Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guest Post: The Survival Sewing Kit

Julie Eason, of Serious wrote to suggest a guest post on what to include in a well-stocked survival sewing kit.  As some of you may know, I included sewing needles and heavy-duty Dacron thread in the checklist at the back of my book, Bug Out.  I've also mentioned needles and thread as part of the components of an ultra compact, minimal EDC bug out kit.

Knowing how to make simple repairs with a needle and thread is essential to maintain your gear and clothing.  You can progress way beyond that if you take an interest in it and learn to make your own gear, probably better than most of what you can buy.  Among other things, I've made my own buckskin moccasins, archery quivers, hats, rifle slings and cases, water bottle holders, canvas bags and even the sails for my boats, including the one I'm building now.

In the following article, Julie Eason goes into detail about what to include in a minimum survival sewing kit and why.  This is cheap to put together, weighs almost nothing and will take up little space in your bug out bag, so I think it's very good advice:

The Well-Stocked Survival Sewing Kit

Guest Post by Julie Anne Eason of Serious

When most people think of things they need to survive an emergency, a sewing kit isn't usually at the top of the list. But whether you're in a long-term TEOTWAWKI or a short-term natural disaster, things are going to need sewing. Obviously, your clothes need to stay in good repair. But don't forget about other fabric or leather based items as well--tents, sails, shoes, water skins. Some form of rudimentary sewing skill is necessary for a comfortable existence, and you're going to need supplies. Here's what you should have on hand in a survival situation.

Several sizes and styles of needles: Not every needle is suitable for every purpose. Fortunately, needles are cheap and small, so stock up on a package of different sized sharps and ball-points. Sharps are used to sew woven fabrics (the kind that don't stretch) and ball-points are used for knits (stretchy fabrics.)

You'll also want leather needles (called glover's needles.) These have a special point shaped like a triangle. It slices easily through leather (and skin-so be careful!) Speaking of skin, a few suture needles are a good idea, too, in case you need to perform medical stitching.

Curved needles, sail needles and large-eye harness and tapestry needles will also come in handy for all kinds of projects.

Several sizes and types of thread: Now is not the time to buy wimpy thread. Invest in several large spools of thick mercerized cotton thread, called "hand-quilting" thread. Also, you'll want several thicknesses of waxed linen thread for sewing heavy-duty items in canvas or leather. Some silk thread is also advisable for suture sewing.

Sharpening stone: Needles may be difficult to find, so you'll need to take good care of the ones you have. You should have a sharpening stone on hand anyway for honing knives and axes. The same one can be used for keeping needles in good working condition.

Scissors: Yes, you could use a knife to cut thread. But cutting fabric and leather is much easier with a pair of scissors. These can do double duty in the kitchen, too.

An awl: An awl makes a hole without cutting the fibers. This is especially important for repairing broken grommets in canvas or anytime you need to sew leather.

Small containers of beeswax and pine pitch: Run your sewing thread through a cake of beeswax a few times before sewing and your seams will last much longer. The wax conditions the thread and makes it less vulnerable to light damage and abrasion. Also, the wax will spread out a bit and fill your sewing holes, making a more water resistant (not water proof) seam.

Pine pitch is great for sealing a patch on shoes or anyplace a repair won't have to bend. It's flexible when warm, but will crack in cold weather if you bend it. You can make water-bearing bags and cups with pitch-sealed leather as they did in Europe 600 years ago.

Straight pins and small spring clamps: Pins hold your fabric together while you're stitching. But sometimes you need to work on a thick seam. That's when the spring clamps come in handy. Just a couple will do.

1/4 to 1/2 yard pieces of fabric: If you're not on the move, you can stockpile larger quantities of wool, linen, cotton, canvas and leather for making clothing and household items. But for an emergency kit, just roll up a few pieces of canvas and linen. Not only will these serve as patch material, but you can also strain liquids through them and even use them for bandages if necessary.

Small container of strong shoe glue like Barge cement: Your shoes and boots are going to wear out and need patching at some point. Barge cement is designed to hold shoes together without nails or stitching. Have a small tube on hand; it's useful for all kinds of repairs.

If you're not on the move and there's room in your kit you can add things like zippers, buttons, hooks & eyes, grommets and elastic. But usually these items can be recycled from other cast-offs. One pair of worn-out blue jeans can be a gold mine of recycled materials--fabric, buttons, zippers, pockets--just cut 'em up and reuse the parts.

Obviously a heavy-duty sewing machine and serger overlock machine are great to have on hand if you have the room and have electricity. But be prepared and learn some basic hand sewing stitches, too.

As with any survival kit--pack what you need and can carry. You never know when your skills with a needle will come in handy. They could even save a life.


  1. Great post - Thank You for the contribution. I've done a little leatherwork / craft as well as simple clothing repair (i.e. blown out seat crotches after bending over), but never anything more ambitious. I've seen some references to kevlar thread, but have no 1st hand experience with it - reportedly very tough stuff.

  2. A sailor's palm included in the sewing kit be good.
    The best ones have 2 thimbles. 1st for sword grip. Thimble high, angled to butt the needle sticking out top of fist, held between thumb and fore finger. The 2nd thimble against meaty thumb base, so that needle portrudes from your fist, between the fingers, a palm dagger grip. Sewing heavy canvas, leather, or rope uses both grips.

    I found this simple homemade palm instruction. Thought might be interesting to other readers.

    Actually, to save space and weight in the kit, I would suggest pre-drilling a nickle or two, or harder metal, as the palm thimbles, and include only them in your kit. They could be sewn on a glove or remnant of a glove or scrounged leather later. Metal drilling might not be an easy or ready option in the brush.

  3. PS: Sailor's palms are traditionally made of leather and rawhide. But why couldnt one be made from a salvaged chunk of old nylon seat belt? Plentifull in junkyards. Hmmm...?

  4. I am a beginner in regards to sewing so this post is quite helpful to me. Thanks!

  5. I have an awl, but honestly am useless with it... I have to practice with it a lot more. I do keep several size needles and thread, but the one thing I refuse to do without in my kit is kevlar thread. The stuff is as strong as fishing line or stronger. You cannot break it by pulling on it between your hands. You will slice yourself open first. Great stuff for those issues that require a strong mend.

  6. Another tip that might be useful to someone. I put a Marble's compass on a latigo strip, and to tie its ends, wrapped them with thread, then soaked with Super Glue. Still holding fast, even after 10 years of sweaty travel (but does that latigo smell rank!) :^)

  7. Thanks for the informative post. In a survival situation, you do what you gotta do, but as a seamstress, I would shoot anyone who uses my sewing scissors for anything other than fabric! I would suggest kitchen scissors for the kitchen. :-)

    I would also add an inexpensive sharpener for the sewing scissors so that they will cut fabric accurately. Something like this works great:

    Also, remember to never use thread that is stronger than your fabric. If there is ever enough pressure on the seam to rip, you definitely want the seam itself to rip, not the fabric. A ripped seam is much easier to repair than ripped fabric.

  8. A good alternative to traditional thread that works great for me is Spiderwire fishing line. It's strong and thin. Might not be as strong as the Kevlar thread mention by one poster but it's probably more cost effective.

  9. Thank you for this article. By comparison I have a pretty basic sewing kit in my BOB. This has certainly helped tremendously. I didn't even consider some of these items. I can sew effectively but I can't sew pretty ;) Often overkill on the amount of passes with thread. Thanks again!


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