Motivations for Repair

Today is Fashion Revolution Day, and like last year, I’d like to spend some time thinking about all those expert skills hiding behind all those cheap clothes we expect to see on The High Street.

Fashion Revolution Day - Who Made My Clothes?

Fashion Revolution Day: who made my clothes?

When I was writing my new artist statement, I spent a lot of time thinking about motivations for repair, captured in the following sentence:

By exploring the motivations for repair Tom shifts the emphasis from the new and perfect to the old and imperfect, enabling him  to highlight the relationship between garment and wearer.

There are manifold motivations for mending, ranging from societal issues through to the very personal: concerns about environmental impact of the clothes life-cycle, concerns about living conditions of people making cheap clothes, budget constraints, sentimental value; I’m sure you can add more to the list.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02a

A darning sampler in the form of socks from a time that repair came natural to people; from the Fries Museum

The people behind Fashion Revolution Day ask you to think about who made your clothes. For me personally, this question can more and more be answered by: I made my clothes. I have made my own boxershorts, trousers, numerous socks, cardigans, and sweaters. With less success I’ve also attempted to make some shirts, and it’ll be some time before I feel happy to tackle a jacket or coat.

Making my own clothes has made me realise that it takes a lot of time, skill and effort to create garments I’m happy to wear. Of course, I’m not a professional tailor, so I’m happy spending my whole Christmas holiday on one pair of tweed trousers. I don’t know any shortcuts or tricks to make things go faster and I don’t feel the need to use them, either. Every time I make something, I learn something. How to make a nice welted pocket; how to bind edges on knitwear; how to copy a pattern from an existing garment.

boxershorts from old sheets

Boxershorts made from ripped sheets: the softest cotton you can get your hands on! The pattern was copied from a pair of boxershorts I already owned

Making my own clothes has made me realise, too, that those cheap t-shirts, jeans, and other items were made under very different circumstances. The shops we buy these from are mostly trying to get a decent profit margin. At the same time, their customers demand a low price for these items. Something is going to get squeezed somewhere. You will notice that when you buy cheap clothes, their material quality might be poor, seams might fall apart easily, or the finishing isn’t great. This is not because those people in sweatshops like Rana Plaza don’t have the required skills, but because they are constrained by time or poor quality materials.

I believe therefore that clothes made by those people deserve the same respect as that carefully hand-knitted sweater you made at home. When I do buy new clothes (I mostly shop secondhand now), I try to buy something made to last, but I know that’s not always possible. And I myself have not always been in the position to buy less, but of higher quality. It happens. I try not to feel too bad about it (some people in the sustainable fashion corner worry about what might happen if suddenly nobody buys cheap clothes anymore: thousands of people in developing countries would suddenly be without a job.)

Visible Mending of a Cardigan

An early Visible Mending example

There is no one solution to these ethical questions, and I think we should all do what is within our reach. For me this means I will repair my clothes, including cheap ones. When repairing clothes, my mind often starts to wander and I think about who made the item. It might be me, a dear friend, or indeed, it might be an anonymous seamstress.

So, even if you will never find out who made your clothes, you can still think about this person.

Pay them respect and repair your garments.

13 Replies to “Motivations for Repair”

  1. Hi Tom, I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful friend who knits me beautiful socks, the other Christmas I happily spent 3 or 4 days darning a pair as they’d become somewhat thread bare underneath (though my darning went a bit wrong somewhere as one sock now has what looks like a hernia). Cheaper socks that develop holes tend to get chopped up and used as cushion stuffing, so although I’m no longer wearing them, they are still being used in a round about way.

  2. Dag Tom,
    Wat een geweldig blog!
    Ik heb het Fries Museum al een poosje op mijn bezoek lijstje staan en ga er zeker binnenkort heen. Vorig jaar ben ik in Stockholm geweest en heb daar onder meer het Nordiska Museet bezocht, omdat ik had gelezen dat ze daar een grote textiel/samples collectie hebben. Wel, het is om te smullen! Laden vol met de prachtigste breiwerken, vooral veel oude. Heb daar uiteindelijk ondanks het mooie weer 2 dagen doorgebracht. Als je daar ooit komt: een absolute aanrader.
    Ik woon en leef in Almere (als je niet weet waar dat ligt: 30 km van Amsterdam, helemaal opgebouwd onder waterniveau, 40 jaar jong en heel wat interessanter, mooier en groener dan Milton Keynes).. Ook daar is men 2 jaar geleden begonnen met repaircafees, op elke lokatie 1 x per maand.. Ik help er bij 2. Heel erg leuk. Ik probeer mensen die nog niet van het bestaan er van afweten te motiveren door te zeggen: als er een steek is gevallen in je lievelingstrui gooi je hem dan weg of hoop je dat iemand kan helpen hem weer als nieuw te maken?
    Soms naai ik zelf iets, maar uitsluitend dingen die niet of niet naar mijn zin te kopen zijn. Ik ga 2 x per maand naar voetbal kijken. Zeker in de winter een koude aangelegenheid. Omdat ik de ultieme warmhouder niet kon vinden heb ik hem zelf gemaakt van een …. IKEA plaid. Leuk en warm! Kosten: 2,95 euro!
    En wat ook belangrijk is: hij zet zo lekker!
    Veel plezier met al je leuke ondernemingen en ik blijf je volgen.
    Hartelijke groet,
    Gretha Boom

  3. This such an inspiring post, Tom. I can’t help thinking that everyone should make at least one garment in their life to gain an appreciation of the work and skills involved as well as the satisfaction to be gained from making or indeed mending something.

    PS love those boxers.

  4. I was inspired by your darning. I have a favorite turquoise blue cashmere sweater that had a hole in it. I embroidered a flower over the hole with tapestry wool and liked the effect so much I added several more flowers in a row up to my shoulder. I have received many compliments on my sweater!

  5. Because of one of your previous posts, today I knit patches on the underheels of a pair of my handknit socks. Don’t think I would have attempted this if I had not read about your patching skills. I thought I am going to learn that. I have also repaired with darning but today was a first doing the picking up stiches and reknitting a patch over the hole. I just looked in my basket by my chair and found a CONTRASTING yarn. Would have thought to match before reading your writing, but now I like the idea of a visible repair. Thanks for your writings. It is changing my thinking about making clothing last as long as possible.

  6. THOSE TROUSERS!!! they are to die for………what a great job you did. Thank you for showing all the detail, I appreciate it.

  7. When RUDE [reusers of unloved discarded excess] rescues clothes from landfill that’s exactly what we think of. Who made these clothes and that they do deserve more respect. We rummage and collect mostly fast fashion for immediate wear (after washing of course) or refashioning because of the excellent quality of the fabric. Some may require repair and for RUDE Girl that is almost a spiritual process.

    Thank you for sharing the joy Tom!

  8. Well said, Tom. I’d like to add – for all those sewing out of new fabric rather than re-using, such as with your sheets into boxers – who made my fabric? I can’t imagine that people working in weaving mills or picking cotton to make cheap fabric enjoy conditions any better than thise making cheap clothes for a pittance.
    Yesterday I darned a jumper for my Dad (invisible mending) and put on elbow patches (visible mending). He loves it!

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