The Art of Visible Mending

Photography Amanda Reelick

We’ve all had that much-loved cardigan or favourite pair of jeans we’ve been reluctant to toss even though they’ve gone into holes.

Teach yourself a few basic hand-sewing stitches and you can make simple repairs on clothes that have holes, stains, or other signs of wear and tear.

Try a few visible mending techniques and you can turn your mending into something that is unique and even beautiful.

Visible mending is inspired by the Japanese art of sashiko, a form of embroidery where fabric is patched and embellished with a series of small, and sometimes geometrically patterned, running stitches and cross stitches.

Visible mending embodies the values of slow fashion.

It’s about buying less and better. Instead of seeing clothes as disposable items, it’s about turning a garment’s flaws into something quirky and personal to you.

Visible mending is about working what you have, embracing imperfection, fixing what is broken, and rejecting the idea that newer is always better.

It feels like a very timely thing to be doing as the warm weather comes to an end, autumn settles in and we turn from outdoor adventures to indoor comforts.


Clothing items for sewing or mending

Yarn or thread in various colours:

  • Thick cotton (sometimes called sew-all or extra strong cotton)
  • Fine wool or crochet cotton
  • Embroidery thread

Large sewing needles in various sizes

Small scissors

Fine-tipped felt pens

Darning mushroom (or alternatives)

Rubber bands

Optional: small pieces of fabric for creating patches

Mending fabric with cotton thread

Warp and weft are the two basic components that turn thread or yarn into fabric.

When weaving, the lengthwise warp yarns are held in tension on a frame or loom while the weft is threaded over-and-under the warp.

You can mend a hole in fabric by covering it with a patch, or by hand-sewing back and forth to catch any loose threads and to re-create the missing warp and weft.

You can use matching cotton thread while you practice your technique – or thread of a contrasting colour to make a feature of the patched area.

  1. Spread the fabric to be mended out flat using an embroidery hoop or alternative such as preserving jar lid and rubber band.

  2. Thread your needle and knot the end of your thread.

  3. Starting 2-4cm beyond the hole, sew a running stich along the lengthwise grain of the fabric. (The warp thread lying in the lengthwise grain of the fabric is stronger than the weft thread in the crosswise direction.)

  4. Next sew a series of straight stitches across the hole.

  5. Turn 90 degrees and tilting the tip of the needle up and down, weave the thread under and over your straight stitches. The aim is to create a woven look which lines up the original fabric.

  6. When finished, secure the thread by sewing a knot or two on the underneath side.

Mending a hole in a sock

  1. If it helps, spread the sock hole out flat using a darning mushroom or alternative such as a jar or small ball.

  2. Use the end of the needle to drag any loose ends inside the sock

  3. Choosing a matching yarn, thread your needle and knot the end of the thread. Pull the thread through the sock, hiding the knot on the underneath.

  4. As with the fabric mending, you’re aiming to do create a weave to fill in the hole. Start where the sock weave is intact so you can anchor your repair in place.

  5. Start stitching back and forth across the hole in long straight rows, using a running stitch. As you do this, take care to loop your thread through any unravelling stiches around the edge of the hole. Aim for rows of stiches that are straight, closely and evenly spaced.

  6. When you reach the other side of the hole, turn 90 degrees and start sewing across the other way. Weave through the stitches to close up the hole and catch up any last unravelling edges of the original hole.

NOTE: At Step 5 you may choose to switch to a contrasting colour yarn. Alternatively, use matching thread to close the hole, then switch to a contrasting colour to sew several extra rows of stitches across the hole for extra strength as a decorative element.

Lazy day stitch

  1. Thread your needle and knot the end of your thread.

  2. Starting underneath, bring your needle up where you want your petal to be, then reinsert your needle back down beside this point

  3. Pull the thread part way through, leaving a loop.

  4. Bring the needle up through the fabric where you want the tip of the petal to be. Put the needle through the loop of thread and back down near this same spot to create a small stitch.

  5. Gently pull the remaining thread through to secure the petal in place.

  6. Repeat as many times in a circle to create a flower shape.

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