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A Truly Sustainable Art

Our relationship to the clothes we wear is quite intimate and they are exposed to more wear-and-tear than anything else in our closest environment. But something is off when a garment is thrown in the garbage bin because a zipper is broken or when new fabrics are worn down in machines in order to look used. In the ordinary stress of daily life few have the time to use a needle and thread anymore. The skills of how to sew on a button or mend a broken seam is no longer evident.

Older generations used to mend their broken garments as long as possible. Worn textiles were saved and pieces of fabrics recycled. Was this about saving money or was it simply an expression of how much garments, textiles and craft were valued? And, most importantly, how can we find the motivation to win back these skills?

The business idea of the american company IFixIt is to teach people how to fix their things when they are broken. Their message is that we need to become more engaged in the things we own instead if being passive consumers. One of the advantages of fixing our broken garments is that we develop a deeper relationship to them. Maybe I could change into a different colored zipper? Maybe the worn collar could be swapped into one in a totally different fabric? These kinds of experiences change our relationship to a garment. Suddenly it becomes something I created, a garment I own for real, instead of something I just bought. 

Repairs should be as invisible as possible in our culture. Our view of what is beautiful, just as our way of looking at life, is built on hiding what is imperfect and irregular. But there are other aesthetic ideals. In the Japanese Wabi Sabi the imperfect and incomplete is enhanced. A crack in a vase might be mended with gold, so that it’s obvious. According to Wabi Sabi the crack makes the vase more beautiful. 

Clothes can also become more beautiful when they are mended. The art of mending worn textiles is called Sashiko in Japan. Fabrics are also made more durable as pieces of cloth are attached with running stitch on the front and back of worn parts. With this technique the wear-and-tear of time is emphasized. The mended parts lend character and enhance the beauty of life’s transitory quality. The more times you mend it, the more beautiful it gets. 

Sashiko has developed into a unique art form. The more irregular the stitches, the more beautiful. Irregularity is the trademark of something made by hand in a state of presence. This is what gives a garment that specific feeling. It’s what gives it soul.

A hole appears on my linen garment. 

A piece of cloth is attached on the back side.

A smaller piece of cloth, with a nice pattern, is pinned onto the front. 

The whole area of the cloth on the back is covered with running stitch.

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