Mending

Mended Underwear, 2017  

Mended Underwear, 2017 

This morning I set about mending underwear-- bloomers that are wonderful to wear with dresses and skirts. I've sewn a few pairs over the years--for winter using soft merino wool and in finely ribbed cotton jersey for summer, trimmed with lace (see photo). Good design, good material--worth mending! 

The channel that holds the elastic at the waist had come unstitched in incremental sections on two pairs. A third pair of bloomers had a couple small runs in the lightweight knit fabric, leaving horizontal lines of thread like a ladder missing the vertical threads. Usually when getting dressed in the morning, extracting one of these pairs of underwear from the drawer I'd notice the flaw and reflect, "this needs repair." Meanwhile they were wearable.

Yesterday I washed three yards of navy blue linen fabric in warm water to pre-shrink it and added the unmended bloomers to the laundry load. Hanging them to air dry overnight, the cotton jersey fabric was slightly crisp in the morning, a perfect texture for sewing. Swapping the red thread in the sewing machine to black, I alternated between a zigzag stitch to close the gaps in the elastic channel and a straight stitch to repair the runs in the material (sewing a virtually undetectable fisheye dart to encase the fray). With a few snips of thread it was done! Kind of cathartic.

The Burden of Marie Kondo's Joyful Crusade

Close the Door to Your Untidy Home, Our Messy World Needs Your Magic

Legions of households have taken Marie Kondo's advice prescribed in her best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She prescribes evaluating all one's worldly goods by asking about each possession: “does it spark joy?” Kondo promises transformative magic will result from eliminating any possessions that elicit a “no”.

This approach has perilous consequences to the environment. If you get rid of whatever fails to give you a zing then happen upon other objects you love, acquire them and when their magic fades eighty-six them from your life you’ll still be participating in a never-ending cycle of acquisition and disposal. Over 10 million tons of textiles and 25 million tons of plastics end up in landfills according to the EPA. Our landfills are clogged with joyless refuse.

The range of prices for consumer goods has widened in recent decades. Goods are plentiful and acquisition has become easier. The pendulum’s lengthened arc swings from mass-manufacturing at rock bottom costs to luxury goods priced to add cachet to a brand by making it ”exclusive” (i.e. obtainable to very few). Today a tee shirt can be had for $3.90 at Forever 21 or $990 at Barney’s New York. Even if you can afford to spend $50 on a tee you might be tempted to buy three for $15 instead. Americans have come to regard shopping as entertainment and almost a form of patriotism.

The planet depends upon conservation. We must extend and preserve the usefulness of objects we own. If you’ve ever rewired a lamp or replaced a button you know fixing something to make it usable again is immensely satisfying. We can create beauty by transforming what is broken into something useful, in the process both personalizing it and restoring its value.

Follow Kondo’s advice and your home may achieve a minimalist chic, leaving others to sort through the bags of your charitable-minded donations to find the useful or to haul away your curbside garbage dumping much of it into a landfill. For stewards of the earth there is a hazard to seeking possessions that “spark joy” and jettisoning ones that don’t meet that ephemeral standard.

Buying everything we need deprives us of the happiness found in being resourceful and in the experience of making. Since late 2008 I’ve not bought clothing. I’ve been designing and constructing everything I wear. This might appear an austere practice. On the contrary, it has been fortifying and exuberant. Making adds value as it simultaneously slows acquisition. It presents challenges, requires developing techniques and offers the opportunity to connect with a community. It hones observation skills. If you see me staring at you, it’s not you I’m looking at per se--it’s the construction of your clothing, the seams, the fabric, curious about the elements of its design. As you learn to craft or repair something whether as a baker, woodworker or mechanic, you’ll gain greater awareness of and appreciation for quality materials and workmanship. You will attune to your surroundings in new ways.

Kondo insists in a tidy home will “allow us to clarify our ideals, and help us gain confidence in our ability to lead productive lives and develop a sense of responsibility to those around us…” (The New York Times, Dec. 2016)  The tidiest man I know has burned through countless relationships. A musician I admire whose career has extended into her 70’s, has piles of books on the floor throughout her home. Joyful possessions perhaps, but certainly untidy. A sense of responsibility for our world cannot wait for our closets to be neat.

Acquire less. Find ways to transform what you do not love into something you value. Mend and repair objects to extend their usefulness. We are makers and builders by nature. Close the door on your imperfect home. Go out into the chaotic world. The responsibility to those around us has never been more urgent. Make a difference.