experience lies moreso in the clothing production realm where you consistently make the same pieces & rarely stray from those techniques. The kinks have already been ironed out. This would be new textile territory for me.
Assessing the situation.
When I pulled the hammock out of storage there were multiple tears in the ripstop nylon body & mesh, as well as a zipper that was coming apart from both top and bottom sides of the hammock. I did not take any photos of the damage, so just imagine a version of the finished product yet with old grey mesh punctuated by a series of strategically placed duct tape patches & safety pins. It was a mess, but a salvageable one.
My goal: repair any small holes in the ripstop nylon & completely replace the mosquito net.
Before I even started.
So Tennessee doesn't exactly have the most vibrant textile selection. You've got to go online for the good stuff, and on top of that it is difficult to find tech fabrics for specific projects by description alone, so ordering swatches is integral & that takes extra time. After ordering & testing samples from various fabric stores I chose this No See Um Mesh from Canvas ETC. This material was much more stable, with only a slight stretch campared to the original 2-way stretch mesh. Of course, that was part of the problem that got us here, so it would do the trick. Okay, now we're ready!
Remove & Replace.
Time to get it started. By far the most time consuming portion (4hrs) of the project was seam ripping. It is my least favorite sewing activity, so I chose to do this in the car on a road trip to Red River Gorge with my boo Megan. Thanks, Meg, for tolerating both my complaining and thread trash! Once the seam ripping was finally finished, I could measure the original net & cut my new piece, adding a few inches to compensate for the lack of stretch.
Step by Step
- First thing to do was repair any small holes in the ripstop nylon. These were located at stress points, so I made sure to stabilize the fabric for future wear & repaired by machine darning.
- Cutting the new mesh was straightforward, yet required a large space & fabric weights to stabilize the layers. Thankfully I had the space, yet cut my first piece too short. And thankfully I've learned to buy double the amount you need, so cut a second piece from the remainder.
- Re-attached the nylon webbing used for the ridgeline loops by transferring the approximate spots with safety pins, then stitching them onto the sea of mesh at my sewing machine. There were four of these total, and use their own guy-line when setting up the hammock.
- Next I pinned & stitched in the new mesh lonways along the hammock body (opposite of zipper) with a 1/2" seam allowance, finishing it by topstitching the seam allowance down for security. This had to be stretched about 3" total to make up for the super stretchy original material. To do this I eased the mesh into the ripstop all the way down the panel.
- Zipper time! I matched up the mesh to the opposite side & pinned it to the zipper. I know, zips can be daunting & if you try to freehand it, the ends won't match up & that can suck. So be sure to pin & measure! It saves time, trust me. Also did a narrow topstitch to secure the zipper tape to the mesh.
- Once I had my tube of mesh & nylon, it was time to re-insert the mesh ends & then I'll be camping in no time! But it was never going to be that quick.
A note about designing for re-pairability
There was one very irritating part of this project which makes me want to write to every major gear brand as a reminder to Design items to be repairable! Creating heirloom pieces to be used for many years is not simply about form, functionailty, sourcing sustainable materials,or making sure the production staff is paid fair wages. It is to create for long time use AND repair-ability. Shout out repair services offered by both big brands & garage level retailers. Bless your patient earth loving hearts. We are doing no good if we create items with short expiration dates which you cannot do anything to revitalize later on down the road.
With regards to this hammock, I had a bone to pick with the creators of this piece. When in production, the two pieces of hammock were sewn together into a cylinder, and tied off on the ends with a thick nylon chord & s rings for assembly. This nylon chording was melted together, surely to ensure it stayed connected for use, yet making it welded together for the life of the piece. This made it a total pain in the ass to seam rip & remove the netting tucked inside, then gingerly insert the new piece, pin with a hundred pins, baste, and finally stitch in. Imagine taking off the casing to a sausage & then very meticulously inserting a new one back into those scrunched ends. That was the mental image I had while doing this step for a few solid episodes of GOT.
Here is a low fi video of this in action
Well, that was fun.
After many stabs from stright pins & lots of patience, camping hammock was finally finished! Next it was time to test this baby out & I just so happened to be taking a couple of my lady friends on a quick car campout at Old Stone Fort to celebrate their collective birthdays. This was the perfect opportunity to set up the hammock near my car, where a back up tent & sleeping pad were waiting in case of disaster.
I set it up sans rain fly, yes risky but there was no rain in the forecast, and commenced a solid lady camp. Regardless of how I slept, when I wake up in the woods it is usually so lovely seeing the early morning light filtering through the trees. This morning was especially sweet knowing I had reconstructed my shelter into a cocoon that will last for hopefully many more adventures to come.
It may not always be economical to repair or reconstruct a piece of damaged gear. It may not always work out to look good or even work well in the end. Lord knows I've tried to sew many things that live in storage or were thrown away out of spite. Yet I find that the process of mending and giving another life to an item a meditation of sorts. It can be both frustrating & a huge learning experience. Either way it is worth considering when we have a planet that cannot sustain the level of production & consumerism we participate in through our culture. So next time you see that REI has a sale & you are considering buying new, consider instead finding a solid piece that simply needs love & practice your darning skills. There are a gazillion free Youtube tutorials waiting for you!