Art of the Week: Fast Fashion Be Darned – Celia Pym Brings New Life to Old Garb

Left: First one’s the best by Celia Pym, 2015. 60 sports socks mended with wool and acrylic yarn. Right: Siri Johansen and Celia Pym. Credit: Celia Pym

By Sofia Roberson, Alliance Intern from Reed College ‘25

Celia Pym is a London-based artist that specializes in visible mending, a textile repair technique where, instead of hiding the fix to restore it to its original state, the maker uses it as decoration. Although Pym uses her mending to close holes in clothing, she simultaneously opens up new forms of resistance against consumerism through every visible stitch. According to Pym, her art is most concerned with evidence of damage and how repair can draw attention to areas of wear. This can reveal details about the owner and their relationship with the garment.

Many artists such as Pym have also been using their DIY skills to demonstrate that it is easier to repair things than you think. The industry of fast fashion continues to boom and issues of textile pollution and labor exploitation remain pressing. The textile manufacturing process exposes workers and consumers alike to toxic chemicals and dyes, according to a review published in Chemical Management in Textiles in Fashion. Learning a skill like sewing or knitting will elongate the lifespan of clothing while also tackling the fashion industry’s issues.

Reminiscing on the Old and Appreciating the New

Pym grew up in a household of makers and learned how to knit and weave at an early age. Her interest in visible repair would not come until 2007, however, following the passing of her great-uncle, Roland Pym. He left her a hand-knitted sweater riddled with holes at the end of the sleeves – evidence of all the time he spent sitting in his chair drawing. 

In an interview done with Studio International Pym said, “The damage in a garment is the echo of the physicality of the body. It is why the clothes of the people we have loved are particularly important.” Clothing holds memories; it is why you can’t bear to get rid of your old high school t-shirt, and why Pym decided to re-explore methods of visible knitting and darning on her Uncle Roly’s sweater. Through the process of mending, we are able to strengthen our relationship with the clothing.

Pym emphasizes the use of visible mending as a sort of ‘memorialization’ of the garment, but she is also a firm believer in its ability to revive the clothing and even increase its worth. She hopes her work will change people’s perceived value of repaired things: “There has to be a shift to valuing things that have been lived in. That’s what mending is about, in a way. It’s about being able to see our belongings afresh and to imagine that they are still good – if not better – with the additional mend,” according to an interview done in The Guardian.

Sadly, the sentiment that things can be valuable if they are not new has been lost in modern day. We live in a consumerist culture that encourages people to buy, buy, buy. If something breaks, people will get rid of it. Some people will buy a new one, others will wait until they can. But why can’t we focus on improving the things we already have?

Using the materials we already own is the most sustainable choice we can make as consumers, but the cultural shame that exists surrounding owning old items is still very strong. That’s not even to mention the shame society puts on men for knowing historically ‘feminine’ skills like sewing and knitting. Pym’s visible repairs work to change our notions of what is worthy and exposes the ridiculousness of our society’s beliefs regarding old things.

Mending your clothes is also a better option than donating them, as a whopping 84% of clothing donated to second-hand stores ends up in the landfill anyways, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Craftivism Can Make a Difference with Every Stitch

The various yarns Pym uses for the repairs are colorful and her darning style is unique, almost creating the effect of sunshine around the holes. It is reminiscent of Sashiko, a type of Japanese embroidery used for decorative reinforcement of clothing, and a common source of inspiration for visible menders.

In decorating the holes and tatters in this way, Pym has changed the way I view clothing customization and has made me realize that you can make repairs look noticeably beautiful on purpose. It is also a way to show off your darning skills for the fellow crafters in disguise. 

Pym is not the only person hoping to send a message with her art. Many others have also been using crafts such as sewing and knitting to start conversations about social justice – these people are known as ‘craftivists.’ The term ‘craftivism’ was coined by crafter Betsy Greer, who described it in her book as “a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper and your quest for justice more infinite.”

I believe our individual agency to be one of the strongest tools of sustainability; using our bodies to create something with purpose can create a difference not only within ourselves and our own mentalities, but within our communities as well. Pym loves this aspect of mending, explaining in an interview how “you are faced with a problem…and it is not a case of designing that form. Rather, you respond to it. It often seems impossible (beyond one’s skills), but you can solve it if you inch your way in.” 

After seeing Pym’s darning on another one of her works, Hope’s Sweater, I was inspired to pick up a darning loom and try it out for myself. I am yet to get the hang of it, but hope to add ‘craftivist’ to my resumé soon. You can purchase the loom I use here.

Celia Pym’s work on mending makes profound statements about sustainability and our capabilities as people. If we work together to tackle broader, systemic issues, we will eventually solve them, just like we can mend that mangled sock at the bottom of the laundry bin. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *