Marianna recently did a short, and rather amusing, post about invisible mending, a dying craft.
My father used to wear what he called a “sports jacket” at weekends, and in the 1960s he had a few tailor-made jackets (from Alec Leadenham of Altrincham) something like the image below, and the jacket had been damaged by a cigarette or cigar, as I remember. And my parent’s discussed having it “invisibly mended” in Manchester. I was quite young and I wondered what invisible mending was. My father had shown me, on a previous occasion, that wire – once bent – could never be straightened again. So to say I skeptical was an understatement. I remember my amazement when I was shown the repair. It was literally invisible. It was like magic! The pattern in the jacket had been rewoven in such a marvellous way that it was impossible to see the repair. He also had a very good patch or two that was hard to see – but this was often at the bottom of a pair of trousers or somewhere unobtrusive. He would have leather elbow patches put on jackets if they started to show signs of wear. My father’s family were not poor, but they were Scottish Protestants, thrifty and opposed to waste and they believed in repairing things. My mother on the other hand was keener on getting nice, new things. She felt that darning and knitting your own woolies was old fashioned and dull. My Dad’s three sisters would sit with their mother in the evening, listening to classical music and darning socks with a “mushroom”, or knitting. My Mum, on the other hand, enjoyed smoking, shopping and going out for a run in the car. If she got nail polish on a dress, or burnt a hole in her nighty she would quietly put them in the dustbin.
My mother’s approach is the norm today, and ironically she told me the other day that she couldn’t find anyone to repair her toaster. These days it is usually easier to just replace the garment than pay £60 for a very careful and expert job of fixing the hole by reweaving in threads taken from the seam allowance or hem. For practical purposes most ordinary people in the past will have repaired their clothes, and their sheets (cutting them down the middle and “turning” them so that the worn parts were tucked under the mattress) perhaps. Even a less beautiful repair job is an interesting and attractive feature, in my opinion. Look at these agricultural trousers, hand sewn and repaired so there is almost more patching than pants.
On reading Sew2Pro I immediately thought of Prince Charles. Despite being incredibly wealthy he likes old garments which have been repaired. He has shoes, coats and hats that are several decades old and it is nice that he wears his patches with such pride. He says it is good to preserve old quality items and not to throw out something just because it has a little wear and tear. In fact he values heritage, tradition and likes to present himself as beyond fashion. I for one love his obvious repairs, and the fact that he is unwilling to chuck out a comfy pair of shoes.
The other thing I thought of was the Visible Mending movement, where old clothes are prefered to new, mass production. Especially if they are broken or worn, and the owner cannot bear to part with them. Then the repair is made to enhance the object rather than attempt an invisible fix. At the Makers House in September I just missed Tom of Holland who promotes Visible Mending. I really wanted to know more. He has a blog and has agreed I can show some of his work. I think these garments are such fun. The way the wear on the sock shows the pressure points of the foot. The opportunities to use contrasting and visible yarns to create more pattern and texture. The painterly effects as the design develops. And in Tom’s case he uses different and creative darning stitch techniques too, to add to the interest and texture.
I enjoy mending and darning – techniques my mother taught me. Basically I weave across the hole or thin bit using a similarly coloured thread or sometimes cotton. We have had to contend with dozens of moth holes over the years and many of Nick’s jumpers have been darned. I have also used some iron-on patches that are shaped like moths. They really amused me as a kind of ironic response to the moth. As Nick and I like cashmere sweaters (and so do moths) we have had lots of run ins with them and we have used a wide range of solutions to reduce the population. I once had a nasty attack of fur moths which was disgusting.
I strongly dislike the culture where if something breaks you just throw it away – no one can repair it, or the cost of repair is similar to the cost of replacement. I really like the idea of well loved garments being saved by judicious repairs. It is easier to do repairs if you don’t have too many clothes, or you really love the ones you have. I am very keen on older clothes that have a bit of history and some signs of wear. I am reluctant to throw away old shoes and have them repaired locally and well. But I had not seen the opportunity for creative embellishment as part of the mending process before. When my patchwork tutor Henrika Smith got a hole in her mauve jumper she repaired it with a colourful hexagonal patch. And finally a truly marvellous piece of mending created by artist Celia Pym. This makes me want to knit a Fair Isle jumper, let the moths have a share, then lovingly repair it.
Do you mend? Artistically, invisibly or grudgingly?