Muse About Mending: The Difference Between Good Enough and Just Right

Visible Mending photo: jparadisirn 2020

I’m learning to mend, not in metaphor, but in actuality. I’m learning to darn, using running stitches (Sashiko) to repair some of my clothing, such as socks and favorite sweaters.

Historically a women’s art, mending was necessary to preserve the hand knitted socks, sweaters, and blankets made from hand-spun fibers of wool or flax. Making common household articles literally from the ground up requires a lot of work, and preserving their usefulness by mending them was a necessary homemaking skill.

In modern times, with our culture’s inclination towards “fast clothing” and fashion trends, mending has become a lost art. However, growing concerns about the environment and our planet’s health reveal that used clothing, whether donated or thrown away, ends up in landfills. Fabrics made of natural fibers like wool, cotton, and linen take up space, but decompose more readily than synthetic fabrics of acrylic or lycra, which may not decompose at all. When they do decompose, they leave bits of microscopic plastics that find their way into waterways, the food chain, and from there, our bodies.

Learning to mend, reusing, and thereby reducing discarded clothing in landfills protects the planet for our children, our health, and saves money.

Whether you invest in natural fiber clothing, or your budget only allows for acrylic sweaters and socks, they can be mended.

Mending can be done the traditional way, matching darning yarns or threads to the garment. A newer trend, called visible mending, is gaining popularity. In this method, darning yarn and thread are chosen to contrast or compliment the color of the original garment, creating artful abstract areas of stitching to mend holes and tears.

Although the hand-sewing skills required for visible mending are simple, I have found they require practice, like any new skill. So far I’ve practiced on two pairs of socks, and three sweaters. While my stitches still have a way to go before they fully resemble work done by a more practiced hand, there’s been improvement with each project.

While mending, I remembered learning to manage IV drips in nursing school. This was not only before smart pumps, but in an era where maintenance fluids, antibiotics, and even some drip medications were administered without pumps to adult patients. Nurses needed to know the drip rate (gtt/minute) of the tubing used, they were either “macro” or “micro,” then used a calculation to determine how many drips per minute would infuse the volume of the IV bag over the prescribed infusion time.

One morning during a med surg clinical rotation, I held the tubing’s roller clamp between my fingers, while holding up my watch with the other hand, counting each drop of an antibiotic as it entered the drip chamber. I was trying to achieve 16 drops per minute, but the fluid dripped at 15 or 17. I’d struggled with the task for several minutes before my instructor entered the room.

We raised the IV pole, and then lowered it, without luck. 16 drips per minute evaded us.

She said to me, You like to get things right the first time don’t you? Not being able to is frustrating for you.

She’s right. Some people are satisfied with close enough. I prefer as good as possible. I think the latter is an admirable quality in a nurse.

But counting IV drip rates is a waste of a nurse’s precious time. I’m grateful hospitals realized this, and now IV pumps are used for almost all IV fluids and medications. I suspect the financial investment in pumps came about to prevent medication errors rather than concern for nurses. Regardless, it lessens our workload, while increasing patient safety.

I muse on this memory while learning to mend socks and sweaters. I’m satisfied with good enough, knowing my skills will improve.

I smile, happy to I realize I know the difference.