reviving lost skills: mending clothes

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“Ending is better than mending. The more stitches, the less riches.” – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.

Reviving Lost Skills - Why Mend Clothes | Frugal and ThrivingWhenever I revisit Aldous Huxley’s classic novel, I get the feeling that we have come pretty close to living his dystopian vision, at least when it comes to an economy driven by mass consumerism.

And if there is one thing that symbolises our throw-away, buy-more culture, it’s clothing.  There’s even a name for it: ‘fast fashion’.

Fast fashion is a strategy of moving high-end catwalk trends into stores in the shortest amount of time at the cheapest possible price point. The fashion industry can design, manufacture and distribute new products in as little as three weeks, and they do so at bargain prices, at the expense of quality and fair working conditions [source].

A new fashion trend every three weeks? That’s a lot of clothes to keep up with. And yet, what underlies this economic strategy is our willingness as customers to participate.

The result is overstuffed wardrobes and a lot of wasted textiles.

“Britons on average throw away 30 kilograms of clothes each year, while in Australia, unrecovered textile waste accounts for about 4 per cent of landfill.” [source].

So how can we reduce waste and save money at the same time?

mending is better than ending

The key to reducing waste and saving money, in the long run, is to buy quality, classic styles of clothing, look after them well and mend them if you can when it becomes necessary. Not only will you save money, but you will also always be ahead of the trends.

Mending is a bit of a lost skill. After all, why mend when you can get a $3 top from Kmart? And who has time to mend anyway?

But all of those purchases add up: financially, environmentally and socially.

You don’t need to have a lot of time to mend clothes. Nor do you need to be an expert seamstress (tailor??) to make basic repairs.

And you don’t need a sewing machine or a bunch of fancy tools.

Just a needle and thread.

And access to YouTube or a good library book on basic sewing and mending.

There’s been a lot of talk about how unskilled our generation is, as a generalisation, particularly when it comes to basic living skills. This year I’ll be taking a look at some of the important life skills that it’s wise to foster.

I know a lot of readers are already expert sewers, many more advanced than I am, but if you’re not a sewer, maybe learning to do basic mending to clothes, like sew on a button or mend a split seam, is a good place to start.

“People seldom notice old clothes if you wear a big smile.” Lee Mildon

Do you mend your clothes? What are your tips for mending?

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  1. I am not a seamstress and patterns seem to be written in another language, but I have a sewing machine that over the years has more than paid for itself, in seam fixing alone, mine and other peoples. The adage ” a stitch in time saves nine” is true, do it as soon as possible to avoid fabric runs or further fraying. Also when clothing does need to be thrown out, keep buttons, trims etc to use for mending or creating a fancy dress costume etc. Hope that’s helpful.

    PS: Sometimes it is a far better idea to get professionals to do the job for you as they may have the right tools, better machines and the actual skills and is still cheaper than getting a new item.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      They’re great tips Kerrie. Thanks! I agree that it’s a good idea to get a professional to do some jobs (jean zips and mending shoes comes to mind :)).

  2. This trend really upsets me and even more so after I read ‘Over-dressed; The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline. I read that after I had read ‘Cheap; The high cost of the discount culture’ which was a more generalised book about the ‘throw away ‘ society and how it evolved in the US.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      They sound like interesting (although depressing reads). I’ll have to keep an eye out for them at the library.

  3. I’ve been mending clothes for years, even socks and underwear. Most of my family’s clothing has been mended at one time or another, some of which seems to have more of my thread than the original! LOL Really and truly, most people are too busy with their own lives and are not going to examine your clothing to see if it’s mended. Long as it’s discreet or cleverly disguised (which is fun and usually involves a craft), the mended section is rarely noticeable. Employ favorite patches, embroidery, fabric paint, applique, etc. to hide stains or repairs. Example: years ago my daughter tore a hole in her then-brand-new bathing suit. I mended the hole, then placed a small embroidered patch of her choice over it, and it ended up being a favourite outfit and childhood memory.

    It drives me nuts when I hear people exclaim they’ve HAD to throw out a piece of clothing due to losing a button, a loose hem or a stain. Buttons can be replaced, hems can be re-sewn and stains can either be treated, disguised or- as a last resort on the wearable front- using the stained item as an at-home or scruffy messy-work/decorating/gardening clothes. Or deconstruct the clothing- sometimes cutting out the stain- then cut the fabric into strips to crochet or knit into a rag rug or cut blocks or strips to make a scrap/rag quilt or picnic blanket. Or make it into handkerchiefs or cleaning rags or use to mend other items… As you can tell, clothes rarely go to waste in our house.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Oh wow! You’re a mending expert! Thanks for the great tips. I love how the patch on your daughter’s swimmers made them into a childhood memory. That’s really special! Thanks Holly.

  4. Mending queen sized bed sheets has saved us plenty of money…I find they tend to wear through in the same spot (I blame my husband scruffing his feet around!) I’ve patched several of our sheets with old cloth nappies or old pillowcases….I’ve got a basic sewing machine (I still need to get out the instructions to thread it if it’s been a while between uses….one of these days I’ll get the hang of it!)….My patching jobs aren’t pretty but they do the job (and no one sees it but us anyway)…I would much rather pay more for a higher quality item that wears well for longer and can then be mended, than buy awful synthetic fabrics or fast fashion items…

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Patching sheets is a great idea. We received some good quality cotton sheets for Christmas and I want to make sure they last as long as possible!

      Paying for higher quality that wears well for longer = true frugality! :)

  5. Ps: I’m blown away by the 30kgs of clothes being thrown away by Britons each year!! I know it’s colder there, so I guess their clothes are heavier than ours but it still seems an unbelievably large amount!? Terrifying and depressing….

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      It does seem a lot!

  6. I put a peg on the item that needs mending (I usually find the problem when hanging them on the line), it reminds me then to mend it before I put it away

    1. Eileen Miles says:

      Definately mend as soon as possible (tears BEFORE they are washed then the won’t be frayed when you come to mend.) Keep a special basket for mending NEVER have more than 5 items in the basket. Check all seasonal clothing before you store .Stains treated before you store should not return.
      I like natural fibres because after all the mending, upcycling,lengthening ,shortening using for rags,etc. you can at least put them in your compost heap and not have them go to landfill. The ultimate in ‘wear it out use it up’.

      1. Melissa Goodwin says:

        I haven’t composted fabric. Do you compost stuff that is dyed and non-organic??

        I read something somewhere once that the mending basket makes a great “I don’t want to iron it” basket. I can relate to that :).

        1. Eileen Miles says:

          I don’t compost non organics they DON’T break down easily – they might over years but would you want them in the ground?. But wool,cotton,linen etc all break down. Colour in organics are OK – old jeans with all the studs and yes even the zipper( if it no longer locks) go into my compost. They take longer in Colder climates to break down so when you take the finished compost you just return the larger bits that haven’t completely broken down to the new pile.
          What goes into my mending basket (the 5 items) should not take more than 20-30 minutes to repair in total. If the repair or upcycle needs longer than that tackle straight away. Keep threaded needles in black and white -or even the clear thread and common buttons ready in the basket.
          Heard of Micro Cleaning ? try Micro Mending you can sew on a button in 5 minutes while waiting for the washing machine to finish it’s cycle, or you are ready to go out and someone is keeping you waiting.
          I used to get angry with my darling man who always found something to do JUST as we were about to leave the house. Its better to micro clean or micro mend than start the trip angry, or frustrated.And you would be surprised how much you can get done in 5 or 10 minutes

          1. Melissa Goodwin says:

            Thanks Eileen!

            So if I understand, non-organic wool, cotton and linen is ok? I guess all the treatments etc would have been well and truly washed out by the time they get to the compost pile, which is what I was thinking of re non-organic.

            I wonder about rayon / viscose (made from wood pulp) and bamboo, which are manufactured textiles, but they might become synthetic during manufacture??? Just thinking out loud here :).

            I haven’t heard of micro cleaning, but it’s a great way to clean (or mend) when you’ve got small kids and you have to snatch a minute here and then when they are not demanding attention! Thanks again.

    2. Melissa Goodwin says:

      That’s a great tip! It’s easy to forget mending (ahem, I won’t mention DH’s work pants that took me about 10 months to stitch up).

  7. My mending doesn’t stretch further than replacing a button. My partner on the hand does mend clothes and I’ve often seen him sew up a rip. He’s great with a needle and thread which means that at least one of us saves in that department. I hand wash a lot of my clothes so they stay in tip top condition for longer than if they were constantly machine washed which means less mending required.
    I do admire people who have the patience and desire to mend though.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Simple mending is great! I once read that the definition of a bachelor is a man who can sew on a button – Obviously not a bachelor though :). It’s great to see a man with sewing skills!

  8. I mend but believe that re-purposing and up-cycling also falls into this catagory. A large part of my wardrobe are op shop finds in good condition and you can also find high quality even up market stuff. I am not a label person so if it is good quality and well made and fits I will get it, but you do need to be picky, don’t get it if you are not going to wear it or re-purpose it.
    I get old sheets and doona covers and sew cloths for myself and daughter, some you would never guess what the fabric was in its former life. I always do this when first trying a new pattern, I would rather spend a few dollars on a op shop sheet than $30-40 on new fabric, these first attempts at making the pattern are usually round the house clothes.
    Old shirts and tops end up as girls dresses, men’s shirts become tops for me, old knitwear unravels and crochets into dish cloths and flannels/face washers, soft toys and kids jumpers
    . I keep a box of clothes that are no longer worn, too big, too small that can be given a new life as something else. But remember some times an up-cycle or remake will not work or go as planned it is important to try and learn and if it did not work you have some rags for the rag basket.
    I agree in that I don’t follow fashion. I have my own style and what ever fits in I will get and keep for years. I have a 10yr old pair of jeans that have been mended more times then I care to count. They fit perfectly and I can bend over in them without fear unlike the jeans that are currently in fashion. and when they finally fall apart they will become a pattern for a new pair.

    I have always felt I never quite fit in as my skill set seemed to be old fashioned being interested in sewing, Quilting, crochet making in general, I would love to learn to preserve fruit and veg. It is nice to know I am not alone

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      That’s awesome Nesi! I agree, upcycling is absolutely part of mending. I also have a box of old torn clothes to use in other sewing projects. I just need the time to match the desire lol :).

      I have a lot of trouble finding good stuff at the op-shops. I think it maybe the local demographic – lots of polyester Kmart stuff and not much good stuff. I read on the net all these wonderful clothes made from old sheets, but I’ve only come across cheap, pilled poly-cotton sheets at the op-shop. Will have to keep an eye out more.

      I know what you mean about feeling like never quite fitting in – I’ve felt that too. And I’m also a lover of quilting and crocheting and just starting to preserve fruit and veg!! :) It’s great how the net can bring like minded people together. Shame it doesn’t quite match a face to face cuppa though.

      1. Eileen Miles says:

        I live in a small Rural town with an older population – if you don’t sew and knit and preserve you don’t fit in. You just have to visit our Agricultural Show (even though a small one) to see all these lovely skills and crafts are not dead- and its not just the over 60’s who enter.
        The only area where entries were slipping was the cooking- until one of the Committee members came up with a Group Competition where the members had to submit a number of entries from different categories.We had one family with 3 members 2 of whom were male!
        We have a lovely op shop -still with the yucky cheap imports but less than Big Cities. Unfortuately when the lovely things come in it means we have lost one of our Treasured Seniors.
        I have a collection of beautiful old worked supper cloths,d’oyles etc.some with stiching missing or small holes I still regularly use them(tastefully restored) to honour the patience of the maker.
        I am working on finding uses of old crotchered d’oyles anyone got any ideas?I’ve made pillow covers and decorative book covers,Ive dyed them and used them as embellishments on tops etc.