Themes / Home economy

How to Empty the Mending Basket

A Practical Approach to Getting the Most from Your Clothes

Phoebe Garrett

Manna Matters April 2023

Nothing ever wears out or breaks in exactly the same way, even if it seems like every pair of socks always gets a hole in the same spot on the heel. Every mending task is unique. The size, shape, and severity of a hole, crack or missing piece will always be different, as will the condition of the remaining material that borders it. Time must be taken to assess these issues and an appropriate patch, glue, or replacement part found as well as carefully applied.

It’s work. Sometimes quite hard work—especially when a replacement item could be making its way right to the door with just the click of a button! But getting the most out of our planet’s ever-dwindling resources means mending much more often (see MM April 2021).

But where to start? Let’s take a look at mending clothes. Many homes have a ‘mending basket’ where damaged garments are put until they are forgotten, grown out of, or become hideously unfashionable. It’s not unusual to suggest that the mending basket is where clothes goes to die. How to change this? The short answer is putting aside time and getting a bit of guidance. Giving a much-loved item a new lease on life can be very satisfying and, when done with others, a lot of fun!

In the past, women with handwork to do (often the household’s mending) would gather and do their work while singing, sharing stories and gossiping. Round up some friends or family and enjoy each other’s company while getting the work done. An added bonus is being able to draw on one another’s skills and expertise. If there is truly no time in the day or the mend is too complex, get help. Be sure to offer appropriate compensation even if the mender is not professional. Even better, find someone to teach the skills needed. Repair cafés are popping up all over the place filled with helpful tools and people who know how to use them. If not fixed locations, they are often run as events at neighbourhood houses or libraries.

When it is too worn to wear

Even when carefully maintained and mended, clothing eventually wears out. But this does not mean it all has to go to landfill. Break a garment down and its component parts are still useful. Having a stash of odd buttons, zips or patching material is great when the next garments needs one—if you won’t use them, donate them to an op shop for someone who will. Some metal parts might be recyclable, such as bra underwires (check with your local council or recycling depot). There are also just beginning to be some textile recycling options available.

Next at home there is the rag bag. Cotton clothing (such as a T-shirt) will yield rags excellent for cleaning since it is so absorbent. Cut anything going in the rag bag into useful sizes and shapes first. Other garments can be cut into long strips and used for anything from wrapping presents to tying up tomatoes. Once all the useful parts have been processed into their new forms, what is left must be disposed of. Natural fibres such as cotton, wool, linen and silk can be composted, but more than a handful of scraps will be too much for a home-compost system. The last resort is landfill.


The word anticipatching has been coined by the author to cover the practices of considering the mending process at the beginning of a garment’s life. There are several ways to do it. Having a smaller amount of good quality clothes will mean less mending is required. A garment can’t be left to languish in the mending basket if it is needed on a regular basis, so it will get mended! Choosing natural fibre clothing will mean it can eventually decompose and nurture the soil.

It is also important to know your wear patterns. The cut of a garment will affect which areas are under strain. If you know which parts of your clothes you are hardest on, you can avoid the ones which are more likely to fail there or reinforce those spots ahead of time. It is also true that ‘a stitch in time saves nine.’ Keep an eye on problem areas and make that mend before it becomes a huge hole.

Mending can be hard work and always takes time, but is also rewarding. Not only do old favourites get a new lease of life, a good mend is incredibly satisfying in itself whether the repair is cleverly hidden or the patch contrasting boldly. Even more important, a stitch in time saves our planet’s precious resources.

Below is a handy flowchart to help make landfill a last resort, click here for a hi-res version.

Phoebe is a maker, artist, weaver, and experimenter in historical textile craft techniques for a greener future.