Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
This phrase is known as the “3 R’s” although I’d add a 4th-
Throughout my career as a touring Wardrobe Mistress, repairs and mending was the one skill-set I called on the most, and was always looking to improve. I really do believe it’s as valuable a life skill as being able to cook.
So, why do I call mending “Mindful” I can hear you ask…….
Whilst re-stitching the burst crotch seam of King Lear’s breeches a few moments before he went back on stage was anything but mindful, the act of hand-sewing and restoring something to its former glory IS a very mindful practice. I think all hand sewing can be therapeutic, since you can only make your fingers so fast! It’s the definition of “slow fashion”
Unlike sewing by machine, when you can feel out of control as it’s the machine in charge, hand sewing puts you back in charge. The connection between the physical sensation of holding a metal needle between your fingers, weaving it in and out of the cloth combined with focusing intently on where you place the stitches really makes your mind slow down, entering a meditative or mindful state. It really is very hard to hand-sew and think about tomorrow’s to do list or anything other than concentrating on the task in front of you.
Mindfulness means to be in the moment, and being mindful of the moment you’re in, and for me mending has always taken me there.
As they say “sewing soothes the soul”
Resources for mending
- An assortment of darning needles
- Embroidery or darning hoop for woven fabric
- A selection of threads- embroidery/cotton darning/woollen darning/sashiko
- A darning mushroom or egg for knit fabrics
- Embroidery templates or inspiration
- Fabric scraps for patching
- A good Playlist…
Recently there’s been a renaissance around “visible mending’, nearly all of which involves hand-sewing.
A well-known visible mender is Celia Pym, whose work transcends the border of art and functionality. Having won the women’s hour Craft prize in 2017, her work came to greater prominence with a residency at the V and A, as well as a UK gallery tour. Much of Celia’s work utilises darning as a mending method.
Darning is probably my favourite mending technique, and I can’t imagine how many knees, replica Elizabethan Hose, socks, trousers and jumpers I’ve mended over the years. Visible mending celebrates darning, allowing it to become part of the history of a cherished garment, with the stitching done in bold contrasting colours rather than merely being sewn in matching threads that disguise/hide a “fault”
You don’t need a lot of tools or space to darn, and whilst it’s time consuming, the repetitive nature of the process of darning is one I find extremely relaxing. Essentially darning is a way to fill in a hole with thread or wool. You start by creating parallel rows of threads in one direction across the hole, and then weave threads horizontally across those threads picking up a little of the fabric around the hole as you change direction.
Traditionally, mending has often been undertaken in community groups, providing a social aspect to the work. In this photo entitled “This darn day” the group are darning sheets for the NHS as part of an installation event organised by Celia Pym.
Image credit – http://celiapym.com/work/this-darn-day/
Did you know that the term “Sewing Bee” was in existence long before it was used for the TV show? In fact the Queen Mother ran twice weekly Sewing Bees at Buckingham Palace during world war 2. At these events the women sewed, knitted or mended items to provide small comfort to overseas troops.
Another popular mending technique is Boro, a Japanese patching technique that breathes new life into clothes with holes.
The Japanese expression “Mottainai” is a term of remorse for something useful going to waste, translated as “what a waste”
Boro mending was originally a method of re-in forcing and mending the clothes of farmers and fishermen, but now has developed into an art form with pieces being exhibited in galleries across the globe. Essentially a patch of fabric is laid over or under a hole, and then rows of running stitches secure the patch to the original garment. It’s the simple repetition of the same stitch that makes this technique so mindful and relaxing. The running stitch forms the basis of sashiko, which is a Japanese embroidery technique. This style of work requires exact stitch lengths at even regular distances apart.
It’s the concentration required to ensure this that really stills the mind. Unlike our throwaway fashion culture where torn is disposed of, an item with multiple layers of boro patching is seen as a treasure, a much-loved garment to keep and pass on. Reconnecting to our clothes in this way is both humbling and reminds us that everything we own came from the planet as a raw material. The earth doesn’t have infinite resources, so when mending I’m reminded of how the fabric came to be made, and who made the cloth into the piece that I’m mending.
Fast fashion has divorced us from the real value of our clothes, but a mended garment reminds us that clothing shouldn’t be disposable. It’s the quietening of my mind as I mend that allows me to think more mindfully around my consumption.
I’ve recently become a needle felting convert.
Whilst for many this technique is decorative and used to make new things like small animals etc, I’ve discovered it’s a super quick and easy method of repairing holes in knitwear/fabric. I saw it on a jumper at a craft shop in Adelaide, and it prompted me to research deeper. Even Martha Stewart is an advocate, and has some great examples of holes felted in the shape of sweet hearts or circles.
Since the process involves using a barbed needle to punch wool roving into the hole, it’s a mindful way of letting off steam. Had a bad day? Grab a needle felting tool plus a mat and start stabbing away, I guarantee you won’t stay angry for long!
It’s a good idea to use a needle felting mat to work into, which is a kind of flat brush. You’ll need a selection of assorted needles, I use a coarse set to get the felt made and applied, then a finer needles to smooth the edges. The felt is created with wool roving which can be inexpensively bought in loads of colours. Warning– It’s pretty addictive plus you can add it to any fabric regardless of whether or not it has holes!
Here’s a couple of great books you can dive into and learn more visible mending techniques
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I've just got back into sewing and I find your newsletter tips really useful so do please keep them coming.