Traditional textile techniques used in contemporary ways - Part 5: mending and repair - The Open College of the Arts
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Traditional textile techniques used in contemporary ways – Part 5: mending and repair

I am including the subject of mending and repair in this series of blog posts about traditional textile techniques used in contemporary ways because this practical and necessary skill from the past has been making a comeback in recent years. With the advent of recycling, upcycling and the slow textile movement there is a growing interest in extending the life of garments. These contemporary repairs I would suggest are different to those of the ‘make do and mend’ era as they are more likely to be worn as a badge of honour. Using contrasting colours and materials these patches and darned areas become embellishments and recognition of the love and value the wearer feels for the garment. This gives the work a contemporary feel, saying something about how we appreciate the things we own and stating an allegiance to the culture of a more responsible consumerism.
In this post I am introducing practitioners who use repair as part of their creative practice starting with Tom of Holland a self taught textile practitioner with a passion for understanding and valuing the way things are made. He is someone who makes the things he needs rather than buying them, leading him to learn how to use double-pointed needles to make socks. But as he explained in his interview with Kate Davies felt saddened when the first hole appeared. So being true to his attitude towards his skill development Tom, needlecraft book in hand taught himself to darn, learning to embrace holes wherever they appear. This led Tom to set up The Visible Mending Programme in 2012, a continuous project that brings people together to learn textile repair techniques, celebrate the relationship between wearer and garment and view mending as a badge of honour.
Kirsty Wallace has been recording the wear and tear and subsequent continuous repairs to a pair of her jeans for a number of years. Working in the Japanese Boro style of textile repair the garment’s repairs have become a visible story of the relationship between jeans and wearer. Kirsty is interested in the passage of time, the way materials age and how this journey is visible through damage and repair. The artist links the emotional essence of the clothes we wear with memory and meaning, seeing the repairs to her well loved jeans as tragic and fragile yet there is strength and wisdom in their longevity.
For the 2013 exhibition Cloth and Memory {2} the artist Celia Pym responded to the ‘Spinning Room’ at Salts Mill Near Bradford where the exhibition was held, by knitting a jumper that she subsequently cut and repaired several times until the original garment was replaced. Blue Darning is the artist’s reaction to the evidence that the spinning room was once a place of great activity that the marks left behind are a memory of the machines and the work force that was once there. In the same way a worn and repaired garment contains evidence of memories through the changes that take place to it.
The artist Lee Mingwei takes this concept of visible repairs and explores how the repairs made by an artist can turn an everyday object into an artwork. In the work ‘The Mending Project’ lee Mingwei invites the gallery visitors to offer their damaged clothes to him for repair. In this participatory installation the artist sits across a table from the visitor as the repairs made. The work explores issues of trust, intimacy and self-awareness as artist and gallery goer chat and share the experience. Lee Mingwei sees this hospitality and accountability between strangers as the giving and receiving of gifts.
Repairs not only lengthen the life of clothing but also embellish them with meaning and personalised adornment. The act of repair enhances our relationship with the objects of daily life and brings the pleasure of living a little more lightly. You will find scores of images on Pinterest from enthusiastic textile menders taking part in this egalitarian, inexpensive and expressive art form.
Bibliography and further reading
Celia Pym
Celia Pym mending holes. AudioBoom podcast
Cloth and Memory
Cloth and Memory {2} (2013) Edited by Lesley Millar published by Salts Estates Ltd.
Irenebrination: Notes on Architecture, Art, Fashion and Technology. The Art of Mending and Mending as Participatory Art
Kate Davies Designs. A chat with Tom of Holland
Kirsty Wallace. Fibre Alchemy – Adventures in make do and mend and fine art textiles
Lee Mingwei: The Mending Project film by Virgil Wong
Liz Cooper interview/What Do I need to do to Make it OK? Pump House Gallery, London. Studio International film
Make it Last. Celia Pym gives you: the world’s best mending tips
Mori Art Museum. Lee Mingwei and his relations
Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia. The Mending Project
Not Just a Label, Make Do and Mend by Sass Brown
Parallel Practices//Crafts Council film by Mike Paterson
Re wardrobe. Slow Care: Invisible and Visible Mending: the art of patching
Salts Mill
Selvedge Magazine. We Love Celia Pym
The Campaign for Wool, A Q&A with Tom of Holland
The Gallery of Contemporary Textile Artists, Celia Pym, artist statement
The Guardian, The rise of mending: how Britain learned to repair clothes again by Sarah Lewis-Hammond
The Textile Blog. Kirsty Wallace – the Practice of Wear and Mend
Tom of Holland
Woman with a needle, Visible Mending

Posted by author: Rebecca Fairley
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7 thoughts on “Traditional textile techniques used in contemporary ways – Part 5: mending and repair

  • This series of posts on traditional textile techniques has been very interesting but most of all I like the extensive bibliography sections…what a wonderful resource, thank you Rebecca

  • I warmed immediately to Tom as I too am a keen mender and recycler of well-worn clothes. I never buy new ones but find some amazing things in charity shops and crazy patchwork is evident in my wardrobe! While in hospital a few years ago I started to write my screenplay( which I call a comedy….there are certainly comedic parts in it!) . It starts autobiographically and develops into the usual three act structure (as I’ve been on lots of courses )and is called ‘Go Green Grandma!’ That’s me.

  • Thank you so much for this series on textiles, Rebecca. It has been a real help in pointing me towards contemporary practice in different areas of textile work.
    Kirsty Wallace’s work with her jeans reminded me of a time when I made a dozen or so deliberate holes in my jeans (it was the punk era!), only to come home the next day and find that my Mum had patched them all! I wish I’d held on to them now.

  • Yes this series is very welcome and helpful in both giving more of a profile to textiles within the OCA arena but especially to give some inspiration on that journey between traditional and contemporary practice. More please ….

  • Great post Rebecca – this is something I am really interested in. I recently created a pintrest board on Boro, Kantha and Repair.
    I also became interested in my last module ( Exploring ideas) in the recommendation in the classic 1884 book by Therese de Dillmont on needlework and the instructions on darning – including with human hair.
    Which took me on to the work of Ann Wilson who uses human hair and stitch in her work some of which is like darning
    Its a super set of references in the post too Rebecca and a rich resource for further exploration
    many thanks

  • Thanks to the reading list, I now feel up to making the necessary repairs to a patchwork quilt I made forty years ago. I wake up under it every morning and it gives me so much pleasure, because it is true patchwork – every fabric has a story from my life. The repair fabrics will too.
    Thank you for the inspiration.

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