09 February 2011

To mend

This is a long one, guys, but I hope the pictures help to break it up!

Last night I finished repairing a few holes in this really nice, clearly well-loved Pendleton sweater that belongs to a friend.  While I was darning (and "Darn!"-ing, because it was dark and both yarns are fairly dark), I thought a bit about the sorts of emotional and physical repairs I've been doing in my own life for the past several months, and especially since the start of the new year.  If you'll bear with me, I'm going to make a series of connections between sweater-mending and self-care, parts of which seem like a stretch even to me; overall, though, I really like thinking about the ways crafting and making can serve as counterpoint for the rest of life.

The very act of taking the time to sit with a worn and damaged garment in order to preserve its life is sort of unusual, which is why it got me thinking.  In a society that is so quick to scrap things that are no longer perfect and hide what isn't "presentable", it's not that surprising that not many of us talk seriously with each other about those parts of ourselves that are less than perfect, the pieces of our hearts and souls that are threadbare and fragile.  At least for me, part of the fear is that others who get a glimpse will turn around and say, "That is some junk; you should replace it."  I think we're all familiar with that really painful experience.  Fortunately, I'm lucky enough and most of us are lucky enough to be surrounded by many many good friends who actually say, "Yikes, that looks rough. How can I help you?"  Asking for help with repairs is a frightening prospect, but when it works out we can really catch sight of others' gifts and the ways in which we complement and balance each other's weaknesses, and the resulting rebuilt self is a cooperatively manufactured product that is infinitely more beautiful than any new item.  

The crochet edging along the cuffs wasn't completely necessary, but it looked like fraying would happen within a few months if the edges didn't get reinforced.  This kind of pre-emptive mending is what I've been working on in my prayer life lately.  My dear friend Laura, inspiration for the Laura Cowl, is letting me borrow a great book of daily meditations centered around opening and passing through doors in the heart.  The majority of the meditations have been shockingly effective and revealing, and I'm sad that I only have about a week left.  Any suggestions for other books I might try?  
The best part of the whole experience has been the fact that I've been able to make time for daily prayer and quiet reflection, which is a completely refreshing experience, without feeling like the time is stolen or like I'm being distracted from other things that I "ought" to be doing.  The half hour I spend every morning sets me up for living each day more intentionally, more aware of how I'm treating myself and others, and (contrary to my expectations) I feel less rushed in the mornings than I would if I spent that time in a way I would normally consider productive: perusing the internet or cleaning my apartment or doing my makeup or reading something for school.  Thinking of my prayer life as a pre-emptive reinforcement for what's coming next helps me to see it as a worthwhile commitment.

The smaller patches of darning, which cover areas with small holes and lots of intact ladders, were actually more difficult to execute than the patch which covers the larger hole in the elbow.  Creating a new woven patch when all the other older pieces are still in the way is challenging.  This seems like the same problem we often experience when daily life is what's causing wear and tear in our hearts.  Because it's a pain to close up individual small holes that form when people we trust use harsh words or when something we've been working toward falls through, I think a lot of us tend to let the small slights and disappointments go untended, trying to convince ourselves that each of these things is "not a big deal" or shouldn't affect us.  Those with unsympathetic ears can sometimes reinforce that belief, too, by failing to listen compassionately to our little complaints  The danger, as I've discovered during the last six, grueling months, is that these untreated hurts pile on top of one another until the cumulative effect is a tangled mess of frustration, resentment, and sadness that's tough to deal with.  Any small thing can set off a chain reaction of pent-up emotion that leaves me, at least, feeling exhausted and even a bit ridiculous (So-and-so didn't want to hang out with me and now I'm sobbing into my pillow? What?).  I think the most challenging part of self-care is this awareness of and attention to the parts of ourselves that are slowly being worn down.

Here most of the yarn that had started to split and unravel had actually been worn completely away.  The repair on this was more time consuming, but infinitely easier to execute.  The open space made it simple to create a woven patch of fabric that stands on its own with just the edges integrated into the old sweater.  This repair obviously brings to mind the major damage we can sustain, whether it is emotional, mental, or physical. The act of rebuilding or remaking, in a totally new form, some part of the self that has been torn away is quite an exciting prospect.  Daunting, maybe, but exciting.
How many times in life do we get the chance to step back and reassess our way of interacting with the world, to see clearly that something is not working, and to fundamentally change our approach?  Sure, this self-examination might have been forced upon us by adverse circumstances, anything from a financial or medical blow to a painful breakup to a restructuring of the bonds of family or friendships, but the final result of the work it takes to rebuild oneself is something far more sturdy, lasting, functional, resilient, and, because of these qualities, beautiful.  For me, that makes the effort so worth it.

Obviously working on this sweater was incredibly meaningful for me, and I don't think it's an accident that it's made of wool.  If I have (or can learn) the skills to make or mend an inanimate object, I can use the same care I directed toward someone else's object back on my own being in a way that will make a positive difference.  And if you do crafts to make a room more beautiful, if you cook a meal to share with friends, if you complete a task at work ahead of schedule and exceed others' expectations, you can turn that creative energy toward rebuilding whatever is hurt or broken in yourself.  Plus we can help each other.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if this guy's sweater can make it through in style, I think we all can, too :)

Thanks for reading.
Project Specs
Sweater: Pendleton, 100% Shetland wool
Mending yarn: Brooklyn Tweed Shelter, colorway Button Jar
(Helpful) darning instructions: here, with good photos to illustrate the process


LEO said...


I love this piece, Allison. Love it.

addicted_to_Yarn said...

You have a good heart Allison,

Nicole said...

Great job with the sweater and really wonderful post. I especially liked the section on meditation and prayer. Very inspirational!

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