Some 3,350 years ago, an ancient Egyptian used white thread to darn an indigo headcloth likely worn by none other than Tutankhamun. While simple, the tiny running stitches, contrasting with the deep blue of the headcloth (on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), represent something quite remarkable: They may be the oldest surviving visible mend, according to Kate Sekules, a clothes historian and avid mender.
For Sekules, whose repairs extend to frayed or holey sleeves, collars, pants, or what have you, the ancient darns are “completely familiar,” as she writes in her mending guide Mend! A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto. They remind her of some of her own sewing—conspicuous stitches that not only fix but also transform the original item. Take, for instance, a pair of trousers she’s donned frequently over the last year. Worn and torn, their seat has become a veritable color explosion of patches and little cross-stitches.
Sekules, who shares projects on her Instagram account @visiblemend, is a lodestar in the visible mending movement, a growing international network of sewers who use creative stitching to repair old clothing and other threadbare textiles. First popularized by Tom van Deijnen, a Dutch sewer known in stitching circles as Tom of Holland, the term has been embraced in recent years by crafters, vintage textile lovers, and eco-conscious proponents of slow fashion. There is no single mending style, but a core philosophy: to celebrate the aesthetic potential of mends rather than conceal them. Beyond exercising the creative mind, mending also extends the life of garments that might otherwise end up in landfills.
“Mending has always been essential, and the way we’re bringing it back reclaims an invisible labor throughout history, turns it on its head, and makes it a new art form,” Sekules said. “I sometimes say it’s a scrappy art form—it’s really as creative as you want to make it.”
Today, those interested in visible mending have a vast sea of resources to explore. Mending kits featuring deadstock fabric, ready-to-use patches, and naturally dyed or vintage textiles are readily available for purchase. Virtual workshops or mending clubs, such as one organized by instructor Erin Eggenburg, can be an excellent way to learn directly from artists. Many menders also share tips and tutorials on social media, posted under hashtags such as #visiblemending and #makedoandmend.
Among them is Arounna Khounnoraj, a Toronto-based artist who sells mending kits and other design objects through her studio Bookhou. Her popular video tutorials cover mends from a straightforward stitch-up of ripped denim to needle felting a moth-eaten beret into a quirky polka-dotted accessory. Khounnoraj, who grew up in a household where mending was a necessity, said she shares techniques not only to show the vast creative possibilities of mending but also to emphasize how simple visible mending can be.
“You just need a needle and thread, which makes it very accessible and achievable,” she said. “ I think it’s something that people feel is hard at first, but it’s really not. And it becomes addictive—you just start trying to find things to repair.”
Last winter, Khounnoraj published Visible Mending: A Modern Guide to Darning, Stitching and Patching the Clothes You Love, a book that showcases how one can use materials already on hand to repair, reuse, and renew garments. It is just one of many how-to guides for mending enthusiasts. Also on shelves: Joyful Mending: Visible Repairs for the Perfectly Imperfect Things We Love! by Noriko Misumi, Visible Mending: Artful Stitchery to Repair and Refresh Your Favorite Things by Jenny Wilding Cardon, and Denim Mending + Visible Mending for Beginners by Gina Harper.
Sekules’s book, also published last year, examines the historical and contemporary context of visible mending and features step-by-step instructions for stitches, including mends of her own design. Her “Periodic Table of Mend Elements” categorizes methods in a convenient visual; a supplementary chart helps menders figure out the best ones for different garments and damages. Still, she adds, “The only advice you need is: Just start.”
And as for mistakes? “It’s already broken so you can’t make it worse. If it looks horrible or goes all puckery, I say double down, or put something on top instead of trying to unpick it. Patch on patch on patch.”
Unsurprisingly, many in the visible mending community are self-taught. Lily Fulop, who describes her mending style as “experimental and intuitive,” picked up mending a few years ago when she was in college learning about sustainability in fashion. “Mending shows people your values—that you care about reducing your waste and using things for longer,” she said. “It’s also a way to express personal style and create a connection with your clothing.”
Last spring, Fulop published Wear, Repair, Repurpose: A Maker’s Guide to Mending and Upcycling Clothes, a brightly colored, heavily illustrated volume ideal for beginners who want to learn how to mend and refresh everything from socks to jackets. She also posts video tutorials and tips on TikTok. While Fulop takes a maximalist approach in her mends, incorporating an abundance of color, patterns, and texture, her instructions aren’t prescriptive. Instead, her approach aims to “empower you with basic skills so you can continue from there.”
“I emphasize throughout that there’s not really one way to do things,” Fulop said. “People think their stitches need to be in a perfect straight line, and I don’t think that matters. If it works, it works.” To ease yourself into mending, she advised, start with simple patching and thin fabrics like cotton before working up to darning and heavy cloths like denim.
One widely favored style of visible mending is Sashiko, a Japanese hand stitching tradition. But the rhythmic stitch, which can result in mesmerizing, intricate patterns, is more accurately a form of “invisible mending,” said Atsushi Futatsuya, a third-generation Sashiko stitcher who has written extensively on the form.
In fact, Sashiko is more concerned with utility over aesthetics. During the Edo period, those too poor to purchase new fabrics used this kind of stitching to maximize the life of clothing. “The result is like visible mending, but the core essence of Sashiko is the opposite of showing off,” Futatsuya said. “It’s about trying to hide, based on the Japanese culture of shame.”
Futatsuya offers both in-person and virtual classes on Sashiko and also sells Sashiko tools and supplies. His mission is not to gatekeep but equip people with a proper understanding of the centuries-old techniques and complex culture of intention and care for the process. “You can do whatever you want, as long as you understand the basic essentials,” he said.
For the most part, visible mending is appreciated as a casual, low-stakes hobby: something you can pick up as a mindful practice but execute as a relatively mindless task. “Mending has a meditative quality,” Khounnoraj said. “The gesture and movement of fixing a hole can also make us psychologically feel better because you can see it physically coming together. It has a sense of gratification.”
For Fulop, mending is “an antidote to stressful modern times.” As people continue to be on lockdown and seek distractions away from screens, she has not been surprised to see a surging interest in an old-time custom. “It’s a great way to reduce anxiety, and it’s satisfying to do,” she said. “Sewing is fun.”