Visible Mending Is the Easy Repair Technique for Transforming Sofas & More for Less

published May 29, 2024
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Carina Romano

The first time you see something that’s been visibly mended, you tend to remember it. For me, it was a pair of patched-up jeans created by textile artist Katrina Rodabaugh, the author of “Make Thrift Mend” and “Mending Matters.” Something about those hand-stitched denim patches struck a chord. I loved the sustainable ethos behind Rodabaugh’s work but also the poetry of giving new life to a garment in a way that was obvious — not hidden. The patches of a visibly mended object tell a story and invite conversation. If you’re curious to learn more about this practice — and how it relates to home decor — you’ve come to the right place. Read on for everything you need to know about visible mending. 

What Is Visible Mending?

Visible mending is a style of repairing something that ​​makes the mended area obvious. Rather than attempt to conceal the patch or darn, visible menders draw attention to their caretaking. Visible mending is most frequently associated with clothing repair, but the phrase “visible mending” could be applied to more than just clothing. “Methods for mending your clothes translate to home textiles as well,” says Jessica Marquez, the author of “Make and Mend.” “You can patch and repair bedding, furniture, curtains, and anything you can pass a needle and thread through.”

As Rodabaugh points out, there’s a long tradition of mending home items in an obvious way. “Antique textiles are some of my best teachers,” she says. “Just studying the stitches and fabrics and trying to understand the construction is like taking a course in fiber arts.” Nina Hitchens, an interior designer on Martha’s Vineyard who strives for a low-waste lifestyle, also appreciates vintage, mended textiles. “I love finding textiles that have been repaired in any manner — it’s a peek into the history of handwork,” she says. “I love the contrast and how the repair adds flair to the piece.” Of course, contemporary home textiles can also be visibly mended. Erin Boyle, coauthor of the new book Making Things, which celebrates the art of handmade things, has mended many home items including these throw pillows (shown above), which now have character a store-bought pillow never could. As Boyle writes, “Each patch [is] a little signifier of thrift and resourcefulness and simple, honest work.”

Credit: Karen Pearson for Make Thrift Mend (Abrams 2021) by Katrina Rodabaugh

Visible Mending vs. Invisible Mending

What’s the difference between visible mending and invisible mending? While invisible mending is essentially just ordinary repair, where handiwork is often purposely concealed, visible mending is something of an artform of its own. By contrast, visible menders want to highlight the act of repair. The good news is that visible mending also requires less technical skill than invisible mending. You don’t need to be a seasoned seamstress to apply a patch with simple stitches or to rustically darn a hole in a knit.

Credit: Katrina Rodabaugh

Types of Visible Mending

There are essentially two types of visible mending: patching and darning (with many variations on those two techniques). When you patch, you use a needle and thread to sew an extra piece of fabric onto a garment, typically a woven, to cover a worn or ripped area. Sashiko-inspired, appliqué, and reverse appliqué are all different ways you can patch a garment. When you darn, you use yarn (or sometimes embroidery floss) to reweave a hole in a fabric that’s usually knitted.

Credit: Karen Pearson for Make Thrift Mend (Abrams 2021) by Katrina Rodabaugh

How to Visible Mend (and What You’ll Need)

If you want to try your hand at visible mending, you’ll need basic sewing supplies, including:

Thread and Yarn

You’ll need embroidery floss or special “sashiko” thread for patching, including stylized mending like sashiko- or boro-inspired stitching. Regular thread can also be handy, especially if you want to hem the edges of your patch before sewing it down. For darning, you want a yarn to match the thickness of the garment you’re mending (but use a contrasting color, if you want your mend to be visible). When I took a darning class, the instructor recommended Scanfil Mending Wool, which you can buy in small quantities and in many colors. 

Scrap Fabric 

Try to match the weight and fiber content of your patch fabric to that of your garment or home item you are repairing. For example, patch denim with denim or canvas and mend airy linen with another lightweight linen.

Needles

For patching, you’ll need an embroidery needle; for darning, you want a tapestry needle, which has a blunt point.  

Straight Pins

It’s helpful to have some straight pins to keep your patch fabric in place while you stitch.

Scissors

I like to have a small and sharp pair (what I call “detail scissors”), so I can get a clean cut on multistrand embroidery floss.

Chalk pencil and ruler

If you’re doing sashiko-style stitching, I find it helpful to draw chalk lines for your stitches. 

If you see a visibly mended garment and think you could do it yourself, you can probably wing it: Spontaneity and individual style are what make visible mending so satisfying. “Remember, visible mending isn’t meant to be perfect,” Rodabaugh says. But if you don’t like your stitches, you can always take them out and start again.” However, if you’re not already handy with a needle and thread, buy or borrow a book (Rodabaugh’s and Marquez’s are both excellent) to learn the basic techniques. Then, with that foundational knowledge, gather inspiration images of visible mends similar to your project, study the stitches, and have a go at re-creating it.

Once you start thinking about visible mending for the home, you’ll see examples everywhere. I spotted a beautiful example of embroidered mending in Treehugger’s Instagram feed (shown right above) and observed that the boardwalks at Muir Woods were patched by the park rangers. Marquez even pointed me to a home tour of Amy Sedaris’ apartment that includes a couch covered in little patches to repair nibbles from her bunny. 

You might even start to shop with future repairs in mind. Boyle notes the possibility of patching was a key consideration when choosing upholstery fabric this past summer for her sofa, shown here. “With three kids, there’s no question the upholstery will face some significant wear in the next five years,” she says. “I’m so inspired by beautiful Japanese boro textiles that have been mended over and over again, and the indigo-dyed railroad stripe I chose for the couch felt like it would be the perfect surface to eventually patch should I need to.”

This thrifty thinking is not only money-saving and sustainable; it also guarantees your home will be unlike any other.