My Mum always bought high quality tights for us kids. She used to hate those itchy-scratchy thick, uncomfortable, cheap tights she was made to wear when she was a kid, so she made a point of sparing us this experience. I had two pairs of wonderful cotton tights – a yellow and a white one. They must have been quite expensive, and my parents never had a lot of money anyway. None of this was on my mind when I decided, about 8 or 9 years old, it would be a good idea to take off my shoes, wearing those aforementioned tights, to win my games of Chinese jump rope (or Gummitwist in German, or Gummihupfen in Austrian). Of course, jumping around in the street didn’t exactly help to make my tights last; I completely ripped them open.
So my Mum made me mend the holes in my tights. I hated it back then, but that’s how I learned basic mending skills. She always mended clothes, that was normal. Every kid in my class wore clothes handed down from older siblings, clothes that were mended and amended to last longer, fit someone else. The idea of buying a piece of clothing to only throw it away after a few times of wearing it didn’t exist in my world. And I never got comfortable with it, even before I learned about fast fashion and how it is even possible to produce clothes so cheap people would rather throw them away than repair them and wear them to death.
Fast forward 30 years. Approximately. I’m back to mending my clothes. For different reasons. It is an act of resisting fast fashion and mindless consumerism. It is also an act of slowing down, being mindful and present. Moving my hands. Creating, being creative. Enjoying the concept of wabi-sabi – seeing beauty in something imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It also means I get to keep clothes I have worn so long they now carry memories and feel like a second skin.
I especially enjoy mending jeans, and mending them visibly, so the mending itself stands out. Jeans fit best and feel best once they are worn in, start to fade. Their indigo dye ages so gracefully and carries the imprint of their aging and fading away. This combines so well with the japanese art of sashiko and boro. Sashiko is a kind of reinforcement stitching or functional embroidery that was used to reinforce worn parts of clothes or other textiles. Boro means textiles that were patched and repaired, often over and over again.
To me, using these old techniques on my clothes, most of them fast fashion, but worn over years and years, feels like slowing these pieces down by making them last much longer than was ever intended. It means also slowing them down by not needing to buy something to replace them, thus buying less clothes and also slowing down the cycle of fast fashion.
Here are a few examples of mendings on jeans I did over the last year:
This was my first go at sashiko. The stitches are quite irregular, but I liked the look of it.
Blown-out bottom; you can see added signs of wear and tear on the stitched up part. The original textile will continue to wear out and the patch underneath will eventually surface. Once the sashiko stitches will wear out, I will add to the mending and reinforce it again.
Small and easy repair on the bottom of a leg. I used vintage denim to patch the hole, a tiny scrap of jeans I got from my partner’s Mum, who is a seamstress and happily passed on some collected pieces of denim scrap for me to reuse.
Reinforcement of a whole area that had become really thin and worn. It will also continue to wear out and the patch I stitched on on the inside will show eventually.
Another blown-out bottom, also the mending itself has added some wear and tear over time and more and more of the patch underneath is showing.
My latest piece of mending with quite minimal stitching. Don’t know if it keeps up, but if not, more stitching will be added.
Not classical sashiko mending, but a classical embroidery stitch to cover up some worn out areas.
Same here, the pocket seam was frayed and I reinforced it with a variation on buttonhole stitch, plus herringbone stitch for the other worn out areas. The whole bottom will need some fixing up soon, before it blows out completely. It’s easier to mend before there are actual holes.
If you have questions or thoughts about mending clothes or repairing your jeans, just let me know. Also, there are a lot of ressources out there all over the web. Check out these hashtags for inspiration: #denimrepair, #visiblemending, #sashikodenim, #repairdontreplace to name just a few.