If there is anything I have learned from living a more sustainable lifestyle, it’s the idea of fixing something before throwing an item away and buying new. Reduce, reuse, recycle, is actually more like: Refuse, reduce, rethink, reuse, refurbish, repurpose, repair…. You get the idea.
The production of items like clothing and furniture contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, chemical pollution, and a growing landfill. The fashion industry alone accumulates 92 million tonnes in textile waste each year. A large sum of this waste is due to a rise in fast fashion, an industry based on low quality, cheap prices, and frequent consumption. The industry is also responsible for 10% for greenhouse gases produced globally each year. If you read A Pint Sized Impact’s instagram, you might remember that the aviation industry for comparison contributes 2.5%. In otherwards, environmentally speaking it is better to travel by plane than it is for you to buy that on sale outfit at Old Navy when you didn’t actually “need” it.
Around 56 million tonnes of new clothing are purchased annually, and yet only 12% of clothing thrown away is properly recycled.
Why is it so hard to recycle textiles?
Clothing and other textiles are difficult to recycle. Just like many plastics they are often made from a mix of materials that make it difficult to separate. Even clothing made of natural materials is most likely sewn using a polyester thread and has things like synthetic tags, acrylic buttons, or plastic zippers. Textiles that are successfully recycled end up being ‘lower grade’ and not usable in clothing but can usually be used in items like carpets. This is called down-cycling and eventually those items get thrown to the landfill too.
Much of the textile waste problem lies on the industry itself, where a better fashion future will be composed of more sustainable processing, using less synthetic dyes, and easier to recycle fibres. However, part of the solution to lessening the environmental impact of the fashion industry is on the consumer side of things. Less purchases of low-quality clothing will mean less textile waste.
The Importance of Mending
I am a firm believer of repairing before replacing, and this philosophy is the backbone of zero waste living when it comes to textiles. Mending is a quick and fun way to make something like-new and usable again by sewing or darning. The technique uses simple stitches even a novice repairer can figure out. Mittens, warm socks, and slippers tend to take lots of wear and tear, always ending up with holes no matter how good the quality.
Here, I will walk you through the process of fixing mittens using a simple weave darning. Weave darning is a versatile way to fix all different shapes and sizes of rips and holes of all kinds of materials. As an example, I have mended two pairs of mittens, both with a knitted exterior and fleece lining.
Mending Your Mittens
Yarn or embroidery floss (aim for a yarn the same thickness as the current one on your repair item) Tapestry needle A fork (optional but helpful for achieving a tight weave) Something to fit the inside of the item you are repairing
Often avid sewers use fancy tools like darning eggs, but you do not need anything fancy here. For mittens use remotes or even a cell phone. For the thumb in my mitts I used lipstick. The idea here is that it keeps the shape while weaving… nothing fancy.
A woven darning pattern involves long threads going in one direction, with others interlacing in the opposite direction at a right angle to the first ones, travelling under and over the threads. This should create an x’s and o’s type grid with interlocking threads making the repair very strong. The only possible downside to this mending technique is its non-stretchy characteristic, which really is not a problem with small mending jobs anyways.
Begin by threading your needle and sewing through the inside of your fabric (not the inside of your garment, but the inside of the repair spot… if it has a lining do not go through it unless it has a hole too). We will be making a small knot at the end of the yarn opposite the needle. Going through the inside of the repair spot will hide your knot and yarn end.
Start your stitches wider than your repair area by about a ¼” – ½” or so, just enough to have material strong enough to support your stitches. Sew ⅛” stitches in lines going back and forth (parallel). I found it easier to also start sewing in the direction of the fabric grain. In my case, with the knitted rows of my mittens.
If you can, try to leave small loops at the ends of your rows like these. This will make it easier for you to weave the other direction later.
As you sew and approach the repair opening, you will move the yarn right over the hole in one big stitch, connecting it on the other side and continuing the ⅛” threading.
Once you have covered the hole, make sure to keep sewing past the repair spot to create a strong hold on the fabric
To finish the first weave direction, pull your yarn tight, cut leaving about 2” of yarn, tie a small knot, and then loosen the part you had pulled. The knot should end up less visible being under the repair threads. You could also just start weaving the other direction right away if you have enough yarn on your needle.
To switch weave directions, start the exact same way you previously did, creating a knot, hiding it under the repair, and beginning about ¼”-½” out from the hole you are repairing.
This time instead of looping your stitches with the pre-existing fabric, the yarn will only go under and over the first yarn used to weave across the hole.
Be careful not to miss stitches as it throws off the pattern.
Continue weaving under and over until you have reached the end of your cross yarns. Tie off and cut the yarn end. Try to hide this knot the best you can. Looping over one area 3-4 times also works as a knot if you are having trouble finding a good place to hide it.
Now you have successfully mended a mitten (or sock or slipper) and saved it from an untimely end in the landfill. Not to mention the carbon emissions saved too! Mending is also a great way to use up small amounts of leftover yarn if you are a knitter, crocheter, or hobbyist.