Slow Clothing - Mending

I have always disliked ironing. It took me forever to make sure the creases were smoothed out but done carefully so as not to destroy the fabric. Unfortunately, my disdain for the chore had taken a toll on my favourite jacket. A minute too long under the hot iron and it was burnt. To say I was distraught was an understatement. I was determined not to throw it away; this jacket had followed me on my adventures and into the cold of my office in Singapore. I was going to be brave and mend it. So, armed with just a needle and thread, I decided to patch it up with flowers from a scarf. It did not matter that my sewing was crooked or that it took a whole afternoon. What mattered was that I found myself enjoying the process, and I loved the outcome.

What is mending?

What does the word “mend” mean to you? We mend relationships when they break down, we strive to have healthier lives by mending our bodies and minds, and we tend to the plants in our garden as if they were part of our family (and do the same with our beloved pets).  But, would you consider mending your clothes? A few years ago, I had broached this topic with close friends and the response was an unanimous, “No”. To them the idea of wearing repaired clothing meant wearing something old or even akin to rags, and, no, it certainly would not be worthy as part of their outfit of the day shot.

But are clothes not crucial to our existence? They form part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, providing warmth, protection and our identity. Why should they be valued less and discarded at the sign of a tear or loss of a button? In Singapore, it has been a long but rewarding journey to change mindsets on this topic. When I set up A Darn Good Cafe with Sustainable Living Lab for Maker Faire Singapore in 2014, instead of sharing repair techniques we ended up being mistaken for being a creche (but that’s okay because we shared sewing skills with the kids!). Since then, perceptions of repaired clothing have changed for the positive with the formation of Singapore’s Repair Kopitiam, a community-led repair cafe, and heightened public environmental awareness, with ground-up initiatives such as Journey to Zero Waste Singapore.  It has also been exciting to see participants eager to learn mending skills at my Repair Sewcial knowing that they are empowered to make the choice between saving an item from the landfill and binning it.  

With each stitch we make, we acknowledge the time and the stories behind each person who made it

Continuing the Narrative

My 15 year old jacket has now been mended twice, once to cover the burns, and the second time to fix the patches. It sparks many conversations and curiosity about repair, and and the stories behind it.  It also reminds me of how much joy I get from using my hands to remake a garment and make it my own.

Mending a garment is not about making rags or being miserly, it is about continuing its journey and respecting the thousands of hands that it had passed through from the farmer in the fields to the weaver in the factory, and eventually the cashier at the retail outlet. And with each stitch we make, we acknowledge the time and the stories behind each person who made it, thus continuing the garment’s narrative.  So the next time a button falls off your jacket, take out your sewing kit and put some love into the garment.

would you consider mending your clothes? I broached this topic with friends and the response was an unanimous, "No"

Written by Agatha Lee

Agatha “Agy” is a textile artist who specialises in natural dye and free motion embroidery transforming textile waste into creative wearables or art installations.  Agy’s work looks at the interactions between the public and the environment, and sparks conversations on how our relationship with the environment can be better.  One of her long term projects is getting people to reevaluate their relationship with clothing, and transforming it into a positive one through upcycling and repair.  She holds repair and upcycling workshops on a regular basis.