Greenpoint: With thrift stores closed, the mending begins

With local thrift stores closed, mending, patching and darning is in full swing. (Margaret Hartley)

With local thrift stores closed, mending, patching and darning is in full swing. (Margaret Hartley)

When my eldest kid took on a challenge a couple years ago not to buy any new clothes, I said I’d join in.

No big deal for me since I rarely buy new clothes, preferring to find things secondhand at thrift stores. No big deal for the kid either, having been raised on the concept of secondhand first.

I started that habit long, long ago when new clothes were out of my price range, then continued it when it seemed wasteful to cause the manufacture of new clothes when there are so many perfectly good clothes out there. Learning about sweatshop labor and the cost of shipping goods from far away, in both money and pollution, and a host of other fashion problems — from cloth that shed microplastics to the mass of clothing that end up in landfills — helped me keep the habit for life.

I know: I’m capitalism’s worst nightmare. We grow as much of our own food as we can, preserve it for winter and buy secondhand clothes, tools, household goods and vehicles. Even our pets are used. But we feel like repurposing anything that’s still useful is better than throwing it away to buy something else just because it’s new.

The coronavirus pandemic has made a lot of people rethink how they shop. Some just shifted to online shopping when stores closed down or became harder to navigate, but a lot of people cut back. Kayak and tent sales may have risen, but clothing sales dropped more than 40 percent between last March and the end of October.

Part of that was the economy, and the loss of jobs and income. Maybe those who kept their jobs didn’t need new clothes when they could work from home in their PJs. Maybe people had time to sort through what they already had on hand and found they didn’t need more. I’ve been seeing more and more articles about people who decided to stop buying anything beyond food and necessities just to see how long they could get by on what they already have.

For me, with our local thrift stores closed, I went from buying myself very few clothes to none at all. At our house, with fences and goat horns and chicken wire, we are pretty hard on our clothes. And that meant I had to start mending.

I’m not big on sewing or very good at it. I mean, I can hem and patch things if I have to, and I managed to make a few face masks at the start of the pandemic, but I always poke my fingers with the needles and get blood on whatever it is I’m working on.

I prefer knitting, and I’ve finished lots of projects — mostly socks — since we stopped going anywhere, ever. Last month when I was looking for a missing skein of yarn, I found a bag of gloves and mittens I’d been meaning to mend for I don’t know how long. Darning holes in knitwork is kind of fun — it’s like a puzzle to fill in a gap and try to make it invisible. Or just go bold, with a patch in a contrasting yarn. Suddenly, my gloves and hat drawer was full again.

When a rooster my husband was holding spurred a hole in his quilted flannel shirt, I darned that too. Then I found those jeans that are perfectly good except for the one hole, and patched it. Then I noticed the dog had torn a hole in our favorite quilt. That’s going to need a patch, but I have a stash of cloth my neighbor shared with me from a clothing designer who was unloading a pile of samples.

I’m sure one would make a decent patch for that goat-horn rip in my husband’s other quilted flannel shirt, the one a friend gave him when another “got a bit tight in the shoulders.”

Maybe we’ll never buy clothes again. Or maybe, someday, our local church thrift store will open up again.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Feb. 14. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.


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