Over the pandemic the shop filled with people wanting to learn the slow arts of making and mending for the first time, or to reacquaint themselves after many years with sewing, knitting, mending. The last few years have prompted many of us to consider new ways of living, to slow down, to reconsider how we relate to each other and to the planet. Our focus has turned inwards, our actions have become more considered. Mending has taken off, the unfinished projects pile has gone. We’ve joined online knitting groups, made masks for the NHS, alongside people who had never stitched, knitted, or crafted before. Making and repairing has slowly became a real currency, the community the place it is shared and developed, the small stitch antidote to burnout.
Holding space for someone is to listen without judgement, to be present with someone who might be processing something difficult, and after the last few years, who isn’t? We’re used to this in the shop, with our ethos of slow but sure, and people who buy here know both the benefits of making and its link to processing. Here we listen with a gentle ear to people’s stories as they knit up a jumper and at the same time unravel knotty problems of their own. Post covid there is a lot more to hear.
Madeline, who worked here with us in the past - and is back again this month as a tutor - was not the first to notice this unbidden sharing of information, its link to practical projects, or the importance of pausing to listen. Her own journey, from burnout to healing, started with a pile of mending which saw her through the process of repairing a decades old family disconnect, and allowing positive reclaiming of cultural identity. Her recent Mend & Repair Station in Lewisham shopping centre grew out of this experience. Based on the concept of ‘making’ as therapy, with its wider implications of offering an alternative to the destructive practices of the fast fashion industry, Madeline’s Mend & Repair Station showed a different vision of the way we engage with our clothes, one where items grow with us and share our journey.
Stitching is calming. Repetition creates happiness, reduces levels of cortisol, and therefore stress. Small, slow acts creates positive a sense of big consequences, of goals - the proverbial mountain made of single grains of rice. That deliberate, slow paced development is the counter rhythm to fast fashion’s beat of instant but short-lived gratification, on endless repeat. It takes us away from screens, from media rabbit holes, tv, gives us time to come back to our ‘selves’ and face the things that need healing. Hands that make and mend, lead us to the history in our bodies, buried in our cells. Mindful rhythms countering burnout, promoting healing, physically and emotionally. And we create a legacy, and a positive high from creating.
Trauma and stress often circumvent the verbal, hide in the deep recesses of memory where they avoid our attempts at processing. But making can trigger a verbal opening-up and help start the process of healing. Something in that physical act brings words to the surface. Many World War 1 soldiers stitched their way through the slow process of rehabilitation. Embroidery, with its exquisite focus created the perfect internal space to deal with psychological and physical trauma, allowing it to surface at its own pace. The Disabled Soldiers’ Embroidery Industry (1918-55) saved lives, gave direction, kept minds from spinning away into despair.
The body-mind connect, finger to memory, creates inner calm, promotes healing with a stitch-by-stitch journey which is almost more important than the end product. And creating together builds a sense of community which far outlasts the act of making itself. Friendships endure. Skills acquired last a lifetime – patience, calm, project plans for years ahead, all structures which support us at times of stress or grief. The Aids quilt, conceived in 1986 by gay rights activitist Cleve Jones, grew year by year, uniting communities over decades. NHS mask making during the pandemic united people with a common purpose, created new stitching communities.
The space we inhabit when we make things, repair things, is a familiar one from childhood, that place where we disappear for hours, allow ourselves to flow. That safe place of intense focus which clears the mind, stops negative thoughts. As we work by hand, non-verbal healing is triggered by repetition, which alters the brain’s chemistry to allow us peace and focus, and where self-expression flourishes.
Making and mending don’t just heal on a personal level. Embracing the practice of restoring, mending, repurposing clothing has far reaching implications, reducing landfill, levelling mountains of toxic polyester in countries where we currently dump our textile waste. The fashion industry is a global system based on inequality. With clothing cheaper now than 30 years ago we have lost sight of the people at the end of the chain who make clothes, of the employment practices that keep that model going, and the places where our waste ends up.
Madeline’s experience of working in the fast fashion industry gave her the opportunity to see its broken systems first-hand, its globally destructive underbelly, its wantonly wasteful practices. And the conviction to set off in a different direction. Knowing how to make or mend our own clothes loosens our dependency on the fashion industry and gives us choice. Together, our small stitches can only help shift the balance.
Making and mending are practical, creative, cost saving. We can make what we can imagine and mend what we already own. Repairing our clothes is the simplest of solutions for giving them a longer life, lessening the need for fast fashion clothing, relieving the load on the planet, on people. And most of the time it’s a simple hand stitch, a take home skill, and all we need is a needle and a length of thread.
Madeline’s repair workshops at Stag and Bow:
Madeline is also a qualified Mental Health First Aider.
Her Mend & Repair Station was funded by Lewisham Creative Enterprise Zone, and Shapes.
Written by Pia Goddard