Visible Mending Is an Act of Rebellion Against the Fashion Industry

by Katherine Martinko

"...Kate Sekules is a well-known advocate for visible mending. The British-born, Brooklyn-based writer, clothes historian, and mending instructor has a new book coming out in September called "MEND! A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto" (Penguin Random House, 2020). It is a call to action for clothes lovers of all skill levels to take needle and thread to their beloved garments. She reassures readers that anyone can do it:

"The skills are easy to acquire: visible mending is for everyone, including the nonvisual and the all-thumbs and the sewing novice. It’s experimental stitchery, mending improv, fun with thread, arty and exuberant and colorful and silly. The only way to go wrong is to say, 'I can’t.' It’s a craft, but of a modern cast, more art than Etsy. There are infinite ways to execute a VM, and there will never be another one like yours. And though you will never sew two mends the same, you will evolve a style of your own."

Sekules spends the first several chapters explaining why practicing visible mending matters so much. She writes at length about the current fashion industry, and how notoriously destructive it is, from the vast quantities of textile and plastic waste and toxic runoff poisoning rivers around the world, to the horrific conditions in which garment workers work. She has little time or patience for corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments claiming they're taking action for human rights and the climate:

"Any CSR is infinitely better than no CSR, but significant change coming from something beginning with c — for corporate — is impossible. This is elementary mathematics. No massive fashion company can make both clothes and profit at scale. So of course they talk in double-speak, offering, as LVMH did, 'solutions that could enable economic growth while tackling the challenges of global warming.' Translation: 'Increasing profits while pondering the weird weather.'"

So, rather than wait around for the Big Guys to clean up their acts, we individuals can effect tiny yet meaningful changes by picking up our needles and thread and wearing our clothes for longer.

Sekules' book offers step-by-step instructions for assembling a mending kit and learning basic stitches, as well as techniques for dealing with various garment-related problems. She explains how to make an underpatch, a sort of reverse appliqué; how to ring a hole with eyelet stitch or a looser porthole; how to cover a hole or stain with a pocket; how to add descriptive words or "statemends" (see below) to a garment, drawing attention to its flaws; and how to add decorative "embellishmends". Perhaps most amusing is the Greasytee fix, in which Sekules stitches circles around grease stains on her t-shirts. Similar is Paintypants, when she covers tiny splotches of paint with colored thread, using a rainbow effect..."

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