A curious mad pandemic skill to surface in my isolated corner of the world is visible mending, a term that usually refers to the art and politics of clothing repair. I’ve expanded my mending repertoire to include candles, a mirror and a zipper on a fanny pack—you read that right. FANNY PACK. (That’s hip sac, if you’re nasty.)
The beauty of visible mending is that it requires minimal sewing skills to get it right, i.e. there really is no right way to do it. Though some have elevated the practice to breathtaking heights, many artist-menders feel that the more raw and messy the mend, the more beautiful it is. A natural disaster with needle, thread and other things, I wholeheartedly agree. I recommend the book, Mended (A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto), by Kate Sekules for basic how-tos, as well as her enlightening prose about the history, politics and artistry of mending.
I started with socks, the repair of which is called darning, and what a misnomer that is—darn is not the word I used when I first started, jabbing my fingers more than fabric. As I slowly got the hang of it, though, the f-bombs dissolved away, and a soothing meditative state slid in…I moved on to elaborating on holes in sweaters, decorating tears in skirts with frankenstein stitches, blanketing worn-out elbows with patches.
Today’s project to deter me from actual work was to replace the zipper on my beloved aforementioned fanny pack, which hasn’t zipped in months, but I still use it because I love its functional fashionality (<I made up a word! FU autocorrect!), and I’m a daredevil like that. I have no business replacing zippers because my sewing skills are minimal at best, confined to replacing the occasional renegade button. In fact, once in 7th grade home ec, in the sewing unit, we had the option to make 1. a simple locker organizer (think: long rectangle of fabric, a few square pockets, straight sewing lines, embellish with a button or two, maybe rickrack trim—ta-da! A in Home Ec!) or 2. something more complicated, IF we had the experience. The girls whose moms taught them sewing when they were wee ones (same girls who could also make chocolate chip cookies from INGREDIENTS, not a plastic tube) chose skirts or dresses or shirts.
Back in 1976, my mom made bonnets for me and my sister Jill for our elementary school bicentennial celebration so we could look like little pioneers, out of a pair of her faded denim jeans and cut up cereal box cardboard (to stiffen the brim), and knowing my mom, I’d bet she didn’t sew ONE stitch, but instead used glue and staples and maybe paper clips. She patterned them after one of our little sister, Gretchen’s BABY bonnets, which did NOT look like anything any self-respecting 5th grader from 1776 would have worn, which is a long way to say my mom wasn’t one of those moms mentioned above.
Despite this minor detail, I didn’t want to make a locker organizer. I was obsessed with the short-lived 80s fashion craze: knickers—replete with zippers and buttons and pleats, o my! What? You don’t remember knickers in the 80s? Probably becasue the trend left town (hand-in-hand with fanny packs) before I finished my knickers.
Which brings me back to this visible mending tradition, which has been around since God was a kid, with roots in probably every culture on the planet…I found an old metal zipper at a thrift store that maybe had a former life on a jacket, and there’s no way on god’s green earth I’d be able to tell you how I did it—lots pins and hand stitching and f-bombing and YouTubing later, my pack is back in action! Look for me power-walking laps at your local mall.
I see now, that my mom was engaging in a form of visible mending with our bonnets—using what you have on hand—inadvertently teaching us to be creative and resourceful and to try not to give a fuck what anyone else’s bonnet looked like…in my home ec project that barely got finished before school ended, I see my propensity for jumping into the big stuff, without laying the basic foundation first (but I’m also kind of proud to remember that I did finish the knickers, replete with zippers and buttons and pleats, o my…I see that the raw basics are as powerful as anything….this idea of drawing attention to the flaws in the garments, rather than throwing them out or relegating them to the back of the closet or only wearing them for painting projects, is a rich parable for these strange times…people are talking about “post pandemic” days already; someone recently said to me they wish they could forget this past year ever happened. I thought, how sad that would be—it’s going to take some time, but there is immense power and awe, in the act of looking back to see all the hard things we did…if only we had hard evidence…
I wish for a visible mending of sorts for our souls, something to offer the world proof of the immeasurable losses we’ve endured this past year—lives, health, jobs, relationships, homes, comfort of the familiar and predictable… Maybe it would help us to be kinder to one another if we could see the haphazard patch over a heart, the criss-crossed stitches along our skin barely holding us together…maybe it would help us to be kinder to ourselves, too, if we could wear our scars as powerful, gorgeous embellishment, with the honor, grace and recognition they deserve. xo