Patches and pieces: The philosophy and art of visible mending

Have you ever sewn a patch on your beloved jeans because you just couldn't part with them, or cover a hole with pretty embroidery? Today's your window-shopping day!

There's always a sentimental air about patched, pieced garments. Some are assembled from new fabrics, but I especially like those made from old textiles. Kiriko, a Portland, Oregon-based company that works with Japanese textiles, describes the philosophy of such pieces:

"Long ago, cloth was hand-woven with patterns that held meaning and dyed with materials available through the seasons. In this way we cycled with the seasons, not trends. We made memories with our belongings instead of replacing them with mass-produced goods. When we began to lose touch with the tradition of making in this way, we stopped treasuring our clothes."

The Japanese term Boro means a type of textile that has been mended and patched together. It reflects mottainai, the principle that some things are too good to waste, just the opposite of today's approach of discarding a fast fashion item. Patching and stitching also added warmth and durability.

The marvelous craft supply site Cross and Woods describes Boro and a related stitching technique, Sashiko, as well as the Southeast Asian kantha, which I'll put in the windows next week.

This scarf from Kiriko (price, $US 250) shows the technique.

Photo: Kiriko
Some Boro pieces are very distressed, with ample fading and darning; others apply the patching and stitching techniques to new fabric. Museums display cotton and hemp textiles hundreds of years old, and some sites sell them. An indigo piece from the 1800s with many fine repairs, from Refinery Corporation, is $325:

Photo: DejaVu Refinery  

Kimono silk pieces are not worked in the Boro technique as the overall look is more formal. Instead, the silk pieces from vintage kimono are pieced, sometimes with other fabrics, to form beautiful collages.

I can spend hours looking at compositions on Etsy. Note that these one of a kind pieces may be sold. Prices are in approximate $US and do not include shipping or import duties.

Left: A skinny pieced silk scarf in green, red and black; length, 79 in.; width, 3 inches— useful if you don't want much fabric around your neck. Price, about $US 30 from US seller sewKimono. This seller will also make custom pieces from their large collection, which would be a fantastic gift.

Upper right: Black and print pieced silk scarf; length, 70.5 in.; width, 6.25 in. Price, about $US 65 from Etsy seller Jewelsandthreads.

Lower right: Pink gingham and navy cotton scarf in a Sashiko stitch; length, 72 in.; width, 11 in. Price about $US 97 from Etsy seller TrashCanDiva.

I love the look of burnished old leather shoes, a belt with a patina'd brass buckle, or fine lace that has been delicately mended. There is too much tension an outfit of all new clothes. (At the same time, I can't cozy up to stains, odors or missing buttons.)

To wear a scarf of of vintage fabric that has been gentled into yet more wear introduces a note of mellow imperfection and issues a quiet manifesto: there is a world beyond mass brands, and dumping last year's buy in a landfill. One stitcher says that "hand-stitching makes any fabric look more valuable."

If you can make a simple running stitch, you might try your own project. (Use doubled embroidery thread or order Sashiko thread, which is thicker.) Your jeans are a natural; here is a 4-minute YouTube video that explains how to apply a patch using basic stitches.

Once you get the hang, a little more detail is within reach:

Photo: wrenbirdarts  

Sashiko artist and curator Atsushi Futatsuya and designer Keiko Futatsuya addressed this issue on on their blog, Upcycle Stitches. (The Futasuyas now publish their blog by subscription on Patreon, and offer other options that support their work.)

Mr. Futatsuya writes that he does not believe the use of the term by Western craftspersons is "cultural appropriation"; however, he requests acknowledgement of its origin and connection to Japanese culture.  He advises artisans that Boro and Sashiko are not merely recycling methods that use "whatever's in the box", but instead, a way to "appreciate and care for the garment."

Another master of Sashiko, Marico Chigyo, speaks of the practice itself, the contemplative and immersive experience of stitching:
"Threads create new encounters and connect our hearts to others. From this new thread, another work is born. Threads generate our creative and artistic life."


Laura J said…
Lovely article— we should respect our clothes more! Think before we buy; wear them with pleasure; take care of them! You know the Tom of Holland mending site? Some historical textiles were remade many times.
LauraH said…
This is so interesting and thought-provoking. Since I was raised to repair, not discard, this opens up a lot of possibilities. A pair of jeans from days gone by that were patched and mended have recently come back into active wear. Your post gives me inspiration for making them even better - love that photo of the embroidered patches! I'll be checking into your links. Thanks for the push forward.
Laura J said…
I also enjoy (but don’t have the skill) in reading make do and mend books— especially those where trousers become skirts and the many ways to re-style clothing — the fabrics need to be good to start with
This is lovely. I've always mended favourite clothes - often with a patch underneath to make it stronger, and hand stitching, and I'd love to learn better technique.
Duchesse said…
Laura J: Thank you for the link to the astonishing Tom of Holland, a god of mending...( I had read of him but never got on the site.) What an eye, what a repertoire. This is what I might have dreamed of learning and embraced many sweaters ago when my eyesight was better.

The gansey sweater project is marvellous!
royleen said…
Just found a hole in a treasured cashmere sweater that was in storage. Now I have resources to investigate how I will repair! Thank you!
Jane said…
Reminds me of the Cat Stevens song, Oh Very Young

Denim blue, faded up to the sky
And though you want them to last forever
You know they never will
(You know they never will)
And the patches make the goodbye harder still

Love that song. -Lily
Duchesse said…
Royleen: Do see the Tom of Holland sight for inspiration and a master’s work. If your hole is due to moths, you have both a mending and a moth attack challenges...I’m posting on them soon, too.

Jane: I loved that song too, and thank you for reminding me.
Beth said…
What a great post! My philosophy too, though I don't always get to all the mending projects in my imagination. Heading to Tom of Holland now.

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