Out & About: 2 library clothing repair programs lead to storybook mendings

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/21/2023 11:18:00 PM
Modified: 1/21/2023 11:17:32 PM

Two Upper Valley libraries have started up programs that aim to help residents learn to mend clothing.

Woodstock’s Norman Williams Public Library began hosting a Mending Circle on Jan. 11. The group will meet from 2 to 3 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month.

The Norwich Public Library’s Mending Cafe will meet for the first time from 10 a.m. to noon on Jan. 28 and will likely continue to meet the fourth Saturday of each month. While both programs were developed independently from each other, they have similar goals: to share skills and promote sustainability.

“It’s a social community gathering, as well as sustainably, as well as skill-building,” said Liza Bernard, programming and marketing librarian at Norman Williams. “Come when you can, stay as long as you like.”

That is also the sentiment behind the Norwich program, which was started by assistant director Lisa Milchman and youth services librarian Erin Davison. Over the years, Milchman has fielded questions from residents about recycling. Fabric is a particular challenge because there aren’t as many options, especially compared with other materials like plastic and glass.

“That got me thinking that we should, whenever possible, repair things,” Milchman said.

Milchman has also observed that community members have a growing interest in learning how to fix what they’ve already got. She pointed to work done by the Building a Local Economy (known as BALE), a South Royalton-based nonprofit organization that hosts events where people help repair a variety of items and share their skills.

Both Bernard and Milchman stressed that anyone — regardless of their skill set — is welcome to attend. The programs could appeal to people who already know how to mend, but need the motivation to tackle their mending piles. People who have an interest but are overwhelmed by where to start could find comfort and encouragement from others. There are also people who have mending and sewing skills who are eager to share their knowledge with others.

“If you have the support or just the fellowship to sit with people who are doing the same thing and maybe people who have different skills or different knowledge than you have, then I think it’s motivating,” Milchman said. Norwich will have some materials available for people to use, but people are also encouraged to bring their own. People who attend the Woodstock program are asked to bring their own supplies.

Ava Bishop is one of those people and will be serving as a “mending mentor” for the Norwich program. Bishop, who moved to Norwich in early 2021, used to own a custom wedding gown design and alteration business when she lived in Providence, R.I.

“Garment construction is some of the hardest construction there is,” Bishop said. “The human body is kind of like a 3D puzzle. With mending, there’s a lot of projects where you need to reconstruct that puzzle.”

Sometimes, that can be intimidating. During the first Woodstock gathering, the roughly half-dozen participants began by discussing how to approach different types of projects.

“We talked about the sort of basics of fabric, knit versus woven, and how you’d approach mending them,” Bernard said. “Understanding the structure helps the process of mending.”

Another thing that can help is having a plan.

“Look at the problem, look at what needs to be fixed and really just think it through first,” Bishop said. “Plans change but if you have a plan you have … information to start with on how to move forward with the project.”

Doing that in an informal group setting has its benefits. The gatherings are not structured classes; they’re more about trading knowledge and helping others build confidence to take on projects.

“There was a lot of really good sharing,” Bernard said of Woodstock’s first gathering. “I (mended) a sweater I’ve been ignoring for months while we were meeting.”

There’s also a sense of pride that comes from learning how to fix something yourself — and a sense of goodness that comes from keeping another item out of a landfill.

“I think that whole approach is something that we really, really need to support and nurture,” Bishop said.

Editor’s note: For more information about the Norwich program, email lisa.milchman@norwichlibrary.org. For more information about the Woodstock program, visit normanwilliams.org/events/mending-circle/2023-01-25.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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