Mending Clothing 101: Repair & Rewear to Heal the Planet
June 13, 2022
If sewing patterns read like a foreign language, you’re not alone – only 30% of Americans mend their own clothing. A few generations ago we’d head to the tailor or grab a sewing kit to repair our damaged duds. Today, the world tosses out a garbage truck’s worth of apparel every second.
Unfortunately, this churn-and-burn dynamic is tough on people and the planet. The fashion industry produces around 8% of global emissions. It also exploits low-wage workers in developing countries to keep prices cheap. Keeping up with the latest trends isn’t cheap, either: the average American household spends over $1,400 on apparel every year.
The modern mending movement is on a mission to change all that. In an age of reconsidering our broken systems – it could be just the fix we need.
Mending clothing is a simple way to make our wardrobes more just and sustainable.
The rise of fast fashion has dramatically shifted our relationship with our wardrobes. The global fashion industry produces 80-150 billion garments every year. We buy 60% more clothing than we did 15 years ago, but keep items only half as long.
Our clothes are extensions of our identities. But we often break up long before we have to. While sustainable brands and rental models are shifting the fashion paradigm, buying less is still the best way to manage the carbon impact of our wardrobes.
Fast fashion wardrobes depend on cheap labor.
It’s estimated only 2% of the 75 million global fast-fashion factory workers make a living wage. Mending is a meditative, beautiful way to get more life out of clothes we already own – and value the labor required to produce them.
From IRL to online spaces, #MendingLife is on the Rise
Shifting social values are changing fashion trends – and mending is having a major resurgence. A 2020 survey found over a quarter of British consumers were reusing or recycling clothing more than usual. As folks seek to get more from their clothing, apps like Sojo and the Seam, which connect users to local tailors, are gaining steam.
Consumers are taking matters into their own hands, too. Scroll through Tik-Tok or Instagram and you’ll find hundreds of thousands of #mending and #rework posts sharing DIY tips, tricks, and finished products. In cities around the world, you’ll find pop-up repair shops and events teaching young folks to sew and repair their own clothing.
Mending clothing isn’t just more sustainable, it’s a great hedge against global inflation. While prices vary, it’s often cheaper to get garments repaired than to replace them. You’ll save even more by learning to mend on your own – and it’s easier than you think!
Our massive, global system of consumption is broken. Our individual relationship with our stuff is broken. And in each of our homes, some stuff is broken. It’s time to move past “peak stuff” and tap into the enormous value of what we already have. - Sandra Goldmark, Author, Fixation: How to Have Stuff Without Breaking the Planet
Mending Clothing 101: Reimagining Wear & Tear
Many folks perceive mending as difficult or time-consuming. But you don't need to be an expert tailor to repair your favorite clothes. Anyone can learn basic mending skills, even if you haven't touched a sewing kit in years (or, ever).
When you’re learning how to mend clothing, patience is your most important tool. But it helps to have a few other items on hand:
Needles: a pack of household “sharps” needles is all you need for most hand sewing projects.
Thread: as a rule of thumb, thread should be the same material and weight as the garment. (Learn more here.)
Embroidery Hoop:embroidery hoops help keep fabric taut, which makes stitching much easier.
Sharp Scissors: specialty sewing shears cut with more precision than household scissors.
Pencil/Water-Soluble Pen: to mark the fabric before you sew. (Make sure it’s washable!)
Keep your stitches simple when you’re just starting. An ordinary running stitch will suffice for many mending projects. Backstitching helps when you need a little extra reinforcement, and whip stitches are great for pesky seams. This Lifehacker blog explains the five basic hand stitches you should know.
1. Minor Repairs
Photo by Stacy Fisher
Popped buttons, snags, and frayed seams are common early signs of wear and tear. Luckily, they're also the easiest to mend. Done right, these repairs can even make your clothing stronger.
Mending Seams: First, turn the garment inside out, find where the rip begins and ends, and tie off the loose ends. Next, pin the seam back together and make a running stitch extending half an inch on either side of the tear. (See the process step-by-step.)
Attaching Buttons: Thread the needle from the inside of the garment up one hole and back down through the other – alternate and repeat 2-3 times. For four-hole buttons, thread diagonally to make an X. (Here’s a quick how-to video.)
Rips and Snags: Sewing small rips back together is simple, and only takes a minute. For larger tears you don’t want to patch, try darning. A technique similar to weaving, darning works for both invisible mending and accenting the repair.
2. Visible Mending
Most traditional mending techniques seek to conceal the repair altogether. In contrast, the modern “visible mending” movement is far less discrete.Visible mending draws attention to the restoration with contrasting thread and fabric or decorative stitching. It’s equal parts style opportunity and act of social subversion.
One particularly ancient style of visible mending is having a modern moment. Sashiko is a form of artful mending developed in Japan over 400 years ago. Once used by working-class families to reinforce their workwear, Sashiko has evolved into a beautiful decorative craft.
The word Sashiko translates into “little stabs,” which is fitting for the delicate geometric patterns that characterize this style of mending. In sashiko, a hole or worn-out piece of fabric is reinforced with layers of cloth - traditionally indigo-dyed - and white thread to create a stunning textile design.
I couldn’t tell you the number of pants I donated because they had rips, holes, or just didn’t fit right anymore. I love that I’m able to breathe new life into my favorite jeans – and make them even more beautiful than before! Sashiko has been a blast to learn and is so gratifying. - Madeline Streilein, Joro Software Engineer
3. Sewing Patches
For garments with larger holes, patches are your new best friend. You can use a piece of matching fabric, or add a little extra flair with a contrasting material. Same goes for thread – the world’s your oyster!