Make, do, mend


I really love that sentiment. I know the original is “make do and mend,” but I like that punctuation can subtly change the meaning and modernize the sentiment. For me, the “do” here is about use. Make something, use it (wear it), and mend it.


I’ve written about mending before (and since that post I’ve darned so many other parts of those gloves that replacing them entirely is on my summer to-do list), but it seems to be in the air these days: Karen did a great post about the resurgence of mending and the corresponding shift in attitude; Ysolda linked to a Guardian piece about the popularity of mending shops; and last fall Julie posted some shots of how she made the best of her moth-eaten sweaters.

L's gloves, still in need of some mending.

L’s gloves, still in need of some mending. After the first few darns, I started darning on both the inside and the outside, to make the areas prone to holes double-thick. After the first time, I gave up on trying to make the mending invisible.

Not that it’s a new idea or anything, but it feels like there’s momentum right now. I have definitely noticed that the more I knit (and now, sew) the more particular I am about what I buy and the more interested I am in fixing what I have. I certainly would never have mended any of the store-bought wool socks I used to wear (which inevitably wore out after one winter) but last week, as I was plodding along on Grace, I took a break to darn some holes and weak spots in a couple of pairs of my hand-knit socks. Both pairs were already a couple of years old and, as some of my first hand-knit socks, had been in heavy rotation, that they only now required repair makes me think of the darns as badges of honour – they lasted well; they’re worth repairing.

The orange socks needed repairs to both heels and both toes. The purple ones wore through in a weak spot I knew would probably be trouble.

The orange socks needed repairs to both heels and both toes. The purple ones wore through in a weak spot I knew would probably be trouble.

The question I have, though, is where do you draw the line? I am happy to darn a few holes to get more use out of a pair of socks, or put a patch over the elbow of a sweater, but at some point items do need replacing, and when that time comes, I don’t want to feel guilty about it. Take L’s gloves, for example. He has worn the heck out of them, and I’ve darned them close to a dozen times, but in the last few months of cold weather it really felt like there was a new hole every week (a combination of hard wear and lofty, woollen-spun yarn). He loves his gloves, but I’m tired of fixing them and ready to just knit a new pair, which is fine, except what do I do with the old ones?

I wear through this part of all my mittens far more quickly than any other part. When he thumbs started to get threadbare, I knit myself a new pair.

I wear through this part of all my mittens far more quickly than any other part. When the thumbs on these started to get threadbare, I knit myself a new pair.

Similarly, I have a pair of socks that’s been in need of new heels for months. I know I could remove the old heels and re-knit them, but to be honest, they’re not the most comfortable socks I’ve ever knit and I don’t miss wearing them. Aside from the heels, though, they’re in good shape, so what do I do? Replace the heels and give them away? Let them sit at the bottom of the drawer for a while longer and then throw them out? I did not have these qualms with store-bought items!

What do you do? Do you say “oh darn” as you drop them in the trash (as the Yarn Harlot suggests) or do you mend them until there’s nothing original left? Do you wonder/worry about this too?

17 thoughts on “Make, do, mend

  1. caityrosey

    I haven’t done a lot of mending yet, but I think about what I will do when it comes up. I think I’ll probably draw the line differently depending on the type of garment and how unique or special it is. old mittens and sock can be converted to other uses, like cat toys (stuffed with nip) or dryer balls. For this reason, I feel less inclined to do extensive darning. For sweaters, though, or other larger items, I’m more inclined to do repairs. Unless, of course, the repair would interfere with the appearance of the garment. I think I’m much more sensitive to that with larger garments than I am with socks and mittens. I don’t know of a good use for old sweaters though. Felted items, maybe?

  2. shoelaceswitcher

    I haven’t gotten to the point where I need to decide whether to toss them or not, but I have mended individual socks multiple times. It still seems easier to me to mend something than knit a whole new one, but if you aren’t going to wear the mended one, you may as well make one you want to wear.

    1. Angela Hickman Post author

      I agree with you that mending is easier (and faster!) than knitting something new. But, knit logic can be a little crazy, and somehow having a whole new something seems more fun than a repaired old something. That being said, I think the key is probably both, especially where socks are concerned. The more socks I knit, the less each individual pair is worn, and thus the longer they last. Maybe I should have a mend a pair/knit a pair rule for myself 🙂

  3. Adelaide

    Sometimes I felt what’s left and sew up little cell phone pouches, glasses cases or combine them into a pillow cover. The way I can still be reminded of the original project.

  4. Audry

    I’ve heard of old items being used as stuffing for quilts and the like. Around my area, there is a way to recycle fabric, which is the direction I tend to go.

    It’s a hard call when it comes to hand crafted items.

    1. Angela Hickman Post author

      I really wish there was a fabric recycling system here. I’ve read about wool recycling facilities in Norway where you can bring your worn out knits and have them recycled into wool filling for bedding and whatnot. It seems so smart!

  5. salpal1

    as I don’t know how to darn, I would be more likely to make something else, or knit a new foot on a good sock leg. I do mend sweaters if they need it, I also have been known to carefully take apart a sweater and reuse the yarn.

  6. Cassy

    Kudos on all of your mending! It looks like you put in some sturdy reinforcement. I’m am horrific about mending things. I have a couple of pairs of lace socks that need mending, but I know it wouldn’t be a pretty job, and they were a little too narrow in the first place (which was what probably caused the holes), so I am unlikely to ever get to that.

    1. Angela Hickman Post author

      I left these socks to one side for a while to see if I missed them enough to both with mending. The answer was yes, so I darned them up. The other ones, though, haven’t been worn in over a year and I find myself not caring at all, so I think they’re destined for the big scrap bag in the sky.

  7. V

    I know how it feels I went trough my first mending not long ago on my first ever lace shawl ….it made me sad as it hard to mend a lace shawl properly

  8. hamilton chicklets

    I’m definitely on Team Mend though I also hate the process. This year I decided to buy no ready to wear clothing, which includes jeans, socks, etc, which means lots of mending! I do like the idea of getting creative with it though and I don’t think you have to feel bad when you reach the point where you’d rather replace than mend again. And thanks for the links! I had missed both of those posts!

    1. Angela Hickman Post author

      Not even jeans? That’s a major commitment – do you think you’ll end up making a pair?

      I would really like to improve my mending skills to the point where I could take advantage of visible mending to add some colour or a design element to an older garment. I’ve been thinking about taking an embroidery class, since I think that technique would be a real asset.

  9. Andrea

    I’m a mender all the way. I mean, there is so much effort and love that goes into hand knitted items that they deserve a second (or third) go around. My husband has a cable knit sweater (store bought) that started falling apart two years ago. He loves this garment and wears it around the house all the time so I started mending it in brightly coloured yarn and now it has become a bit of a work of folk art. For every new hole he gets to pick the colour of the next patch. It’s become our ritual that I mend the sweater while we share a Friday night drink.

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