Mending clothing with Sashiko stitching

By Emilie MacPhail

Mending clothing has been on my mind for many years. It all started at ACAD (now
AUArts) when I took an amazing Fibre Art History class with Dr. Jennifer Salahub. In this class I learned something that quite shocked me; that the textile industry is the
second leading polluter in the world. However, upon more thought it completely made sense. One only has to look around to see textiles everywhere; in their homes, their workplace, public spaces, on their person, and even in their cars!
Fabric surrounds us at all times. So naturally, the production of fabric must be incredibly hard on our natural resources. It also does not help that we have begun to view garments as disposable items, once they have a little wear or tear, a stain or when they are no longer in style. Fast Fashion has become as big of a part of our lives as fast food. We buy items, wear them a few times - or not at all - and later throw them into a landfill because we know a newer one is available that is “cooler” or more in-style.

Now, I know many of us make the effort to donate, trade, give away, or sell
the clothes we no longer wear. Some even exclusively shop second hand. These
are important steps to undertake. I truly believe that every little action we take to be more conscious of the way we interact with the world around us can make a difference. This is why I started to mend my clothing instead of throwing them away once they got a little worn out. I believe that mending clothing is a beautifully poetic way of interacting with your belongings. By mending, we acknowledge the importance of that garment in our lives. After all, it is worn out because we have worn and loved it so much. With a little bit of extra love, we can bring our beloved garments back to life so they can continue to protect our body and bring us joy. When one starts to view clothing in this way, a little hole here or there is just a sign of the garment’s appreciation of us.

The technique I like to use when mending my clothes is inspired by Japanese Boro,
which translates to “rags”, “ragged” or “tattered”. This style of repeatedly patching
garments, over many years and even over many generations, uses traditional Sashiko stitching to quilt patches onto the worn area of the garment. This technique was used at a time when Japanese people could not afford to purchase a whole new garment to replace a worn out one, as fabric was scarce and expensive for the average person. The goal was to strengthen the garment with the use of patches and stitching, allowing the garment to live on a little while longer. It was not about the aesthetic of the mend, but about utility.


Sashiko started with a simple running stitch, and has now evolved into hundreds of decorative stitching designs, of varying difficulty and detail. What attracted me to this style of mending was the honesty. The mender does not make the mending invisible. The stitching is obvious, embracing the fact that the garment has been fixed. It shows pride in the wear of our favourite clothing, and the love shown through the slow mending of our favourite garments. It is also incredibly accessible for all to undertake. All you need is nice cotton thread, a needle, a scrap piece of fabric that matches the fabric content of the garment, (100% cotton garment would benefit from a 100% cotton fabric scrap, and so on) and a little bit of patience and love. It allows one to slow down, immerse themselves in a delicate and
soothing task. Life can be incredibly hectic: taking the time to calm down and mend garments can be very therapeutic.

I have now been mending my clothes for over three years. I also mend the clothing of my family, friends, and people who follow me on Instagram who also love what mending stands for. I have also been trying to be more aware of the clothing items I purchase and the companies to whom I am willing to give my money. I often aim to buy items that are higher quality to begin with, so that they can stay with me for longer, paying attention to the way the garment is constructed and the fibre content. Purchasing natural, Eco-friendly garments that are made out of cotton, linen, bamboo, etc makes me feel like I am moving in the right direction. I am not perfect in this - I still find myself buying fast fashion items here and there, when I need a garment quickly and do not have the time to research a better alternative – but I am working on it. Nobody is perfect right?

When someone approaches me for mending work my first step is always to ask them to send me a photo of the garment/hole that needs mending. At this point, I can give them a quote and a timeline in which the work will be completed. If they are interested in going through with it we meet in person (here in Calgary) so that I can see the hole, discuss which stitch design to use on the garment and give the final quote. Then I work away and return the garment to the client when it is mended. That’s it!

If you have more questions about mending or have something you would like mended you can contact me through email:, or Instagram: @em_macphail.

If you are interesting in learning more about Sashiko, Boro, mending, or slow stitching here are a few of my favourite reference books:

Mending Matters by Katrina Rodabaugh

Slow Stitch by Claire Wellesley- Smith

Sashiko: Easy and Elegant Japanese Designs for Decorative Machine Embroidery by Mary S. Parker

Sashiko and Beyond: Techniques and projects for quilting in the Japanese style by Saikoh Takano




Emilie MacPhail spent five years at the Alberta College of Art and Design (now The Alberta University of the Arts), and graduated in 2018 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Fibre. Emilie dabbled in many different fibre related mediums and focused on a few different practices but they have all narrowed down to her love of nature and the organic world. While attending ACAD she taught herself to embroider and now works for Levi’s Canada as a Tailor and Embroidery artist.

1 comment

Good info and very nicely said

victoria March 18, 2019

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