Left in Andover: To glory in the repair

By Susan Leader
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

When my family’s farm was sold in 1987, I rescued a stash of our old baby clothes from under the eaves. It was not immediately obvious to me why my mother had preserved certain of these items.

Take for example one of the toddler size T-shirts. The vintage striped cotton is hardly extraordinary. However, upon close examination, it shocks to discover a carefully darned patch.

Nowadays, a darned T-shirt is an oxymoron. We view them as “cheaper” to replace than to repair. Recycling may be an ethical option, but only if the shirt or garment is made of 100 percent natural fiber. Of course this ignores the cost of exploitative labor practices and cotton production around the world.

An old child’s T-shirt that Miriam Leader saved.

The reality is that mountains of American fast fashion synthetic fibers and dyes now accumulate in secondary markets around the world, poisoning both physical and cultural environments. Nevertheless, we continue our righteous “donating,” aka reckless consumption.

The Japanese have the art of Kintsugi. Ceramics that have cracked or broken are made whole again in a process akin to dentistry using a gold or silver amalgam filling. American tin smiths, including David Claggett, who until recently worked at the Gristmill Museum in Weston, provided this service as well.

According to this aesthetic, no attempt to disguise the repair is made. The equation is that beauty is revealed in the battle scars from everyday use. As I enter older age myself, I can subscribe to this!

The fine repair in that T-shirt.

I confess. I forgot to dress my babies in those old baby clothes of mine. I was mired in bags of newer clothing passed along to me by well-meaning friends.

This is true for my now grown daughters as well, who are afloat in their own generation’s surfeit of clothes. It occurs to me we would all be better off if we bought no new clothes for the next year or the next decade. Local thrift shops and recycling centers are awash in fine selections for little to no money.

I am plotting to slip that T-shirt Mom darned so long ago into her youngest great-granddaughter’s bureau. T- shirt or not, it is a family heirloom, made hallow by mother’s hand.



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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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