Advocates of slow living, sisters Nina and Sonya Montenegro, the creative duo behind The Far Woods, create work that is as impactful as it is beautiful. Living on an organic farm outside of Portland, Oregon, they embody many of the ideals that we think a lot about here at the Food and Fibers Project.
Their work always comes with an educational element, be it a poster about the environment, or a hand-mended article of clothing, and their Instagram feed is a regular source of inspiration, for both mending and creativity in general.
The sisters recently released The Mender’s Companion, a zine all about mending. It’s a must-have for anyone who is interested in learning about mending, and inspiration for anyone who already loves bringing their clothes back to life. It outlines basic mending methods with easy-to-follow illustrations, as well as provides ideas for how to incorporate more slow fashion principles into our everyday lives.
“When you fix something you are clever. You are resilient.”
Those are the first words of the zine, a call to action for all of us to be more involved with the clothes that we wear. We caught up with Nina and Sonya to learn more about mending and their creative practice.
When did you start mending?
We started mending for ourselves a number of years ago, starting with Sonya acquiring a pair of boots that kept her feet dry but left a gnarly hole in the Achilles’ heel of every sock she owned. Not willing to part with otherwise perfectly good (fancy) socks, a Google search opened the world of darning and patching instructionals. Armed with that new knowledge, no tattered piece of clothing was ever looked at the same again.
You are great advocates for visible mending – did you always mend in this style, or has this been something you transitioned to over time. If so, why?
When we were learning about different styles of mending we stumbled across Tom of Holland’s mending work and were immediately drawn to it. We loved that visible mending gives an opportunity to play with color; for example, an all one-color sweater can be jazzed up by using contrasting yarn to darn the elbows. And then of course there is the beautiful Boro tradition from Japan, mostly in indigo blues & whites, that often mixed and matched different patterned fabric, often not trying to hide the mending work at all and instead turning the combined fabric into something new altogether.
You do bespoke mending for people as well, and from the pieces that I have seen pictures of, they all feel like very personal projects for you and the owner of the piece of clothing. What’s it like mending someone else’s stuff?
It’s very sweet mending other people’s clothes. Mending can be a very quiet, contemplative act. If it’s a piece of clothing from someone we know, working on their clothes brings out many thoughts of them. If it’s not from someone we know, they must really love or depend on that piece of clothing to have sent it away to be mended – and it’s sweet to repair something that means a lot to someone else. It’s a connection to that person, an act of kindness that turns every stranger into a friend.
Why do you think mending is important?
Mending is important for so, so many reasons. We all wear clothes, they all wear out, so we all need mending. There are other more obvious reasons, such as lengthening the life of one’s clothes instead of shopping for new clothing to save money or to boycott the fast fashion industry that is a nightmare for the environment & the workers (see the movie The True Cost to learn more). But mending is also a really fun way to become a more active participant in your own wardrobe – once you’ve mended a pair of jeans, they aren’t just any old pair of pants any more, you’ve had your hand in the recreation of them. This sense of intimacy is something we’ve lost as our clothes are made overseas, by folks we don’t know, with techniques we haven’t a clue about.
If someone had to learn just one mending technique, what would you recommend it be?
It’s hard to pick just one! They are all fairly simple to learn and so useful, so if people have any interest, they should try to learn them all. But learning how to mend a hole in the crotch of a pair of pants can be the one skill that takes a pair of pants from totally unwearable to back in action!