Sew What? The Chouinard Expedition Sewing Kit Makes It Easyby Tamia Nelson

Sewing—hand sewing, at any rate—will soon be numbered among the lost arts, along with knot-tying and map-and-compass navigation. Not so very long ago, every working waterman could use a needle and thread, and he often had to. Sails were rent by high winds, and the nearest replacements might be thousands of miles (and many months) away. Clothing wore out, and ready-made stuff, if it could be had at all, was prohibitively costly. In short, nothing was disposable. So make-and-mend days were part of the waterman’s life, both afloat and ashore. But that was then. Nowadays duct tape has replaced thread as the fabric repair tool of choice, though few people will even bother to use tape. When something tears, they’d just as soon throw it out.

Well, you can call me old-fashioned if you like, but I’d rather mend a torn pair of pants than toss them away. Which is why I’ve been packing a handy little sewing kit for more than 20 years. It weighs next to nothing, but it has most of what I need to effect even complex repairs. And here it is:

Chouinard Expedition Sewing Kit

Don’t be deceived by the diminutive size. The lightweight leather pouch contains a surprisingly large inventory:

My Sewing Room

Here’s the tally:

  1. Leather pouch
  2. Card-stock envelope for light-duty needles and thread (see Items 4 and 5)
  3. Instruction sheet
  4. Needles, thread, buttons, and safety pins
  5. Needle threader (a boon to the far-sighted), with monofilament wound around the card
  6. Tiny ziplock bag containing…
  7. Two types of heavy thread (nylon and waxed polyester) and two sewing-machine needles and…
  8. 3-inch cotter pin and…
  9. Collet chuck


Most of this is pretty standard stuff, though it will be familiar only if you’ve held needle and thread in your hand at some time in your life. But even if you’re a skilled seamstress (or seamster?), the collet chuck and cotter pin may have you scratching your head. No matter. These photos will shed some light on their function:

Is That Awl?

Get the picture? The two elements combine to yield a simple but serviceable sewing awl, and the handy instruction sheet tells you how to use it to form a lockstitch in heavy fabrics. Packs, tents, panniers… Whatever Nemesis has torn asunder, the chances are good that this little gadget can rejoin the parts. The cotter pin can also be employed to rethread a drawstring that’s come adrift—surely one the most frustrating of mundane repair jobs.

Pretty nifty, eh? And maybe you’re thinking of getting one of your own. If so, you’re in for a disappointment. The Chouinard Expedition Sewing Kit has gone the way of…well…Chouinard Equipment itself. The bottom line? If you own one, treasure it, because you won’t be able to get another if you lose it. Of course, you can assemble a similar kit yourself from stock items, though the collet chuck will prove a bit of a challenge. But I’d say it was worth the effort, and I’ll bet you will too, the very next time a wind gust tears your tent fly apart with a thunderstorm in the offing. There are no Walmarts in the backcountry, after all!

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For half a century, Tamia Nelson has been ranging far and wide by bike, boat, and on foot. A geologist by training, an artist since she could hold a pencil, a photographer since her uncle gave her a twin-lens reflex camera when she was 10, she's made her living as a writer and novelist for two decades. Avocationally her interests span natural history, social history, cooking, art, and self-powered outdoor pursuits, and she has broad experience in mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, cycling, snowshoeing and skiing.