Why Mending?


For millennia, mending and repair were intrinsic to material culture, as they still are in many parts of the world. But in (over)developed societies, discarding goods remains socially accepted behavior, often disguised as decluttering or donation. In response, a grass roots repair movement is growing, encompassing sock darning to repair cafés to groups lobbying against planned obsolescence.

But the movement, being multi-sited and localized, can be difficult to access or quantify, and participation privileges prosperous populations with issues of oversupply rather than poverty. This project envisions a global spread. The map provides structure and distributes knowledge by making mending visible, promoting collaboration in care and repair in all corners of the Earth.

Repair, Conservation, Restoration...

Here, the term "mending" stands for all processes of reforming, reconstituting, conserving, remaking, reviving, restoring, and repair. "Mending" is the preferred term because it deserves rehabilitation, since it bears a persistently menial, covertly gendered, aura, and is scarce in the academic repair discourse. Moreover, “mending” can equally apply to intellectual, emotional, political, and moral realms. We might talk of roof repair, but not of world repair, whereas the hyphenate “world-mending” is a handy metaphor during planetary upheavals,

Mending is a humble, quotidian activity that lacks any formal framework—and always has. It belongs to neither art, nor craft, nor science, nor academia though it may be incorporated into any of these. The VMDH map provides structure and definition in a non-hierarchical format. Categorization becomes a creative and generative process, and an heuristic taxonomy begins to emerge. Each user browses instinctively, following their interests and composing their own assemblage to define the meanings, scope, and powers of the mend for themselves.

Visible Mending of Apparel, or Codesign

The term Visible Mending states the purpose of this project, which is, simply, to make all mending visible. More specifically, the term refers to a garment repair technique whose salient characteristic is, as its name suggests, deliberate obviousness. Emerging in the early-2010s in response to issues of overproduction, pollution, and worker insecurity in the mainstream fashion industry, it is a consciously retrograde, decorative manipulation of dress that recasts an historical marker of poverty and domestic or forced labor as activism. This form of repair has become fashionable, which sounds positive, except that a trend tends to come to a rapid end. For this reason, "codesign" is suggested as an alternative term. Codesign evokes the multitude of possibilitites offered by the revelation that personal clothing is infinitely manipulable and customizable, not disposable.

Codesigners are influenced and inspired by the original designers, and work closely, though remotely, with the garment's (possibly ill-treated) maker. They codesign with agents of damage—moths, sunlight, time—and with their own style context. This is an opportunity to personalize, as well as to preserve, and, as opposed to the purely functional, compulsory clothing repair that was essential for millennia before today's artificially depressed prices, it is a luxury, because it takes time. So a vital function of this map is to operate as a crowd sourced directory of mending services, for those who offer them to connect with those who lack the time or skill to codesign their own wardrobe. The mission is to support and encourage a renaissance of functional, but also beautiful, repair—of a new wave of codesigned old clothes.

Images, Top, left to right:  foundling hospital textile token, ca. 1750, from  Styles, John, Threads of Feeling. London, The Foundling Museum, 2010; linen darning sampler, 1843, De Baets Chez M. Clavareau; "Ren 'O' Process' from Summers, Julie. Fashion on the Ration. London: Profile Books, 2016; Mending the Jeans, ca. 1955, Knute O. Munson; Louise Bourgeois, Lady in Waiting, 2003, detail. The Easton Foundation; Child’s Tunic, Egyptian ca. 650-899; Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; Paula Rego, Wendy Sewing on Peter's Shadow, 1992, Etching and aquatint on Somerset textured paper, RISD Museum
Center, left to right: Kintsugi Tea bowl, White Satsuma ware, Japan, Edo period, 17th century Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian; Alb, Benedictine convent of Engelberg Switzerland, after 1300, white linen, with linen and silk embroidery, patch of woven silk lampas border, Italy, 14th century, Museum Schnütgen, Cologne; "Right to Repair" logo; Winnie the Pooh under conservation by Senior conservator Mary Kaldany, New York Public Library; bone needles, Upper Paleolithic, ca. 18,000 B.C. Inya River, Siberia; Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2011, found rugs and mixed media, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; English Pottery Jug with Iron Replacement Handle, ca. 1780, Andrew Baseman Collection; genteleman's mending kit, ca. 1945, Kate Sekules Collection; visibly mended red car, public domain
Bottom: visibly mended/ codesigned garments, all Kate Sekules, photos Kate Sekules, except third from left and far right: photos Cathy Crawford