It’s hard to believe that the monthly mending sewcials I kicked off in Bath four years ago are still going strong. We’ll be celebrating, true to form, with a spot of mending on Wednesday 27th April 2016 from 7-9pm.
Thanks to all the people who’ve come along to the Big Mend sessions over the years, especially those who have picked up the pieces and kept it going when I couldn’t (notably Alison, Annie, Su, Lizzie, Divya, Kathy and Hannah) and to the Museum of Bath at Work for generously allowing us use of their wonderful space every month without fail.
We must have repaired approximately 500-1000 garments and household textile items over the years, but have nurtured skills that must have saved many more textiles from the waste stream as the repair know-how has spidered out into local hands and households.
Why has it kept going? I can’t exactly say, but people seem to want it and to value its esprit de corps. The sessions, I’ve noticed, provide a contained space where the cultural norms of consumption, ‘fast fashion’ etc don’t apply. In contemplative, collaborative, purposeful activity, we sit and repair, share skills and news and put the world to rights. It feels like a very old activity – and it must be. I’ve just written a piece for Selvedge magazine (issue 70, May/June 2016, the Delicate issue) exploring some of the history of mending. For that, I included evidence of mending from antiquity, and even pre-history. And it makes sense that the act of repair must be about as old as the hills and as ancient as sewing itself. Because making and mending are like chicken and egg; when early man/woman first stitched a pelt together with sinew and thorn needle to make it stay on that little bit better (creating a ‘garment’ rather than just a piece of animal skin), was that not technically a repair? Or an upcycle, at least. Discuss.
What have we achieved? At the Big Mend, we’ve contemplated our place in the world and how we’re connected by a long thread to all the people who make our clothes. We’ve considered what repair means to us – how it preserves objects that make us feel good, how it prolongs the wearable life of our clothing and demonstrates our resourcefulness and resilience. We’ve discussed whether we want our repairs to be visible – conspicuous even – or not and what wearing something with an evident repair says to others. We’ve made a stand against the brutality of ‘fast fashion’ – well, we’ve wandered around the city with our clothes inside out for Fashion Revolution Day, held ‘flash mend’ events and spoken to local people and retailers about inhuman factory conditions. Some of us have given up most of our clothing for a while to raise money for garment workers. We’ve planned a project to work with the city’s students on textile waste reduction (which, sadly, didn’t win funding) and taken part in numerous local open days and public-facing events. Now we tend to stick to the monthly meetings only, because we aren’t funded in any way, so the entire venture is one of generosity and open-handedness and has to be dovetailed in with our own demanding lives. I would do more, if I could afford to, but I can’t. However, the monthly session on the final Wednesday of the month is treated as sacred – not to be messed with unless medical emergency or a clash with Christmas absolutely prohibits it.
So, on we trundle. A fourth birthday sounds like a good opportunity for a game of Pass the Darning Mushroom or Musical Mannikins, but instead I’ve arranged for a visit from local tailor, Ben of City Tailors. He will be spilling the beans on some of his professional repair secrets. I’m looking forward to seeing some hard-won artisanal textile skills in practice – probably rather more deft and invisible than most of ours. Join us, if you can. Everyone is, as ever, very welcome to attend. All we ask is a small donation to help towards museum costs. So, please grab a tired textile to bring along and we’ll do our best to help you revive it.