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Personalising Threads

Exploring the timeless practices of customising, mending, and DIY reveals their universal role as methods of repair and vehicles for sustainable education throughout history.

From the meticulous tradition of darning in Sweden to the vibrant Tenango embroidery in Mexico, these practices span cultures and continents. The frugality stemming from World War II rationing and the “Make Do and Mend” campaign underscores the global call to economise and repurpose. Japanese Kintsugi exemplifies unique cultural expressions. Personalising items, whether through Japanese kimono embroidery or African American quilting, not only functions as creating practical items but also narrates stories of cultural heritage and resistance. Adding personal details to items emerges as a global and timeless practice fostering a profound connection between individuals and their belongings.

Quilting and Culture

Credit: Bisa Butler

Personalising items stands as a timeless and universal practice, providing individuals with a powerful avenue to express their distinct identity, values, and cultural affiliations, thereby fostering a profound connection between the person and the object. In the rich tapestry of African American history, quilting emerges as an art form of profound cultural significance. Beyond its utilitarian role, quilts serve as dynamic storytellers, intricately weaving narratives through unique patterns and symbols that eloquently represent cultural heritage and resistance.

An exemplary contributor to this venerable tradition is textile artist Bisa Butler, renowned for her innovative approach in creating contemporary art quilted portraits. Butler’s masterful craft involves transforming fabric into captivating visual narratives that capture the essence of individuals of African descent. Through meticulous attention to detail, she imbues each quilt with a rich tapestry of cultural symbols, vivid patterns, and nuanced storytelling elements.

One notable example of Butler’s work is her quilt titled “The Safety Patrol,” where she skillfully depicts a group of African American children in vivid hues and intricate patterns, capturing the spirit of unity and resilience within the community. Another compelling piece, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” draws inspiration from Maya Angelou’s iconic poem, featuring a striking portrayal of a woman breaking free from societal constraints, symbolizing the enduring strength and spirit of African American women.

Through her artistry, Butler not only upholds the cultural legacy of quilting in African American history but also breathes new life into the tradition, transforming it into a powerful and visually captivating form of artistic storytelling that resonates across generations. In doing so, she contributes significantly to the continuum of cultural expression and heritage within the African American community.

Kintsugi and Beauty

The Japanese art of Kintsugi emerges as a refined practice for restoring shattered pottery. The technique involves skillfully combining lacquer with powdered precious metals such as gold, silver, or platinum. Commonly known as “golden glue,” “kintsukuroi,” or “yobitsugi,” Kintsugi not only mends ceramic products but adorns them with characteristic precious “veins.” These reconstructed objects are not just practical and reusable; they also hold a revered position, traditionally considered to possess higher artistic value than their pre-damaged state.

Credit: Karen LaMonte
Credit: Collection by Guo Pei, Fall 2018

Contrary to concealing fractures, Kintsugi celebrates imperfections, transforming them into integral elements of an object’s history. It is not a mere act of restoration; rather, Kintsugi elevates the damaged piece, endowing it with a unique beauty that surpasses its original state.

The philosophy of embracing flaws and turning them into something beautiful seamlessly extends beyond the realm of pottery. It gracefully translates into the domain of textiles, where intentional mending and visible repairs become expressions of resilience and beauty in garments and fabrics. This ethos of celebrating imperfections, prominent in Kintsugi, creates a cultural thread that intertwines the worlds of art, craftsmanship, and sustainable practices.

Credit: Hanging By A Thread

Make Do and Mend

In response to wartime resource scarcity during World War II, both the United States and the United Kingdom implemented rationing systems, compelling citizens to exercise frugality in their consumption of essential resources like food, clothing, and various commodities, all aimed at supporting the war effort.

Originating in the 1930s and 1940s, the influential “Make Do and Mend” campaign emerged as a beacon of resilience during economic hardships, specifically encouraging the repair and repurposing of clothing. This campaign actively inspired people to mend garments instead of discarding them, leading to a cultural movement that emphasized sustainable practices and resourcefulness in the realm of fashion.


Modern expressions of this frugal mindset are evident in initiatives such as clothing repair workshops, where individuals are encouraged to mend and repurpose their garments. This not only reduces textile waste but also fosters a more sustainable approach to fashion. Furthermore, the popularity of thrift shopping and the upcycling of clothing items reflect the enduring influence of the “Make Do and Mend” ethos in contemporary efforts toward mindful consumption and responsible resource utilization within the clothing industry.

Tenango and Vibrant Storytelling

Traditional Mexican embroidery, notably in the Tenango style, stands out for its vibrant stitching on textiles. The Tenango style is characterized by its distinctive use of bright colors and detailed stitching, often depicting local flora, fauna, and scenes of daily life. Passed down through generations, this craft reflects not only a rich tradition of artistic expression within the Tenango community but also serves as a visual storytelling method, capturing the essence of Mexican heritage.

Elvira Clemente Gomez, exemplifying this legacy, showcases her piece at her home in Santa Monica, Tenango de Doria, vividly depicting life in a coffee-producing village in Hidalgo, as documented by Leigh Thelmadatter.

Artisans from Tenango, Hidalgo, infuse their craft with a profound cultural identity, incorporating personal touches such as names, dates, or symbols into clothing and homeware. The continuation of this craft through time not only highlights its artistic significance but also emphasises the cultural heritage and stories woven into each intricately stitched creation.

Atelier Jolie and Community Creativity

Atelier Jolie’s latest collaboration with artist-in-residence Simon Ungess introduces a distinctive approach, incorporating printing on vintage and deadstock garments while shedding light on an innovative technique of mending and harmonising old pieces. The infusion of creativity aims to redefine the perception of fashion and consumerism.
“My goal is to encourage people to stop shopping and see what they have, finding items that can be used and worn again.”- Simon Ungless

Credit: Atelier Jolie

Adding personal details to items is a universal way for individuals to express their identity, values, and cultural affiliations, fostering a deeper connection between the person and the object.


The emphasis on personalisation and transparent creativity underscores a shift towards conscious and sustainable fashion practices, signifying not just a trend but a transformative movement in the realm of design. As new inspiration springs up in the creative industry, intent on bringing community and creativity back to the heart of design, the importance of personalisation and transparent creativity shines.

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Francis Mendy

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