On a late Tuesday afternoon in March, Bard Graduate Center (BGC) students, faculty, and staff gather in the third floor study room to mend worn and torn garments. The atmosphere is laid back and conversation wanders freely. At the end of a table, Kate Sekules, PhD candidate and co-organizer of these monthly mending circles, uses white thread to outline bleach stains on a jumpsuit. She also gives advice to content manager Maggie Walter on how to patch a tear on a treasured pair of Harley Davidson jeans using paisley fabric and red stitches. Heather Topcik, dean and director of libraries at Bard College and BGC and Sekules’s co-organizer, has provided wine and snacks.

According to Sekules, “For centuries, stitchers, usually women, strove for minimal transformation when addressing the effects of time and wear on personal and household textiles. Patches and darns announced poverty. Rather than accepting signs of wear on well-loved clothing as a source of shame, visible mending encourages people to keep to their old clothing for as long as possible, and to draw attention to holes or tears by covering them with creative and colorful patches and stitching.” She notes, “Clothing is personal. It reminds you of things, and when you intervene in it and keep it going, you’re deepening that, and it means even more.”

Sekules views mending as an artistic intervention in the life of an object, as well as a way to make a statement. She became passionate about mending during the early aughts as she learned more about old clothing, the fashion industry, and the ethical fashion movement. She began to repair and alter her own moth-eaten sweaters, stained shirts, and torn jeans and found the practice to be restorative on many levels. She was giving new life to her old clothes, and she also found the process of mending to be soothing. A sweater she patched with letters spelling “The Opposite of Hate is Mending” is currently on view as part of the Winterthur Museum’s exhibition, Transformations.

Topcik and Sekules convened the first BGC mending circle in 2021 and it has been going strong for the past three years. Members of BGC’s mending circle include faculty, students, and staff. Topcik reflected, “I think the spirit of the mending circle is very aligned with where we are now—post-Covid, people are in need of or interested in tending and repair, and mending feels really appropriate to that.”

As this final mending session of the academic year winds down, participants wrap up their projects. Associate professor of practice in writing Helen Polson has mended the knees of her son’s sweatpants with concentric circles made of colorful stitches. Elena Kanagy-Loux, a BGC PhD candidate, textile historian, and lacemaker, mended a hole in a gauzy Hungarian blouse embroidered with flowers using a buttonhole stitch around the edges and filling it in with a needle lace stitch inspired by a Swiss manuscript from the abbey library of St. Gallen.

For those outside of the BGC community who are interested in mending, Sekules hosts a monthly gathering at Brooklyn’s Textile Arts Center with artists Martina Cox and Hekima Hapa (founder of Black Girls Sew). Sekules said, “We all need mending, and it has been used for some time as a restorative practice. It’s ‘menditation.’ I’ve got many mending puns, but that’s number one.”