One More Time

Macabre Encounter

I hold a few pairs of jeans close to my heart.

One of them, was gifted by my friend, Hon from local thrift shop Honsie Ponsie. It was a little too torn to be sold on the racks. It had a gash on the left knee that stretched almost from seam to seam. The right knee was only slightly less torn. There was also a hole in the middle of the right thigh as well as a blown-out left back pocket.

Nonetheless, I liked how the jeans had attitude to them: there was an embroidered emblem of an oni with lion-like mane on the back right pocket and the character of ’鬼‘ (oni) on the back leather patch and also on the button.

Embroidery of an oni with a mane at the back right pocket

The 鬼 (oni) leather patch at the back of the jeans

It was from a Taiwanese brand 鬼洗い/ONIARAI (I could be wrong and please let me know if I am) and I fell in love with all its quirky details. From the red thread used on the main buttonhole, to the slanted belt loop right at the centre back that was reminiscent of playful designs from Evisu and other Japanese denim brands, this pair was meant to stand out amongst the sea of Levi’s and Uniqlo jeans. Moreover, the unique pocket designs and the yellow thread that appears throughout the pair of jeans reinforces the point.

Quirky details: the 鬼 (oni) character on the button; red thread around the buttonhole

Slanted belt loop at the centre back

Unique pocket designs around the front pockets

Pocket linings reminiscing Chinese ink paintings

Details aside, I had other reasons for favouring this pair. Its light- to medium-weight thickness meant that I did not perspire as often while wearing them, and also made them quite comfortable.

Moreover, it was the first ever pair of jeans that I mended. I used a white single sashiko thread and mended the left knee, while I employed a thicker, single red sashiko thread for the right knee. I darned the hole in the middle of the right thigh.

It was evidence of my first attempt at repair – the sashiko stitches were less consistent and the fabric beneath puckered where the darning was. But it bore my best attempts back then and I still like the pair very much.

Puckering from the previous darning done on the right thigh area

Let it Rip

Two months back, while I was in Kazakhstan, I remembered moving around in my jeans (on my knees) and almost loosing my balance. Thankfully I moved my knee to support my body just in time but what greeted me was a piercing ripping sound – the sound of fabric tearing.

I glanced at my left knee and I saw that the sashiko threads had ripped. At that moment, it hit me that the knots I used to end the stitches were the reason for that. It made sense that it would snap since the knots meant that were was barely any ease should the fabric be stretched. Additionally, since I was unaware of the traditional knot-less way of sashiko back then, I did not consider any alternative.

The silver lining was finding out how the other rows of Sashiko threads still held the patch beneath in place. Furthermore, the edges were still very much secured.

I knew I had to fix it when I got back, but I did not prioritise the repair since the patch still held up.

And though it took longer than I would have liked, I took the opportunity to tend to other weaker areas along the jeans, alongside re-mending what was undone.

Torn sashiko stitching at the centre of the patch. The edges are still intact nonetheless.

The Repair

After taking a closer look, I found other spots which needed to be reinforced. In total, there were seven areas that needed work:

  1. Adding extra sashiko stitching to the left knee patch
  2. Closing up the hole in the left back pocket
  3. Removing the darning and repatching the left thigh
  4. Reinforcing the back yoke
  5. Reinforcing the area where the left back pocket meets the jeans
  6. Reinforcing the area where the right back pocket meets the jeans
  7. Adding a blanket stitch to the fraying right pocket

Closing Thoughts

Reworking the pair of reworked jeans reminded me of how the Edo-era Japanese used to rework and repair their clothes with sashiko, eventually forming ‘boro’ garments and pieces. Clothes were much less readily available back then and the wives of farmers would patch up holes or tears with any fabric they could get their hands on. You can read more about boro in this short article from the Victoria and Albert Museum here.

It is funny that as cliched as it sounds, time was indeed the best teacher. Over time, I have found out about knotless sashiko stitching, as well as having time be the strength and durability test of the stitches I have laid down previously. While the old-me simply wanted to make aesthetic stitches and get them over and done with, I now find myself considering whether or not the spot in question would experience any movement and if so, in which direction. For instance, I would choose a patch that has a similar tensile strength and flexibility as the pair of jeans if I was repairing the knees, since that area experiences a lot more movement when we stand or sit down. I would also use knotless Sashiko stitching to add some ease into the threads that hold the patch in place.

For this repair, I ended up adding some yellow sashiko thread to complement the yellow thread that binds the pair of jeans. I used a darker indigo sashiko thread for the repair on the left knee to make the stitches there less conspicuous.

Yellow sashiko threads to match the yellow polyester thread that runs throughout the pair of jeans

Looking back, I’m glad I took the time to mend this pair of jeans that I love. I get to use them for longer while at the same time, add to the narrative of the pair. That’s also another reason why I adore denim for its toughness and durability.

I now aim to buy less, and only buy things that I love, choosing to opt for quality items with good workmanship (within my budget haha). Bonus points go towards businesses that support communities and are transparent with their processes. And of course, repair and rework your belongings instead of simply giving up on them.

This reminds me of a conversation I had over lunch with two friends where we agreed that repairing your belongings is indeed an exercise in mindfulness. You get to know more about yourself and it makes you aware of your unconscious gestures and habits, all while grounding you in the present while you work through the repair.

I know that the message of sustainability has been repeated ad nauseam but you will not believe how simple actions can have a trickle-down effect both in the industry and also in our everyday choices.

– The Kind Oddball, 優しく個性的な人

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