One Patch at a Time

Dirt Magazine, Family, Mending

Once upon a time, you would have learned everything you needed to know about mending from a relative or neighbor. You would have learned this as a kid, likely, and now you would already have a system for keeping up with torn knees and unraveling hems. But in this time, our time, mending is on track to become a Lost Art, and you may not have learned anything about darning, patching or stitching. And where are those friends and family now? Can they still teach us how to maintain our clothes? They are getting older and harder to find. But we are lucky to have a neighbor in Katrina Rodabaugh, a Germantown, NY resident and author of the just released Mending Matters: Stitch, Patch, and Repair Your Favorite Denim & More.

Her motto is simple: “Just begin…You’ll improve techniques as you practice. You’ll gain insights and confidence as you navigate forward.” And many folks are eager to begin, to learn mending as a way of slowing the consumption and waste cycle. But those of us with kids look at the mountain of clothes that they wear hard and bring home broken. And we wonder, is it worth it to patch their clothes? Do I have to conquer the whole mountain?

I talked to Rodabaugh, who has two young boys, and she offered her encouragement for the newbie mender. She reminds us to take it “one garment at a time. One patch at a time. One stitch at a time.”

The kids’ clothes are the conundrum, really. They grow out of them so quickly, it’s hard not to wonder if it’s worth it to fix them. Rodabough’s strategy? “I try to mend my older son’s clothes as soon as the tear becomes visible. This way I can preserve his clothes for as long as they fit him and also pass them to my youngest son.”

And her handiwork lives on after her kids outgrow a patched jacket, because she passes clothes on to friends or strangers. “The mending lives on beyond us,” she said. “Most of my children’s wardrobes are secondhand so I like to think their garments are well-loved for years before and years after.”

We teach our kids about recycling and energy conservation, so why not waste reduction? Rodabaugh’s two boys, “view mending as a normal way of caring for clothing. Plus, they love the stitches and patches on their clothes.”

And isn’t that what we want for a family culture of sustainable living? We can reintroduce healing practices as “normal” and let our kids learn from their families, even if it skipped a few generations prior.

Originally published in Dirt Magazine Nov/Dec 2018