Lauren Callis Erickson spent hours mending her beat-up jeans jacket, making tiny rows of white and pink stitches that stand out against the denim. And that’s the point.
Her handiwork is an example of “visible mending,” a growing trend that’s part environmentally friendly, part thrifty and part artsy. Inspired by the slow fashion movement, it encourages people to repair worn and torn clothes by hand instead of buying new ones. The stitches, typically made with contrasting-colored thread, turn old clothes into wearable tapestries.
For Erickson, visible mending is as meditative as it is creative.
“The patience to mend something is a very different mental shift from saying, ‘This looks bad’ ” when a hole emerges, Erickson said. “It’s saying, ‘I value it, I appreciate it, and I have patience to extend its life.’ ”
The Minneapolis art therapist and vintage seller started teaching classes on visible mending this winter, creating small sewing circles in yarn shops and other local spots. She’s just one of many promoting the trend, which has spread around the world. Instagrammers by the tens of thousands share photos of their mends and cultivate online communities using such hashtags as #mendingmatters, #visiblemending and #menddontspend.
Of course, mending is far from new. But in an age when it’s become common to throw away or donate any item of clothing that has a hole or split seam, visible mending has become a form of resistance.
“The countercultural aspect is resisting this need to replace your fashion with the season’s next thing,” Erickson said.
For Milwaukee quilter Heidi Parkes, the rise of mending has been a game changer.
“In the past, people saw mending and it was immediately perceived as, ‘Oh, you must be poor because you had to mend your clothes; you can’t afford to buy something new,’ ” Parkes said.
“But now it’s this idea, ‘I’m mending because I’m a person of commitment, because I’m ethical, because I’m not part of throwaway culture, because I have time and the ability to repair things.’ ”
Parkes, who has long been an advocate of mending, now shares photos of her visible mends on Instagram, and teaches classes at the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts. She’s even been hired to artfully mend other people’s clothing for a fee.
“Because of the slow fashion movement, I started to feel more proud of the mending I was doing,” she said. “And there are a lot of ethical reasons to feel great about the work that I’m doing.”
Highlighting, not hiding
As with most trends, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when visible mending got its start.
British darning master Tom van Deijnen, who started his Visible Mending Programme in 2012, was one of the first to use the term. Van Deijnen, who goes by the name Tom of Holland, cleverly darns sweaters and jackets with contrast wool, highlighting and drawing attention to the spots that have been repaired instead of hiding them.
Many menders have been inspired by New York author and crafter Katrina Rodabaugh, who wrote “Mending Matters” in 2018.
A few months after the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,000 workers, Rodabaugh publicly pledged to avoid new clothing for 12 months in a project she called Make Thrift Mend.
The undertaking changed her life, work and focus — leading her to permanently avoid factory-made clothing and “fall in love” with mending. Since then, she’s taught thousands how to do it.
“I think that it’s just exciting that there’s this growing acceptance of repairing our clothing,” she said. “For a lot of folks, it’s just a new way of thinking.”
Some visible menders say they’ve been inspired by sewing practices throughout history, from the Boro stitching that dates back to preindustrial Japan and the Kantha quilting of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to the imaginative, improvisational designs that the quilters of Gee’s Bend in rural Alabama create out of old clothing.
And while the practice may seem a bit on the fringe, the crafting crowd is taking it up.
“We’ve noticed recently that mainstream crafters and longtime sewers are dabbling in visible mending more and more,” said Shauntina Lilly, a senior public relations planner for Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts stores. Visible mending, she said, “no longer is the chore it [mending] once was, but is its own art form and is less rigid than traditional mending.”
During a visible mending workshop at Minneapolis craft shop Knit & Bolt, Erickson showed a small group of students three basic stitches — the straight, the running and the whip.
She passed out pins, needles and cotton thread, then demonstrated how to place patches over or under a hole and use stitches in a contrasting color of thread to highlight the shape of the original tear.
An hour into the workshop, Louisa Podlich was sold.
“I’m addicted to this, and I never want to stop,” said Podlich, a ceramist and photographer from Columbia Heights. “I think it’s really cool. It’s an opportunity to make art out of something that was maybe not art before.”
Rachel Peterson, a nurse from St. Paul, said taking the class will allow her to turn her well-loved clothing into something a little different.
“I can give it a new life,” she said.