There is a resurgence in popularity in the art of mending. Before the age of disposable fashion, our grandmothers bought good clothes and, as they became worn, they mended them. They darned socks and learned how to match fabrics and patterns so mending could only be seen with close inspection. The beauty of mend clothes is in preserving old favorites with slow, meditative stitches that then extend the life of garments or home accessories.
Mending: /mendiNG/ noun; things to be repaired by sewing or darning.
Mending is not new. Japanese Boro Stitching is a traditional art form that embraces upcycling and repurposing. Its simple stitches bring function and beauty to the garment. Each textile tells a story — whether it is the scraps of fabrics that are used for the patches, or the stitches chosen for the repair. Mending brings fashion and interest to the item.
There is a current trend for visible mending that is inspired by traditional Japanese boro stitching, making garment repairs visually appealing and prominent by adding beautiful fabrics and stitches. Each repair becomes an opportunity for the stitcher to slow down and mindfully sew the patches to express their creativity, creating an original design.
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The stitches can be a basic running stitch, which is very typical with both boro stitching and visible mending, or can be decorative Sashiko stitches. Learn more about Sashiko stitching in our article How to Sashiko Stitch: A Step-by-Step Guide.
Benefits of Visible Mending
Visible mending is rising in popularity as people want to avoid fast fashion and the world-wide implications of disposable clothing. By mending our clothes we reduce waste, which is key for sustainability.
The benefits of visible mending are it is an eco-friendly solution to fast-fashion and textile waste. Mending give you the opportunity to add character to your clothing, making it unique to you! Be creative, add a spot of color, an extra button! Mending encourages creativity and self-expression.
Boro embraces the philosophy that nothing should be wasted. Boro stitchers repair items with scraps that might have been sent to the landfill. Also, it embraces our imperfections: none of us is perfect, and neither are our “stitches”. It is also referred to as Japanese mending.
Both boro stitching and visible mending add a third dimension to the textile you are mending because of the surface design of the scraps and stitches you select. Instead of abandoning a favorite item or donating a garment to your local thrift shop, you now have the opportunity to enhance the flaw and then playfully embellish the garment.
What is boro stitching?
Boro is a Japanese mending technique where textile items are mended with scraps of cloth sewn over the tears or worn out places. Boro mending strengthens the entire textile with added pieces of fabric sewn onto the piece. With Japanese visible mending, the patch of fabric can be on the right side of the garment, or on the inside of the garment, so that the stitching becomes the focus.
What is the history of boro mending?
Boro stitchers carefully patched garments that were worn for generations. In the 18th and 19th centuries. Cotton was expensive and only the noble classes had garments made out of cotton. The workers wore clothing made from homespun fibers that didn’t hold up as well as cotton. Their garments were patched and stitched, strengthening the fabric so the garment lasted longer. During those times, they used every scrap of fabric. The purpose of boro stitching was to extend the life of clothing, bedding and other textiles.
What is the difference between Sashiko and boro?
Sashiko is a Japanese word that means “little stabs”. Boro is very similar to Sashiko but is more of a mending technique, whereas Sashiko is a decorative stitching embellishment. Boro means “rags” or “tattered cloth” and refers to items that have been repeatedly patched or mended. Sashiko mending uses traditional Sashiko stitches to do the mending.
What is the difference between boro stitching and visible mending?
I see the difference as boro stitching being more utilitarian, using the basic running stitch to attach a patch in a fabric similar to the piece being mended. Not making a huge statement on the garment or other item being mended, but blending in — not a bold print or bright color.
On the other hand, I believe visible mending is making a bold statement by adding a design element or making a statement that you proudly upcycle your clothes instead of sending them to thrift shops or landfills. Visible mending uses bright colors, prints, as well as playing around with different stitches to add embellishments to the repaired item.
There is a fine line between boro stitching and visible mending – both add texture and interest to your garment or textile item.
What kinds of projects can I do with boro or visible mending?
Probably the most popular is mending jeans with patches, but this works well with moth holes on sweaters and, really, any mending project. Or, create something new like a bag or pillow cover by stitching your scraps of fabric together to create a unique piece of fabric.
Supplies needed for mending:
Mending and boro stitching use simple materials and tools. All you need are some fabric scraps, needle and thread. Pick the type of thread you’d like based on how you want the finished mending to look (see below). Then, pick the right needle for the thread you plan on using for your project. I like to use a thimble for boro stitching, as the fabrics tend to be heavy weight in the projects I do.
What types of fabrics should I use for boro stitching?
If you can sew through the fabric by hand with a needle and thread, you can use the fabric! There are no rules. Historically, scraps of the hand woven fabrics were used for the patches. Today, we have so many options for fabrics. You can use a similar type of fabric or go bold and choose something that will draw the eye to the patch. On a pair of jeans, use denim with navy blue thread, or cut out a patch from a hot pink print!
Your patch can be one piece of fabric, or you can layer several smaller pieces to cover the mending area.
What type of thread should I use for mending?
Any type of thread can be used, depending on the look you like.
You can use Sashiko thread that has more twist than embroidery floss. Six strand embroidery floss can be used if you are looking for a chunkier stitch, or pearl cotton can be used, which is similar to Sashiko thread, but has more of a sheen than the Sashiko thread. Pearl cotton comes in several sizes, so you can vary the look of your stitches. You can even use basic sewing thread for a simple patch where you don’t want the thread to be the focus.
What types of stitches can I use for visible mending?
You can use any hand embroidery stitch! The most common stitch used is the running stitch. Or try the herringbone stitch or feather stitch. Try some of the basic Sashiko stitches like the Jujizashi Sashiko cross stitch or Hitomezashi Sashiko stitch for all over designs on your patch.
How to sew on a boro patch:
- Pick a scrap or two of fabric that covers the area that you want to patch. Multiple fabrics make it more visually interesting.
- Pin the scraps to the textile you are patching. You can use straight pins, but my tip is to use safety pins so you don’t get poked while stitching!
- If you like a neat patch, you can turn under the edge of the patch just a bit (like ⅛”), or leave it raw edge. Raw edge patches will give more texture as the garment is laundered.
- Secure the patch first around the edge. I like to use a basic running stitch to start, and then add embellishments. Whip stitch, shown below, is another option.
- Keep stitching until you are happy with the look!
Tips for visible mending:
- First and foremost, have fun!
- Boro stitching is not meant to be perfect, it is meant to be functional. So, don’t overthink your stitches.
- Make it yours — make a statement, or not! Bold bright fabrics with colorful stitches make a statement. Or, use scraps that match your base fabric closely, with similar thread color to be more understated.
- Try different threads and stitches to see what you prefer.
- You can stitch outside the patch! Just like you can color outside the lines! This is YOUR stitching project!
How to care for your mended items
As long as you’ve stitched the patch down well, you should be able to care for your item the same way as the base textile — a pair of jeans should be able to go into the washer and dryer. And, if it doesn’t hold up, guess what – you have another opportunity to patch them!
Read David Owen Hasting’s article about Boro Stitching and Visible Mending on his blog.
Learn more about David’s amazing work with his interview on Create Whimsy.