How professional repairer Molly Martin made me think about my favourite pair of plaid trousers

‘There is something truly soothing about the idea of mending our clothes’, I thought as I went through the pages of the recently published book The Art of Repair by the artist and professional repairer Molly Martin. It brought me back to a time when, as a child, I wandered around the rustling woods and swampy bushes behind the house that still belongs to my parents. Often I was with friends, occasionally alone. My speciality was climbing the trees and I was particularly proud of how high I can climb. At the bottom of the trunk of a tree, floods rose higher and higher and wolves chased me, making me reach for the highest branches. Still, the most significant trouble of all, surely equally as real as the imaginary dangers, was that I would unapologetically tear all of my clothes. Branches poked holes in my shirts, bricks scratched their elbows, rocks wore off my sneakers, but what suffered the most were my trousers. They were torn amidst my falls to my knees, amidst grovels on the grass and crawls through the bushes, leaving my knees scratched and wounded with many of the dozens of scars still visible today, decades later.

At that time, I owned a pair of plaid trousers that I was particularly fond of. They were black with orange lines and I thought they were eye-catching. Even if I did wear them with my pale blue tie-dye T-shirt, the circumstances speak in my defence – I was about nine years old. I hold a very distant memory of my mother making these particular trousers on her sewing machine, although I can’t tell for sure anymore. I can’t recall how I tore them or why or when. All I remember is that suddenly they were torn and ready to be tossed away as no polite child should ever go about child’s business in the scruffy old clothes. I vividly remember my mother’s annoyance with my indulgence in fantasy that persistently caused my clothes to suffer and her having to pluck out yet another decent pair of trousers for me to wear. It must have been this exasperation that made her patch up the decimated plaid trousers using the scarps of fabric she had laying around.

This is how I imagine she did it. Firstly, she cut out two uneven squares from an odd piece of black denim using her red fabric scissors. Then she took out the needle and a long piece of black thread from the sewing drawer, which she pulled through the eye of the needle, making a tiny knot close to its ends. She then placed the patches over the holes on my knees and tacked the edges down to hold them in place. She stitched the patches to the trousers with long stitches to make them look intentional, as part of the style. After a bit of wrestling with the fabric and the thread, she was done.

I loved the trousers in their revived state. Wearing them, I thought I looked like a punk kid I once saw in a magazine, although at the time, I didn’t know what punk was and I had never seen a punk in real life until a few years later. As soon as I entered her kitchen on my next visit to grandma’s, she instantly noticed the fresh patches on my trousers. I don’t think she wore her glasses then yet, but she definitely pulled me closer and inspected mum’s work. ‘So that’s how you’ve done it’, she murmured. I sensed the expectation of my future carelessness in the air and unquestionably, the foreseen moment had come soon enough because I was a child too lost in thought to care much about the way I looked.

I wish I could tell you how the story of these trousers ends, that perhaps I still have them stored at the back of some forsaken drawer where one keeps old postcards and family photos as some sort of a souvenir from the lost days of a childhood. The truth is I have no idea where they are, and so to tell you what happened to them, I will reach for the best-case scenario. Coming closer to the age of ten and following the mysterious ways of nature, my limbs had disproportionally lengthened and I had outgrown my favourite pair of patched plaid trousers. The day came when I could no longer put them on. So my mother packed them in a plastic bag, on top of the other of my recently unwearable clothes, and gave them out to the relatives whose much younger children would soon meet the dangers lurking at the bottom of the trunk of a tree. Whichever way I twist my mind, I am convinced they must have worn my trousers because they were the best climbing gear a child can wish for.

  1. Molly Martin: The Art of Repair; Short Books, London, 2021