Mending

What makes a garment repair-worthy?

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Some garments are worth mending because they are special to you. The garments you absolutely love wearing. The handmade items you have poured time and thought into making. The garments that have a special story, like a Christening gown being passed down to new generations, or a hand knitted jumper that speaks of family connection.

Some garments are worth mending because they were expensive, and it makes more economic sense to repair the old than splash out on a new replacement.

But what about the rest, or most, of the clothes in your wardrobe? The garments that are neither particularly pricey, nor very special, but simply serve the purpose of keeping you clothed and fit to be seen. Are they worth mending, too?

 

The story of the plain old sweater. Again.

Earlier this year I wrote a post on how to mend underarm holes quick and easy. The turquoise sweater I mended in that post is neither very special nor particularly valued in my wardrobe. It is just a plain old sweater, a little scruffy now with many years of wear.

I have almost got rid of it many times, only to scoop it back out of the donation pile thinking that if I, even I who once bought it, no longer want to wear it, who will?

Nobody, probably. A thought that is confirmed whenever I read things like this: no one wants your used clothes anymore. The amounts of unwanted clothes already out there is overwhelming.

I don’t love this particular sweater, but I can still use it. I have already mended it a handful of times. And I realise not every garment needs to be perfect to be worn. Not every garment needs to be so very special or expensive to be worth repairing.

The perfect wardrobe

I would never pick this turquoise sweater for a capsule wardrobe, where every item needs to be versatile and at the same time beautifully convey your style. Capsules are for the best pieces. But if capsules are the ideal, what happens to the ordinary items that, you know, are just okay.

Every time I have taken this sweater back into my wardrobe, I have unintentionally renewed my commitment to it. Every time I have mended it, I have forged some sort of emotional connection to it. By mending it I have made it mine, because now it is something I have put my mark on. With that sense of ownership I feel a certain responsibility for wearing it.


The incentive to mend

Privileged, as many of us are in the West, we are far beyond the point where mending is a necessity to keeping ourselves clothed. Far from it. Often, it makes more economic sense to a buy a new replacement (made from virgin resources and shipped across the globe) than paying for a repair done locally.

Yes, fast-fashion has made clothing accessible to the masses. But with that, has also come a devaluation of clothes, and the materials, labour and skill that went into making them.

What is the incentive to mend, today, when most of us no longer need to mend in order to save money or materials?


Environment versus emotion

There are, of course, environmental reasons to mend. Mending means less textile waste, fewer clothes flooding the second hand market, less virgin materials used, less pollution and less water waste.

But these reasons often aren’t enough to get you mending if buying new is just as easy. Merely having less of a negative impact on the environment is hardly motivating. These environmental reasons, though good in themselves, are too abstract, too distant, too far removed from your everyday life.

A good reason isn’t enough. You need a reason that motivates you. The money you have in your purse (or bank account) is motivating. Holding on to a family connection, a special story or a fond memory is motivating. But mending clothes that mean nothing, cost little and are easily replaceable isn’t motivating.


Emotional connection

Here is a hypothesis: Without the traditional money-saving reasons to mend, we need instead an emotional connection to our clothes to get us mending.

If that is true, it might explain why I find darning socks so utterly uninspiring. I have absolutely no emotional connection to my socks (despite trying for years to pay them the respect they deserve by folding them neatly, Marie Kondo-style). Socks are so easily replaceable, cheap and soon worn down anyway. That, and I find darning them awkward, fiddly and boring.

But, from a sustainability perspective, it is worth mending anything you are willing to keep wearing – even fast-fashion items. Even when mending takes as much time, effort and money as buying new. Even store-bought socks.


Creating meaning

Perhaps materialism is good. Feeling an attachment to your things means you value them and gives you a reason to to care for them. For, why else would you bother?

What makes clothes – just ordinary clothes – worthy of repair? You do. Clothes are just clothes, until you place them in a context of meaning.

As it happens, that plain, old turquoise sweater of mine has become a token of greater things: commitment, comfort, connection to my personal history. Despite it being just an ordinary piece of clothing, it is now part of my slow fashion journey because I made it so.

 

How slow was 2017?

What does slow fashion really look like facing the everyday realities of time, money and life that gets in the way?

I have looked at my numbers for 2017: what I bought, what I made, how much I spent, how thoughtfully I purchased, the mistakes, the successes. In short, all the nitty-gritty details of an honest, imperfect attempt at making better clothes decisions.

(Pour yourself a cup of coffee because this is a long one.)

 

How many new items?

20 (including shoes, not counting underwear)

Of those 20 new additions, 2 were bought second hand.

 

11 were handmade!

 

How many of the new items were a success?

14 of the new additions were a success.
2 were okay, but not fantastic.
4 were wardrobe flops.

14 out of 20 makes a success rate of 70%. But what about the wardrobe flops?

 

The wardrobe flops

Looking back at the wardrobe failures, two were due to the trial and error of learning. The edging on the jersey tops I sewed curled after the first wash. That is okay. I want to make my own clothes and keep pushing my skill set, and mistakes are part of that process (however annoying it is to admit it).

One was due to bad decision making. The second hand pair of hiking trousers just don’t fit and I should have faced up to that before I bought them. I could take out the waistband, but I might as well sit it out for a while and see what my body looks like in a year or so.

One was an unforeseen flop. The zero waste jacket didn’t end up being worn. I think, because I sewed it while at the beginning of my pregnancy and I still feel a wave nausea each time I look at it. Weird, I know. I’ll bring it back out when I’m ready.

 

Were the items sustainably sourced?

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The good: 8 items


The okay: 7 items

  • Two leggings and two tops sewn in organic cotton jersey, though produced under unknown working conditions. Leggings adapted from the True Bias Hudson pant pattern. Tops self-drafted. (Images at the top of the post, first row.)
  • Dress from Gudrun Sjöden in organic cotton, but produced under unknown working conditions.
  • Purple boxy dress sewn in a standard cotton jersey from my stash, pattern from Stoff & Stil. Not ethically sourced fabric, but points for using up what I already had. (Image at the top of the post, bottom left.)
  • Winter boots from Ecco. A quality-focused European brand who own most of their supply chain, though I know nothing about the labour and materials that went into these boots.
  • Zero waste jacket sewn in a wool/poly blend. While a zero waste pattern reduces textile waste, the fabric was not ethically produced, known-origin nor 100% wool. (Image at the top of the post, first row, second to the right.)


The bad: 5 items

  • 2 store-bought jumpers in alpaca, but from unknown origins and produced under unknown working conditions. (Plus, I wouldn’t have bought these if they hadn’t been ridiculously cheap sale items.)
  • 1 fast-fashion item bought in a haste
  • 1 pair of trainers, not only produced under unknown working conditions but with a sole that probably won’t decompose for another 1,000 years.

 

How many repairs and refashions?

7 (counting all the darned tights and socks as one.)

  • Jeans - sashiko-style knee patch
  • Jumper to cardigan refashion
  • Second hand jacket - hand-stitched the facing
  • Wool camisole - darned
  • Socks and tights - darned (lost count of how many)
  • Maternity jeans – ripped and reinforced
  • Winter boots - repaired at a cobbler

 

What did it all cost?

I spent 11,100 NOK on clothes and shoes, bought, handmade and repaired last year. That is about €1,155, £1,020 or $1,408 US.


Handmade vs. ready-to-wear

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Ready-to-wear items (new and second hand) made up 60% of the total cost of clothes and shoes.

Looking at the number of items per category, the handmade garments were cheaper in average than the ready-to-wear garments. This surprised me, because for most of the handmade items I deliberately tried to source my materials more thoughtfully. While, on the other hand, several of the ready-to-wear items were very cheap.

With this in mind, I realise that making garments myself means quality, ethical fashion is within reach. I thought the cost of ethical fabric would make it unattainable, but really it is finding suitable fabric that is my main challenge. The most expensive handmade item last year was the blue Kalle shirt dress, which added up to 800 NOK (€83, £73, US $101) including pattern, ethically sourced fabric, shipping and taxes. I can live with that. I would rather reduce the number of items than skimp on the fabric.

The repairs gave most value for money, though here the numbers are misleading. I only paid for one repair: the boots I took to the cobbler. For the rest I used materials I already had.

 

How do you measure slow fashion success?

I added more items and mended fewer than I would have wished. Another question just as relevant as the number of pieces added, is the number of pieces that went out. Where did they go: into storage, donated, thrown out, repurposed as fabric? I didn’t keep track of that. But there certainly were things that went out of my wardrobe last year.

 

Ideal vs. real

Ideally, all the new additions to my wardrobe last year should have been real wardrobe workhorses and they should all have come from sustainable sources. Ideally. Realistically, I am not there yet.

As a second-time mum, my body has gone through big changes over the year and I am still waiting for it to settle into its new shape. As an adult and woman I am still figuring out how I like to dress. As a professional I am still finding my place. And as a maker I am still learning. This all takes some exploration, some trial and error, some time to hone in on.

Slow fashion is not only about the amounts of clothing I have. It is as also about having the right clothes, for me and for my lifestyle. Do I feel comfortable in my clothes? Do I have clothes that work together? Do I have clothes I want to wear and will want to repair when they need it?

Adding and subtracting clothes in a thoughtful and more sustainable way is my goal. Getting there is a journey.

 

Was 2017 a slow fashion year for me?

Well, it kind of was and it wasn't. I am thinking: mend more, buy less and enjoy the process of making.

Slow fashion october

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Mending is one of the things I am trying to embrace on my slow fashion journey. Sometimes mending is just boring and tedious, like darning holes in store-bought socks. But other times it can be creative, fun and empowering, like with this jumper.

A friend of a friend approached me with this jumper, once knit by his girlfriend’s grandmother. I have since re-knit the cuffs, repaired loose strands in the colour work pattern, mended tiny moth holes and, this last time round, darned and reinforced the worn areas under the arms.

And so the jumper lives on.

Stopping to think about it, that is quite wonderful. Something so small and seemingly insignificant as simple stitches, needle and thread, can nevertheless breathe new life into something old and worn. And with that, bring forth the history of the people, places and materials that formed the garment.

Sure, it is just a jumper. But on the other hand, it is also a physical token of a person’s handicraft, her skills, time and intentions.

Mending is a balancing act between old and new. It's about trying to make the mend as neat as possible, while also letting go of perfection and pushing through the fear of failure. A general life lesson, in short, to be found in the simplest of tools and in an act as ancient as our ability to clothe ourselves.

In the midst of the #slowfashionoctober conversation, I wonder what slow fashion really means to me. There are so many ways to approach a more thoughtful and long-lasting wardrobe, and in the extension of that, a more sustainable world. To me, mending is an important part of that story. Not only on the immediate physical level of being able to repair garments that would otherwise be thrown out as waste. But also in the more general sense of carrying with us a mending mindset; accepting what is good enough and finding ways to make whole again what was once broken.