Recently, I’ve been enjoying a few interesting blogs, including one by a young woman who writes primarily about minimalism in her wardrobe, and another that tends to focus more on sustainability in overall lifestyle and particularly her finances (though she blogs on many topics.)
I found myself musing about a less than obvious relationship between these two sets of writing as I was ensconced on the couch the past few evenings working on a necessary repair project. If your lifestyle and values dictate buying fewer items of better quality, you are going to have to learn how to mend (or employ someone to do it for you.)
Mending is a skill that was once ubiquitous. Before the Industrial Revolution, things (man-made objects) were quite costly and labor—especially that of women in the home—tended to be cheap. Even after the advent of affordable and readily available machine-sewn, purchased clothing, many people retained the sewing skills to make repairs and simple alterations.
Today, a t-shirt is so cheap, we treat it as disposable. We don’t own just a few outfits; even the poor in a developed country can own a wardrobe rich in variety. When we stain a garment, or it rips, it “costs less” to buy a new one than to spend time remedying the problem.
Yes, we launder our clothing, but often with little care, because individual garments have very little intrinsic value.
This ceases to be true when one invests in sustainable products. Organic, locally-sourced, fair trade, and high quality typically equate to expensive. If I’m willing to pay someone of my social class in my rich nation to produce my clothing or housewares, I’m going to pay more than I would for equivalent items made by impoverished factory workers under exploitative conditions.
I’m going to have to do some work to make these products last longer, because I can’t afford to replace them frequently.
My values also dictate that I shouldn’t be replacing, I should be repairing, re-purposing, and, at the very least, recycling my no-longer-useful-to-me discards.
Fortunately, an artisan-made product is likely to be better constructed of higher quality materials than the mass market equivalent. Sturdy trousers in a sensible fabric with a full lining will neither wear out nor require cleaning as often as thin, cheap cotton pants. Worn or soiled linings are quickly replaced. Good construction techniques mean the possibility to let out or take in a waistband that no longer fits.
Unfortunately, the world at large doesn’t always make it easy to act anachronistically. I am the only person in my household who understands the details, and importance, of my rather sophisticated laundry sorting process. When someone helps with the laundry, invariably, a delicate (expensive!) item ends up going through the “wrong” wash.
There have been tragic losses: a darling pair of organic wool overalls that went from size 6 to a toddler 2/3 after a trip through the dryer. Sigh. Luckily, we had a young friend who got to enjoy those for another year.
There have also been signs of remarkable resilience. I don’t recommend repeating this test, but, if your child throws his good trousers in the big hamper of regular wash and dry laundry, they might come out of the dryer just fine. These wool blend dress pants from Nordstrom held up to a full cycle of warm water wash and hot dry. They didn’t even shrink! The child was allowed to live.
The example I opened with is my Linoto linen comforter cover (a.k.a., duvet.) If you want gorgeous, 100% flax linen bedding made in the USA by people who will go above and beyond to make you happy, I recommend Jason at Linoto as your source.
I also own flax linen bedding sold by Coyuchi and cotton/flax blends and hemp linen sheets from Rawganique in Canada. I’ve even sewn some specialty sized linen pillowcases myself using fabric purchased here or here.
If you follow the care instructions, you probably won’t need to do the kind of repair I’m undertaking right now.
Then again, if you live in a busy household with a family that is sincerely helpful but not particularly educated or enthusiastic about specialized laundering, I can also reassure you that your expensive linen sheets will still survive for years, and probably not tear like mine, if you just keep them out of the dryer, especially with other, heavy linens.
Mine were in constant use for five years before tearing. Here’s what happened:
If you’ve ever had a load of sheets in the dryer with a comforter cover, you’ve probably experienced the “giant wad of linens balled up inside the duvet” phenomenon. I can’t explain the physics, but it always seems to occur. Maybe its related to the knotting of agitated strings.
When I’m feeling well and managing the laundry myself, I carefully redistribute the linens midway through the drying cycle to separate these and the pillowcases that get wedged inside the elastic corners of fitted sheets. If I’m feeling really well, I hang up my linen items after a few minutes in the dryer to soften them up.*
None of my helpers remember—or bother—to do either of these additional steps.
More than once, a heavy ball of wet cotton has been caught inside my delicate when dry linen cover. More than once, someone has helped me empty the dryer and yanked on this heavy mass without supporting the linen piece from the strain. Eventually, the fabric wore near the top seam that always caught this weight.
Instead of fixing it immediately when I saw the signs of wear, I put off reinforcing this area… and, recently, that’s where the fabric tore.
I am not at all expert in mending, but I do have rudimentary sewing skills. I have needles and thread in the house, and I’m not afraid to use them. My cover won’t look perfect when its repaired, but the tearing and fraying will stop, and it will still be usable as bedding. Luckily, a duvet has two sides, so I’ll put it on the bed mended side down.
Minimizing your possessions to just what you need and buying sustainable, ethically sourced goods are great ideas, but you may have to adjust your lifestyle to fit. If you can’t get every household member on board with these adjustments, prepare to learn some new skills.
Today, mending! Tomorrow… darning socks?
Good thing I know someone who knows how to darn. Maybe she’ll teach me.
This is how we all take part to make the world a little better than we found it.
*My husband dislikes the texture of line dried laundry, so, when it comes to longevity vs. softness, I’m going to choose marital accord over more sustainable laundry practices. Personally, I love the crisp, dry hand of air dried linen.