We’ve long been fans of repairing and reusing, especially the growing movement towards embracing if not even celebrating the work of reparation by the revival of techniques that rather than make them disappear, make them appear more beautiful. A bit like the principles of Japanese kintsugi. So we were delighted to talk to Saskia, founder of the Mend House, 'a growing network of repairers, united by a common goal to champion repair and reuse in a wasteful society’:
Photo credits: Sophie Holden
TELL US ABOUT THE BEGINNING, HOW DID YOUR EXPLORATION INTO MENDING CLOTHES BEGIN, AND WHY?
Growing up in Scotland, I fell in love with the outdoors, mountains and the peace it brings. This love for the outside world fed my decision to think about how I can have an impact on reducing humans’ impact on the world. Other than my mountain obsession, I was really lucky to see fibre art up close from a young age. My dad used to be the director of a tapestry company called Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh. Being around thread and colour all the time, I was bound to do something with textiles.
WHO DID YOU LEARN FROM, IF ANYBODY, AND HOW?
My first memories of sewing are helping mum sew on school name tags to my clothes – in my head I was super helpful but I’m sure I slowed her down and they probably all fell off. After that it was my art teacher at primary school. Here I was lucky enough to be introduced to sewing and fabrics and how they, just like paint and paper can become art.
When I was little, my Granny gave me a sewing box – I couldn’t have been more ungrateful – all I wanted at the time was a Nintendo game – this is an official apology to you Granny – you knew me better than I did! Granny used to make clothes for her, dad and my aunty, she’s mended my Teddy Bear’s paws a million times and occasionally stitches a patch onto Baba’s trousers. Maybe she’s been my inspiration all along!
I studied Fashion Design with Business Studies at The University of Brighton and learnt technical skills from pattern making, fabric development and personal creative expression through clothing with Louise Gray. We also did a year of interning, where I did placements at Raeburn and Nicholas Daley. These were massive stepping stones to where I am now. Raeburn, whose focus is on sustainability within fashion and Nicholas Daley whose business encompasses community, craftsmanship and culture, and is also where I now also work part-time in production.
The gorgeous Molly Martin taught a series of mending workshops in 2020 with Toast and this is where I learnt how to mend. Molly has always been so supportive and kind and she’s an incredible artist.
I’m constantly learning with mending and how you run a business – every encounter is helping me form what MEND HOUSE is becoming. My favourite recent encounter was at the Handweavers Studio & Gallery in Finsbury Park, where Grace gave me a spontaneous tutorial on felting. A truly kind and caring moment and person.
WE'D LOVE TO HEAR MORE ABOUT YOUR SLOGAN 'REPAIR BEATS REPLACE'. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THIS ETHOS?
The questions I asked myself when coming up with a slogan:
What different words are there for mending? Repair
What word can sum up our wasteful society? Replace
What positive word can I put in the middle of these two words that describe what the MEND HOUSE does and what we’re trying to achieve? Beats
What images come up for you when you think of that slogan? The image of what the slogan feels like for me, was conjured up when I went to see Magdelena Abakanowitz recent exhibition with my best friend Alice. We said that the massive textile sculptures looked like different items of clothing.
Now for me, the slogan makes me think of an image of a jacket that has been completely patchworked, you can’t tell what the original colour of the jacket is. The patchwork jacket is a superhero going to save a sad looking t-shirt character from being dropped into the sea. Clothes hold stories so maybe there could be a mending comic book incoming...
With more consumers being interested in repairs, the demand of repairers is growing fast. This is one of the reasons to encourage people to come to the repair workshops I’ve started doing. Maybe you’ll come to meet people or to learn a new skill or maybe you’ll love it so much you want to start your own repair business or work for one!
AT SSAW COLLECTIVE WE LOVE REPRESENTING PEOPLE AND BUSINESSES WHOSE WORK IS NOURISHING. CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW IT MAKES YOU FEEL TO BRING GARMENTS A NEW LEASE OF LIFE?
Listening and responding to the stories from my clients are key to what I do. From clients’ friends’ dogs jumping up and ripping a hole in a 1/6 dress, made entirely by hand, naturally dyed and made using no electricity (making by candlelight?!) to a client’s mum bringing over pillowcases from Germany in the war; the stories are sometimes funny, nourishing and personal.
WHAT GAVE YOU THE INSPIRATION TO WORK IN THE WAY YOU DO? CAN YOU REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS / WHEN YOU DECIDED THAT YOUR APPROACH TO CLOTHING AND FASHION WOULD BE FOCUSED ON MENDING?
When I graduated from Brighton, I had so much left-over fabric and yarn – I wasn’t sure what to do with it all, so I made and sold hats from my fabric remnants. Molly Martin’s mending workshop through TOAST then popped up on my Instagram. After that, I started mending my own clothes, friends’ clothes and MEND HOUSE slowly grew from there!
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE WORKSHOPS THAT YOU RUN? HOW DO THEY WORK? AND HOW DOES IT MAKE YOU FEEL BEING ABLE TO SHARE AND TEACH THESE RESOURCEFUL SKILLS?
The workshops started because it’s great being a repairer and making peoples treasurers last longer, but I wanted to create a space that people can come together in person and learn a skill using their hands. It’s amazing what stopping for a few hours, maybe after knackering day of work or an afternoon that might have been otherwise spent on your own, does for your brain. Before the workshops, I always say, look through your wardrobe. I bet either you know you have things that need mending or maybe you’ll find something that you just want to stitch on and revitalise. I’m also trying to encourage mending as presents. For example, for Father’s Day I mended a pair of my dad’s jeans that he hadn’t worn for 20 years and for my mum’s birthday I mended a pair of her favourite linen dungarees.
The workshops themselves usually run for about 2.5/3 hours. It’ll either be an evening session (from 6.30-9pm) or an afternoon session (3-6pm) on a weekend. You’ll learn different styles of mending, get time to practise the technique and time to practise on an item that you bring in. All materials and equipment are provided! Locations vary, it’s fun to do pop-up style workshops! We’ve started running clothes mending workshops at Gail Bryson’s screen-printing studio in De Beauvoir; the next one is a darning workshop on the 9th of November.
We’re also hosting a woven garment repair workshop with Culford Theatre Collective on the 16th of November in De Beauvoir. Details can be found on MEND HOUSE’s Instagram (links for tickets at the end of the article).
We’ve also been part of events like the Festival of the Girl in Angel on the 21st of October. Here we spoke to young kids ages 7-11 about all things mending, the environment and running a business.
We’ve got a couple more in the works that you can keep an eye out for on the Instagram or by emailing us.
IS THERE A PART OF YOUR PRACTICE THAT YOU ENJOY THE MOST? OR PERHAPS A SPECIFIC PROJECT OR STYLE OF PROJECT THAT STANDS OUT, AND IF SO, WHY?
Mending is a positive practise which has been around for over 2000 years. I’m excited to see how mending will evolve, but it’s cool how repairers are still using some of the oldest ways of repair like darning.
It’s got to be the people I work with and who I’ve met through mending. Whether its clients, people coming through in the workshops, interactions in printing shops or when I’m flyering, everyone’s been super supportive. Meeting my first client Cat, through Molly Martin, was really special. She sees mending as an artform. Mending Cat’s clothes and spending so much time with her has been equally special. Mending her Ma Ke dress, I talked about earlier (the 1/6 dress which got ripped by her friend’s dog) was 100% my favourite project. I usually use scrap/deadstock fabric for mending, but for this I sourced some silk from Borovick Fabrics in Soho. The men who run the shop are incredible and I love that I was able to incorporate a story into the mend. Mending then becomes not just about repairing but storytelling too.
WHAT ARE YOUR ASPIRATIONS FOR THE FUTURE?
The BIG DREAM is to have a brick-and-mortar space. Having personal, face-to-face chats with clients is important to me because especially with challenging repairs or with items that have sentimental value, its important to have that big level of trust with the repairer. Maybe I’m old school hoping to have a physical space but also nowadays, space is KING. I’m imagining Mend House holding workshops, running summer school sessions for kids, sound sessions, reading spaces, poetry nights for people to use… WATCH THIS SPACE PEOPLE.