Words by Leanne Cloudsdale
A couple of years ago, I took a pair of brogues to a cobbler for some TLC on the sole unit. Hung behind the till was a small, framed tapestry, emblazoned with the following phrase, in moss-green cross-stitch, ‘Shoes worth wearing, are worth repairing’. Dusty and faded from the sun, it had clearly been there a long time – but the strength of the message still chimed loud and clear. I sauntered out, ticket stub in hand, feeling like I was doing some good in the world.
Let’s admit it. We need to pull our socks up when it comes to looking after stuff. There’s no need to relegate something to the back of the wardrobe just because it’s looking a bit knackered. The odd tear, a random hole, that threadbare collar – these are all the hallmarks of things you love, so why not twist your melon on the notion of newness and think about repairing them instead?
Once we recognise the perfection of imperfection, we can kickstart a clothing repair revolution. Battered, broken, but never beaten, our well-worn garbs are ripe for a patchwork intervention. All it takes is a change in attitude. The sentiment of mending brings the human element back into focus. A hand-sewn patch or visible fix is a signal towards the slow road. A purposeful connection with the garment. A badge of honour. A way of celebrating an outfit well-lived.
All this trendy-mending business isn’t new. Far from it. History buffs tell us the populations of ancient China and Egypt were bang into patchwork. Sometimes referred to as ‘pieced work’, they used it for clothes, wall hangings and furniture. Nothing was ever wasted. Nothing. Every scrap of cloth, every clump of wool, these guys (and girls) made use of it. Over in Japan, wives were rustling up patchwork liners for their samurai toting husbands to wear underneath suits of armour. Definitely warmer and more comfortable than just the clank of cold metal against the skin.
Here in the west, patching really took off in the 13th century. Visualise if you will, bearded folk, patiently quilting to the sound of a nearby harpsichord, ale in hand. Medieval society really took a shine to sewing geometric shapes together. The folk-art element of quilting within the community had become a serious pastime, especially as a means of recording daily lifestyle and events. Think of it as Ye Olde Instagram.
For anyone who thinks it’s a female thing, you’re wrong. Blokes were into it too. Big time. Convalescing soldiers have been patching during recovery since the Crimean War (1853-1856). Piecing together remnants from old military uniforms to make incredible-looking quilts and keep their hands agile and minds occupied. Then there was the domestic nitty gritty angle of adding patches to strengthen or reinforce an item of clothing to prolong its working life – with no shame attached. Imagine the time when our ancestors probably only had two outfits to their name (if they were lucky!). No wonder they fixed things instead of chucking them away.
A result from our Universal Reworks: Visible Repairs service.
This, I suppose, is where Universal Works jigs into the frame. Loyal fans will already be aware of the iconic UW ‘ghost-patch’, which you can spot incorporated into garments across the collections. It sits silently on the overshirt, the shirt, the jacket. Four smart lines of stitching forming a rectangle - a reverie of patches past. A memento from regulation military uniforms, where size labels or name tags would have been sewn in. The ‘ghost-patch’ helps make sense of the history of the things we wear. It gives a definite nod to durability and broadcasts the Universal Works ethos of making clothes tough enough to outlive us.
There are also some UW. styles that intentionally champion the patchy side of life. These are non-repaired items, freshly made by the experts with deliberate pops of contrast cloth that raise the profile of mending and promote the aesthetic of longevity. You can button-up the Patched Shirt in White Poplin or Classic Navy Shirting Stripes. Or kickback in the Patched Fatigue Pant with laid-back dropped crotch in Contrast Cotton Camo or Indigo Plaid. And obviously, the look wouldn’t be UW without a cherry on the top - AKA - the Patched Bakers Jacket in Cotton Twill, Camo or Plaid.
When I last spoke to UW. founder David Keyte, he was telling me about a book he always returns to, when he’s looking for inspiration. Tir a’Mhurain (translated as: Land of Bent Grass) is a collection of black & white photographs taken by Paul Strand and his wife Hazel during a three month visit to the Outer Hebrides in 1954. He captures remote rural life with a no-frills brilliance that combines wild landscapes with portraits of island inhabitants. Children stand shyly next to weather-worn parents. Young crofters squint at the camera in dungarees and darned jumpers. There are tank tops, rolled-up sleeves, well-washed aprons, scuffed elbows. All worn with great dignity and pride.
I can see why it’s one of David’s favourites. He’s a bloke who isn’t afraid to rejoice in the second life you breathe into mended garments – a rare thing, in this game of conspicuous consumption. He gets especially chuffed at the sight of someone wearing an old piece of Universal Works clothing that they’ve altered or adapted to suit. But when he spots someone who’s used the Universal Reworks: Visible Repairs service, that gets an even bigger whoop! (So, if you see him running down the street after you, trying to take a pic, now you know why). The man, the brand, they’re both big on visible mending. Patch it up and show the world your clothing’s battle scars. New isn’t always better.
The cobbler who spruced up my brogues was right. Stuff worth wearing, is worth repairing.