Mendrs blog tour 2012

Friday, August 3, 2012

A few weeks ago, Simon and I trekked up the M6 to the amazing Mendrs symposium in the Lake District. We had a fantastic time, catching up with friends and making new ones!

I gave a talk about my PhD research, and in particular how the re-knitting treatments I’m developing could be seen as a sort of ‘emotional mending’. I’ve put the abstract here, and I think a recording of all the presentations will be available on the Mendrs site soon.

This post is part of the Mendrs blog tour – conceived as a way of continuing the energy and interest generated at the event, and nurturing the sense of community we created. For this post, I wanted to reflect on my own experiences, and share the thoughts that I have when I’m mending clothes.

The pictures above show some of my recent mending exploits:

  • Simon’s (very) vintage pea coat, which was in great condition when he bought it in San Francisco 7 years ago, is becoming an ongoing mending project for me. On previous occasions I have fixed the lining, patched the pocket bags, and bound the disintegrating cuffs. On my last mission, I completely replaced the pocket bags, which required a journey into the depths of a very well-constructed garment, and bound the fraying buttonholes.

  • Inspired by my work on Simon’s coat, I replaced the entire lining of my vintage llama coat, which I must have had for 15 years. It was in rags, a disgrace – I dreaded taking my coat off! At the same time, I replaced the pocket bags with lovely strong drill, rather than the existing silly lining fabric which snags and splits and is useless for pockets.

  • Simon and I formed a mini production line to renovate his mountain of jeans, which required all manner of mending. He assessed condition, cut and pinned patches; I sewed. He now has a mountain of fixed jeans, but still wears the same pair for weeks at a time.

  • My white mac has been languishing in the mending pile for a couple of years, waiting for me to somehow deal with a number of rather obtrusive pen stains, which had mysteriously appeared on the placket. Prompted to act by the need to be smart on my sister’s potentially rainy wedding day, I created a line of foundation stitches and then added crochet trim to cover the stains and co-ordinate with the buttons. I’m too scruffy to avoid more stains in future, but I think now that I’ve ‘opened’ this piece, I’ll feel quite positive about adding more embellishments.

  • At Mendrs, I patched up my large stuffed frog, who was acquired from the Brussels flea market and underwent structural damage in the wash. I felt bad about having spoiled him, but now feel warm and fuzzy when I see his polka dot patches.

It’s nice to share my mending – in the past, it’s been a rather ‘backstage’ activity for me, but I’m beginning to see it in a different light.

I have always tended to think of mending as a chore, which is never complete. My mending box (boxes, actually) are a rather stagnant area. Items are put there, full of good intentions, and rediscovered with a sense of horror years later – especially if only a button was needed. Perhaps my lack of passion for mending is because I have preferred to make something new, to be able to follow an idea on a journey from an image in my mind to material reality.

There’s loads of evidence that making is good for you – the physical hands-on activity, the joy of interacting with materials, the way it connects you with others, the satisfaction of seeing something grow and take shape, and the opportunity it gives you to express yourself and your identity. I talk to lots of amateur knitters about these benefits at workshops – but we also talk about the frustrations of making, and the reasons why more people don’t make things for themselves to wear.

One of the key issues of making something from scratch is, I think, the overwhelming number of choices you have to make: colour, material, shape, pattern, size… plus that niggling concern that it won’t turn out quite as you intended. Of course, you can use a pattern – but that still involves lots of choices, and often the feeling that you haven’t got quite what you wanted. While I generally encourage people to feel confident in experimenting, I have to admit that too much choice can just be paralysing. I’m a trained designer, yet like everyone else I have piles of beautiful fabric that I can’t quite figure out what to do with.

When it comes to making non-knitted clothes I am like anyone else, an amateur. Though I have good sewing skills, gained from my fashion degree, I ‘use up’ my creative juices on Keep & Share and don’t have the energy for sewing garments from scratch that I once had.

In my recent activities – perhaps because of the work I’ve been doing with existing garments, and the conversations I’ve had about mending with Tom of Holland and others – I’ve found that mending is a really rewarding type of making, which overcomes the paralysis of choice.

When you approach a garment that needs mending, the challenge is already framed; the piece itself is telling you what to do, or at least what the problem is. When I fixed the pockets of Simon’s coat, I didn’t have to think about what to make. I knew that the pockets needed patching, or replacing, and could then focus on the satisfying, and creative, task of figuring out how to do that. Although I didn't have a pattern or instructions, by observing the garment I could figure out how it was made. When I re-lined my coat, I carefully took apart the old lining and used it as a pattern for the new one. I’ve discovered the construction secrets of some old, beautifully made, pieces – and added in some of my own. As I deconstruct and reconstruct, I learn about the garments in my wardrobe and create a stronger connection with them. Of course, I also get the warm glow of treasuring materials, and keeping something in use.

I don’t have a lot of time for personal making – there are always more urgent work-related making tasks to be done – but when I do a good mend, I get a good return on my time investment. When I put a new lining in my coat, I effectively gained a new coat, because it had become pretty much unwearable. Plus, if you mend something that you have worn to pieces, you know that the effort will be worth it. When I buy or make something new, I never quite know whether it will become a best friend, or sink to the back of the wardrobe.

I reckon that the satisfaction of making depends to some extent on framing: if you can frame your mending as a creative act, and give yourself enough time and the right tools and materials, it will be fulfilling. Like any other task, if the framing is different, it can feel like drudgery, or at least a chore. Perhaps any type of making can be a ‘flow’ activity, which Csikszentmihalyi describes as being between boredom and anxiety. Having got my head into the right space for mending, I'll be approaching my mending box with anticipation, rather than trepidation, from now on.

PS If you’re thinking that I’m doing a lot of mending for Simon, I should point out that he does the vast majority of the cooking and washing chez Holroyd – activities that are flow for him, drudgery for me :)


To read more about mending, check out the other posts on the Mendrs blog tour:

Tour Date



Tour Taster

Clare Thomas

Tour Taster

Flowering Elbow








Keep & Share


Venerable Clothing






textilelives (NOT LIVE YET)






The Bunny Pile


Unstructured Material


The Blogging Phenotype


Logo Removal Service


Caitlin DeSilvey and Steve Bond


Stitched Up