Mending is cool now—and this book can teach you how

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Meant to inspire beginning menders, ‘Wear, Repair, Repurpose’ is a guide to basic sewing, darning and embroidery techniques, skills you may not have had time to learn until now. Photo: Lily Fulop / Mindful Mending

Before Covid-19 shuttered every (physical) clothing store, the industry was already in the middle of a major edit. The waste generated by fast fashion—all those tons of cheap disposable outfits that we can’t fully donate away or recycle—has made many people more mindful about their shopping habits. Adding to your wardrobe now is not just about style; it’s also a statement on where you source your clothes and whether you are helping to keep climate change in check.

This shift has also turned a lot of previously un-handy people on to the art of repairing the clothes they already own. The recent ReFashion Week in NYC brought hundreds of sustainable clothing enthusiasts out for workshops on darning socks and “visible mending,” a style of patching over holes and embroidering over stains that has become fashionable in its own right.

One of the champions of the mending movement is Lily Fulop, a 23-year-old who began the Instagram account, Mindful Mending, for her senior thesis project on designing for social good and sustainability at Carnegie Mellon two years ago. The community she created around mending and fashion waste inspired her book Wear, Repair, Repurpose, published last month. Her beginner’s guide includes detailed, illustrated instructions on all the basic styles of mending, like the trendy embroidery art of Shashiko, darning, and hemming, plus crafts that can extend the life of shirts and clothes beyond repair, like knit pillow covers. Given our new work from home (or unemployed at home) culture, it’s a good time to learn these skills—they’ll serve you well in and out of a pandemic.

To practice some of the embroidery techniques she covers in the book, you can tune into one of four online “Social Distitching” workshops by the Williamsburg studio, Happy Creative Dig; the next one is this Thursday, April 16. Lily is also part of a Virtual Stitch & Bitch at noon on April 26 during Fashion Revolution Week, and I’ll be talking to her this Sunday, April 19 on a Brooklyn Based IG Live at 4pm.

Below, the Bushwick designer, currently working from home for Refinery29, shared her thoughts on buying clothes, her favorite vintage shops, mending hacks and how Covid could change the way we shop for good.

How often do you buy new clothes? Do you limit yourself to a set number of items?

I don’t have a set limit, but I generally try not to shop. It’s hard, because I do love clothes, so when I do shop I try to only buy things that are vintage or second hand, because then I feel like I’m doing my part to reduce fashion waste. I very, very rarely buy anything new. I can name the new things on one hand that I’ve bought in the past year-ish—some underwear from Everlane, and white t-shirt and a bathing suit from Reformation… If I need things that are hard to get secondhand/vintage, I make sure it’s from an ethical/sustainable brand. I never shop fast fashion. 

A variety of stitches and styles of patches that Fulop details in her book. Photo: Lily Fulop/ Mindful Mending

How often do you buy vintage + modify the used clothes you find? 

I do try to be intentional about the things that I buy, and I only buy vintage pieces that I really love (and I’m happy to mend them if they need it) If I’m thrifting, or getting something from a clothing swap (i.e. not spending much money on it) I’m much more willing to take a chance at modifying it. When you know how to mend and make alterations, it really opens up the possibilities for used clothes! 

What are your favorite sources for vintage clothing?

There are a few vintage stores in my neighborhood in Bushwick that I love (Worship, Chess and the Sphinx, GG’s Social Trade and Treasure Club, Dobbin St Outpost ). I love going to thrift stores like Goodwill when I’m outside of the city (you can find better treasures in more rural places that haven’t been so picked over). 

Do you have any predictions for the way the coronavirus will affect our fashion choices in the short-term or long-term future? 

In the short term, people have fewer reasons to buy/wear clothes because we aren’t really leaving our homes (with the exception of loungewear, which I’m sure is surging). There’s also the fact that people can’t shop irl anymore, which is a pastime for a lot of people, but at the same time they have a lot more time to online shop… 

I do feel like people are thinking more about their impact on the world (whether socially, or environmentally) and all the current limitations and time to reflect means that people are really thinking about what’s important to them, and what they want vs. need. Hopefully that means that people will be more mindful and intentional, and start buying less fashion. I wrote an article related to this for Refinery29.

Colorfully darned socks from ‘Wear, Repair, Repurpose.’

In your Refinery29 article, you talk about how mending/sewing is a good way to calm anxiety. What are you currently mending or working on, and is it more out of need or because it’s a meditative project that is helping you cope right now?

I’m definitely working on more meditative/less useful projects right now! I love the idea of quilting (especially as a way to make use of fabric scraps and reduce waste), but I haven’t worked my way up to full-size quilt scale, so I keep making these small quilting experiments that aren’t really for anything. Right now, I’m making something that’s about the size of a placemat, that’s patchwork with applique and embroidery on top. I have a couple socks I need to darn, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet. 

Have you made your own mask yet?

I did try making a mask! I loosely followed a pattern, but I don’t think it was the best one. My mom has been making some with ladies from her church, and hers look a lot better. I’d like to try the pattern that has 2 curves rather than 1 piece with pleats.

It’s great that so many people are making them! Now that we know that everyone should be wearing one, something is better than nothing.

Are there any online tutorial videos you especially recommend for basic skills for beginner sewers / menders?

The Instagram account @milli_and_the_bee posts some great informational videos! I mostly live on Instagram so that’s what I’m most familiar with. There are a ton of great videos on Youtube, so instead of recommending any one in particular, I would just recommend that people look up basic hand stitches for mending/sewing. These include: the running stitch, the back stitch, the whip stitch, the ladder/invisible stitch (it has a couple of names), and the blanket stitch. Learning those, and practicing on a “sampler” is a great way to get started.

Otherwise, I would look up the specific problems you have with your clothes– sewing on a button, darning a sock, etc. Darning is a totally different skill from sewing, it’s more akin to weaving, but it’s very useful. For beginners, I think it’s most important to learn about different techniques and the possibilities that are out there, which is where my book comes in handy. If you need support beyond that, you’ll then know what kinds of videos to look for.

Aside from thread and needles, Fulop’s book encourages upcycling mending materials from your closet. Photo: Lily Fulop/Mindful Mending

Recommended mending supplies

I usually get supplies in-person at craft stores because I want to avoid shipping waste/pollution, or use what I already have,” Fulop says. Given that craft stores are closed at the moment, though, you can find sewing supplies online instead. “I’d recommend anything other than Amazon, even if that’s just buying online from Jo-Anne Fabrics or Michaels,” she says.

Though she hasn’t purchased from the following sites herself, she suggested the following for organic cotton thread and recycled polyester thread: https://www.honeybegood.com/collections/eco-friendly-sewing-thread or https://organiccottonplus.com/collections/notions-all.

For sewing needle suppliers, she suggests Etsy or sites like Fringe Supply.

Darning eggs, a tool used in mending socks, “aren’t necessary at all” she says. “You can just use everyday things that you already have, like bottles and jars that are approximately foot-sized. Anything that’ll stretch the sock while you’re working.”

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