Mr B knew there was something funny going on when I brightened up at the prospect of darning and patching the arse of his jeans. “I’ve seen you,” he said, “looking at those books. You just want to do some elaborate darning, like the stuff you saw in there.” I rolled my eyes and told him that darning was about use, not ornament, and was therefore never ‘elaborate’. But he kind of had a point . . . about the book at least:


I have had darning on the brain since I saw these wonderful samplers by late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century young Quaker women in a book I am now reading (more on this later). While the main purpose of these samplers is evidently the learning of a useful household skill, there is lots of showing-off involved too. Examples like this one are, to me, breathtaking decorative objects which, like other kinds of sampler, are obviously meant for display, circulation, and private appreciation. Indeed, many of the items of plain work or utility sewing in the book seemed to me to be stitched with large quantities of (entirely justified) hubris. The immaculately executed and minute herringbone stitch in this sampler really fills me with wonder. Unfortunately, I have no reason to be similiarly proud of my darning skills. For me, mending really is all about utility.

To fix Mr B’s pants, then, I darned the hole and reinforced the arse with a patch on the inside, as per the instructions in a book my sister got for me, which contains reproductions of WWII government-issued pamphlets. It’s absolutely brilliant. Though I don’t need advice on using anthracite in your boiler, or how to sew with parachute nylon, the sections on darning, and other things — moths, clothing alteration, making kid’s slippers out of old rugs — are really fantastic.


I have only darned socks before, and not very well, frankly. So I am thrilled to say I did a much better job with Mr B’s arse because of the instructions in this book. He’s not keen on my illustrating that here, so you’ll just have to take my word for it (ahem).

Anyway, the reason why my sister gave me the book is because I have decided to stop buying clothes. I plan to do this indefinitely, but until the end of 2008 at least. I have been very inspired by various bloggers’ refashioning pledges and Alex Martin’s Brown Dress Project and have been thinking about it for some time. But one of the many things that has really got to me of late is this advert for Tesco’s ‘affordable elegance’ range. Let’s wear dresses so cheap they are disposable! Let’s add to the world’s landfill a veritable mountain of garments so badly made, out of such poor materials, that Oxfam can’t re-sell or recycle them! Let’s exploit the lives and labour of third world women to clothe the women of the West in $5 dresses! Its utterly shameless. . . So its make do and mend for me for a while. . . .

8 thoughts on “mended

  1. I have stumbled across your web page and I would love to get in touch with you. I am curating an exhibition in 2009 around Boro cloth and make do & mend. Repair, restore lengthening the life of fabric.
    I am not sure if you are UK?
    do call me if you would like to learn more.


  2. a friend of mine first went to poland 20 years ago, before the wall came down, i think, and found a.) the only real art scene she seen since NYC in the late 50s and b.) not coincidentally, all the elegant poles (and, later, czechs) wearing their grandfathers’ lovingly and skillfully maintained savile row suits. they repair, she said to me, eyes wide with wonder, their umbrellas. they have umbrella repair shops.

    this has always stuck with me. this same friend, an art historian, pointed out that the work of magdalena abakanowicz (sp?) similarly pushed the boundary of The Material out against the darkness because there was no clay, no marble, no foundries, nothing for a sculptor to use — except burlap and horse hoof glue.



  3. i am a firm believer that mending is the original source of some of the most amazing inventions in textile design and technique, making do and making the best of what’s around you. thank you for a wonderful post.


  4. I enjoyed this post. I’ve been so inspired by the Brown Dress Project, I wonder if she had any idea how far-reaching it would be? And I’m new to the refashioning blog, they are a great inspiration too. I’m starting with the mending and they hope to move on to recycling yarn and maybe doing to modifications of existing knits and clothing that I don’t wear now. Good luck with your own decision to make & mend.

    I noticed on your news page that you have some reviews in the latest Selvedge, I will definitely check them out – I’d love to hear more about Textiles in America in particular.


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