Mending

Lately, I’ve been gorging on beautiful home décor books, the kind that celebrate the quirky and imperfect. Rusty metal, aged wood and mended fabrics.

And it’s the mended fabrics that have me really excited at the moment, though I could, let’s face it, spend all day staring at pretty pictures of other peoples’ houses.

Mending is having a moment right now and I really hope it lasts.  My parents used to mend things. And their parents before them and on back to the dawn of time. And then prosperity hit and we all forgot that you could fix things when they showed some signs of wear, instead of throwing them out and buying new. But thankfully, we’re starting to realize that that’s a really bad idea and we need to slow the torrent of consumption down to the trickle that it used to be if we’re to have any hope of surviving humanity’s takeover of the earth.

I started my mending practice with a linen hand-towel that, after a decade of almost daily use was wearing very thin. A thrifted spool of linen thread and the strong reading glasses and I’ve closed up most of the gaps, slowly and carefully. The results were a bit wrinkly, so I bought an embroidery hoop and now my mending is much smoother.

Then I was on to mending with a patch behind, on a pair of Alan’s shorts.

He’d bought them at the thrift store and they look really good on him. But they’re from a company that makes clothes to not last and as I look closer, I can see more and more holes developing. The fabric is just shredding. They may become bakery-only wear, but I’m learning as I go and improving my technique, which seems like a total win.

Chances are, if we see that brand’s label at the thrift store again, we’ll pass over it, knowing how shoddy their goods are. And that’s one of the benefits of mending: you start to notice how things are made. As you learn how to fix things, you start to make sure that the things you purchase can be fixed. You pass up the things that can’t. We’re buying more natural fibres now. Sturdier and better made.

It’s not just clothing that can be mended. My Dad used to glue broken china back together. Carefully, patiently. You had to look closely to see the joins. He was also good with electricals – the ancient tea kettle had its cord replaced every couple of years. Vacuum cleaners and washing machines. Neither Alan nor I quite have the skills for that, but we asked around a couple of years ago when a couple of the burners on our stove stopped working and found and electrician to repair the connection.

There’s a shoe repair shop downtown that I go to regularly. And a short lecture on how I’m not taking proper care of the leather is a small price to pay for getting another couple of seasons out of my footwear. I like that he takes it so personally.

These are all easy fixes that used to be considered completely routine. My parents were a bit more hardcore. They once spent a weekend reupholstering the seats in their car and who the heck would even think of doing that now?

I once woke up from a nap to find my Nana outside my bedroom door, darning the carpet at the top of the stairs. She also re-embroidered the faces on our beloved stuffed animals for us and now when I look at Bluebelly, I see her sweet smile.

Mending takes time. It’s kind of a form of meditation. You stitch and you breathe and you notice your tension and whether you’re going in a straight line. It takes time and it gives you time to think. To answer questions like, “Wouldn’t it be quicker to just go out and buy a new one of these?” And actually, I added it up, and no, it wouldn’t. I’d have to get in the car and drive to the store, look around for what I was replacing, stand in line to pay for it and then drive home, probably half and hour, likely more, especially if I didn’t find what I was looking for in the first place I looked.

Compare that to sitting at home in a comfy chair with a cup of tea at the ready, enjoying a lovely view. Even if it takes the same half hour to fix the thing I could have replaced, I know which half hour I’d enjoy more.

Add to that the fact that mending is practically free, compared to the cost of the thing you’re buying and the gas to get you to the store (and the time it takes to earn that money) and mending is practically handing your time back to you. While not taking us any closer to the edge of environmental disaster.

I think of my Mum a lot when I’m working on my mending. She’d sit in her chair after supper, peacefully patching up the clothes of her large family. There’d be occasional comments about the number of holes in our pants, reminders to be more careful next time. At the end of the evening, she’d put the patches back in her rag bag, ready for another time.

I’ve started my own rag bag, with little bits of fabric and the spools of linen thread. Like her, I’m using an old pillow case and keeping it in the hall closet. Unlike her, I’m not also storing my knitting needles in there because that was just dangerous and we’re lucky no one actually put out an eye, though a couple of us came awfully close.

The other thing I love is that, while it used to be that you tried to mend things so that nobody would notice that they’d been fixed, visible mending is now a thing. Google it. There’s a hashtag on Instagram. No matter how rudimentary your skills, you can give this a go. Beginners welcome.

As to the small appliance and china repairs, not to mention furniture, homes and cars, there is a YouTube video for everything. Or someone in your community who is trying to earn a living fixing the thing your neighbour is suggesting you chuck out and replace.

I always feel empowered when I’ve fixed something or had it fixed by someone with better skills than I. It’s a much better feeling than I ever get from a purchase.

How about you? Have you been inspired to fix something lately?

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8 Responses to Mending

  1. Douglass says:

    Maybe it takes something to break you open, so you see that replace is the polite word for waste. My mother repaired our clothes until there was nothing left to repair, and only then, growth spurts be damned, those pants got replaced. Socks lasted forever, and she was never shy — and neither were we — if the yarn colours didn’t match.

    And then I became a consumer, with, I seemed to have deluded myself into thinking, better things to do with my time than stitch or sew or darn, all things my grandmother had taught me for some reason.

    Until. We got a wonderful wool blanket, made by a mill in PEI, from wool from sheep raised by a farmer I know. It’s warm, it breathes, it smells of lanolin and the loving care that went into caring for the sheep, hand carding and cleaning the wool, and looming it into a blanket.

    Our newest puppy — the every delightful Saoirse — has the sharpest feet of any dog I’ve ever met. And in her enthusiasm, which she also has in abundance, she tore a ragged rip in our still fairly new wool blanket.

    My first thought, like a spasm, was to just order another one.

    And that spasm stopped my breath just for a moment, a short “what the hell is wrong with you moment”.

    And the torn blanket now sits waiting until I’ve gotten used to my new glasses — those had to be new, the prescription had changed — so I can darn that tear.

    Probably — actually, most definitely — with mismatched yarn.

    • Barb says:

      Please let me see the finished results, Douglass. And give Saoirse an extra treat for bringing you back to the mending world!

      • Douglass says:

        I will. My new glasses changed the location of the near-vision section of the bifocal, so I have to get accustomed to that, otherwise when I’m working close, my eyes move and the world is a blur!

  2. I had to have a fridge repair guy come the other day. He was telling me he’s a year or so away from retirement and he can’t wait. Aside from the obvious, a lifetime of repairing appliances, he told me: “The things they make now can’t be repaired. Tradespeople get no response from the companies because they just don’t care. And to order replacement parts costs as much as buying a new appliance.” All good reasons to go to a second hand store and find older appliances which can still be repaired by experienced folks. Luckily my guy is so experienced he knew how to add some additional life to this relatively brand new fridge.

    • Barb says:

      He’s a good person to know, Lynda. I hope he’s been able to train someone to follow in his footsteps.

      The “it’s as expensive to repair as to buy new” argument is so frustrating and difficult to fight against until you start to look at the bigger picture…

  3. Michaela says:

    Such a beautiful post. And Bluebelly’s face is heavenly!!!
    A tonic as always Barb. Lots to think about x

  4. Barb says:

    Thanks so much, Michaela! Your support means a lot!

  5. Pingback: Actually Time Is Not Money |

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