Visible Mending Is an Act of Rebellion Against the Fashion Industry

It's also really good for the planet.

Visible mending

 Sara Thompson / Flickr

 

My first experience with "visible mending" was when I dropped off a bag of my children's worn-out jeans to a local seamstress and she returned them with brightly colored, patterned patches on all the knees, their lives miraculously extended by several more years. Both my kids and I loved those pants, so unique and impossible to buy, thanks to their handmade upgrades.

Visible mending (VM) is different from traditional mending in that it makes the repair a focal point, rather than blending it into the original garment. There are many reasons for this, from drawing attention to the fact that a garment's lifespan has been prolonged and challenging the notion that secondhand clothes are only worn by the poor, to making a statement about fast fashion's reputation for disintegration or simply adding a personalized touch.

Kate Sekules is a well-known advocate for visible mending. The British-born, Brooklyn-based writer, clothes historian, and mending instructor has a new book coming out in September called "MEND! A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto" (Penguin Random House, 2020). It is a call to action for clothes lovers of all skill levels to take needle and thread to their beloved garments. She reassures readers that anyone can do it:

"The skills are easy to acquire: visible mending is for everyone, including the nonvisual and the all-thumbs and the sewing novice. It’s experimental stitchery, mending improv, fun with thread, arty and exuberant and colorful and silly. The only way to go wrong is to say, 'I can’t.' It’s a craft, but of a modern cast, more art than Etsy. There are infinite ways to execute a VM, and there will never be another one like yours. And though you will never sew two mends the same, you will evolve a style of your own."

Sekules spends the first several chapters explaining why practicing visible mending matters so much. She writes at length about the current fashion industry, and how notoriously destructive it is, from the vast quantities of textile and plastic waste and toxic runoff poisoning rivers around the world, to the horrific conditions in which garment workers work. She has little time or patience for corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments claiming they're taking action for human rights and the climate:

"Any CSR is infinitely better than no CSR, but significant change coming from something beginning with c — for corporate — is impossible. This is elementary mathematics. No massive fashion company can make both clothes and profit at scale. So of course they talk in double-speak, offering, as LVMH did, 'solutions that could enable economic growth while tackling the challenges of global warming.' Translation: 'Increasing profits while pondering the weird weather.'"

So, rather than wait around for the Big Guys to clean up their acts, we individuals can effect tiny yet meaningful changes by picking up our needles and thread and wearing our clothes for longer. 

Sekules' book offers step-by-step instructions for assembling a mending kit and learning basic stitches, as well as techniques for dealing with various garment-related problems. She explains how to make an underpatch, a sort of reverse appliqué; how to ring a hole with eyelet stitch or a looser porthole; how to cover a hole or stain with a pocket; how to add descriptive words or "statemends" (see below) to a garment, drawing attention to its flaws; and how to add decorative "embellishmends". Perhaps most amusing is the Greasytee fix, in which Sekules stitches circles around grease stains on her t-shirts. Similar is Paintypants, when she covers tiny splotches of paint with colored thread, using a rainbow effect.

As someone who does not know how to sew at all, I tend to shy away from any mending projects (hence the seamstress to whom I deliver damaged items for repair). But Sekules' book does a remarkable job at making me think I actually could do this myself – and even want to try. A needle is less daunting than a sewing machine, and the diagrams in the book are so clear and simple that I am inspired to tackle my next holey t-shirt.

Learn more about VM at visiblemending.com or by preordering Sekules' book here.