This fall I joined a mending group. We meet once a month, dragging in our big bags, filled with coats needing buttons, sweaters lacking elbow patches, socks filled with holes, jeans ripped at the knees, and proceed to share mending advice. Needles are threaded and away we go. We leave with garments ready to wear, again, and a sense of pride and accomplishment.
The act of sewing a button on one hand seems so simple and on the other quite a challenge. Do you have the original button, or will you replace it with one that doesn’t quite match? Will you use bright red thread when the original was a somber black? I intentionally make the mending visible, reminding myself and others that this garment has more than one life.
Embellishment in mending by way of using decorative stitches seems to be the next logical step. Why not make that mended hole stand out with a flurry of feather stitches, circled by chain stitches, denoted by a bevy of French knots and finished off besprinkled with beads or sequins?
Of course, one needs instruction and inspiration, both found in the work of Natalie Chanin and May Morris. Fortunately, two newly published books bring their endeavors onto one’s work table. The Geometry of Hand-Sewing: A Romance in Stitches and Embroidery from Alabama Chanin and The School of Making, gives practical methods of stitching based on geometry, with diagrams and images to guide one through 100+ stitches. The possibilities of adornment seem limitless. The catalogue accompanying the current exhibition May Morris: Art & Life allows one to linger over her exquisite and elaborate stitched tapestries, book covers, bags, and garments, as well as her wallpaper designs and jewelry. Pull out your magnifying glass and examine her embroidery. Morris has been rightly called the “pioneer of art embroidery.”
Morris published her own embroidery guide Decorative Needlework in 1893. Anna Mason notes and quotes in a catalogue entry, “Through her writing as well as her practice, she sought to raise the status of embroidery: ‘in spite of the discouraging trifling and dabbling in silks, which is often all that stands for embroidery, I am inclined to take needle-art seriously, and regard its simply priceless decorative qualities worth as careful study or appreciation as any other form of art.’ ”
Chanin and Morris are birds of a feather. They both honor the hand-made and the hands that make. In my dreams, both of them will attend next month’s mending circle.
May Morris: Art & Crafts Designer with essays by Anna Mason, Jan Marsh, Jenny Lister, Rowan Bain and Hanne Faurby and with contributions by Alice McEwan and Catherine White, forward by Lynn Hulse (London: Thames and Hudson, 2017), pg. 122.
Natalie Chanin, The Geometry of Hand-Sewing: A Romance in Stitches and Embroidery from Alabama Chanin and The School of Making, (Abrams, New York), 2017.