Claire’s Armour

Yikes! My armour fell apart. The steel colored shirt that I bought back in 2005 is disintegrating. This is the plain grey shirt that shows up in most photos of me while we’re on tour; it’s my second skin. Though it has gotten softer with the nearly daily washings, it remains my warrior wardrobe, my shell. The two strategically placed front pockets hold i.d., money, notepad, pencil and business cards; with all that, there is no need for a bra. On the left arm, it has a stitch-witch repair from a bushwhacking snag, the same spot that a gypsy girl grabbed in Tblisi, Georgia and wouldn’t let go until Bob found me struggling and yelled at her. On the right forearm, I’ve stitched the placket closed, so my camera slips into the wristband and hangs out of sight.

As we’ve worn these shirts (we match, of course), across Central Asia, through Southeast Asia, in the Andes and on the Amazon, they’ve faded considerably so the back is a sun-bleached pastel grey compared to the putty grey under the pits and the collar. As fresh as the shirts are in the morning, they quickly wilt in heat and sweat, and by the end of the day, they show grimy bands of oil and dust around the neck and wrists. So they get washed in the shower, everyday that water is available.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when, after wringing it out on the rooftop, I hung it up to the clothesline only to see the peak of the beautiful 6000 meter Stok Kangri right through the tear in the back. At first, it was an uncomprehending disbelief, so I traced my finger along and through the hole. Next, I tugged the wet fabric, only to find that the ripstop nylon was as delicate as a thin pie crust dough.

Moping through dinner, I tried to imagine continuing the tour in any other shirt. This shirt dries so quickly, it only needs a few minutes on a clothesline. It has velcro pocket closures and rubber buttons that have stayed on ever since I reinforced them. Worn together, they make the most drab, and unassuming couple in any crowd. I could never find another shirt like this here.

Then a dinner mate at the guest house, a long distance hiker visiting from the Midlands, suggested an embroidery place down the street; maybe the guy could patch it. The next day, we walked down to the shop selling patches and T-shirts for tourists who came, conquered and got the T-shirt as proof. The craftsman took one look at the series of six-inch tears and suggested a large Tibetan design that would cover the hole. So we could still match, we pulled out Bob’s shirt as well. “Come back 6:00 tomorrow,” the man said.

His automated machine is capable of wondrous designs, but the small oriental looking man admitted to having trouble with the shredded fabric. He even put a little satellite flourish on a small tear beyond the main damage. Bob’s patch is prettier than mine, but that’s okay because from the back of the tandem, I get to look at Bob’s. Both shirts are beautiful and will, we hope, now make it to the end of this tour. Reminds me of a saying that I believe came from the Amish: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

Of course, any sewer knows that to put heavy stitching over a delicate fabric will only endanger the fabric more, so I’ll have to be extra careful washing it and won’t wring it at all. Most days, I’ll just wash the pits, wrists and collar, and with luck, I’ll have a souvenir to retire once we return home.

Claire Rogers


Claire’s Armour — 4 Comments

  1. Bob, you have found a rare woman who appreciates how a piece of fabric can become important to you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Why don’t you throw that old thing out?”

    My fear is that if a precious garment stitched together with memories can be so easily discarded, then how safe is the wearer?

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