A decorative button on my jacket was missing. It left a noticeable gap in its design as the buttons were unique to the jacket and could not be matched without altering all of them. I searched for my sewing box with the false hope that I might find four matching decorative buttons to replace the ones on my jacket. Amid the pillowcases and sheets in my linen closet I found my sewing box that has been with me for over 40 years. It is an old, round shortbread biscuit tin. Nothing elaborate. It has no compartments or layers, but it has all the essentials for mending. As I went through it, I found a plastic container full of buttons of all shapes, sizes and colors. A kaleidoscope of memories brought a smile to my lips. There were pearl buttons that once belonged to a silk embroidered shirt my grandmother owned. There were shirt buttons, coat buttons and various ladies’ suit buttons. Some of those were beautiful ones from hand tailored suits, which my mother (like many women of her time) had removed and kept to re-use and re-cycle. I couldn’t help but recall how as a child I used to watch intently while the women in my life would spend time mending and repairing things. They hemmed, they altered, they patched and darned, they sewed and repaired tears. And with every stitch it was as though they were repairing, renewing and restoring not just the fabric or item, but mending relationships, creating a deeper more sustainable bond between people, their communities and their material things.
The art of repairing and reusing some of our personal belongings like footwear, nylons, school bags, umbrellas, upholstery, and clothing is a world away from today’s pressures of new purchases and consumption. In truth, most people know very little now about mending. We live in a world of throwaway culture, having given in to fast fashion, disposable items, replaceable people and throwaway values. Mending and repairing has lost its appeal. We may talk about “mending the social fabric of our nation,” “patching the gaps,” “hemming the boundaries,” “tears in community,” “repairing the social safety nets,” “stitching together a strategy,” or “darning our relationships,” but instead of mending and repairing, we replace with new our policies, boundaries, strategies, relationships, people, and values assuming the new will fix what’s broke.
Fixing is NOT the same as mending. Fixing suggests that evidence of the problem will disappear, whereas mending is a preservation of history, and a proclamation of hope. When we mend, we find the common thread, and weave the value of our differences into the colorful pattern of the fabric we wear or share as in the social fabric of a nation. When we mend broken relationships we realize the value of a shared past and perhaps we are even stronger for the rip and the repair. When we patch the gaps in our humanity, we don’t ignore the scars of previous tears and assume that by making them disappear they will be fixed. We mend. Because mending is an affirmation of worth. Mending doesn’t say, “This never happened.” Instead, it says that something or someone was definitely broken here, but by paying attention to the frays and rips we tenderly raise it to new life. Just like my jacket, or a friendship torn by misunderstanding, even a country ripped apart by frayed politicians, or a nation stressed at the seams of economic and social inequity, and a global split of enormous proportions — they all need mending.
I believe in mending. Mending is a commitment. It re-centers us to embrace the beauty of what we have and to notice the places of friction that need the most repair. It reorients us to look carefully and examine the frayed edges. It helps us to resist the disposability of people and things. Mending is an act of devotion. It isn’t simply about saving a piece of clothing anymore. It is about choosing to repair instead of disposing of the evidence of “the problem,” whether it is a relationship gone sour or a nation torn apart. Just like the women of my childhood memory, mending gives me time to stop and to think, a time to value what exists and a chance to sew actual rips together. While I can’t solve world conflict, or reverse global warming, I can definitely work to repair things at hand, stitch-by-stitch.
I start with my jacket.