In Praise of Mending

When you wear a pair of size 8 pants and are occasionally size 10 rather than size 8 when you wear them, that tends to pull at the fastener at the waist.  (I have size 10s but when I’m size 10 I also generally don’t have time to do laundry.)

Even when one isn’t busting out at the seams, occasionally a shirt button will pop off, or a skirt seam will start unraveling.

When this happens, you have three choices.

1.  You can get rid of the now imperfect item of clothing, sending it to goodwill, turning it into a rag, or just tossing it.

2.  You can set it aside and deal with it later, at which point it will probably be out of fashion or no longer your size (then:  see 1)

3.  You can mend it.  (Related:  you can sort of mend it using safety pins rather than thread, or duct tape, or superglue.  Or that double-sided mending tape, or stitch witch.)

Mending seems (seams!) to be a lost art.  But it is one well-worth learning.  You really only need to learn about three things to do basic mending, and only one if you want to stick to reattaching buttons.  That’s two basic stitches and how to put on a button.  Sure, you can learn basting and hemming and other fancier stitches, and you could even learn how to use a sewing machine and do your own alterations or make your own clothing.  But that gets time consuming and complicated.

In my old age, I’ve had to use the needle threader to thread needles. These are the little silvery wire-jobbers that come in a sewing kit.  Stick the thin wire thing through the hole, insert thread, pull back through hole, presto! your needle is threaded.  It’s like magic.  I love those things!

This video demonstrates the two stitches you need, though he does the running stitch much more efficiently than I do!  I actually pull it through one side then the other.  His way is twice as fast.

Here’s how to sew on a button.  The important thing to remember is to make sure to leave the button loose.  If you sew it on too tight, you won’t actually be able to button the button!  It will look pretty but be completely useless and you’ll have to cut it off and try again.  I don’t actually do all that additional wrapping around he does, but it looks useful.

Once you get relatively good at mending, you can do it in front of the TV, which is a nice way to multi-task.

Learning how to mend means you get longer use out of clothing, especially when otherwise nice clothing tears or pops the first time you wear it.  It means you have to spend less time shopping and keep stuff out of landfills.  And it’s not actually all that difficult.  Go ahead and practice– all you have to lose is something you couldn’t wear anyway, and what you have to gain is an incredibly useful skill!

I actually went without a sewing kit for a few years until recently.  My sister got me one at Christmas and I’ve been mending up a storm.  I’m happy to be able to wear a couple nice skirts that were no longer suitable for teaching because the slit that was supposed to go up to there went all the way up to *there*, and a few shirts have had buttons replaced and seams reattached.

#2 points out a fourth option, especially good for if you have some pants that fit great but they are too long, or some pants that you love but then the zipper breaks in a parking garage just before a conference: take several of these items that are broken or suboptimal in one way or another to a tailor, who is usually older and an immigrant.  Find this person and treasure her or him.  Drive to hir shop or house and get awesome work for not very much money.  Do not trust your local dry-cleaners.  (#1 actually gets her stuff hemmed at a bustling shop that is highly rated on Yelp and staffed by a multi-generational Hispanic family… it’s not inexpensive, but worth it on fancy pants.  If your clothes are fancy or complex and you don’t want to mess them up with your meager skills, finding a place to get tailoring done is essential.)

Do you mend?  Do you want to try?  Or do you never rip or tear anything?

23 Responses to “In Praise of Mending”

  1. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    I am looking out my window right this moment, at the dry cleaner across the street, which is staffed by an outstanding tailor.

  2. Everyday Tips Says:

    I mend when I absolutely have to. For instance, my son was competing in a Forensics competition and literally split the seem of his suit pants during lunch. We had an hour until his next speech, so we ran to Walgreens and bought a sewing kit. He sat in the car and I sat in the grass sewing up this 4 inch seam split. It wasn’t my best repair, but it got his through the rest of the day, and thank God his suit coat was long in the first place.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Hee! Poor guy. Though he should learn sewing skills so that the next time that happens he can sew his own pants!

      When I am an old woman, I shall wear… purple! With a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.

      Curiosity may have killed the cat. More likely the cat was unlucky, or just curious to see what death was like…

  3. Molly On Money Says:

    I do #3 that turns into #2 that turns into #1. My friends are always begging me to mend their clothes. I tell them they have two choices: 1) give them to me and never see them again except when you come to my house where the items will be sitting on my sewing machine gathering dust. 2) make an appointment with me, while I sew away the friend must make me homemade tortillas or some baked good and end it with sitting down to have a cup of coffee together. It’s how things get done- baked goods (yes, gluten-free!) and coffee.

  4. Cloud Says:

    I mend the simple stuff myself- as CPP says, I could also pay someone to do it, but that takes more time than doing it myself. I’ve been known to pay a seamstress to fix the more complicated stuff that is beyond my skill level. Or wait for my mom to be in town- she’s an excellent seamstress.

  5. Grace Says:

    Isn’t this why we have MOTHERS? (Although it worked out badly for my own kids.) And then our mothers die. And then we have to do our own mending. Or not.

    Am I the only one old enough to remember wearing socks with little lumps of embroidery thread that rubbed blisters because Mom said they could be worn awhle longer because now they were MENDED?

  6. Dr. O Says:

    I do most of my own mending, as time allows, which means I’m often guilty of #2. Also, some stuff (eg, blind stitch for hemming) requires the fancy sewing machine, which has been sitting in a closet since having Monkey. I’m ready to have a spare bedroom again where I can do my sewing.

  7. bogart Says:

    I’m a moderately capable but fairly slack mender. More than once I have taken a nice piece of clothing to Goodwill rather than mend it myself (I have also learned never under any circumstances to purchase an item there that needs mending, no matter how minor the mend nor how fabulous the item). Conversely, with much of my wardrobe coming from Goodwill and with good Goodwills around us, there are limits to the time value of mending (except, of course, that going to Goodwill and finding clothes that fit also takes time, a detail that sinks my argument — especially as I don’t particularly like to shop or try on clothes).

  8. MutantSupermodel Says:

    My grandmother is my mender and also ironer. In other words, she’s my savior.

  9. Anthea Says:

    I love mending clothes…but I also really like sewing. I used to sew my own clothes and it was great. I also like altering things from Goodwill so that it looks really different. I also like being to buy things on sale that have massive discounts because of something similar like needing a new button to be sewn on. I do make sure that before I buy anything that’s heavily discounted that its not a major rip or broken zip that can’t be mended easily.

  10. Sandy H Says:

    My daughter is notorious for ripping seams and needing them mended. I can do something quick and dirty, but if we need a more extensive (or cute) mend I go to my sister-in-law.
    Afterall, she’s only had my sewing machine since it was new in the box 8 years ago and won’t give it back. So the mending falls to her. The unfortunate part is I have to ask multiple times for her to get it done, and even then it might take a month.

  11. Practical Parsimony Says:

    I am neither an immigrant or an old lady or man for that matter. However, I learned to sew by hand, starting at age 4. I have been sewing and mending for 60 years. Yes, I am 64 and have made almost everything imaginable, even my panties and bras. No one can tell nylon nightgowns or panties are made at home. I sew for my daughter who refuses to sew. If I lived closer, I would hem and mend for her. The younger daughter learned to sew but now only mends things.

    One hint: if you lose a button or find one hanging, sew them all again because there will be other losses soon. You have the right thread out and the button is in place. Just sew.

    If a seam comes out, sew up all the other seams in the garment. Well, if it was extreme stress, maybe not. Sewing factories don’t mind using half-rotten thread. Plus, if it is an old garment, the thread has been stressed by wearing, washing, and just gets aged. When I sew all the seams in a garment, I inevitably find that the thread is fraying in many places. You have the sewing machine out and the right color thread on the machine and on the bobbin. Just sew.

    Okay, maybe you don’t have a passion for sewing like I do. In grad school over the Christmas break, I made six sweat suits for wearing in my cold house. It was only part of two days that I spent working. I love to sew. Or, mend.

  12. Debbie M Says:

    I do a combination of #2 and #3. (Also, a worse thing: save things made of fabrics I like so I can use them to make something new, then do #2. Although I am now cutting same-sized squares out of some of these things to make a quilt.)

    Interesting videos. In the first one, I do either the running stitch or the overcast stitch, but usually not both. I will re-think that in the future.

    In the second one, I haven’t tried to leave space between the button and the fabric (fortunately, I’ve only re-sewn buttons on to items made of fairly thin fabric). I have wrapped the thread around, but not done that little knot thing before bringing the thread to the back for the final knot.

    (My mom taught me embroidery when I was a kid–more fun than mending, but uses all the same skills. I can’t remember how many knots she got out for me, crazy woman.)

    I’ve found that in some situations, even a crappy job is acceptable. If your t-shirt rips and it’s not at a seam, you can pretend it was at a seam (just fold it so the two edges are together) and you will see a totally visible repair. But if you can tuck it in, it’s not problem (and the rip doesn’t get bigger) and even if not, it’s still better than having actual skin show through. (Or you could add more rips and have skin show on purpose. I haven’t done that one.)

    My only problem is sometimes clothing rips because the fabric is old and brittle. Every time you sew one part and wear it again, another part tears. You have to know when to let go.

    Also, socks. I read a kid’s book where a girl learned to darn her socks at summer camp and I was jealous. Finally I saw instructions on how to do this, and I’m with Grace, that can’t feel good. However, nowadays, I’m more likely to get holes in the toe than at the back of the heel. Just sewing these as if a seam came open works pretty well. (If I were really good, I would trim my toenails more often and prevent these problems.)

    You’re reminding me that I’ve been forgetting to do some mending during TV. We’ve discovered the old “Buffy” and “Angel” episodes, so a lot of time will be available.

  13. Buying Local, Vacation Recap and Favorites First Gen American First Gen Says:

    […] Rumblings praise an old fashioned dying art, Mending Clothes.  Babci mends all our clothing and I just love her to death for it.  She also gets a lot of joy […]

  14. Teresa Says:

    I don’t do complicated mending, and I don’t do any mending well (or in a timely fashion). But my son takes the knees out of his jeans, and my daughter prefers soft, worn-in jeans to any bought-new clothing, so I do a rough job of stitching fuscia, flower-shaped patches on the knees of the hand-me-downs. She thinks they’re wonderful… I wonder when she’ll outgrow that?

  15. Rumpus Says:

    I’ll mend small tears and buttons, but I prefer to wear out my clothes in big ways.

  16. Carnival of Personal Finance #313: The Surprise Mid-Week Edition | A Gai Shan Life Says:

    […] Nicole from Nicole and Maggie: Grumpy Rumblings presents In praise of mending […]

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