WEFT Focus – Mending

As part of WEFT this year we have the Slow Stitch Club coming in to teach a workshop on visible mending and darning. We thought this would be a good opportunity to explore the history and traditions of garment mending.

The rise of fast fashion meant a decline in the ‘make do and mend’ which that used to be common when updating or replacing your clothes. If something had a hole in it you would patch it up because the cost of a new garment made repairing a more cost-effective option. As time moved on, the ability to produce clothing more quickly and cheaply meant you’d simply buy a new garment or two to replace the old ones, instead of repairing your own garments. ‘Make do and Mend’ became unfashionable!

According to United Nations Partnership on Sustainable Fashion and the Sustainable Development Goals – ‘Between 2000 and 2014, clothing production doubled with the average consumer buying 60% more pieces of garment compared to 15 years ago. Yet, each clothing item is now kept half as long’.

Mending is now making a comeback though and it couldn’t come soon enough! Before we look at how things are improving lets explore some historical examples and techniques. Historically, mending went right back to early fabric making processes. Before the fabric was even made in to a garment it was being carefully inspected at all stages of cloth production and repaired when needed. Many modern companies have a quality control process that simply means if there is a visible fault then the fabric is sent to landfill. Mills had entire departments of people carefully inspecting every inch of fabric and repairing any faults that could be repaired. By contrast many modern companies have a quality control process which means if there is any visible fault then the fabric is sent to landfill.

black and white image of the mending department in Palmer and Mackay's mill
The mending shop at Palmer and Mackay in 1953
image of ladies at work in the mending department in one of the local mills
The mending department at Home Mills in the 1970’s

Until the 1970’s, the point at which garment production became so much cheaper, invisible mending was very much the aim when repairing garments. It was labour intensive and very skilled requiring you to reuse the warp and weft of a fabric. Darning eggs, darning mushrooms and glove darners were all used to assist in making repairs to an individuals garment.

A darning kit was essential for any woman to own (with much repair work being carried out by women), regardless of social status. Even many well to do families would make and repair their own garments. Often ladies would take apart garments they no longer wanted and removed parts like collars, cuffs and buttons and reused them when making new garments. We have a garments in our collection that have been converted to a new garment (coat in to a dress for example) and collections of odd items like sleeves and bodice parts that had been removed with intention of becoming something new.

darning silks and sewing kit
Selection of darning silks from our collection used for repairing garments


assorted threads and silk making up a ladies darning kit
A ladies mending kit including threads, needles and lace for patching from our collection

Mending garments slowly became unfashionable – where once it was seen as something that required precise and fine work and was considered a desired skill, now it became a sign of poverty. Repairing garments showed you could not afford to buy new garments to replace damaged ones. Garments were now marketed as being made for one season of wear before they became unfashionable – why repair a top when in 6 months it would be out of fashion?

Things are turning back around though with fast fashion coming under the moral spotlight. With greater exposure about unfair wages, unsafe working conditions, toxic dyes and fabric wastage, fast fashion is becoming increasingly unfashionable. Many people are now starting to see second hand clothes as fashionable with social media influencers making a statement about ‘thrifting’ and rewearing garments. This is even seen on the red carpet – at one point in time it was almost a taboo to been seen on the red carpet or at premieres in the same outfit more than once. Now though, there is a growing movement amongst the stars for wearing the same outfit to multiple events years apart and in some cases even upcycling a garment they wore to one event and transforming it in to something different.

This change in attitude towards garment life has also had an influence on how garments are repaired. Where once the emphasis was on invisible mending, now there is a movement towards visible mending. Making the repair an obvious and overt thing, with colourful threads, decorative stitching and often with contrasting fabric to patch holes. People are starting to wear their repairs with pride.

The Slow Stitch Club will be running a workshop showcasing these visible mending techniques so why not check out the information about their workshop on our Events page.

An example of Slow Stitch Club examples from their website
museum site logo 2
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