Writer’s notebook: sashiko and visible mending

Recently, I watched some documentaries and news reports on “fast-fashion.”  There were a few things that stood out for me.  One was the labor exploitation.  And two was the environmental impact.  Neither of things I’m particularly comfortable with.  (But, I won’t get political here.)  Because of my discomfort though, I decided to do a little digging into alternatives.  I started checking into the opposite of fast fashion.  How can I live in a way that doesn’t include fast fashion, or reduces my reliance on fast fashion?  

One link and blog post led to another and another and then a series of Pinterest posts later, I found two things that have become my current obcession: sashiko embroidery and visible mending.  

Sashiko is a style of Japanese embroidery used to mend clothing.  It is an all over embroidery pattern used to secure patches and reinforce fabric.  It is my understanding that it was a rural folkart born out of necessity and scarce resources.  A housewife could mend her husband’s jacket for decades until all that was left were stitched together patches called boro or boro boro.  


Image.  Sashiko example of running stitch design.


Image.  Example of mended jeans.


Image.  Sampler of sashiko embroidery, artful patterns. wattssashiko.com


Image. Example of boro.

When I saw that, I recognized the term from when I lived in Hawaii.  It’s the term used in Hawaii Pidgin English http://e-hawaii.com/pidgin/boro-boroz/ to denote old clothes you would use for say gardening or doing other dirty work.  In Japan, it’s the end results of many years of mending a clothing item with sashiko.  (If I have any of this wrong, do tell me in the comments below).  I am guessing that the Hawaiian Pidgin term is derived from the Japanese term., since Hawaiian Pidgin is an amalgam of Hawaiian, Japanese, English (US and Edwardian UK), Filipino, Chinese, amongst other languages.    

My search got me curious as to how I could use this technique in my own life to add wearing life to my family’s clothes.  I wanted to start simple, so I started using this technique to mend my husband’s socks.  Except for the bottoms, most of his socks are still good.  He is not a victim of fast fashion.  He’s been known to hang onto an item for a decade or more.  Clothing is dissintergrated by the time he decides it is time to let go of the item.  He wears socks around the house.  Our floors are cold, even in the summer time.  But if you looked at the bottom of his feet, the socks he wears are often thread bare or have been so worn that there are just holes on the bottom.  Since I assume that my husband is a grownup and can get rid of socks when he chooses and purchase his own socks when he needs them, I just wash them.  (My “job” in the house is laundry.)  But now, I”m also starting to do more repairs on our cloths.  


Photo credit. Michelle Raab original photo

These how-to videos led me to other how-to videos on the artform that has been born out of the mending embroidery.  What was once just a technique to mend cloths, became an artform.  This led me down the rabbit hole of embroidery, mending, and all kinds of textile arts.  On my journey I came across a movement in “slow-fashion” and upcycling and refashioning called “visible mending,” where mending an item isn’t to hide the wear and tear but to highlight it and to make it artful.  I started thinking about this.  


Image.  Exampe of visible mending using sashiko embroidery.

I do freestyle flash fiction when I have nothing to write about, but as an effort to keep in the habit of writing.  I wrote about it in a freestyle flash fiction.   I have been known to copy or to reuse parts of this in stories that I develop.  After one such session writing about a 20-something doing some visible mending as a hobby, I used part of that story in a story I’m developing:  Visible Mending.  In the story, there is a theme that I am developing that clothes become unique and therefore more beautiful because of the wear and tear.  To mend isn’t to make new again, but to highlight the changes that occurred through wear.  It’s these changes that make the clothing unique and therefore beautiful.  The mended clothes, the boro clothes, are beautiful because of the years of mending and patchwork and not inspire of the patchwork and mending.  Visible mending is taking this process and turning it into artful choices of stitching and repair.

What has struck me while I’ve been writing Visible Mending is how there have been times in life where the hurts in our life that cause scars are so often thought of as damage.  Oh she’s a damaged person, because she has lived through and survived small hurts or even a trauma.  And there is this notion that innocence, as often portrayed as youth, inecperience, and free from life’s hurts, is beautiful and perhaps more desireable than an experienced person.  

How often in fairy tales are women portrayed as beautiful who are young, inexperienced, and free froms scars, but the older women who are more experienced and have scars are portrayed as ugly hags.  Why is that?  Can a woman be beautiful because of her scars?  That’s kind of the theme that I’m exploring in my short read (which may end up being a novella — who knows?  I’m still writing the first draftt).  When a woman reaches a place in her life, where she can no longer be called an innocent youth, does she loose her beauty as well?  Or does the experience make her more interesting and more beautiful — emotionally — because of that experience.  

My husband would say the later rather than the former, which may be why we are married. lol.   But, I know that he’s not the only cisnormative hetero male to think this.  All of my women friends are interesting and experienced women, who have lived lives.  My women friends who have partners are loved because of who they are and are continuing to become.  Because many of my friends are hetero, then I must surmise that their male partners find them more beautiful because of how life is changing them, so my husband isn’t alone in thinking that women get more interesting with age and experience.  So why is there this persistent myth that women are at their most beautiful when they are young, inexperienced, and unchanged by life’s challenges?  I suspect I know where it comes from and why, but if you ask me, that myth, that fairy tale needs to disppear in favor of the beautiful experienced … witch … sage … warrior woman.  I think that people are like fine wine, they get better with age.

Image Credits.  The source of the photos are in the link.

4 thoughts on “Writer’s notebook: sashiko and visible mending

    1. Thanks again for your feedback. I’ve updated the post to include links. Peace&joy!

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