On the delights and satisfactions of mending

I like mending.  I find it satisfying to have the skills to be able to render something useable when it is in danger of becoming unusable.  I like being able to give something lovely, or simply beloved, a long life rather than accepting that it will have a short one.

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I learned to use a sewing machine primarily in order to be able to mend things, jeans especially, and I am still doing this by machine as well as by hand.

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I do think it is a privilege to be able to take pleasure in mending.  I have choices about whether to mend or darn.  I can afford to buy new things rather than mend them, and this is a privilege that has not been available to most of humanity for most of history.  It’s privilege most people don’t have now.

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I have noticed that I mend sometimes because the thought of shopping for another something is very unappealing.  I love the idea of shopping for books, but clothing, not so much.  If I like a garment, I like to keep using it.  This is my favourite [black] turtleneck for work.  It sprung a couple of small holes this winter and I have stitched patches on the inside of the arm and the front to prolong its life of keeping me warm and unremarkable in work contexts.

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I hope it might make its way through more winters as a result of this patch and the one below.  These patches were so successful I also mended another skivvy that I like much less and that has descended into gardening and being an under layer.  I don’t even like it much.  But it’s warm and serviceable and somehow that was enough.

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Occasionally I branch out. I restitched a spot on my shoes that was coming undone and threatening the structure of the back of the shoe this winter because I couldn’t see my way to getting it to a shoe repairer now the one nearby has closed down, and I thought I should be able to do it myself.

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We use wheat bags in place of hot water bottles, and they sprang leaks, shedding a few grains of wheat here and there, this winter.  I mended them using a stitch I learned as a girl guide, for mending tents–and then mended a new leak and another one.  That sense of history and skills passed on is part of what I enjoy in mending. Years ago, I decided to be one of the keepers of darning for future generations, and I have taught a lot of people how to darn since my mother taught me.  But in the end, I recovered the wheat bags to see if I could, and of course, I could.  Instead of corduroy I now have a wonderful print on hemp left over from having our chairs re-upholstered and an eco print on pre-loved linen.

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I enjoyed being able to extend the life of these jeans for my beloved, even though I could see it would be temporary–and not a very long temporary at that.  I have tended to the favourite clothes of many of my friends and some of my relatives over time.

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I have been having a thought experiment about what it would mean if I never bought a piece of new clothing ever again.  Some of the mending recently has been driven by this thought experiment lurking in the back of my mind this very dry winter.  In previous times when I asked myself if I could never buy a piece of new clothing again, I was often thinking of it as a challenge to my skills as a maker, and as a way of contributing less to the exploitation of people who make clothes under awful conditions in parts of the world with little protection for workers’ health or industrial rights.

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More and more, I am thinking of it as a response to the need to consume less in order to reduce my carbon footprint in the face of climate change.  When I think of Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, I find myself thinking about the idea that we could keep climate change to a degree which might be consistent with a liveable future for the planet if we returned to the degree of consumption of the 1970s and if everyone was part of the effort.  She points to the mobilisations that supported the war effort (here in Australia, we hear and see most about the mobilisation here and in England) as an example of a time in which the entire society was organised with a relatively common goal and a sense that everyone was part of it and that any privation on the home front should be shared in a relatively just way.  Let us concede before going further, as I am sure Naomi Klein would, that here is nothing just about war and no way of justly sharing the many forms of suffering it creates.  A just sharing of the costs of responding to climate change is utterly crucial–and unlikely to happen without a huge movement of people from everywhere demanding exactly this.

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My mending and darning can’t make the world just and it can’t stop climate change.  But it is a point of meditation about how resources might move from me to other people or vice versa.  It is one of many things I might do that might make a difference, however small.  I intend to keep thinking about it and seeing what difference it makes.  I am already imagining how I might plan ahead enough to avoid suddenly deciding I have to buy something I really could make.  I already notice that I wear different things if I think I might never buy a new pair of jeans again.  And I am asking myself, often, and not only in relation to clothing, do I really need to buy that?  Because–there are a lot of people on the planet who need the resources represented by that purchase more than I do.  And the planet needs a whole lot less consumption going on, and especially by people like me–from the overdeveloped world.  So let’s see how this thought experiment comes along!


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31 responses to “On the delights and satisfactions of mending

  1. SubmarineBells

    What an interesting perspective on mending! I grew up with mending of clothes being an onerous-but-necessary task in a not-particularly-well-off family. I’m afraid my perspective hasn’t changed a lot since then… I don’t find mending fun, but I do it in some cases because I particularly value the garments, but mostly because money is tight and replacing clothes whenever something sprouts a hole just isn’t really practical for me. Still, it’s a refreshing change of perspective to see mending as something optional, to be performed with artistry and joy. You rock on with your joyful artistic self!


    • I also grew up with mending as onerous but necessary because of need. I remember my mother teaching me how to darn, and not on a luxurious pair of hand knit socks, but on a pair of cotton socks from the shop, darned with white sewing machine thread. That was a long, long job. I grew up conscious that my mother in particular had grown up with clothing made from feed sacks and recycled fabrics (and just simply, with many fewer clothes than a lot of people in this country now own). Somehow I took to mending even when I did it out of sheer necessity. I had a pair of jeans from the Ants Pants (remember them? Cheap poor quality jeans chain…) I mended them so many times that they had patches from hip to ankle down the front. I love the genius and skill required for the job, somehow. But–I am a woman of means now and do have choices. I think this requires acknowledgment! I was very interested when I had the winter of much mending how many commenters here were shocked by my non-matching darns in underwear… and have been considering whether artistry could be part of it since, as well as making mends that don’t show if I can help it, for some purposes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this great post. It reminds me of the thinking of Paul Gilding in his http://paulgilding.com/the-great-disruption/ and of the work of Ted Trainer and, more recently, Samuel Alexander and the http://simplicityinstitute.org/. I too am close to a reality of buying no more clothes and making-do-and-mending or re-imagining my existing set of clothes. Frugal is not a dirty word. Let’s bring it back instead of leaving it with our grandparents’ generation. It might be our main chance. Cheers to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting thoughts indeed. I definitely enjoy mending more now, than when I learned as a child. Perhaps the beautiful second hand darning mushroom helps. I am lucky enough to be able to buy clothes and do so more than I need. I have been going through my t shirt shelf recently and am finally wearing my 2000 Sydney Olympics t shirt – strangely enough I can’t recall just what occasion I was saving it for. Ones that have finally worn out are currently strung to hold up the forthcoming crop of broadbeans. And yet, we had to throw away a whole pile of old rags as they weren’t being used. At least I can in good conscience take them down to the print workshop where rags are always in demand. We can always do more and I am often let down by my own attitudes. However better something than nothing I mutter to myself. Now I’m rambling but its interesting to hear others ideas and views.


    • I think it is all worth thinking about. We always can do more, and I think it makes sense to keep thinking and keep deciding what you can do. None of us are likely to become perfect–and we don’t need to. We just need to keep at it! Glad you’re on the project. Love the image of broad beans tied up with t shirt rope! I love my darning mushroom too, having been taught using the bottom of a vegemite jar!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hooray for mending! and you are an unusually artful technician! I love this blog 🙂


  5. inspiring, as usual! I am still working on the darning and mending…I enjoy the hand-sewing immensely, but find my “inner critic” getting in the way of letting loose and just doing. My grandmother was so good at all of these make do and reuse things, even turning cast off suits and coats from the adults into stylish beautiful clothes for us girls. She taught (or tried to!) teach me, but I was only marginally interested back then. I wish I had paid more attention.
    And a question: what is a wheat bag? How do you use it?


    • Ah, the inner critic. It’s a terrible shame so many of us have such hostile inhabitants! It is a shame to listen to voices we would recognise as abusive if they came from anyone else. I have very much enjoyed darning my underlayers in contrast stitching, careful stitching, careless stitching, squares of darning, circles of darning and the occasional little leafy embroidery. Noe one would ever know were it not for the blog! Let your inner experimenter free, I reckon! The wheat bag is literally a bag filled with whole wheat groats. You put it in the microwave for a little while and use it much like a hot water bottle. Good for cramps, sitting still too long on cold evenings, and sore muscles. And for the classic cold feet in bed!


      • I’ll try to adopt more of you attitude – enjoying the handworks for their own sake!
        Ah..and the wheatbag is the same as buckwheat or flaxseed bags here. The little language “barriers.”
        : )


  6. I’m not sure if I love the mending itself, but the feeling of not being wasteful is very uplifting.


    • I think so too! Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment 🙂


      • You always have such interesting projects and your emphasis on sustainability is inspiring. Thanks for sharing.


      • Thank you so much! It’s lovely to have found people through the blog that share some of my–ummm–inclinations in textiles and sustainability! In one way it shouldn’t surprise. Why shouldn’t other people be intrigued by things that intrigue me? But… lots of people aren’t the least bit interested. I’m delighted that you are! warmly, m


  7. Susan

    Wheat bag AKA hot water bottle I would assume 🙂 I like mending, it is not onerous but perhaps that is because I don’t HAVE to! Good on you and keep it up. Should I stay the same weight………….there will be no need for new clothes!


    • Oh yes, the changing shape is a challenge. This week I pulled out a pair of grey woollen work pants I made at least 10 years ago. They are still in fine form, but they are a testament to my having been somewhat slimmer. On the other hand, I have a black pair that require a belt to hold them up, made when I was plumper. Never mind! I do think the perspective of choice is different to the perspective of necessity. Necessity can come with skill and competence and beauty and satisfaction. Things done out of necessity can also bring joy. But not always!


  8. Nat

    Such skillful mending that I had to take a second looked to find where you did them. Very interesting process of today, but where I come from in my mother’s world. Mending was a must and practiced in her daily life. Thanks for brought back my treasured memories!


    • Thanks for your kind comment, Nat! Treasured memories are a very happy thing. The genius people use to get by when times are tough is inspirational to me, even if I wish it were possible to share resources so that poverty was not such a big issue for so very many people.


  9. Both me and an older sister love mending,she volunteers at an op shop and regularly brings clothing home to clean and mend before returning to the shop because she gets such enjoyment from it.I mend for several friends and a younger brother who all clam to be unable to hold a needle and thread.But I get real enjoyment out doing it that I don’t mind.


    • I also mend for people who claim not to be able to sew. Part of me wants to object (and sometimes I do), but the other part doesn’t mind–just like you,. really…


  10. i grew up with mending and with making. if i’m given something new it usually hangs on the end of the bed for a month or so while i become accustomed to it. but once i fall in love with something i want it to last forever and so the mending (and overdyeing and layering) begins. with me it’s mostly about keeping that comfy thing going. i try to consume less but manage to contradict that by making and offering garments for sale so i admire and respect your deeper and more philosophical approach to the practice (as well as those darling tiny stitches)


    • I am the other way around in relation to new things: I am a bit superstitious about wearing new clothes straight away in case I take against them somehow. But once the love is there–I’m in there mending alongside you! There are plenty of contradictions in my life. I doubt very much that I’m especially deep or philosophical! But I am utterly tickled by ‘darling tiny stitches’ 🙂 I have that wonderful dress hanging on the door beside me just now like some kind of benign phantom keeping an eye on me. I enjoyed mending the little tear in it and working my way over it where your fingers had already travelled, finding a little trail of indigo thread wandering about down near the hem …. So different to mending garments created by a machine or a completely unknown person from far away.


  11. Thanks again for an inspiring post. You may have come across her already, but talking about mending, Hilary Hollingworth (hilaryhollingworth.co.uk) who also has the Fàcebook page ‘Darned Weave’ creates the most beautiful art pieces with her own style that uses darning/weaving. It’s really beautiful. Your post and her work inspire me to be much more creative when I tackle darning now.


    • Hi Keryn, thanks for the links–such interesting work! And thanks for your kindness. I am constantly amazed that things I do quietly and persistently and which people sometimes remark on as being odd about me… turn out also to be inspiring to others. It has been an unexpected but wonderful thing about taking up the blog. warmly, Mary


  12. Tineke

    what a great blog, and funnily, because I am of the older generation I thought wheat bags were used to store the wheat after harvest and when they were empty they made great doormats in the lobby to wipe your feet before coming into the house….


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  14. Like many people here, I too am making tentative moves in the same direction: of buying less, using less, wasting less, making more with less. I have spent so much of life living wastefully that I have plenty to make do with, so it cannot be considered a difficult project in any way other than changing my long-engrained habits. Thank you so much for voicing so clearly what I have been searching to express for myself.

    Now to track me down a darning mushroom, I need to buy one… don’t I?😉


    • I totally agree that the principal challenge for those of us with stuff stashed up (I am with you on this) is to change our habits and ways of thinking, as well as our actions. Sometimes changing my mind changes my actions, but sometimes changing my actions changes my mind. I have really noticed how learning natural dyeing has changed the way I look at the world. And planting out my neighbourhood and bringing home all the litter I find and all the bits of plastic I dig out has made me think differently about litter and plastics. Heh! A darning mushroom is a pleasure but even now I have one I often just use my other hand… and my Mum taught me with an upended vegemite jar (a small glass jar with a concave base). Decisions, decisions!


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