Tagged: the big mend

Apr 26

The big mend’s 4th birthday

 

 

 the big mend[2] copy

 

 

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.

 

the-big-mend-a-repair-sewcial-in-progress-at-the-museum-of-bath-at-work

One of our repair sewcials in progress at the Museum of Bath at Work

 

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.

 

Flash mend event

Flash mend event in Waitrose

 

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.

 

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Dec 31

What 2014 has taught me

 

Here, in no particular order, are some things I’ve discovered in 2014:

1.

That very serviceable lotions and cosmetics can be homemade from nothing more than wild flowers, cooking oil (I used sunflower oil), beeswax and an old enamel bain-marie. Thanks to herbalist Zoe Hawes and Alice Park Community Garden for this revelation. I’m still using the Elderflower and Calendula lip-salve made at your workshop, Zoe, and it’s brilliant stuff. Homemade cosmetics and natural beauty products are definitely the way to go.

Elderflower and Calendula

Elderflower and Calendula

 

 

2.

That you can make yourself a really sturdy plant support from indigenous hazel branches and willow, provided you keep the pre-soaked willow sufficiently damp, and possibly cheat with the judicious application of cable ties. Thanks to Annie Beardsley for this new knowledge, and to APCG again.

Making plant supports at Alice Park Community Garden

Making plant supports at Alice Park Community Garden

 

3.

That you can make a perfectly functional barbecue from a large terracotta pot, a couple of bricks, some chicken wire and a discarded rack from a broken microwave. I had all these things lying around and pressed them into service on my allotment for Midsummer’s Eve. Look! It cooked chicken! 

 

An old flower pot, some bricks and a rack from a broken microwave.

An old flower pot, some bricks and a rack from a broken microwave.

4.

That even I can grow yellow courgettes, ruby chard, tomatoes, leeks, garlic, and sweet dumpling squash from scratch.

Grown on my allotment.

Grown on my allotment.

5.

That if you post a picture of your rear end in inside-out jeans on Twitter for Fashion Revolution Day, the sight might well collect 17,000 views. Blimey…

Rear-end selfie in inside-out jeans - all for a good cause.

Rear-end selfie in inside-out jeans – all for a good cause.

 

6.

That it’s possible to stop traffic on the A4 through central Bath wearing inside-out clothing. Nuff said.

 

7.

I hate to bang on about this, but I’ve found that it’s still possible to attract wolf-whistles when you’re 49. And I mean when not dressed provocatively or in inside-out clothing but, ironically, with minimal grooming: I’m down to an annual haircut, and you’ve already read about those homemade budget-beating cosmetics. This positive attention seems to be happening more of late but I suspect that some people might just need their eyes testing. Though one of my best friends has paid me the compliment of describing me as ‘like a teenager with wrinkles’. Please bear this in mind, all you TV producers; you’ll find my contact details in point 10.

8.

That it’s nice to make people happy, but that you certainly can’t please everyone so may as well stop trying. Do what you feel is right and ignore those who just don’t get it. There will be plenty.

 

9.

That if you require someone to knit a sweater for a real live Jersey cow, I’m a very good person to ask; I may not be able to do it myself but have all kinds of useful connections in the craft and making world. I was delighted to be able to connect the wonderful Send a Cow charity with the equally wonderful knitter Elise Fraser in Bristol (whom I met at the beginning of the year thanks to the Briswool project). And what a glorious jersey Gloria wore!

 

10.

That one might be asked to front a national BBC TV show, to write a book, and also to produce a regular column for a national craft magazine, but none of them may pan out for a host of painful and highly annoying reasons. Happily, I’m currently still available and open to offers, but you’d better get in quick before the rush. You might want to check out my professional website and contact me there to discuss any potential projects. I’d love to hear from you.

 

11.

That I can live without my beloved little car, the cuticle (‘cute’ + ‘vehicle’). Farewell, my little white Fiat! You are gone but not forgotten.

The cuticle always raised a smile.

The cuticle always raised a smile.

12.

That cycling is probably better for keeping me and my legs in shape anyway. And I love it, most of the time (barring uphill, or in horizontal rain, or when carrying very much). Here’s Violet, bought when I was carrying some very precious cargo: my younger son Joe in utero; he turned 15 years old earlier this month, so the old girl ain’t doing so bad.

 

Back to pedal power.

Back to pedal power.

 

13.

That, imho, my youngest son is a rather fine graphic designer already. He was aged just 14 when he sorted out a logo this summer for the Big Mend. Now studying Art GCSE. Anyone need a summer 2015 intern for an art-related opportunity? Do get in touch.

The Big Mend logo plus coffee.

The Big Mend logo plus coffee.

 

14.

That the ‘free’ coffee for Waitrose customers is a very useful thing indeed, and that people seem to like doing their mending in such public spaces. Thank you, Waitrose, for being so accommodating and allowing us to land on you for World Environment Day! And a big thank you to our happy band of menders! You know who you are. The Big Mend has now been going for almost 3 years, astonishingly. I wonder where it will head next?

Flash mend event

Flash mend event in Waitrose

 

15.

That if you put enough pressure on a carbon life form, it may well become a diamond – eventually. It’s been a very tough year or so and the screws have definitely been on. But I’m wondering if a ‘diamond life’ might possibly be in store for me after all in 2015. I really do hope so.

 

Thanks so much for reading my all-too-infrequent posts here on the subject of mending, thrift, textiles etc. Take care and have yourself a very happy 2015.

 

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Nov 16

Support SecondhandFirst Week

 

 

SecondhandFirst Week

SecondhandFirst Week

 

Tomorrow (today if you’re reading this on the email feed) marks the first day of #SECONDHANDFIRST Week, 17-23 November 2014.

The week aims to encourage people to commit to sourcing more clothing and other resources second hand. It’s organised by TRAID, the charity doing tireless work to ensure sustainable and ethical practices in the clothing chain. It’s hoped that this will become an annual event.

Here in Bath, the Big Mend is delighted to be acting as a partner organisation, and we’ve arranged one of our Flash Mend events* in Bath Central Library on Monday 17th November. We’d love it if you’d join us any time from 1-4pm with some hand-held mending: darning would be ideal as we’ll be hoping to quietly impart mending skills to passing library users. If you’re in Bath and would like a quick darning lesson, come down and say hello, pick up a darning mushroom and try out some stitches with us.

Here are ways you can support the week:

 

Flash mend event

A Big Mend Flash Mend event

 

*Mass mending events in public places

 

 

 

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Jun 04

Green your wardrobe

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Tomorrow is World Environment Day. To honour the occasion, I’ve arranged a little ‘flash mend’ here in Bath to try to raise a awareness about where our clothes go after we’ve done with them. I’ve called it ‘Green your wardrobe!’

I was pretty shocked to discover that so many unwanted textiles here in Bath get tossed straight into our regular bins (9 out of 10) rather than into the green recycling boxes (just 1 in 10). All the more shocking as we generally have a pretty good record of recycling things around here. I don’t know how much clothing is donated to local charity shops, though I suspect it’s a huge amount; that would be really interesting to know.

I’m hoping that our little mending ménage tomorrow can underscore some of the many alternatives to plain old wasteful binning tomorrow, one being the loving repair of our well-worn textile favourites. If you fancy joining us, that would be wonderful. We’ll be at the top of the escalators in Bath’s Waitrose at 1pm. You won’t be able to miss us: we should be wearing something green and carrying magenta darning mushrooms! Bring along something to mend, if you can. The idea is that we will gently darn and patch around our cappuccinos, space in the cafe allowing. If it’s crammed to the gunwhales, we might adjourn to the library next door – for a spot of silent slip-stitching, obviously. We should be there till a little after 2pm so just pop in for a moment or two, if you can.

And here’s a two-sided poster I drafted for the occasion. Feel free to share, if you like. Click on the top right arrow if you need to print.

 

 

green your wardrobe poster

green your wardrobe

 

 

PS Yes, yes, I know that this isn’t the promised Clothworkers post. The fatal error is that nobody pays me to write this poor, bedraggled and neglected blog. But soon…

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May 25

Independent on Sunday Happy List 2014

 

Sorry to have kept you waiting so long for that promised update on my visit to the V&A’s Clothworkers Centre. There have been major life distractions, and I’ve been having to prioritise other things. So, the blog has had to take a back seat; in fact, not even a back seat – it’s now a tin can tied to the bumper of my life, bobbling around behind me on a piece of string. But that post (and other woesomely belated ones) will come, eventually. I promise. You’ll just have to be patient.

Meanwhile, this weekend has brought some astonishing news: it seems I was included in the Independent on Sunday‘s 2014 Happy List, published today.

This annual list celebrates 100 people in Britain doing things to help their (or other) communities. I was totally gobsmacked to hear that I’d been nominated and even more surprised to hear that I’d been included. It seems that a kind Bathonian thought that I deserved recognition for the Big Mend etc, so nominated me. Frankly, I assumed it must be a joke. But it wasn’t. Here’s the article.

So, here we are. I’m still feeling a little pole-axed and mystified, but am so grateful for the attention that this is focusing on the things we’re trying to do in the local community with the Big Mend:

  • sharing mending and upcycling skills
  • helping local residents to save money
  • reducing social exclusion by supplying a welcoming, inclusive environment in which to do this
  • raising awareness of textile waste issues
  • and of all kinds of other ethical issues inherent in our daily choice of what to put on in the morning 

Over the past year I’ve enjoyed meeting (both in person and online) some wonderful people doing truly great things, and I’d like to take this opportunity reflect some glory back onto them here, as I feel that they deserve the real praise and attention here. In no particular order:

  • Fine Cell Work – for their stunning work taking needlework into prisons
  • Traid – striving to make the entire process of clothing production and use sustainable
  • Entribe – working to help the local community in Snow Hill, Bath
  • Fashion Revolution – the people behind the hugely successful #insideout campaign for the Fashion Revolution Day event on the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster
  • Labour Behind the Label – who’ve done so much of the legwork to obtain compensation for the victims of Rana Plaza
  • Bath Craftivism Club – bringing together local crafters with a social conscience
  • Bath Spa Uni – whose textile students are awesomely switched on when it comes to all these issues
  • The Museum of Bath at Work – which kindly lets us to use their amazing space for the Big Mend every month
  • Willis Newson – taking imaginative projects into the healthcare environment to promote wellbeing
  • Vicky Harrison of Paper Village Arts in Bedminster, Bristol – for her community-led Briswool project which has made so many people smile (and they’re still queuing down the street to see it)

Thanks to everyone who has come (and kept coming back) to the Big Mend over the past two years, supporting it and me with your kindness, your skills, your senses of humour etc. And finally, you, the reader of this neglected blog. Thank you. Please accept this posy of mint and purple sprouting broccoli from my allotment (admittedly from a little earlier in the season) as a token of my gratitude.

Allotment bouquet

Thank you!

 

 

 

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Mar 25

Mend with Mother

 

 

Minolta DSC

Mend with Ma this Wednesday

 

The Big Mend this month will have a Mother’s Day theme. So there’ll be FREE CAKE for all mums this Wednesday 26th March at the Museum of Bath at Work, Julian Road, Bath7-9pm.

We’d also love it if you’d come along and share your mending memories with us. Memories of watching things repaired at mother’s knee, perhaps; memories of Granny darning, maybe. We will be beginning to record mending memories in our imaginatively titled Mending Memories Notebook and warmly invite you to add yours.

I’m aware that many of us don’t have mothers (myself included) but I hope that won’t deter anyone from coming; there’ll be FREE CAKE for motherless souls too… :*-)

If you are in or near Bath and haven’t attended one of the Big Mend sessions, here’s how it works. We always meet on the last Wednesday of the month to tackle whatever’s in our mending pile – or, at least, a small portion of it. Tools and materials* are laid on, as far as possible, though you might want to bring along matching thread, or the perfect button, if you’re picky about such things. Or your sewing kit, if you’re attached to your particular needles, sewing scissors etc. There’ll be advice and suggestions on how you might go about your textile repair, if you’re stuck. We don’t charge, as such, but ask a minimum £2 donation to help cover the museum’s costs.

The more is most definitely the merrier, so if you like the idea then please share this post with someone else who you think might appreciate it. Thanks. Oh, did I mention the FREE CAKE?

 

*we’re always happy to accept donations of sewing tools, haberdashery or scrap materials that we can use for textile repairs. If you have anything that you think might be suitable, please get in touch.

 

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Feb 23

Scrap of the week #36

 

Here are several scraps sneaking in together as #36.

I was delighted to have a huge bagful of fabric scraps donated recently for use by the Big Mend. Here are just a few, washed and pressed and ready to go. There’s a ’70s duvet cover (purple flowers), ’70s pillow case (yellow flowers) and an old tablecloth (brown flowers). All of these had been carved up for the upcycling exploits of the previous owner. Underneath that is a length of late ’60s/early ’70s furnishing fabric. They will all be available to use for patching at our skills-sharing repair socials (or sewcials, if you like a cutesy handle).

The Big Mend sessions are open to everyone and anyone to come along with their mending pile and get guidance on how to work repairs. I give my time and skills freely (as do all the generous people who help me run the events). We see all sorts of people turning up to do everything from sewing on a button to repairing the seat of their favourite jeans. Tools and materials are mostly laid on gratis, again by yours truly. Which is why it’s particularly lovely to receive supportive gifts such as these. All we ask of attenders is a very small donation.

Did you know that you should always pre-wash fabrics* before using them to patch clothes or linens? At least, for anything that you intend to wash once it’s repaired. If not, the patch will likely shrink and detach from the garment it has been applied to. Such textile-repair wisdom was once commonplace, so much so that Jesus used it as an analogy in a parable to explain how he saw the meeting point of the old and new kingdoms:

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:16-17

So, pre-wash your patching fabrics. You heard it here last.

 

*at least, when using natural fabrics – polyester, nylon etc won’t be so prone to shrinkage

 

The next Big Mend session at the Museum of Bath at Work takes place on Wednesday 26th February, 7-9pm. Besides these fabrics, there will be various materials to try your hand at working golden mends

We could always do with more sewing materials and tools, so if you happen to have anything you can donate to continue our skill-sharing in the community, please get in touch. Thank you.

 

Scraps for patching repairs

Patch-worthy scraps for the Big Mend

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Feb 02

Golden mending

 

 

IMG_6907

Cardigan with golden mending

 

This is an experiment in golden joinery, a style of visible mending which I think I first heard about via Morwhenna Woolcock in Bristol – her film about it is over here on Vimeo. It’s a textile nod to the Japanese art of kintsugi, a repair technique practised on precious Chinese porcelain from the late 15th century. In kintsugi, the damaged object bears conspicuous repair seams of gold-coated lacquer. There is absolutely no attempt to hide the damage, and in the process of repair the artefact becomes not as-good-as-new but even better than. The golden scars are integral to the aesthetic, and repair becomes an alchemical process. What’s not to love? You can hear more about kintsugi in this wonderful BBC Radio 4 programme, Something Understood, which aired last September.

My mission here was to repair a couple of moth holes on the upper sleeve of a Hobbs cardigan. It’s a common place to find moth holes on a woollen garment. Maybe it’s the way we tend to store our knitwear? Tucking arms inside as we fold, thus making an irresistibly snug spot for the average egg-laying moth. I didn’t spot any damage when I bought this cardigan second-hand, but washing revealed the two holes. Damn and blast. On with the mending.

So here’s what I did:

  • I stabilised the area first, tacking a small piece of pre-washed cotton tape to the reverse of the repair – this was to stop the area puckering or distorting during the mending process
  • Then I created a matrix of vertical threads with regular sewing cotton, securing each unattached run-threatening loop and also creating a framework for my darning
  • Next I reworked the stitches with Swiss darning (a.k.a. replica stitch) in gold thread

 

IMG_6902

One down, one to go

 

My verdict: this is a rather fine knit, making Swiss darning it quite eye-watering, and the gold thread I used wasn’t entirely co-operative: it wasn’t really flexible enough for the task. But I persisted. Here’s the thread I used, top right. It’s unfortunately lost its label but looks like pretty standard metallic thread designed for machine-embroidery use.

 

Golden threads

Golden threads

 

This isn’t the most accomplished repair I’ve ever worked, but it’s effective.  The area certainly didn’t pucker (which tends to make a repair look amateurish), and I love the impact of the gold – it reminds me of a square of gold leaf shimmering there. What do you think? And no, I don’t always wear orange knitwear, though I do like orange a lot; it reminds me of marmalade and warm afternoon sun, both much appreciated in dull old February.

 

IMG_6906

Golden mend, complete

 

I hope you’ll feel inspired to have a go at some kind of golden mending of your own. You might want to try a modern version on your broken ceramics. Let me know how you get on by dropping me a line in the comments – it’s always good to know that someone is keeping me company here! Thanks.

And if you happen to be in the Bath area and you have something textile you’d like to try to repair using this technique, please bring it along to the next meet-up of the Big Mend on Wednesday 26th February 7-9pm at the Museum of Bath at Work. More details about the Big Mend over here. I also include Swiss darning in my bespoke Strictly Come Darning! workshop.

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Sep 10

Patch-ology

 

 

Micro-patching is my current obsession. I’ve made up the term – at least, I think I have. It could already be some kind of hack in the world of software engineering (is it?) but here it succinctly describes using the teeniest textile scraps, usually of Liberty Tana lawn, to cover holes and other faults in a garment etc. Sometimes I apply them as reinforcements: around pocket edges, for example (see my purple granny cardi below). And sometimes I apply them just for the heck of it. To be honest, I need very little excuse to use Liberty fabric, so sometimes I don’t wait for a repair.

This week, my patch of choice has been circular, and my mission has been to cover genuine holes. Moth holes, to be precise.

IMG_4579

Micro-patches

 

If you have a similar woollen garment to repair, be sure to treat it first for moths; I hand-wash with an appropriate wool wash, air-dry flat thoroughly, then freeze for a week or two inside a zip-lock plastic bag. That usually shows the little blighters what for.

To make the tiny round patches, I’ve applied scraps of the lightest iron-on interfacing to my lawn scraps first, just to ensure that my patches are stable. This is my preference and isn’t absolutely essential as lawn is such a closely woven fabric that it won’t fray much (if at all) nor stretch out of shape, though it will get softer and collapse with wash and wear. So, I use interfacing to make them just a little more robust and shape-holding. Then I’ve cut out circles, using whatever round thing happened to be close to hand for a template: cotton-reels, buttons, money, thimbles, etc.

I had a lot of holes to cover, so arranging the patches was my next task. I tried not to draw attention to certain areas by using fabrics which toned with my flamey orange Brora cashmere tank top – a charity shop buy, incidentally, and cheap as chips because of its parlous moth-holed state. Other areas could carry more of a punchy contrast. You might feel a bit like a tattoo artist doing this, trying to figure where best to position a patch to enhance the wearer’s physique. Or not. If you have a really awkward hole (right over a sensitive part of the bosom, for example) you need to think very carefully about your repair. This might not be the right place for a micro-patch.

IMG_4582

Positioning patches

 

Once pinned into position, it’s a question of  tacking (even if you never usually baste or tack, I’d advise not skipping this stage for this type of work – it doesn’t take long and you can try on your garment more easily to decide if you’re happy with the result). Then it’s time for stitching over the patch by hand, getting decorative as the mood takes: spirals, concentric circles, radiating lines etc. I rather like a plain, simple back-stitch a few millimetres from the edge of the patch. Blanket stitch will cover the edges, if raw edges bug you, but it yields a slightly raised effect – fine, if that’s what you want. You could free-machine embroider, if you prefer; a few overlapping freehand circles would look really good. But this is hard (OK, impossible) to do on restricted areas such as sleeves etc.

IMG_4583

Back-stitched micro-patch

 

How small can you go with these micro-patches? Well, if you’re just covering a mark or soiled area, you can go very itsy-bitsy as there’s no repair to effect; so as long as you can secure it well to the background fabric, you can go wild with your teenies. If you’re covering a hole, however, I’d ensure there’s at least a half-inch margin of sound fabric all around the edge of the repair. Now, if you stitch well over your patch, it should hold up well. To be extra secure, you could even try sandwiching it, with one patch on the outside, another of the same size on the inside; this could be done without any interfacing for a softer, more yielding repair. And then you’re spared seeing the raw edges of your repair on the wrong side of the garment. 

 

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Radiating lines of split stitch

 

I get a real buzz from using up even the smallest jewel-like scraps of Liberty fabric. Do you? Seems almost criminal to throw them away. If you have a go, please show me how you get on. There’s a place to share your repairs, by the way, over here at The Big Mend group pool. Jump on in! The water’s lovely. 

I also love the satisfaction of working old-school tradition patching techniques which leave strong, finished edges; I will be teaching these (plus creative ways to repair jeans) in my half-day patching class, Patch-ologyPlease visit my classes page for details: forthcoming dates are Wednesday 18th September, Monday 7th October, and Friday 8th November. But I like to play it dangerously with my lawn, risking raw edges (which aren’t going to fray a whole lot anyway) and going smaller and smaller and smaller. Edgy stuff!

IMG_4595

Send reinforcements!

 

 

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Sep 07

Mending at Bath Artisan Market

 

The Big Mend will be bringing a pop-up mending workshop to Bath Artisan Market tomorrow, Sunday 8th September, at Green Park Station (the covered section, just down from Sainsbury’s) from 10am. So dig out those winter woollies nibbled by the moths and discover creative darning and patching.  Hope to see you then!

 

Come mend with us!

Come mend with us!

 

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