Revive and repair your old clothing

By Cara Waudby Tolley | May 31, 2022

Don’t want to wastefully throw things away? Emilie Woodger Smith shows us how it’s done.

I’ve fallen in love with repair. I recently found an old and worn wooden darning mushroom tucked away in a vintage shop in Bristol. It was covered with scratches and dents, the signs of many years of use and love. This little wooden tool would have been regularly used to mend and repair countless pieces of clothing, especially items like socks, giving them a new lease of life. That little wooden tool inspired me and it just had to come home.

When it was made, most repairing would have been done out of necessity. Clothes were expensive and had to last as long as possible, but also for the love and comfort of keeping familiar clothing alive a little longer. The reasons I’ve started to repair and mend old clothes are similar to those who mended long before me. I am repairing out of love for my clothes, but also out of the necessity to reduce my impact on the environment.

The impact of fast fashion

The fashion industry accounts for about 8-10% of global greenhouse emissions. The industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industries combined.

Clothing gets ever cheaper through overproduction and exploitation of garment workers. Poor quality clothes are not made to last and end up being thrown away after only a few wears and, because they are so cheap, it’s easier to buy more rather than investing the time in mending, repairing and upcycling.

These discarded clothes end up in landfill or are sent overseas to be ‘reused and recycled’. The unfortunate truth of this ‘recycling’ process is that poor quality high street brands are not able to be reused and reworn. They end up dumped in places like the Atacama Desert in Chile, where wasted clothing is piled as high as the dunes for miles – seriously worth a bit of research into this!

I want to keep repairing and mending the clothes I already own because I want to extend their lives and avoid them being added to those awful mountains of waste.

Repair clothing and save money!

There are so many reasons to start mending old clothes. It’s good for your bank account, good for the planet’s resources and it’s a beautifully mindful, satisfying way to spend an evening. Careful repair of damaged woven and knitted fabrics needs some concentration and focus, which is brilliant for switching off a busy mind. Mending takes time and care, it definitely has a meditative and mindful quality to it.

So far I’ve only mended socks. My favourite pair are some wool socks I had completely worn through on the sole. I couldn’t bear to part with them, as I bought them on a trip to the Yorkshire Dales with some very special people in my life, and I love being reminded of that trip every time I wear them.

Now I have visibly repaired the sole, they bring me even more joy and I can keep wearing them for many years to come.

I have been learning how to weave and mend through YouTube, from searches like ‘simple clothing repair’ to ‘mend with me’ as well as lessons from my mother.

It’s amazing how quickly you can pick up a skill like this with just a few times giving it a go. You don’t need a darning mushroom to get going either – an old ball or even an apple/orange would do the trick too.

Patching up

Up next on my repair list is an old high street brand jumper with holes in the armpits and chest. These need more concentration and skill, as some holes are very visible.

I then have a few of my husband’s jumpers that have been munched on by moths and need small repairs, as well as holes at the elbows that I will patch with a more durable material.

Once I’ve mastered the patch, I’ll tackle my DIY dungarees, which are all but in shreds from all the times I’ve caught and torn them in the garden. They’re going to look like a patchwork quilt by the time I’m done!

I can’t wait to repair all the items that have been damaged and bring them lovingly back to life. I hope I’ve inspired you to dig out a needle and thread and give mending a go!

About the author

Emilie Woodger-Smith has a degree in environmental science and is founder of simplysustainableliving.co.uk