The clothes that we choose to adorn our bodies with carry meaning. Before they reach the consumer’s hands there are stories behind where the material was grown, the factory in which the cloth was manufactured, and the person who sewed the garment together. As a fiber artist and consumer, my goal is to honor the meaning behind textiles and add my own designs into the mix. The illustration “Buyerarchy of Needs” by Sarah Lazarovic defines a new paradigm in our consumer-based society.(1) Since seeing it for the first time, I have copied the words down in my own journal and begun to implement the tenets that Lazarovic promotes. For my art practice I am habitually adding fabrics to my collection by seeking out thrifted finds and second hand materials. It has been relatively easy and inexpensive to purchase only second hand or material off cuts for my work. However, buying nothing and relying solely on what I have and swapping with others has taken a few extra steps. One of the ways I’ve been able to abide by the tenets Lazarovic presents and continue to produce new work is by learning how to mend.
Mending techniques have become an important part of my design aesthetic that it is an effective way to add visual interest and added texture to existing garments. I’ve mended a hole in denim step-by-step to explain one of my favorite mending processes. The mending, or darning style, that I depict is bound by a basic woven grid structure. Because I work with these supplies often I was able to use a needle and thread I already had. My thread is sourced from Offcut Basel, a second hand material and art supply store in my region.
1 Sewing Needle, Embroidery thread or light-weight yarn, Fabric needing mending
Step 1: Clear away any stray threads or ragged edges from the hole.Thread your needle without a knot but leaving a long end that you can weave back in later. Choose your darning thread or yarn. I’ve chosen embroidery floss that is thicker than the denim material because it is easier to see the process, but for invisible mends I recommend thread that is similar in weight and color to the fabric.
Step 2: I prefer to outline the edge of the hole with a quick stitch, this isn’t necessary with sturdy fabrics, but with fragile ones it provides a stronger foundation for the darning stitches.
Step 3: Beginning on the back side of the fabric and above the hole, pull the needle through to the front. Create a small stitch by sewing back through to the other side. Don’t forget to leave a long tail on the backside ~ I prefer to weave the thread back in when possible instead of making a knot that could disturb comfort of the garment ~
Step 4: After you’ve created a few stabilizing stitches above the mending hole, pick up the edge of the hole, going under the edge, thread through and end by going over the bottom edge of the hole. Create a few reinforcing stitches on the other side of the hole.
Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you’ve created vertical lines of thread going across the entirety of the hole. The back side of my work has diagonal stitches leading me to the next row.
Step 6: With the needle on the wrong side of the fabric, I chose to make some stabilizing stitches on the right side before I start weaving horizontally over the hole. It is also possible to immediately begin weaving through to the over side without these stitches. Alternate the weaving pattern with each row as you go over and under every vertical thread until you reach the other end of the hole.
Step 7: Weave in the ends on the backside in a similar way to how you’ve been working on the front. Weave over and under a few threads and turn the needle and do the same in the opposite direction for security.
With this basic understanding of how to create a new woven structure where one is missing, feel free experiment, break the traditional rules, and add your own aesthetic to future projects. For example, to complete this project I chose to colorfully embellish the surrounding area with the simple running stitch that we learned above. This piece is a part of my collaboration with the German upcycling brand, Planet Stetten. We are designing a capsule collection that combines hand-embroidery techniques with screen-printed text that promotes the importance of valuing quality clothes that have been discarded in favor of fast fashion trends.
If you’d like to give it a go I recommend listening to a podcast or watching a documentary while working as mending requires time and patience. Here’s what I’ve been listening to as I work ~
Clothes and the Rest - An Ethical Fashion Podcast
“The True Cost” Documentary now on Netflix
“Plastic Planet” Documentary
If you are not interested in sewing or mending by yourself (it can be time consuming, tedious, and knot-inducing!) I encourage you to seek out artists and designers that will alter clothes for you. Ripso is a U.S.A. based platform that offers customizations to its customers by pairing them with a designer that specializes in their chosen customization. These few tools can extend the life of the clothes already in your closet and add a layer of personal value to your garments.
(1) Rivetto, L. (2015). Thrift, Make and Buy: The Top Levels of the Buyerarchy of Needs. Available here