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Flagstaff textile artisan mends clothes in unconventional ways: Made in Arizona

Most of us wear our clothes until they are worn out and then we throw them away. Or we wear them until we’re sick of them, and then stuff them in big bags to drop off at Goodwill. But Tasha Miller Griffith takes a different approach. 

Griffith is a textile artisan and educator based in Flagstaff, and she’s the latest maker in our series, Made in Arizona. 

When Griffith’s clothes wear out, she mends them. But not in the usual way where you're trying to make your repairs disappear. She visibly mends them.

Picture layers of stitching, often in bright colors and interesting patterns mending a tear or patches of patterned material sewn on top of a hole. 

It’s an intentional and climate-friendly way of making your clothes last, and Griffith told The Show that it’s countercultural too. She recently showed us how this visible mending works.

Full interview

TASHA MILLER GRIFFITH: Visible mending is pretty self-explanatory. It's mending that is not meant to be hidden. It's not meant to look like the garment was never damaged. It's meant to look like you mended, like some intention and care and thoughtfulness went into it and it's OK for people to see that. In fact, it's good for people to see that.

There's like a process involved there, like transparency almost, right?

GRIFFITH: It's a global movement that has been going for, gosh, I don't know, decades probably.

Tell me a little bit, Tasha, about your own background in this and how you got into it. I know you kind of teach this but also other things with textiles. You're a textile artist in this way. How did you come across visible mending?

GRIFFITH: So I was really lucky to grow up in a family of makers and tinkerers. And my mom sewed a lot of clothes for me when I was a kid, and she taught me to sew and to knit. And, my dad's mom was a weaver and did a little natural dying. And so I kind of, yeah, I was really lucky to already have some exposure to that kind of world when I was little.

And that said none of those people really mended in the way of like darning socks, you know, that I knew. And it took me getting deeper into things and I started to get interested in spinning and natural dye and felting and things that are kind of closer to the source, and thinking a lot about my personal ecological impact and my relationship to materials and how that reflects into the world. And so mending became a big part of my practice, my creative practice.

And I have a few things that I have decided I'm gonna mend until I can't mend them anymore to see what I learned from that. And I've learned a lot from that and just a lot from in general trying to keep my stuff going longer.

And a lot for my students, too, is like, interact with people who are also interested in these types of things.

So you have to tell us about those things that you have, that you are mending until you can do them no more. What is it?

GRIFFITH: One of them is a pair of socks that somebody sent me, with their hand-knit socks, and I have mended them so many times in successive, there's like the patches that you can see on the purple socks, but there's 12 layers in some dark layers.

That's so great. OK, so show us what you have there to describe this for me as I'm watching you here, because this is a great example of what we mean by visible mending. So you're holding up a sock and, and you can see the patchwork on it, but it's not just patchwork, like there's, there's an art to this.

Yeah. So this is it's a purple sock. It's a sock that I knit. The patching that's on it is the same stitch pattern as the socks themselves. But it's made using a needle and thread so that you can trace over your knitting essentially. And it's a really good technique for socks because it has all the properties that the original knitting has. It's stretchy, it's thick and cushy, and it can be packed really tightly together, which helps things last longer, helps your stitching last longer.

And this is something that I have had a lot, a lot of practice that of the main things that I teach in my workshops.

So, I mean, there's, there's something about sustainability here, which I think you mentioned. But there's also like this is really, it almost seems countercultural to me right now. Like there is such a consumer culture that drives so much of what we do, we buy so much. And this is the opposite of that. This is using something that you would normally say I have used it up, I am throwing it away, or giving it away or whatever it may be, and keeping it. Do you think about it in those terms?

GRIFFITH: Oh, yeah, 100%. It's definitely I think about this all the time. Yeah, it's I can't remember where this quote comes from, but someone said like, contentment is revolutionary in our society, and using what you have is revolutionary and thinking about the textiles in your life and your clothing as something that you're on a journey with rather than something that you're gonna have once and throw away is also revolutionary.

And all those ideas to me are so key to moving past this time of crazy rampant consumerism into something that is actually gonna last. Like not just, you know, the sustainability, using resources wisely, thinking about where things come from is a huge part of it. And also having that agency, having that ownership and that ability to care for your own things, I think is also essential to a future where we as humans are gonna be, you know, are gonna be Happy.

That's so interesting. So, how long have you had that parasol that you've mended, you know, 12 times over?

GRIFFITH: That pair of socks, I have been mending for a decade or so. Maybe a little bit longer.

Wow. And it's a pair of socks, right. So it turns a pair of socks, something that could be very normal and very easily thrown away, into something that means a lot to you personally, too, it sounds like. What kinds of reactions do you get, Tasha, from people who you teach this to like? Is it, is there a lot of healing involved in this?

GRIFFITH: Yeah, I think so. I mean, the people, if you sign up for a workshop on visible mending, you're probably already interested in some of these ideas and how this can be when you're mending in this way where you're not trying to hide it. It can be a really great vehicle for creativity, too. And so you're putting your own personal expression into whatever you're making. There's always a lot of different ways that you could mend something, a lot of different choices you could make. And so how you make those choices is also creative and fun?

So is there a technique that you have that's really creative, really weird, really interesting that you love and want to tell us about that's beyond sort of the, the patching of the sock or something like that as an artisan.

GRIFFITH: So to me where my happy place is where the creativity intersects with the really practical. So I love having the things that I've mended and I love wearing them and I don't tend to make anything that's so outlandish that it won't hold up well or anything like that.

But, yeah, but there is a lot of room for creativity and just, I love making different patterns and like, if I'm making a patch or, like you think of a normal patch where I take another piece of fabric and I sew it on to something. And then what I normally do is I stitch around the outside to hold it down and then I make some kind of pattern in the middle.

So like it can be super simple, just squares or lines of stitching that kind of help all those layers meld together or it could be like on this one. I kind of echoed the one of the motifs that's in the original woven part of the jacket on the patch as part of the stitching. So I like doing things like that and just letting, you know, it's still very practical. But I can let my creativity also show through a beautiful melding of the creative and the practical there.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.