I love mending clothes. I especially love to visible mend. For me this is a quiet grass roots protest challenging modern societies insatiable consumation of cheap throwaway clothing. I secretly love when I see a little hole forming in my jumper, tshirt or trousers. I usually try to take good care of my clothes so it is rare that I ever get the chance to do a bit of mending.
So I was weirdly happy when a cat with pica* ate holes in my merino wool buff because it meant I would get the chance to make it look really unique! Unfortunately (or fortunately?) Albert beat me to and mended my buff beautifully for my 36th birthday present. He used my collection of found fabric scraps that I carry with me everywhere to make a bacteria inspired design (see below).
In past times, visible mending was a sign of poverty. If you had to patch and repair your clothing, then you couldn’t afford to buy new. But since the 1970s, many took to the distressed clothing look via punk then later via the 90s grunge movement. Ripped clothes in these times were protests against a lack of opportunities for the young people. Not like today, where ripped, distressed clothes are merely a fashion trend. Jane Milburn, owner of Textile Beat, a purpose driven business, says, “do it yourself, don’t buy stuff that’s already ripped” as she describes the trend of buying brand new ‘old’ or ‘used’ look clothing as, “an obscene statement of our abundance and excess”.
Milburn says, “Mending and repurposing clothes is a wonderful way to extend the life of garments that hold special emotional connections for us. You get moth [holes], you get rips, and instead of just throwing them away I mend them, which makes them individual. They are statements of resourcefulness, care and sustainability.”
Personally, I much prefer my trusty old jumpers and jeans. The cuts are more flattering and materials are better quality. When I compare one of my 2006 Topshop tshirts to a 2017 (last time I was in a Topshop) one I can totally see where they have cut corners, using less and thinner fabric that rips more easily and is sometimes even see-through! It makes total sense to me that I would mend my beloved enduring items instead of buying a new lower quality item which are twice the price.
Today, many of our clothes are made of fabrics dyed with extremely toxic chemicals and combined with synthetic fibres, meaning they poison our planet at each and every stage in their life cycle. They also poison the humans that make and dye our clothes and the land and water around these people.
I even find that nowadays it is not enough to say that we will donate our used clothes when we’ve finished with them. This is a passive, ‘pass the buck’ solution that many Western cultures see as ‘doing good’ but the reality is that many over-consuming Western countries don’t have the capacity to recycle old clothing, which generates millions of tonnes of waste annually.
Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood has opened up about the growing problems in her industry which is increasingly fast, increasingly cheapened, increasingly whimsical, and dare I say it, increasingly rubbish. She spoke out to say, “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.”
That’s not to say that I’m not seduced by popular trends, advertising and the lure of the new. I am. But in my more logical and sensible head I know in my heart that vintage and second-hand is better, both for the environment, for longevity of the item but also for me. I will love it more because it is one of a kind. It is different from the norm. It is special and not mass produced or even if it was mass produced at one point then it’s likely there aren’t many around currently. By patching with a special or meaningful fabric I also create a memory. A snapshot of time, lovingly sewn into my clothes. And while I mend I can take time to slow down, to contemplate and think about the things happening around me.
I often look to the Internet for inspiration, there are countless ideas, repairing techniques and mending projects online and many thriving communities of visible menders. The visible mending communities offer a creative and beautiful way of connecting with people and sharing disappearing life skills.
My current lifestyle is one that tries to find meaning in everything I do. I used to live a life that had no purpose and I was bored, lethargic, dull eyed, constantly looking for ‘fun’, searching for someone to tell me what living was for, to give me meaning. I feel like a lot of people live like this today. Even a lot of animals and land live like this. Pets are pampered and fed to death. Gardens are pruned to within an inch of their life. Animals have become products. Just meat for our consumption, living their short debilitating lives in concrete lots or in giant packed barns. There is no individual anymore. Everyone and everything is monoculture, the same old mono people in their mono outfits in their mono lives eating their mono food. Mono is both a sign of our abundance and of the stories of scarcity we are told we live in, we are told to grab as much as we can while we can, to hoard and secret away, to keep everything for ourselves. That if we don’t someone else will take it.
Useful skills, such as darning, which used to be vital are now rare. Young people are no longer taught simple life skills and often come away from school clueless on how to live in the real world (what is the ‘real world’ anyway?). How many young people know how to budget, darn a sock or make pancakes? Know a medicinal herb from a poison? Or even know what a cow looks like?
I want to see a world where the earth is cherished. It is a small step but starting to care and look after the things we already have, to mend and repair instead of buying new. To buy second-hand if we do decide to buy. To borrow what we need and share what we have is a start towards trying to understand our impact on the world’s resources, a way to create a community where there is none, to love quality and long-lasting over cheap and useless. One day industry won’t be able to mindlessly produce crappy clothes and products and on that day the collective conciousness will have a sudden major shift to realise that most of what they own is totally and utterly useless.
*disorder where a cat eats wool
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