In Which I Don’t Actually Save the Planet

Untidy darning on a gray sweater
Messy, but it’s held.

After eight years, it finally happened: my beloved Black Arrow cardigan got a hole. I made up the pattern off a vintage Shetland argyle cardigan purchased at our next door neighbor’s garage sale nearly 20 years ago and knitted it in Dalegarn Baby Ull. The button bands are too narrow, the back of the neck is stretched out, and the sleeves two different lengths. But I love this thing and have worn it incessantly since its completion in 2006.

Darning up the elbow, I started thinking about the factors that must co-occur for mending to happen. There is thrift or cheapness: I spent maybe $40 on yarn for my Black Arrow cardigan, but the hours that went into designing and knitting it come dearer to me now than they did when I was an undergrad working part-time. There is sentiment, as when Laura Chau mended her boyfriend’s jacket. Then there is creativity, amply embodied by the Visible Mending of Tom van Deijnen. For crafters like Felicity Ford and Ysolda Teague, clothing production has an intensely political component, and their efforts to mend sustainably produced clothes and remake old items hanging at the back of the closet reflect their big-picture approach to clothing.

I was thinking about all these factors as I took off on a deep cleaning kick this past week. A Me-Made May would have ended very quickly, unless of course I spent the entire month wearing my romper. Ditto a slow wardrobe. I can’t sew very well, and have neither the time nor equipment to invest in getting better. As much as these über crafters have taught me about the lifecycle of clothes, and as much as they inspire me with their ambition and skill, I simply don’t have the karma to claim their level of sustainability.

But there were some things I noticed as I tore through my closet. A little bit of thrift. For as often as I go to the mall, a decent chunk of my wardrobe originated in a thrift shop. Regardless of origin, all items are worn to death, and I am grateful to my mother that I can repair a popped seam and sew on buttons, even if the workmanship won’t land me any prizes at the county fair.

Large gray tam
This thing was ginormous
Gray scarf with a lace pattern
This one always curled

A lot of sentimentality. Clothes I just don’t wear anymore head off to Goodwill, and my first few sweaters got shipped there too, but sometimes, I need the yarn. The scarf and hat above just weren’t well executed, but my best friend brought me the yarn from Ecuador the same summer I was in Mexico finishing my Black Arrow cardigan. I can’t part with it, so zip-zip, I unraveled the ill-fated accessories and am dreaming of fantastic worsted-weight hats.

Lip gloss box into needle case
Lip gloss box into needle case

And of course, creativity. My deep-cleaning kick unearthed this cardboard case from a tube of lip gloss, saved for many, many years because it *had* to be useful for something. Does anyone else do this with the interesting odds and ends they come across? Having just put away my darning needles in the sad little package in which they were sold, I finally had a new use for this nifty little piece of packaging. New needle case! It even holds the teeny-tiny handmade wooden case for my little sewing needles.

These fits and starts and unexpected instances of thrift won’t save the planet or shift the tide of forces driving worldwide clothing production. But I do enjoy the challenge of making the stuff that floats around with me last a little longer. It’s a way for me to save favorite items with special stories, and when I get really creative, I come up with crafting accoutrements and outfits that don’t make me look like a crazy person (most days).

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to figure out how to repair today’s thrift-shop blouse.

4 responses to “In Which I Don’t Actually Save the Planet”

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