Kate Sekules is a writer, clothes historian, mender and mending educator. A leading light in the visible mending movement, she has shown her work and taught the techniques and history of repair in universities, museums, and symposia, including New York University, Parsons, the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Textile Arts Center, RISD Museum, Columbia University Chicago, the Costume Society of America, the Textile Society of America, and the UK Association of Dress Historians.
Her writing has appeared in publications such as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, The New Yorker, The Guardian, The New York Times, and academic journals. She is a PhD candidate in material culture at the Bard Graduate Center, New York; holds a masters degree in Costume Studies from NYU, and runs the Menders Directory on her website. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.
Kate joined us to discuss her book Mend!: A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto, the Sew Her Name project, her mending style, and more!
Tell us about yourself.
I'm a writer-fashion historian-mender, in whatever order you like, and I'm ancient and English, though I've been in Brooklyn NY forever.
Tell us a little bit about how mending became such a focus in your life
Well, I always mended, but doing it VISIBLY just struck me out of the blue about 7 years ago, and then I got hooked. Because you can't visibly mend and not get hooked. Now I'm researching the history as my PhD topic. So I'll be a Doctor of Mending.
Why do you think mending is having a resurgence in today’s society?
People are HUGely interested in preserving resources, and not buying into (literally) the demented fashion industry that treats millions like shit to make about 50 old white men rich. Being a consumer is overrated. Mender-maker is much cooler.
Tell us something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know.
I was a professional boxer! Actually I think everyone knows that now because I put it in my book. I have no secrets. I'm really good at Scrabble?
We love how your have developed your own distinctive mending style. How did this come around? We’d love to hear about what inspires you.
The great thing about visible mending is you can't mend in anyone else's style (unless you copy patterns), so how I mend is just my handwriting. It's funny people say they can always tell it's me, but I think I mend in all SORTS of different styles! I guess not. I'm inspired by loads of visuals from all over, but I love historic mends, and so-called Art Brut stitchery.
We felt so moved by the way you used embroidery to embroider the names of women of color who have been victims of police brutality. What sparked this project and has it opened some difficult conversations?
Say Her Name—Kimberly Crenshaw's organization that advocates for the mothers of the murdered women—was the direct inspiration for Sew Her Name. It's just a way to keep these women, who aren't as well known as they should be, visible, and honor their lives.
It's humble and sincere just like mending itself.
I've been surprised how positively it's being received; I feared I might be inadvertently offending, but the only people who've been angry are a few Karens on instagram.
Why do you think visible (as opposed to invisible) mending is such a strong statement?
I often call it a badge of honor. You are announcing without words that you saved this old thing.
We’d love to hear more about how you came to write your book (and about how this is the first time the history of mending has been documented).
Well the book started in 2014 as one called "Let's Kill Fashion" and ended up here. It was a friend's idea to concentrate on my favorite thing: history. I know, right? I guess nobody thought it was important enough to trace.
And finally, what can you recommend to anyone who is new to darning and mending?
It can be daunting, but you are not going to make the clothes worse --it's already broken. Get mendspiration from #visiblemending and #mendmarch. You only need running stitch to patch, and darning is easier than you think.
Just start! You will be very pleased with yourself.
Ready to make a statement through visible mending and embroidery? Find everything you need to get started in our Deadstock Mending Kits.