The Art of Mending: Boro Stitching and Visible Mending

Finished mending patch

The Art of Mending: Boro Stitching and Visible Mending

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 mending is in preserving old favorites with slow, meditative stitches that then extend the life of garments or home accessories.

Patches on jeans
Photo and stitching by David Owen Hastings

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. So 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. So 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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Boro embraces the philosophy that nothing should be wasted, so 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”.

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.

Close-up of patch and stitching
Photo and stitching by David Owen Hastings

How to visibly mend an item

Start by picking out the fabric you’d like to use for your mending. It can be one piece, or many pieces, to cover the worn place.

Selecting fabric to mend jeans
Selecting fabric to mend jeans

Next, Make sure the piece completely covers the worn place on your item.

Laying the fabric over the worn place
Laying the fabric over the worn place

I am patching a worn knee on a pair of jeans. But it’s hard to stitch with one hand up a leg of the jeans. So if you don’t have a darning egg or darning mushroom (if I had a mushroom, I’d use it in this situation), you can use a small glass bowl. Place the bowl under the patch for sewing, and stitch ‘into’ the bowl and back up, so there is no need to have your hand in the jean leg (or jacket arm) and risk sewing through too many layers (or your fingers).

Use a glass bowl for tight places like jeans legs or jacket arms

I put the bowl under the patch, and then it was easier to pin the patch to the jeans. I used safety pins because they don’t poke me until I’m ready to take them out.

Use safety pins to pins your patch

First, I like to stitch around the edge of the patch.

Stitch around the edge of the patch first

Then, I can take out the pins and stitch away! I do like to extend the stitches into the garment, to make the patch extra secure. This is more of a utility patch versus a decorative patch.

Then fill in stitches first in one direction

To begin the fill stitches, I like to stitch one direction first.

Go beyond the patch to secure the patch well

And then go back and stitch the other direction.

Then, stitch back the other direction

And, the finished patch.

Finished patch

More information about boro stitching and visible mending

What is boro stitching?

With Japanese Boro Stitching, 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. 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.

Mending on front of jeans
Photo and stitching by David Owen Hastings

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.

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.

Close of up a triangle patch
Photo and stitching by David Owen Hastings

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.

Close up of a triangle patch and cross stitching
Photo and stitching by David Owen Hastings

Supplies needed for mending:

Mending uses 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.

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 that doesn’t make much of a statement.

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! 
  • 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!
Mended chair
Photo by David Owen Hasting, mending at a local Thai restaurant

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!
Full look at the patched jeans
Photo and stitching by David Owen Hastings

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!

Close up of the patches on the denim dress
Check out Chardel’s Repurposed Denim Dress on Create Whimsy

For more inspiration about the art of mending check out our Step-by-Step Guide to Sashiko Stitching, or browse through our Hand Embroidery projects and stories.

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.

The Art of Mending, image by David Owen Hastings
The Art of Mending Pinterest Image
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