Mending: A Simple yet Radical Slow Fashion Skillset

In Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ma Ingalls has a weekly rhythm of work: “Wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, mend on Wednesday, churn on Thursday, clean on Friday, bake on Saturday, rest on Sunday.”

How many of us still have a mending day? How many of us are still in the habit of mending clothes?

It’s the very antithesis of the 21st-century consumerist mindset, isn’t it? We’ve normalized thinking about clothes as a disposable. We’ve normalized updating our wardrobes once a year, if not once a season. If a garment has one defect on it, we tend to give up on it and toss it — something our grandparents and the people before them would have considered obscenely wasteful.

 

Making Slow Fashion Affordable, Even Thrifty

It’s easy to equate “slow fashion” with buying expensive designer clothing labeled as “sustainable” or “organic.” But at the core of a slow fashion wardrobe is something much less glamorous: the habits and skills of taking good care of your clothes, and fixing what we already have so we can use it again and again. In other words, mending our clothes.

It starts with investing in the best quality you can afford. It starts with choosing natural fibers: cotton, linen, wool, silk, hemp. It starts with properly caring for your clothing: wash cold, line dry, and air out woolens in sunlight instead of washing. (Download Fibershed’s free Clothing Guide for more info.)

But when the inevitable happens and your garment has some wear or tear…  that’s where mending comes in. Think about it: if you have these 4 skills in your toolkit, you can extend the usefulness of your favorite pieces of clothing for a long, long time:

  • Replace a button
  • Darn a sock
  • Patch a tear
  • Fix a running stitch in a knitted garment

 

A Mending Mindset

If you need some inspiration to get you started on your mending journey, check out Katrina Rodabaugh’s Mending Matters. Not only is it full of easy-to-follow tutorials for visible patches and other cool ways to mend clothing; it’s also an insightful reflection on the mindset of mending what we own and taking responsibility for what we use — what Rodabaugh calls “mendfulness.”

When we mend, we’re not only mending clothing, Rodabaugh says. We’re mending our personal relationship to fashion.

Mending helps us to understand better how clothing is constructed. It makes us think more about where our fiber and our clothes come from.

Mending is a form of activism. It’s a choice that allows us to step off the fast fashion treadmill of buy, buy, buy and slow down our consumption. But mending is also inherently satisfying. Anyone can learn to do these basic repairs.

As Rodabaugh writes,

Fixing the clothes I already own empowers me in self-reliance, helps me understand the value of the garment and its construction, and pushes me to commit to keeping my clothing in wearable condition for as long as possible. I think this might be the opportunity for the most radical act: honoring what we already own… We need to accept mending as a natural aspect of owning clothing. Fibers fray, fabrics break down, knees tear, and cuffs wear thin. If we can start to shift our view of this from imperfect to inevitable, we might start to see the value in quality fibers, French seams, and well-fitted garments.

 

It can be that simple. Clothes break down. We mend them. Here are four basic mending skills we should have all empower ourselves with:

 

Sew a button

sewing a button

I confess that replacing buttons is one of those tasks I tend to put off indefinitely. But once I actually pick up the garment with the missing button and do it, I feel pretty silly, because it takes all of 5 minutes to sew a button. What took me so long?

If you’re new to sewing a button, see tutorial here.

 

Darn a sock

darning a sock

In her knitting basket next to her rocking chair, my grandmother always kept an old wooden cooking spoon, perfect size for holding a sock while darning it. Just like Ma Ingalls, my grandmother simply took it as a given that as clothes wear and tear, you fix them. Now, when I need to darn a sock, I first go to get a large wooden spoon. Any other implement that gives you a comfortable, wide platform to sew your stitches over works too.

If you’re new to darning a sock, see tutorial here.

 

Patch a tearmending

There are so many patching techniques, each one more beautiful and inventive than the other. Lately, I’ve been partial to the visible patches that I learned from Mending Matters, especially the hand-stitched patch technique called sashiko (right). How clever: you don’t have to try to hide a patch, instead you can use it to embellish your garment and make it more unique.

I move fast and am clumsy, so I break and tear things more often than I’d like to admit. I tore my favorite jeans on some wire fencing while chasing after a runaway chicken. The initial patch I attempted didn’t work. The jeans got pushed in the back of my closet for months until I finally tried the sashiko mend — and now they’re my favorite jeans again!

If you’re new to patching or darning tears on fabric, see tutorial here.

 

Catch a dropped stitch in a knitted garment

If a single yarn wears or breaks in a knitted item of clothing, the entire thing will start coming apart. The sooner you can catch it, the better.

I couldn’t really find a suitable tutorial for this one. If you can find the two ends of a broken yarn, try to go in there and tie them back together, then add enough stitches with similar-colored yarn to patch whatever hole has already formed. Understanding knitting, and how to catch a dropped stitch while knitting, definitely helps.

 

* * *

When we mend, a piece of clothing may get fixed. But the most important work is the work we do on ourselves: patching our urge for easy consumption and disposable, learning to honor what we already have, reminding ourselves that we have the skills to fix things that are broken.

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