Do you remember denim iron-on patches and visible darning?
Just a generation or two ago, people mended clothes, and if they couldn’t use something, or if a shirt was far too worn for reclaiming, the fabric was then saved for quilts or cleaning rags. Mending was a form of sustainability born out of a necessity—to save money and repair garments instead of discarding them.
And then came the 1970s and double-knit fabrics, a trend that may have started the drop-off in mending. The fabric was less easy to mend, and the stretchy synthetic fibers didn’t translate well to reuse in quilts or for cleaning.
Today, double-knit fabric may be out of style, but “fast fashion” is a reason many aren’t bothering to mend their clothes. They’re inexpensive, and they feel nearly disposable. Taking the time to sit down and darn or sew on patches just isn’t a priority when you can replace an item just as easily as you can fix it.
In some circles, however, mending has since cycled back into popularity, but perhaps in different ways than my mom or her mom considered. Mending today may not mean the clothing has a flaw or sign of wear, but it can be a way to add some personality—think embroidery on jeans or coats. Those denim knee patches? They’ve also gotten an upgrade with whimsical patches.
People worldwide are also exploring the Japanese mending art of sashiko, alongside a growing search for sustainability in a world of throw-away fashion.
Reuse sites like Turnip Green Creative Reuse in Nashville offer courses on mending. Check with your local reuse sites or sewing studios to learn beautiful mending techniques. Donating a garment to a creative re-use or thrift store is a great sustainability approach, not only for garment usage, but also as bulk fabric options.
The New Ways of Mending
While people are still mending to extend garment life, there’s also been a refocus on mending as an art form. It’s no more patches on knees or elbows just to get by. Today’s mending is playful, creative, even visionary.
We went to Lily Fulop of Mindful Mending, who promotes mending and upcyling clothes. She had answers on what mending means today, who’s doing it, why we’re mending, and with what techniques.
For more tips and ideas, check out her book Wear, Repair, Repurpose: A Maker’s Guide to Mending and Upcycling Clothes.
SL: Does anyone mend clothes anymore?
Lily: Absolutely! A new cohort of young people are embracing mending for a few converging reasons: The desire to reconnect with crafting and making things with your hands in an increasingly digital world.
People are embracing “slow” hobbies that help them be more mindful, and sewing is a really soothing and satisfying practice.
There’s always a new wave of sustainability: Gen Zers especially care about the environment and are learning more about how bad fast fashion is for people and the planet. People are embracing thrifting more, too, and trying to be more conscious consumers. Mending is a way to rescue old clothes so you don’t need to buy new, which reduces your environmental impact.
Mending allows for customization and expressing your personality: With the rise of social media and online shopping, it’s really easy to see a product and immediately purchase it, or see someone wearing an outfit and find the exact same thing. Mending can be a way to make your clothes unique and special,
SL: What do you see as a general perception of mending? How has it changed?
Lily: People think it’s a lot cooler than they used to! A few decades ago, mending was a sign that you couldn’t afford something new. Now, with fast fashion being so cheap, it’s more a sign of your values—that you care enough to preserve your clothes rather than throw them out. I get a lot of people admiring my mends and saying things like “I wish I could do that” since a lot of handwork skills have been largely lost to the general public.
SL: What questions do you get on social media about mending?
Common questions have to do with tricky mends, like how to repair the crotch of a pair of jeans that’s torn.
SL: Is the art of mending falling out of use because of fast fashion/cheaper clothes?
Lily: I think it did for a while, but it’s coming back because people are wising up and realizing how bad fast fashion is. Plus, their fast fashion is falling apart!
SL: Are people just disposing of their clothes instead of mending them?
Lily: That’s the issue with fast fashion; because it is so cheap and poorly made, people treat it as disposable. This creates a huge waste problem.
SL: What is better to you about mending instead of tossing clothes?
Lily: You’re creating less waste, and therefore don’t need to consume as much. Mending also teaches you the value of taking care of your clothes and choosing pieces that you really like and will care enough about to spend time keeping them in good condition.
SL: What are some creative mending techniques that you use?
Lily: I collect a variety of scrap fabrics for fun patches. I use colorful embroidery floss to reinforce holes. I love darning!
SL: Is there a point when mending is no longer a good choice?
Lily: It becomes a cost-benefit analysis of how much time you want to invest in an article of clothing, but maybe it’s sentimental, and you’ll mend it forever! Maybe you want to get as much use out of it as possible because it’s an expensive item. There comes a point when an item may no longer be useful, and then it’s time to replace it.
SL: What drew you to mending? A Grandmother? Lifestyle option?
Lily: I love handicrafts and have been interested in things like sewing and knitting since I was a kid. When I learned about the environmental impact of clothing consumption, I took up mending to try to make a difference!
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