Hannah Heaf

Research Project

Why we mend: A contemporary history of garment mending, examining techniques, teaching and emotional connection 

This research explores the position of mending within design and society.

Material Culture, Contemporary, Europe, Textiles, Applied Arts, Lived Experience, Knowledge Production, Conservation

Hannah Heaf, Mended denim Jeans, 2021 © Hannah Heaf

The act of mending holds a nuanced position within fashion and culture, often reflecting societal values in its application. This research aims to explore how mending is influenced by, and impacts upon design. While historically the mending of garments has been connected to low socio-economic status and gendered domesticity, in a contemporary context it indicates environmentalist, subversive and postmodern aesthetic values.

Motivation behind the practice has varied greatly over time and the implicit association to gender, class and social responsibility has placed repair within the arena of identity politics and commodity activism. This research will trace historical instances of mending, specifically the way mending skills have been circulated, in both global and intimate person-to-person exchanges over time. This epistemological approach, examining the transfer of craft knowledge and attitudes to material literacy, aims to situate mending within a broader examination of hierarchies of knowledge, as well as exploring the value of haptic practice.
The visible / invisible dichotomy within mending impacts the way in which repair is designed and received, and this research explores how the increase in visible repair as an aesthetic device has introduced questions of utility and authenticity. The collaborative aspect of repair is also addressed within this study, as the connection between the original maker, the wearer and the mender create unique aesthetic and emotional effects in objects. This emotive and narrative worth, which is added to an object through repair has led to a redressing of value in a designed object. This research aims to identify the ways in which mending and repair interact with design ideology and consumer culture, allowing for an analysis of the place repair holds within the fashion system, as well as possible future application of the practice.

Hannah Heaf, Mended wool jumper, 2021 © Hannah Heaf

©2022 by V&A/RCA History of Design MA