Your Guide to Visible Mending: Saving Your Wardrobe and the Environment

By Ashley Ess in Thinking Sustainably

There's no question that environmental sustainability is on many people's minds these days. We must ensure that our deeds today don't negatively impact future generations. Sounds like a hefty feat, yet it's quite simple and manageable once we understand that little things can make a big impact. If you've already made changes to your food and transportation choices in support of sustainability, you might be ready to move onto another area of your life: your wardrobe. Welcome to the world of visible mending!

What Is Visible Mending?

This technique revitalizes worn, vintage, or damaged clothing into stylish, original works of art that add a whole new dimension to your wardrobe. Whereas an upcycled sweater might be transformed from a pullover to a cardigan, or a too-small blouse may become fabric for a child's skirt, this unique mending technique uses embroidery thread, crochet pieces, or colorful fabric to breathe new life into a clothing item without changing its function. The result is a treasured creation that will never go out of style.

A piece of fabric with a geometric patterned outlined that is being stitched over in blue

How Visible Mending Fits into a Sustainable Lifestyle

Environmental sustainability is at the core of visible mending. As the Environmental Protection Agency puts it, sustainability centers on one essential truth—that our well-being relies on nature. Humans must exist and create in harmony with our environment. When we toss our old clothes and purchase new ones, we contribute to a never-ending cycle of waste and clothing production. According to the nonprofit organization Sustain Your Style, this has grave consequences for our health and our planet by contributing to water consumption and pollution, microfibers pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, among other effects.

So often we opt to trash an otherwise great pair of jeans when they become ripped or show too much wear. Other times, when a shoulder or side seam rips on a special blouse, we toss it. Visible mending makes creative use of what we already have.

Mending Tips and Techniques

Just about any piece of clothing can be transformed. To get started, you only need some basic supplies, such as a needle, scissors, and embroidery thread, along with a little imagination. If you're already familiar with sewing, stitching, crocheting, or knitting and are ready for some more advanced techniques, you can add more to your mending cache. Fabric, yarn, an embroidery hoop, fabric glue, and pins can all come in handy.

To repair rips and other damage, you have many options. Begin your repair by cutting off loose threading around the damaged area. Gather your materials with an open mind. Choose colors and patterns that are aesthetically pleasing and that express your personality. Once you have your materials ready, here are some visible mending methods to consider.

7 examples of colorful embroidery thread

Try the Sashiko Stitch

The centuries-old Japanese sashiko technique is traditionally created with white cotton thread on an indigo blue fabric background. It's often used to reinforce or repair damage and incorporates geometric patterns to create strong, unique designs on otherwise threadbare or worn clothes. Today, the sashiko stitch takes on both fashion and function.

Traditional sashiko embroidery has a distinct appearance that fits nicely with new, popular mending trends due to its artistry. Every stitch has a purpose: to boldly flaunt itself as an integral part of the clothing item.

To start, map out your design with a pencil (or go freehand if you'd like). Next, sew a running stitch, back stitch, or other decorative stitch (cross-stitching works well, too) with embroidery thread in a geometric pattern. Sashiko stitching works well when a larger garment area calls for more coverage.

Sashiko stitch

Place a Fabric Patch

For beginners, you could start by simply stitching a piece of fabric over a rip or stain. Use embroidery thread to fasten the patch to the clothing in any design you choose.

Fabric patches can be especially effective on jeans. With your jeans inside out, attach a unique piece of fabric slightly larger than the tear with fabric glue. Turn your jeans right side out and begin stitching with embroidery thread or yarn around the edges of the tear. Choose a basic running stitch or back stitch, or expand your stitching area to create a fun, colorful pattern to frame your new patch.

Stitch with Yarn or Embroidery Thread

For seam rips, tears, or fraying where there isn't a gaping hole, a simple mending technique will work. Sew a running stitch over the damaged area using embroidery thread or yarn in a pattern that pleases you and gives your garment a unique, stylish touch. You can use this technique for socks, as well, with the addition of a darning egg or tennis ball to keep the sock's shape.

Cover Stains with Creative Mending

When paint splatter, oil stains, or food mishaps prevent you from wearing your most-loved outfits, turn to simple, creative mending. Adding decorative stitching over unsightly spots can bring a creative flair and prevent unnecessary landfill waste.

Visible mending cardigan

Check out more ideas for environmentally mindful living on the Thinking Sustainably board by @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!

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Why It's Good

When we strive for environmental sustainability, we help the planet and the future generations that will live on it. Using visible mending on clothes helps to reduce textile waste and supports sustainability—all in a simple and fun way!