Now, let's just call this an "inspirational post" - as in, I am inspired to actually get better at sewing techniques and this is by no means an expert showing you how to get the job done. This is a post about how I tried something that I didn't want to do (and put off for a couple of months while I was at it) to show that it can just be like that when you're learning new skills and trying to change lifestyle habits.
There are some things I find really easy or straight forward when it comes to caring for my clothing that I've invested in. I was already used to spraying down my winter footwear with some kind of aerosol spray can of very stinky chemicals, so switching to waxing my boots with a tin of natural oil shoe wax wasn't really a big learning curve. The product and some of the method was different, but not necessarily the task. I switched from a plastic sticky-sheet lint roller with a throw away design to a lint brush pretty easily. And I was able to swap a stain spray to a stain stick very quickly. In all of these clothing care situations, I noticed the difference right away in the stank of the waste or the chemicals I used to be spraying around into my home environment, and while the product use was different, it wasn't really that big of a gap from A to B required of me to get the job done.
Darning and mending is not something I've done. The method, the product, the task - all of it was not something I was used to.
Previously, I didn't keep clothing long enough to need to do this, and although I can hem things pretty okay, I made sure I bought things so that I didn't have to. While I did grow up with a mom that sewed, and made a lot of my dance costumes and some of our Halloween costumes and a really impressive set of matching holiday dresses for my sisters and I every year, I am not really a fan of this type of work. I even took some 4H courses on quilting and sewing, so I do know a thing or two. But in all honesty, sewing is akin to putting together Ikea furniture for me. I do not like it. I avoid it. I don't even think it's too much to say that I resent it. I definitely resent sewing.
However, this is one thing I had to do, whether I liked it or not. I had just invested in a set of made in Canada, organic cotton t-shirts for my son (shout out to Mini Mioche for being the most incredible company for kids basics) at the start of the summer. We then adopted a puppy about a month later, and I proceeded to watch this little pup chase her big brother around, catching his shirts with her teeth and hanging on while he *did*not*stop*running* despite my shrieking at him. It was like everyday, he had on a new shirt instead of his grubby clothing, running around and laughing instead of listening to me shrieking. If this is not the most accurate picture of motherhood that I can paint for you, I don't even know what is.
So, it was either fix these shirts, or relegate them to the grub pile. That was not going to happen, and I bought these planning for more than one child to wear them for one month. I also would not allow myself to buy any more, because I just had to do this one thing. So then we started this game for a couple months where my husband would holler about how Tom had no clean shirts (as he gets them hustling to get dressed in the mornings) and I would make extra laundry loads to wash the t-shirts of his that weren't holey, for a couple of months. This is how bad I did not want to do this task.
But, as soon as I started, it was so simple. I feel like I try to tell people this all the time - to just start, just do the easiest step first, without expecting perfection - and yet I was struggling to take my own first little step. I do not want to discount how hard it is to make changes to your routines and lifestyles, so be sure to remember this story when you're holding back on something you want to change. I am so glad I got started with this! Not only did I learn how to do this imperfectly, I ripped the scab off of a new way of being (although 'scab' does not exactly reflect how good this new upgraded level is). I know that to be more sustainable with my clothing, I need to invest in fewer, better things that can last a long time and that are of a timeless nature, and I also have to take better care to ensure they last a long time, but at the same time, it was requiring something new of me beyond just investing the money and making the purchase. I had to change something about my lifestyle and the way I did things, and not necessarily in a way that I liked, because I don't like sewing. But, I did it. I got through the first step, and now I've managed to find a way to spend the early mornings when my boys are up before the sun in the winter, or a way to get into a flow activity when I need to do some self care (as my personal self care usually involves doing something mindful but with my hands).
That was a very long intro, but I hope the gist is there: just do the thing. Don't be perfect. Get going and worry about getting better at it later.
Visible Mending: it's a thing
So, visible mending is just an imperfect way to fix a clothing item. It's maybe a bit trendy in the zero waste space (as in, "look at this thing I saved from being garbage because I mended it with this very obvious colour") but it is also a bit of a form of art. I started out with mending in a colour that matched my fabric depending on the item, but did some more colour when it came to my son's clothing. I realized I didn't really mind if it wasn't perfect and it wasn't matching and invisible, because it's a bit of character. This is the exact reason people are into vintage items, because they have a story and a bit of a life and some lessons and imperfections along the way.
My youngest working on sewing a “teddy bear scarf” while I worked.
I also realized I didn't need their mending to be perfect and invisible in the sense that I would be embarrassed if someone saw this. I really believe in changing how we are as a society, and the idea that we are less-than if we do not have new clothes or clothes that haven't been mended or adapted to fit us is not something I really want my sons to engage with. So, their mending (and my mending) is visible, and I know if someone asks them about their t-shirts, they are going to get into a story about their puppy. And know that this is what we do with clothing when it gets a hole, rather than tossing it. And if someone else has mended clothing or second hand clothing, they are pretty cool and not something else. And so I purposely chose the path of not being perfect with this. If you want to check out a more polished tutorial, there are lots of visible mends online and on Pinterest.
So, to get started on procrastinating, I tried to find the most perfect thread that I could. There are some really gorgeous plant dyed, organic cotton threads online, but they were not exactly in a beginner's price range. Then I tried Marketplace, and could only get wacky colours from people that I couldn't even seem to meet up with. Poshmark and Etsy second hand didn't make sense because the shipping was more than the item.
I ended up asking on my local Buy Nothing Group on Facebook (yes, I am truly there for these groups and Marketplace) and had some success. It was kind of funny, the lady didn't know my address and volunteered to drop it off at my place but I didn't get the message on time. So, she dropped it off (or rather, hung it from a stop sign) and told me where it was. This has for sure been my most interesting pick up from my Buy Nothing group to date.
The baggie of embroidery floss was hung on a local stop sign near my home - what a dedicated, generous person!
So, I started with embroidery floss and some larger head sized needles. I used my darning egg that is untreated beechwood that we have in the shop. It was a pretty low waste start.
Using the Darning Egg
I used the darning egg a lot in this process, mostly because I was working with the thinner materials of either my son's t-shirts or my sweat pants, which were another joy to bite for my puppy this summer, but something I had invested in some Jungmaven pants and want to keep them long term. I did not require the darning egg for fixing a hole on a winter coat. The darning egg helped the thinner material "spread out" as it would naturally when flat, but so that I could hold the hole closer to me and inside my hand in order to stitch across the hole when it would be "wide open" when the material was laying flat. I would simply put the egg under the hole and work from there.
Mending: things I noted
So, the mending was pretty simple once I decided to just do it. All I needed to do was thread my needle, make a knot on the far end of the thread, poke it through the backside of the fabric on one end of the hole, and go back and forth to cover the hole, making sure my needle threaded through the fabric far enough away from the hole that it held well without coming apart.
I did notice that it worked best to make a little "X" or cross-stitch across tiny poked holes:
Others that were rounded holes, were mended in a star pattern:
And with longer, more narrow holes, I started at one end and went back and forth.
Maybe none of it needs to be perfect, maybe we just have to try
Again, it has not ended up as anything I'm an expert on. It's just a bit of story to show you that no matter how far you go with things, there's always something new to learn and a new skill on the other side of it. It can be very hard to get going with the new stuff, especially when some of us have been doing the same things without thinking for decades. Just take a small step, remove the perfection mindset from it, and get going. It feels great on the other side! As with anything in the zero waste world, starting and it being imperfect is better than no one starting anything at all.
It also had me thinking of how this perfection mindset that many seem to have with the whole low waste or more eco friendly lifestyle to begin with. I recently saw a post that said something along the lines of "if you want to drive an electric vehicle, you should have to go full wind and solar power for everything." As in, to take a step away from the old way of doing things means that we can't have any of it, and there shouldn't be a transition time. I think this is a tough way for things to be, this expected idea that we do it all at once, or it isn't worth trying because there's so much to change and it feels like a lot. I think there can even be some animosity in how others view change, or a rejection of the way things are. I don't know how else we do it other than a bit at a time, because it is so much to change, and so overwhelming when it gets considered all in one big burst. It isn't affordable and it isn't realistic for the majority of people who are working, seeing friends, trying to drink enough water, be present for their families, clean their homes, and continuously buying and making food, and a million other things, to manage that level of change that fast. So, if you can, take small steps. Do one thing at a time. Just keep doing. And someday, if we can all try to do that, we will see the difference, and that's what matters.