Making and Mending – and finding meaning along the way

At Nepenthe, we have long had The Free Box, a place where people have dropped off stuff they no longer need and picked up stuff that others are passing on (think books, kitchen ware, clothing, even furniture.)

In Great Britain, Repair Cafes are springing up – places where you can bring something to be fixed, and/or to learn how to fix it yourself, instead of adding one more item to the landfill or the floating island of trash we read so much about.

Repair Cafes – A better way

Big Sur has long held traditions of men and women coming together to make things. The colorful patchwork curtains that adorn the stage at our local Grange Hall where made in the early 70’s by a collective of locals. Barn-raisings were “a thing” in my childhood, and you’ll find mention of them in Henry Miller’s book “Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch,” and Nancy Hopkins’ “These are my Flowers.”

Long before the road closure of 2017, when my particular Stitch and Bitch took off, the crew at Nepenthe gathered yarn and dumped out their stashes on tabletops in the restaurant, knitting “dump” sweaters on the round on long winter nights. These knitters were mostly men, knitting during breaks from flipping burgers, waiting tables, or mixing drinks.

When the Phoenix Shop at Nepenthe started carrying Rowan yarns some twenty-odd years ago, my mother Holly Fassett launched a weekly knitting class on the terrace at Nepenthe. It was $15 for a three hour lesson. Many accomplished knitters showed up just for the camaraderie.

Later, Holly moved her classes to her home, monthly instead of weekly, for free. Still ongoing, these gatherings move from one living room to the next, with potluck and often a group project, like our community baby blankets, in the mix. To this day, a basket of knitted squares is always being gathered together, and as soon as a baby is on its way, someone starts crocheting borders and piecing them together.

For me, it was the long (10 month) double road closure of 2017 that imbedded a love of the Stitch and Bitch in my heart. With no access north or south, we were essentially living on an island. Nepenthe can generate its own power and had months of food in the larder, so we weren’t going to starve. But what we really felt the need for was community, and the Stitch and Bitch gave us a way to come together around our creativity.

At first I saw the Stitch and Bitch as a social time in which we could pass on skills and inspire others to create. But as the weeks went by I noticed that many people brought simple mending to work on, projects like a button to sew onto a shirt sleeve, a project that had languished on a shelf somewhere for years.

I heard comments like “I never give myself time to do this when I’m home alone,” and “I love doing this with other people!” One woman brought her beading and created a line of Africa-inspired earrings. Others came with nothing and left with needles, yarn, and a project to work on with the know-how to do it.

During that long period of isolation, I took advantage of the solitude to paint many paintings, enjoying the beauty of the views from Nepenthe with only condors for company. But I found myself longing for something painting couldn’t give me. I found what I was looking for in the Stitch and Bitch.

There is something about working with textiles, yarn and needles or fabric and a thread, that soothes the soul. As my uncle Kaffe once said, “when I am knitting, I am home.”

This year, we are launching a four month series of Stitching gatherings at the Monterey Museum of Art. We will be creating a schedule of times in which to come together to make and to mend. Not a class or a workshop, but a place and a space to learn what you need to know, and pass on your own expertise at the same time.

Is it a political act to fix something instead of just buying a new replacement? Perhaps it is. Instead of adding to the landfill, we are making something that once was useful useful again. I believe, also, that a mended garment is more beautiful than a new one. Though I admire the adroit hand of a master mender, rendering the fix almost invisible, frankly I like seeing the visible stitches. I like knowing this garment has lived a little. Like Kintsugi, the Japanese tradition of mending broken pottery with a seam of gold. Or Sashiko, the tradition of visible mending born out of necessity and now an art form and a means of self-expression, not to mention global consciousness. Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.

Sashiko – visible mending

In Meghan Racklin’s piece in VOX (see link above) Colleen Hill, a curator at the Museum at FIT says, “people are starting to dial back and think more about what makes clothing meaningful, and I would imagine that visible mending is part of that.” She goes in to say that visible mending “tells us that we can, in fact, have a connection to our clothing. And that that connection can continue. And rather than seeing something that is perhaps a little shabby or worn out, [and] seeing that as a negative thing or something that we need to replace, to in fact embrace it as something that we love and that expresses who we are.”

Best of all, it is not only the item we are repairing that is mended. It is something in ourselves. Today, taking the time to sit and stitch – fixing something broken or creating something new – is almost a radical act. Taking the time to pick up a dropped stitch, mend a moth hole, sew on a button – it feels like nourishment for the soul. It is reclaiming our time, it is the deliberate act of not rushing off to the next thing, or simply buying something to replace something that is not quite right, but rather ending cycle, retrieving possibility, repurposing. In honoring the object with our time, attention, and intention, we are also honoring ourselves and the value of our own equally vulnerable and transitory lives.

In preparing for my upcoming show at the Monterey Museum of Art (Kaffe Fassett and Erin Lee Gafill Color Duets) I am assembling many handcrafted items to display, part of the narrative of our family’s tradition as makers. I’m not just writing up an inventory, but actually picking up each hand-made sweater, scarf, shawl, and cushion and carefully running my hand over each item. I am holding them close, feeling their surfaces and textures, while looking for damage that time and use inevitably bring.

After a couple of YouTube videos to refresh my mending know-how, I have spent many pleasant afternoons repairing and making whole these treasured garments. In one instance I was struck by the many missing stitches in one needlepoint I made when my children were very young. I can feel the sense of myself at that time over twenty years ago in every fiber of the cushion. I can feel the sense of rushing in my younger self, and the urgency to create and complete something beautiful while juggling too many balls in the air at once.

Today my needlework is more methodical, finished, no gaping holes. I am proud of my mastery. But I am also touched by the sense of time and place and self that the older piece reveals. As I mend torn edges, I choose to allow many “flaws” to remain. They tell a story. They tell my story.

I hope you will join me for some of our community “Make and Mend” sessions coming up – and that you will share with me your own stories of making and mending.