From knitting to crocheting, the coronavirus has seen many of us getting crafty while stuck at home—just look at the popularity of Harry Styles’ patchwork cardigan, which became a TikTok sensation when fans began recreating the JW Anderson knit (the designer later released the pattern in tribute to the response). On the catwalk, we’ve also seen the return of the ‘make-do-and-mend’ spirit, whether that’s upcycled coats at Marni or Maison Margiela’s Recicla designs, refashioned from hand-picked vintage pieces.
Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution and author of Loved Clothes Last: How The Joy Of Rewearing And Repairing Your Clothes Can Be A Revolutionary Act (Penguin, 2021), hopes this new mood means we’ll all start taking time to repair the clothes we already have in our wardrobes, too. “There is a poetry in mending that we’ve forgotten after 30 years of hyper-availability, ” she tells Vogue over the phone from her south London home. “It’s about slowing down the system.”
Practically speaking, mending your clothes—instead of Marie Kondo-ing them when the hem of a skirt comes undone or a small hole appears in your sweater—means you’re also preventing them from ending up in landfill (less than one per cent of textiles is currently recycled into new clothing, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation). You’re also reducing your environmental impact, with a report from waste charity WRAP finding that extending a garment’s life by just nine months can reduce its carbon, waste and water footprints by between 20 to 30 per cent.
Beyond that, taking time to repair our clothes is also about learning to value and fall in love with them again. “For me, my clothes are like photograph albums—each repair reminds me of a story,” de Castro says. “The relentless speed [at which we consume clothes] has eradicated the concept of human hands making products. It’s about reinstating this culture of understanding our clothes, how to care for them and how to keep them.”
Visible mending—whether that’s sewing patches on to your jeans or darning holes in your jumper using different colours (see textile artist Celia Pym)—can be an important political statement, particularly at a time when the struggles of the garment workers who make our clothes have been exacerbated by COVID-19. De Castro says it’s arguably even more important to repair garments from fast-fashion brands than luxury items so we can fix the current system of “mindless excess”.
“Repairing our clothes is a very strong message to be sending these brands: we don’t want more, we want better—both better quality of clothes and better for the lives of the people making the clothes,” she explains. “If we paid our workers a dignified wage and asked them to produce fewer products, that would be a step in the right direction.”
So, if you’ve got clothes languishing at the back of your wardrobe that are in desperate need of repair, here are de Castro’s foolproof tips of where to start.
If you’ve never picked up a sewing needle before, it’s unlikely that you’re going to become a proficient mender overnight. “This is not a new thing for a week—it’s a lifestyle of changing your habits,” de Castro says. Start with a button or a basic hem that you can sew by hand before diving into a more ambitious project.
Do a cover-up job
One simple trick is covering up any small holes or stubborn stains on your garments with badges or patches (for inspiration, look to upcycler Tetsuzo Okubo who recently reworked several Damien Hirst pieces of wearable art in a project showcased by Virgil Abloh). “It’s my number one trick; I buy most of my badges in this really brilliant vintage place called Cenci in south London,” de Castro explains, adding that she’s customised entire jackets and jumpers with the accessories.
Of course, mending your clothes with materials you already have will only boost your eco-credentials. That means saving any leftover material you end up with—whether that’s an old scarf or extra yardage from a skirt you’ve taken up—will help you on your repairing journey. “You might decide to unravel a piece of knitwear to use it as yarn,” de Castro adds.
Work out what kind of mender you are
With all the options out there, it’s worth finding out what type of mending you enjoy the most—whether that’s darning, patchworking or customising. “I love sewing buttons, I’m brilliant at crochet, but I’m very bad at machine sewing—so I wouldn’t do that,” de Castro says. “If you do something you believe in, you’ll own it.”
Know your limits
Part of discovering what type of fixer you are is also recognising your limits and getting those items professionally mended instead. That might include a broken zip or the hem of a designer dress that you don’t want to get wrong. “It depends on your ability, and the amount of time you’ve got,” de Castro concludes.
Loved Clothes Last: How The Joy Of Rewearing And Repairing Your Clothes Can Be A Revolutionary Act (Penguin, 2021) by Orsola de Castro is out now.