A knee wears through in your favorite pair of jeans. The heel of a lovely pair of socks gives way. The elbow of a beloved sweater snags and rips. The strap of a tank top is shredded after getting caught in the door of a dryer. An old T-shirt starts to get those pinprick holes with wear. The pocket seam rips out on a pair of slacks. Moths devour parts of a warm wool sweater. Even with mild daily use, our clothes take a fair amount of wear and will, from time to time, begin to show holes.
In discussing the many ways to prolong the life of the clothes already in existence and to minimize the demand for new clothing, mending deserves a crowning spot. Mending, the act of repairing clothing, extends the utility of garments, reduces the need for new clothing, and keeps fibers out of landfills. Though fiber recycling is available in many areas, the system for recycling textiles cannot keep up with the massive textile waste, which arises both in the production of new garments and in the treatment of these garments as disposable commodities.
As with most environmental efforts, the somewhat hackneyed expression “reduce, reuse, recycle” rings true. Though trite, the order is correct, reduce what you consume, within reasonable boundaries, as suited to the needs of your life. Of your restricted consumption, try to make the items last as long as possible. Reuse what you can, either for the original purpose or a new one, and donate items which no longer serve you. And finally, as a last step, recycle what you cannot reuse. Mending falls into the reuse category, as it provides an economically and environmentally sustainable way to stretch the life of the wardrobe you already own.
The act of mending is nothing new. As long as people have worn clothing, they have repaired it. During the industrial revolution, developments in weaving led to more affordable fabric prices, allowing more people to purchase new fabric to make new garments rather than mend those which they already owned. After the turn of the 20th century, with the introduction of even cheaper, ready-made clothing, the practice of mending fell even lower in the collective perception. Wearing clothes with visible signs of repair such as patches or darns became generally stigmatized as a marker of poverty.
The grunge movement in the later half of the 20th century began to reclaim the practice in pursuit of a specific aesthetic. Rather than eschew this necessary practice, the visible mending movement, which has grown in popularity in recent years, seeks to celebrate and normalize the act of mending. Visible mending is a quiet rebuttal of fast fashion and consumerism. Mending events, groups, instructions, and other gatherings and resources have sprung over the world.
The practice of visible mending takes inspiration from the Japanese fiber art called Sashiko, in which artisans use running stitches to create designs which can both repair or reinforce garments. The cloth created with this technique is used for kendo uniforms traditionally, as it is tougher and more resilient than other fabrics. The designs feature both texture and color in a variety of styles.
I grew up in a household where my dad lovingly darned the holes in our socks, a process which took up time on lazy weekend afternoons. My mom would patch the holes in our jeans and make repairs to ripped clothes. I brought these skills into my adult life. However, the goal of these repairs was to make the repairs invisible. My mom kept a small box with scraps of denim from every pair of jeans she had hemmed. She would painstakingly select the denim which was the closest match to make a patch for a pair of ripped pants. She would hover over a drawer of thread, matching the garment which needed repair as closely as possible. Even as an adult who spends time thinking about sustainability and fashion, I had never seen the visible mending movement until it popped up on my Instagram feed. I was so intrigued and inspired by the beautiful, colorful designs. I love the idea of mending without worrying about making the repair invisible. I think there is room for both skills, but for me, I am having so much fun learning more about and trying new ideas from the visible mending movement.
Mending is a fairly accessible way to interact with your clothing. The practice requires only thread, a needle, scissors, and time. With perfection not being the end goal, anyone can try their hand at visible mending. In the visible mending movement, the patches are meant to be seen as a celebration of the garment and a testament to extending its life and utility. They can be as intricate or simple as the mender wishes. Rather than fuss over perfectly hidden stitches or immaculately matched thread, you merely repair the garment with what you have on hand or what suits the design you wish to create. This practice stands in diametric opposition to the cyclical trend of pre-distressed fast fashion garments.
Mending allows for the personalization of clothing. Use of colors and designs in the repairs can breathe a new aesthetic and functionality into a garment at the same time. For beginners, repairs can use different colors to create simple designs. With a little practice, shapes and more intricate patterns can completely transform a piece of clothing, while also fixing the rips and tears.
Visible mending is not limited to clothing. Cushions, furniture, rugs, and other household textiles can also be visibly mended, which can create both a funky accent and/or a more functional item. My dog likes to sleep on the back of my couch. I think she’s adorable in her perch and do not discourage this behavior. After a year of naps perched on the cushion sewn to the top of the frame of the couch, the stitching gave way to reveal the foamy innards of my couch. I have absolutely no experience with upholstery repair, but after seeing a few examples of visibly mended furniture and having watched a tutorial, I decided to try my hand at the repair. The result is not beautiful or elegant, but it has withstood more top of the couch naps so I believe that it was well worth the effort. There are many inspiring and creative examples of upholstery repair in the style of visible mending which are far more attractive than the result I achieved; it’s a rabbit hole I would highly recommend if you have any interest.
Visible mending can truly span the full creative spectrum. The efforts of some fill a functional need with little fuss. Others extend the practice into textile works of art. The repairs become not only a necessity but a source of beauty. If you’re looking for inspiration outside the world of textiles, you may wish to explore the Japanese art of Kintsugi. Artisans carefully repair broken pottery items using gold to connect the pieces. In this way, the “faults” became both the most important design elements and quite literally the most valuable portions of the item.
As a relative neophyte in the world of visible mending, I realized that in undertaking the repairs, even if my end result totally sucked, it would not be any worse than the current state. If it’s already ripped, really it can only go up from here. I’m far from an expert; the results of my efforts are imperfect but useful. I love knowing that I can continue wearing beloved clothing items, and that I can give them a little personal flair in so doing.
Visible mending rejects the premises on which fast fashion has staked its hold. It opposes the treatment of textiles as disposable; it allows pieces to be worn for longer. It allows people to buy less, enabling them to save money and reduce their environmental footprints. If you have the time and energy to devote to a new skill, this might be the perfect new hobby to take up!
Eleni Georgiadis is a classically trained horn player currently residing in Kentucky. Outside of music, she enjoys knitting, sewing, composting, kombucha brewing, and spending time outdoors. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to share her thoughts about sustainability and inclusivity in fashion, weaving together her technical knowledge, passion, and research.