Make do and mend
Yesterday, a woman came into the yarn shop clutching a grey shawl to her bosom, asking about repairing moth holes. Knitwear repair is one of my sidelines, so I nodded enthusiastically and asked to take a look.
The shawl was a charcoal grey swath of fine-gauge stockinette, in a cashmere that had been lightly felted from years of loving wear, probably one yard wide by four yards long, and had been absolutely ravished by clothes moths. Moths happen to fancy cashmere quite a lot, in all its buttery sumptuousness, and eat it right up. The shawl had a half-dozen large holes, the size of a silver dollar with the fabric completely gone, a dozen or more moderate holes where a line of stitching had been eaten away (almost always vertical or diagonal, wouldn’t you know, which is harder to fix as more live threads are cut), and twenty or more pinholes, where just a few threads had been nibbled on, but live stitches were exposed.
Insert a sad sigh here.
The shawl’s owner had been to a different repair person on the North Shore, who had reknit some of the holes in this customer’s sweaters (as the infestation of moths hadn’t been restricted to just the shawl, oh, no), and who had told her that the cost to do the same for this shawl would simply be astronomical. I’m not sure what response she was expecting to get from me, having already been told as much, but the reply she got was worse.
I refused to take the job, for any price.
In fact, I refused to quote a price. I sized up the project quickly, and realized that it would be sheer misery to fix this shawl. The trifecta of a painful repair was here – fine gauge stitches (hard to see, hard to replicate), dark color, and huge, numerous holes. I explained that we were easily looking at 15-20 hours of work, and that I could do it, but that with my life as it is (full-time graduate student, 1-year-old at home), there was no way I would do it. After she left, I thought to myself, well, maybe I should have offered to do it for $2000, and I’d plan on a 6-month turnaround time, because I could probably stand to spend 1 hour a week on it, for a very protracted number of weeks. But even then…
What I did was explain what I would do if it had been my scarf, which is to chop up the undamaged pieces and sew them into something – a little neck cozy, a cushion cover, a teddy bear. Or, chop up the pieces and sew them together into a skinny patchwork tube scarf. She was unconvinced.
Then, she asked how, if one were to repair this, one might do such a thing. I have no secrets, so I explained. You’d take a sewing needle, and you’d thread a matching yarn through the fabric and stitches in a manner like duplicate stitch, “reknitting” as you go, but anchoring the new yarn to the existing stitches on the side. I directed her toward an instructional book that helped me learn how to do knitwear repair, Flawless Knit Repair by Rena Crockett. And I assured her that, yes, the repair was possible. But would be tedious. And that I simply could not take the job on, nor did I know anyone in the area who I could direct her to.
And you know what? It’s been haunting me. Not that I want to do the job, or that I need the money (although, let’s be honest, I’d be happy with extra pin money), or that I was interested in working on this shawl. It boils down to an ideological issue, and one that I’ve been on the other side of before, with Felix Shoe Repair, the guy who just won’t fix my shoes. The issue is that I think good things deserve to be repaired, and should not be thrown away. At least three times now, I’ve brought a pair of shoes to Felix in Harvard Square, and each time, he looks at my (admittedly cheap and run-down) shoes, and says that he won’t repair them. It’s not worth it, and the repair won’t be a good one, even if he spends a lot of time on it. Every time I’m incensed, because I know that the repair is possible, I just don’t have the tools and materials to do it. He does! And I know that it’d cost the same to buy a new pair of shoes, maybe even less. But these shoes are still good, and have life left in them, and isn’t this part of the problem of today’s society where everything is so disposable, that we’re not attached to anything, that we just waste and waste, and don’t worry, we can just buy another cheap plastic…
And so here I was, on the other side of the counter. This woman was saying the words I know so well, “But I’d hate to just throw it out.” “I can pay, it’s not that.” “How many hours do you think it’d take?” “Well, if you won’t fix it, how would you recommend I do it myself?” “Sure, I understand. No, I know, I understand. Thank you.”
Dear woman, I wish I had unlimited hours in my life to fix your shawl. I wish that I had a summer vacation where all my needs were met, and all I needed to do in a day was roll out of bed, stroll out onto my veranda by the sea, and work on restitching what the moths so violently and thoughtlessly effaced. I wish that for this work I’d do for you, I’d be paid handsomely in gold and silks and champagne and strawberries, and in dividends paid into a 401K so I could live comfortably into old age without worrying about how the bills will get paid. While we’re at it, I wish that the shawl were actually a different shawl, more interesting and less felted, maybe in a light cream color. Because even in this fantasyland of fixing your shawl, we’re talking a lot of hours of tedious work, on a boring project, and really, I’d rather be going for a walk or reading Mother Goose with my little guy.
How do you put a price tag on that?