On Mending and the Meaning of Repairing
How I rediscovered the beauty of mending my own clothes (and how it brought me closer to my grandmother).
Jeans and I, we have a complicated relationship. Not only because it’s hard enough to find a comfortable yet fitting pair when you fall just a little bit outside the (very narrow) norm, but because the few times I found the one, they tended to have a rather short life. Mainly because they ripped right at the inseam between the thighs – a problem that a lot of people with average hip to thigh ratio share. Consequently, many once-beloved jeans made their way into the denim graveyard in the back of my closet, waiting for the magical moment when the muse would kiss me and I’d find a way to mend them to my satisfaction. Until then, I kind of made my peace with it. Partially, because mending had been lost as an everyday practice in times where replacements are cheaper and time is scarce.
Now, on to the accident that got me here: It was one of my favourite pairs of flared denim and one gloomy afternoon they ripped! Luckily enough, they did not rip at the difficult inseam but at the seam of the patch pocket on the front. Coincidentally, this also happened right before we started working on the Needlework issue of Fashion Foreword. Still, it hurts because I am one of those people that tends to get emotionally attached to my clothes. I almost always remember where, when, and why I fell in love with them, and how they became important to me. Suffice to say that I have a really hard time letting go of my clothes (but that is a story for another time). So, yes, I remember buying this particular pair of jeans as a gift to myself for passing my confirmation event in the first year of my PhD studies. It was also the time when I really leaned into the whole seventies aesthetic, partly induced by my new obsession with everything crochet. I felt these jeans would be the ideal pair to make me the person I always wanted to be – you know, as you do in a consumer driven world – and to an extent they did. Except for the fact that the cut was quite tight at the beginning, I really loved how they made me look and feel, and I happily soaked up the compliments I got. So, this time when the jeans ripped I just did not want to let go of them. Instead, I thought I could put my rediscovered DIY skills (thanks to the pandemic) to test and mend them.
The first step on my mending journey was, of course, the internet in the hope of finding the perfect method to repair my jeans to their former (or rather, new) glory. I found a plethora of possibilities: from invisibly stitching a hem to the various ways of darning socks. In this case, however, I decided to ‘visibly mend’ them, or rather do a combination. With needle and thread, I got to work and stitched my beloved pair of jeans back together. First, I tried to just stitch the rip together at the seam with coloured thread. However, because of the weave of the denim, there was still a visible rip. So I also added an ‘invisible’ weave stitch in blue.
In recent years, visible mending, sewing, and knitting have become a practice – one could even call it a movement amongst the fashion-conscious crowd. It is a practical response to the increasing wariness towards the fashion industry and particularly popular amongst Gen Z, who also value sustainable fashion practices like second-hand shopping and upcycling. Many fashion brands are also promoting longevity of their clothes with programs for mending and repurposing clothes, such as Patagonia’s Repair Truck, Nudie Jeans or A.P.C. However, the reasons to visibly mend your clothes go deeper than repairing the surface. They can be very personal, yet also express global concerns. As Aicha Abbadi writes in Address: Journal for Fashion Criticism: ‘During a time of widespread guilt, blaming and activism, mended scars also represent an expression of care and wanting to make things right at every scale. When world issues and unpredictable events seem overwhelming, it is the small things that are being fixed again.’
While mending my jeans and learning about the visible mending movement, I suddenly found myself reminiscing about the times my grandmother, who worked as a seamstress, and I repaired and made clothes together. It was one of the rare moments in which I felt really close and connected to her, where we spoke about the easy and the difficult things in life, and where I got to know her not just as my grandmother, but simply as herself. Our conversations flowed to the rattling and buzzing of the sewing machine. She taught me the feeling of creating something with your own hands, taking care of your clothes, and the importance of always (really, always!) using a thimble.
I guess one can say that this mending journey was successful. Not only because I actually repaired my pair of jeans, but because I learned a lot about my relationship with clothes and how (and why) I can prolong their life in my wardrobe.
We would love to know if you have ever mended or repaired your own garments. Do you feel a special connection to your clothes? Does mending them change your relation to them? Join us on Clubhouse for a chat or let us know in the comments below!