Weeks 28-36: Mending Me

It's been a long summer break, and I have so much to tell you about. I have been composing blog posts in my head, but have avoided the keyboard as much as I could. Now I am 'back', I will begin with the over-riding theme of my holiday season - mending and wellbeing.

By mid July, everyone working in education will recognise the feeling of feeling a wee bit 'broken'. The academic year ends then and for a lot of us, it's not a moment too soon. Meeting the demands of so many people - students, colleagues, degree show audiences, managers, funders - is completely exhausting and many are beginning to find it too much to be really fulfilling anymore. (For me, it is the constant communication that drains me. By July I need some peace, some quiet. Not talking for a while. Yet with the academic break comes the school holidays… Need I say more?) I certainly need many more strategies for keeping well, and finding that elusive 'work/life' balance.

Last year I was ill for a while and found myself at home more than I had been for years. One way to make myself 'better' during this long period of downtime and isolation was to do a mend a day. Family and work life is so busy, it seems that things break and then wait to be mended. Before you know it, you are surrounded by things with handles hanging off, holes in them, etc. I have an eye for spotting such domestic imperfections (!) but no time to sit and mend. So, last spring I began to fix things, one by one. The house began to look better. I began to feel better.

I was also doing other things to get better, and one of those things was daily meditation. For me, the connection between mending and meditation is so clear: concentrating on the action of the hands; focusing on the skillful positioning, repositioning; the use of the tool… It takes the mind away from thinking thoughts, and uses it to perform a skilled task. Afterwards, there is a palpable serotonin release as the eye is pleased by the result (hopefully, not always), and the brain thanks you for the rest from thinking. You have saved money. You have saved an object from landfill.

Anyway, back to this summer, and a year after my illness. I always try to line up a trip or workshop for the TED and TFRC researchers and students for this time of year. It's a good idea to ring fence both the time and money to spend a little creative time together, at the end of the year, and before we all go our separate ways for a few weeks. In the past we have: discussed 'slow craft' on a canal barge; taken Eurostar to Paris for a curator's tour of an exhibition; taken the train to Cambridge to visit a Bio Chemistry lab; and had two fun-filled days seeing exhibitions and workshopping with social & fibre science colleagues from across Europe.

This year, because of my pledge to buy no new clothes, the idea of mending had been very much on my mind. Bridget Harvey's PhD research has been feeding my interest in trying to understand and articulate the relationship between mending our clothes, and 'wellbeing'. I gave Bridget some funds to organise a TFRC Mending Workshop with Tom of Holland, and so we found ourselves, one sunny afternoon, being taught darning by a lovely young man - an expert knitter-turned-mending entrepreneur.

My 'beyond repair' cashmere All Saints socks, TFRC/TED Summer Workshop, July 2015

My 'beyond repair' cashmere All Saints socks, TFRC/TED Summer Workshop, July 2015

Bridget Harvey's jumper: visible mends act as a multitude of decorative medals after doing battle with consumerism and the marketing machine that fashion presents us with

Tom of Holland giving the TFRC & TED textile experts his rationale for Visible Mending.

Tom of Holland giving the TFRC & TED textile experts his rationale for Visible Mending.

Mending mushrooms and yarns galore, tactile and colorful tools to get us darning, supplied by Tom. (We supplied the moth-eaten woollens)

Mending mushrooms and yarns galore, tactile and colorful tools to get us darning, supplied by Tom. (We supplied the moth-eaten woollens)

Tom made a hole for us to mend. A small snip quickly unravels into a bigger hole on the mushroom.

Using the long needle we created the matrix - the warp structure that we then weave the weft threads through - all the time working on the reverse of the knit.

The 'right' side and my first darn ever. (I discovered I was getting quite long-sighted and may be in need of reading glasses soon. Arghhhhh!)

The day after the workshop, Bridget and I ran a stall at the CCW event, Transacting Values hosted by the Graduate School's Critical Practice group. Critical Practice is a group of artists, designers, curators and researchers based at Chelsea College of Arts. They created a pop-up market made up of over 60 'stall holders' who had been invited to creatively explore and produce alternative economies of value. Bridget and I wanted to explore an idea she had had about mending for others.

When I started this blog I had been talking to her about the fact that I found sitting down to mend my own stuff difficult, but that I was always able to find the time to organise events for other people. She suggested we tried swopping a holey garment with each other, and carried out a mend as a 'gift'. We hadn't managed to test this out by the end of the academic year, so we used the market to test it out in public. Here, our mending idea was performed for others as ‘giftivism’, a way to build or reinforce a social bond. We sat with people and mended whatever they had brought along, and talked, and 'met' each other through the act of mending. You can read more about the market here. 

For me, a chance to do something so public and creative with the kids was a real opportunity for them to understand more about me, the work I did, art college, and values other than money. In the photo Martha and me are at the CCW event - making colorful patches for 'community mends' and gifting. A lovely way to spend time together and meet people, and talk about caring for things, and for people and places. (Martha here proudly wearing a t-shirt from the Cultures of Resilience workshop I ran at LCC in March).

Bridget Harvey teaching darning at the Transacting Values event.

My visible hat repair. Traditionally the art of darning would be very much about invisibility. Now, we mend to create a badge of honour: to show that it is not need that moves us to mend, but desire to see less waste in the world.

Bridget mending my cashmere cardigan for me. Gifting her mend to me, in a moment of connecting through repair. My relationship to my cardigan is different now that I have Bridget's yellow binding stitch running through the seams, holding it together. Bridget is my PhD student - i support her - but I know she supports me too, in a different way. This evidences an exchange, a generosity, of what teaching and learning can be about.

This was pretty much the last public event at college for me for the year, and by the end of July I was finally able to escape and go on holiday. We packed up the car and headed off to Ireland for a couple of weeks. We are lucky enough to have friends and family there who let us stay in their houses by the sea. Although we have been many times before, this time I packed something that I had never travelled on holiday with before - a mending kit and a whole collection of socks to be darned.

Darning my collection of orange socks - all holey at the big toe. (Note to self: must cut big toe nails shorter…). Getting neater.

Martha having a go on holiday at darning the moth holes in my Sonia hat...

Hat mends by Martha and CCW PhD researcher Charlotte Webb

Folks, I can recommend darning with a view. On holiday in Ireland, and later in Sweden, the combination of mending and vitamin sea was just the tonic I needed. Days filled with fixing, body boarding, walking and talking with old friends. That time to reconnect with oneself, with those we love. Somehow mending just works well in this situation too. Try it. Let me know whether it works for you.

Morning rainbow over Glenbeigh in Kerry. (I kid you not, this was the view from the sofa in the borrowed house where I sat each day and darned socks… Thanks Ed & Aoife xx)

Morning rainbow over Glenbeigh in Kerry. (I kid you not, this was the view from the sofa in the borrowed house where I sat each day and darned socks… Thanks Ed & Aoife xx)

View from the bedroom in the Stockholm Archipelago, where my darning days continued into late summer...

View from the bedroom in the Stockholm Archipelago, where my darning days continued into late summer...

No new clothes 2015? Easy peasy. Although I did buy a wetsuit. (Have you ever swum in the Baltic sea?!)