Why Mending Matters with Katrina RodabaughKate Stuart
When I was 17, I went to an interview for a place on a Foundation Studies Art course at my local college. It was my first proper interview and I was terrified. Friends who were being interviewed for other courses at colleges and universities around the country were donning suits and posh frocks and I considered doing the same but somehow, just couldn’t. It wasn’t really “me”. In the end, I wore my old jeans, with the patched and embroidered knees and a much mended, much loved cotton blouse, under a home made waistcoat. I got my place. After I finished the course, one of my tutors who had interviewed me that day told me that while they’d liked my multi media portfolio very much, it was the mended jeans that convinced them.
Coming from a family where clothes were generally always second hand, and growing up in a society that frowned ever so slightly on the idea of wearing “broken, worn out” garments, my stitched jeans were part rebellion, part craftivism and part hope, that one day, wearing clothes that have been mended would once again be an acceptable thing to do. That was almost 30 years ago now, but finally I feel like we are getting to a place where for many of us, the value of clothes can be upheld in the mending of them to keep them in use and elongate their lifespan. It’s a value that, when you make your own clothes, is unquestionable. You honor, look after, and mend the clothes that you put energy into making. However, with so many of us no longer making our own clothes, it’s easy to have a disconnect between the maker (and their energy) and the wearer. But once that connection is repaired, and we look at our clothes in terms of mending them the same way we would look at a car that needs a new wiper blade or a dresser drawer that needs a new handle, we can make the fixing up of our broken clothes instead of throwing them away, as natural and normal as any other restoration job.
One woman who is championing the art and activism of mending is Katrina Rodabaugh, author of Mending Matters, a glorious book full of insight, inspiration and projects due to be published by Abrams Books on October 16th 2018. This month I had the pleasure of chatting with her about her book, her slow fashion philosophy and her place within the activism of making mending once more a part of our connection to clothes. The book is wonderful – full of stunning images by photographer Karen Pearson, inspiring text and really practical, useful projects to support even the beginner to mindfully mend their clothes. I asked Katrina what she might say to those who still equate patched and worn clothes with “less” in terms of social standing, and whether her work felt like a call to action for those involved in the zero waste movement. “Many of us”, she told me, “were raised with a mindset that mended clothing was somehow shameful or, at the very least, not prideful. But this is really shifting now. Visible mending has offered a new outlook on repair. Mending can be beautiful, irreverent, subversive, intentional, and also empowering. I see my work as an art activist. My tools are that of a fiber artist but my vision is that of social change. I want folks to reconsider their relationship to consumption and find alternatives to fast fashion. I want fashion to be meaningful, ethical, and foster a deeper connection to the environment and sustainable living. And I hope I might offer some inspiration or encouragement for making these shifts.”
I am inspired, both in our conversation and through the book, to pick up my children’s clothes, and my own, with creative intent to mend them and make them last. I think many people, once they’ve read the book, will be inspired too. On reflection, I think I feel most inspired to consider making clothes again, as I once did in the days before life seemed so busy. But more than all of that, I feel the call of the crafting activist and really do believe in the shift that Katrina speaks of – a shift in our connection with all the things we can do to make our use of the planet’s resources more mindful.
How do you feel about making, mending, darning, and fixing up clothes to extend their lifespan? Are you on a slow fashion journey?
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Kate Stuart is an artist, writer and craftswoman based in the North East of England, specializing in up-cycling, quilting, zero waste living and painting.