Sashiko, Mend and Make New

Buying Less, Making More with Make + Mend author Jessica Marquez


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It seems we constantly search for moments of serenity, perspective and calm in today’s digital-infused world. While I discuss ideas connected to caring for and respecting our clothing often, it wasn’t until recently that I was directly reminded of the power of making with our own hands.

I was working on a styling job that required me to remove a large logo from a garment. I found myself seam ripping away tediously for about 6 hours. And while one may expect this to be beyond frustrating, it was everything but that for me.

The simple act of personally adjusting a garment instantly transported me to a meditative state, and draped a wave of relaxation over me. It was an impactful connection for me - to feel a deeper appreciation for the making of the garment, because I was editing its construction.

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At the same time I had this mending moment, I had been reading Jessica Marquez’s new book Make + Mend (2018, Watson-Guptill/Random House), which focuses on Japanese sashiko-inspired embroidery projects, and preparing questions for an interview with her, the one you’ll find below.

While sashiko projects generally consist of adding material to a garment and using a needle and thread to make “little stabs” to mend the textile, I found a kindred overlap here - there’s a strength that lies in finding connection with any part of the making process.

Here’s more from Jessica about Make + Mend, sashiko, and so much more that can come through reconnecting with our clothes.

What first led you to have an interest in sashiko?
I have a deep appreciation for textiles and embroidery. I’ve been stitching for many years and my boyfriend would ask me to repair his well worn and much loved denim jacket and jeans.

While researching techniques to repair clothing, I came across some vintage sashiko pieces and was enamored with the physical objects: deep indigo fabrics contrasted with fat white stitches locking down layers of patchwork. From these vintage pieces, I began to deconstruct the technique and practiced on his denim.

We were both so thrilled with the results: strong, wearable mends that added loads of character.

There seems to be a resurgence of craft and art techniques that are done by hand. What do you think is driving this?
Maybe it’s that we’re so removed from most parts of our daily life, like how our clothes are made, or food is produced. We have such easy access to just about anything, so it’s almost a novelty to be able to make even simple things.

People are curious to see and learn the process behind making something. The final outcome feels so rewarding, whether it’s flowers you planted blooming, a new recipe made or digging into a new creative process.

In your book, you talk about how the slow fashion movement embraces “visible mending”. Can you share more of your thoughts on this, and why you think "visible mending” is becoming more celebrated?
A visible mend is a small act of resistance. To take the time to mend your clothes says that you care and that clothes are not disposable. There’s so much pressure to stay up on the latest trends and there’s such easy access to cheap clothing.

The slow fashion movement works hard to respect the people who made our clothes, as well as the materials and resources needed for their creation. When you visibly mend your clothes and home textiles, you’ve made a choice not to dispose of or buy a replacement and that is a great sign of respect for the hands, materials, and resources used to create that object.

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Do you think mending or repair is becoming cool?
I grew up in an era where shopping in thrift stores was fun and vintage clothes were cool. Mending feels like a logical extension to thrift-minded and sustainable consumerism.

I’m sure there might be the misconception that only the cash-strapped mend their clothes, but it can also be an aesthetic choice, like with visible mending - to not just repair but to also alter the look and feel of the garment. I think this aspect of self expression through mending is very cool.

A visible mend is a small
act of resistance.

In today’s world, we have so much access to cheap clothing. Additionally, when something rips or breaks, it tends to seem so much easier and efficient to just buy something new. Are there tactics you use to resist that urge, and instead take the time to mend your garments?
I know this feeling! Whenever I’d have a big event or special occasion to attend, I would buy a new outfit feeling that I needed to look my best and only new clothes could convey that. Over the past few years, I’ve basically purchased little to no new clothes. I mostly buy secondhand. I realized no one knew if my clothes were brand new or not, and no one cared.

Now, I try to avoid that all together and only purchase clothes that fit this criteria: 1) Does it fit properly? 2) Is it a quality material? 3) Are you really gonna wear it? 4) Is it a maker you want to support? I’m much more apt to buy a new garment from a local or handmade seller I really want to support.

I highly recommend reading Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline, which helped put my shopping habits into a greater perspective.

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In your book, you explain that in writing it, you were deeply challenged by the lessons that sashiko provides. Can you share some of the lessons you believe the art form can inspire?
The history of sashiko is deeply tied to need and resourcefulness. Little if anything was wasted. Both fabric and thread were limited and precious commodities, so each textile’s life was made as long as possible.

What a contrast to today where we are able to buy just about anything with a few clicks. So much waste is created from this culture of convenience. I started seeing my own consumerism through this lens and wanted to change my habits. It’s a process. I’m learning as I go and I’ve made a lot of small changes to reduce my waste in all kinds of ways, like for example, air drying my clothes, refusing single use plastic, and mending my clothes.

My hope is these small acts have a great cumulative effect over time.

Kestrel Jenkins is a conscious style maven who believes in the power of storytelling. She is the host and producer of the Conscious Chatter podcast, an inclusive audio space that opens the door to conversations about our clothing and the layers of stories, meaning and potential impact connected to what we wear. Over a decade ago, she got her start interning with People Tree in London, and from that point on, she knew the only world she wanted to live in was one where she could embrace her style without sacrificing her values.

Photographs reprinted with permission from Make + Mend, copyright 2018 by Jessica Marquez. Published by Watson-Guptill Publications, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Photographs copyright © 2018 by Erin Scott