Over the weekend, James and I sorted through the zipped bag of kids’ clothing we keep on the highest shelf in the closet. It’s the time of year for dewrinkling shorts and sundresses that have been curled up all winter and for washing and storing wool sweaters that need to sit out the hot summer months. Together we went through the pile of toddler-sized clothes we’d saved from our older kids and culled from our stash what we thought might be useful or wearable for our current assorted sizes of children. We found holey-kneed cotton gauze pants that could get a second lease on life if lopped into shorts. We found linen shorts with bums worn thin but that could survive with a simple patch. We made a pile to pass along to a baby cousin and an increasingly small stack of special items we’ve decided to save for purely sentimental reasons. A few items, I cut into scraps for future sewing projects. I spent a few hours making simple repairs and fixes where I could.
I’m not a particular expert at mending clothes. Since my first time patching a pair of beloved jeans in high school, I’ve learned a few things about the techniques and the process. I’ve gotten somewhat steadier with my stitches and my patches have gotten a bit sturdier. My kids have provided me with a truly bottomless font of opportunity to practice. Does it sometimes feel ridiculous to spend time patching a pair of $1 jeans I found at the school rummage sale that I know might not survive another recess soccer game? It does. But then, so does discarding a pair of perfectly great jeans with one busted-through knee.
For the most part my kids meet their patches with good spirits. This could change in an instant, of course, but generally they’re happy, sometimes even delighted, to wear clothes that have been mended or tweaked. Silas went to school with a knee patch this week that he declared looked like a continent and made up a little dance to for the occasion. Faye went sporting shorts sewn from the aforementioned pants. My children’s belief in my talent extends far beyond what I actually possess, but I can usually set expectations for what’s fixable and what’s not. Fabric and quality of the starting garment, I’ve found, makes a big difference in what I might be able to mend myself. I’m more likely to have success patching a woven natural fiber than anything very stretchy or knit. The stash of black jeans James found at the school rummage sale for Silas have proven very solid and easy to mend and we have little linen shorts and cotton pants that have been hanging on for a decade, passed from cousins and back again. Soft and stretchy knit jersey cottons like the ones that many kids especially love to wear can require a bit more patience to patch. The thin stretchy leggings Faye was partial to a few years ago were better off becoming potholders, but I’ve had better luck mending thicker sturdier knits with small embroidery patches. (I keep an old sweatshirt around for the purpose and cut my patches from that.) I’ve had great luck needle felting in wool, but I’ve yet to really learn to darn efficiently.
Crucially, there’s also this to know: Patched or no, my kids look a little like ragamuffins, most of the time. Calder especially, in part because her collection of hand-me-downs has been more well worn than the others, in part because she’s partial to her hole-y leggings, no matter the alternative (in part because she’s morally opposed to brushing her hair). I’m not saying this to be self-deprecating, only honest. Kids’ clothing becomes tattered and stained almost immediately upon wearing and carefully tending and patching and stain-removing requires care and maintenance and a not small amount of time. Like most every other act of care, it’s work that’s done without pay or easily quantifiable value. I don’t always have the time or desire to carefully tend to or patch or keep up with the maintenance that would have my kids’ wardrobes looking top-notch, and neither do I have the stomach or the bank account for replacing every t-shirt with a small hole or a stain, or egregiously gray sleeve cuff and so often, I simply don’t. As always, there’s a gray area (sometimes quite literal) to settle into between two opposing poles. I sent one kid to school yesterday with a hole in the elbow of their shirt and pants two sizes too small. Another went in a white long-sleeve with cuffs that looked like they’d been dip-dyed in dirty bath water. The third insisted on wearing broken sandals and was thwarted only when they fell entirely apart on the way out the door.
I’ve found that mending can feel creative and satisfying and worthy of my time. The bright patches and stitches can add a little dimension and personality and verve to an otherwise sad item. The process can feel triumphant and meaningful, even fun. Mending can also feel onerous and fiddly and like its keeping me from other things I need to do. So, I mend what I can and, as the old bards once sang, disregard the rest.
In case anyone out there is looking for particular advice, I’ve been helped and inspired enormously along the way by folks more talented and diligent than I am. Here are a few books and instagram accounts from a few favorites:
If you’re an Instagram user needing small bit of inspiration, I keep a highlight of mends. What have you mended lately?