This is an installment in a series on mending techniques. For a full index of posts in this series, please click here.
As I have mentioned before, I use a mending basket as the basis of my mending system. It is a large bolga basket that I originally bought to use as a laundry basket in my freshman dorm, but it has served many purposes over the years and answers the role of mending basket very well.
It was not the first object called a mending basket in my household; the first such container was a lidded basket the size of a large shoebox, which was totally insufficient for the quantity of mending work produced by a family of four, but also too inconvenient for the frequency of additions to the mending pile. It took some thought and experimentation before we settled on the bolga basket.
If you don’t yet have a mending basket, I would recommend finding a container that can reasonably accommodate 4 articles of adult clothing, 10 articles of child clothing, and has some room left over for miscellaneous things (such as bed linens or organizational supplies or toys)that might overwhelm a smaller container. A standard plastic laundry basket, although not the most attractive option, would be about the right size for most families with small children.
When I am not actively working from it, I keep the mending basket in my studio, where it is the first thing reachable upon entering the room (this keeps small children who are adding something to the mending from staying too long or meddling too much). Collecting the mending in the laundry room or scullery is also an excellent option if you can be sure that your storage spot isn’t too damp. Many families keep a pile of mending near where the sewing machine or the sewing supplies are stored, and this works well, too, although sewing machines are generally not as well-adapted to mending as hand sewing is.
I’m going to re-iterate a general rule of homemaking here, just to be totally clear: whenever something is not in active use or in the laundry, it should be clean. Do not allow soiled articles to be added to the mending basket. Body soil attracts pests, and dirt and grime will contaminate your storage spot, not to mention that attempting to repair dirty clothing or home linens is an unpleasant sensory experience at best.
The first step in my mending routine is to exchange my usual work bag (containing whatever my current handwork project is, my pattern or notes, tools and notions, and also my wallet and keys) for the mending basket itself. I like to take this opportunity to clean out my work bag– it’s refreshing to take the time to put all the random fabric scraps, spools of thread, knitting needles, and snipped threads it accumulates in the course of its use away into their proper places.
The second step is to empty everything out of the basket, making a colossal mess, and inspect each article for what work must be done. If the spot that needs mending is difficult to find, sometimes I will mark it with a safety pin. This is also the step when I ask the owners of the items about their preferences for mending (e.g., “what color would you like this patch to be?”, “is this too tight?”).
- Mending that only requires a needle and thread (such as hemwork, re-tacking a lining or appliqué, or replacing a seam)
- Patching and replacement (such as applying knee or elbow patches to cover worn-out areas, felting over moth holes in woolens, darning, replacing lost or broken drawstrings or fasteners)
- Amendments and additions (adding guards or borders to cover frayed hems, extending knitted/crocheted garments, adding gussets or gores to better accommodate movement or growth)
- Upcycling and re-working (stripping down garments that have decayed beyond repair so that their materials can be used for other things, taking apart things that aren’t working well for their intended purpose to make major structural/design changes)
Once I have the mending sorted into these categories, I replace it in the basket by category, in reverse order from the list above (so that the needle-and-thread-only mending is on top in the basket). Sometimes, when the basket is truly overflowing, it is not possible to fit everything back in, and I will instead leave the more complex mending in the studio temporarily and only put the patching and needle-and-thread mending back into the basket.
Finally, I add supplies to the basket: my needle book, sewing scissors, a thimble, and whatever thread types and colors I need for the first category of repairs.
Now I am finally ready to start the actual mending.