To repair a garment and keep it in active service is to practice the skill of user-ship. It calls upon human senses to diagnose what needs to be done and the right emotional tone to carry it through. Stitching, darning, patching and remodelling oversee a subtle shift in the power relations associated with garments: for the work of mending, unlike the world of production, is about people not machines.
"These pants have lived forever. I show people the crotch of these pants and they’re either horrified or really intrigued. A Thoreau quote originally inspired [them]:
“No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience. But even if the rent is not mended, perhaps the worst vice betrayed is improvidence. I sometimes try my acquaintances by such tests as this -- Who could wear a patch, or two extra seams only, over his knee? Most behave as if they believed that their prospects for life would be ruined if they should do it. It would be easier for them to hobble to town with a broken leg than with a broken pantaloon. Often if an accident happens to a gentleman's legs, they can be mended; but if a similar accident happens to the legs of his pantaloons, there is no help for it; for he considers, not what is truly respectable, but what is respected".
It is from "Walden", from the first section of it. And I read that years ago and I started my pants journey. And I started with a pair of Levi’s or whatever I had and then I moved downtown and raw denim was really cool and then I got a pair of raw denim that you can early start a good pair with.
This was my first pair… it was the only pair of pants I took with me tree planting, and I was in northern BC [British Columbia, Canada] for 3 months total and then ripped in the crotch, and there was this huge hole. And I went into town - we were living in the bush, in a tent, but you go into town every week and you have your day off. And you go and get groceries and do laundry. And I found a seamstress, in town… and I was standing there in my underpants as she was mending them. One of the things she had on the go, was [the] mending a pair of police officer’s pants, which is like fire-proof flame-retardant material and she was, ‘I’ll just use this.’ So then I have the cop pant leg fire-proof patch of material that’s mended into the pants.
Well, it’s eventually gone through too. And so it’s been just this ongoing thing, this is the original patch and then it’s layered and layered and layered and then it’s still going through."
Vancouver - January 2013
Photograph by Jeremy Calhoun