I’ve been mending for as long as I can remember. I learnt how to use a sewing machine when I was nine years old; because I understand how clothes are constructed, I know how to put them back together when they fall apart. It didn’t occur to me until a few years ago that not everyone knew what I knew.
I discovered how fun it can be when I invited some friends over for mending bees, a chance to get through our mending piles in a social atmosphere. Wow, were they ever popular. I’ve never received so many follow-up love notes and requests for future events.
I love mending textiles — clothing, furniture, and toys. Especially toys. But I’ve also fixed bad haircuts and mended a few broken hearts (I recently hosted a singles night for all of my single friends). The thrill of the fix is the same for me, no matter the subject.
Here are a few reasons why I love mending, and why you should, too.
I am thrifty
If you pay top dollar for something, you should get your money’s worth. I have a particular cardigan that has survived three different disasters: accidental bleaching, a bra-hook snag and an unravelled collar. Most people would just throw theirs away by now, but I love this cardie, you see, and paid quite a lot for it. Once I realised fixing it was within my capabilities, I had to try. Now it looks great, with patches of lace covering the bad bits, and most people assume I bought it that way.
It’s better than shopping
Attacking your mending pile is like free shopping, but all the clothes fit you and are just your style. Enjoy buying new clothes? Then you’ll love getting back something you’d forgotten about (or which has languished in a mending pile, waiting for you to do something about it). It’s the happiest of reunions. It makes you look at new purchases in a different way, too — more discerning, with more understanding and appreciation of how they’re put together. Quality over quantity.
Mending skills also bring more shopping opportunities. If you find a vintage garment that’s missing a button or needs to be re-hemmed, you can fix it yourself. You’ll save money and find one-of-a-kind pieces that others might look over.
It combines creativity and problem-solving
With mending you have a specific problem to solve, which is a satisfying task on its own. Most mends have multiple ways to solve them, though, so you get to be creative, too. There’s not necessarily a right way to do things — I advocate for whatever method gets the job done and gets that garment back in your wardrobe.
One of my favourite things in the whole wide world is visible mending. Decades ago when mending was common, the goal was to have the mend blend in. Now you can show off your mends and celebrate the new life you’ve given an item of clothing. It’s usually easier and quicker than an invisible mend, and it’s 1,000 per cent more fun. If you have five minutes, I recommend heading to Instagram and searching for the hashtag #visiblemending — it’s so inspirational.
Quick wins make you feel good
Mending (especially visible mending) is fairly quick. For all the months that something sits in a pile waiting for you to fix it, it often takes 5 to 10 minutes to actually mend. The payoff is so great for the amount of time expended. And when you add in the creativity and problem-solving aspects, you can get a real buzz from what you’ve achieved. It can become addictive!
There was a period of time when I was a bit depressed. I remember the exact moment the fog lifted. A special mending kit arrived in the mail from the Netherlands, a new technique I hadn’t tried before. It was so fun that I couldn’t stop and was saying “Wheeeeeee!” to myself. It ticked all the boxes: I solved a problem quickly, I got a favourite garment back, and I made it even better than it was before! Now I wear it with pride.
If not you, then who?
Now for the un-fun part. When you throw something away, there is no “away”. When I first saw that line on a poster, my heart sank. All the clothes in need of repair that you donate to op shops? They’ll get turned into rags in the best scenario, and disposed of in landfill in the worst. Often the problem is exported overseas, where developing nations have to deal with it. There’s a whole psychology around our donation of goods to charities. Many people think: “This item isn’t good enough for me, but it should be good enough for someone else.”
But if charities won’t mend your clothes, who will? Sometimes you can call Gran or a professional alterations business to the rescue. That is OK, too! But I promise you it’s way more satisfying to learn how to do it yourself. If I can teach 20-year-old guys to sew, you can do it, too. Maybe you could ask Gran to help you host a mending bee?
The text for this article first appeared in Slow magazine, Autumn 2017. Pictures here are my own.
Enrol in my seven-week Melbourne mending masterclass and learn a range of techniques for fixing your clothes; head to erinlewisfitzgerald.com for details.