December 27, 2011
When was the last time you truly WORE OUT a piece of clothing? As in absolutely could not mend, darn, nor patch the thing?
This comes to my mind because, since I started the heavy-lifting seasonal job, I’ve demolished two pair of socks, two bras (don’t ask…) and – best of all – I took off a tee shirt after work one evening and it completely fell to pieces in my hands. It was as if every piece of thread in every seam decided simultaneously to just give up the ghost and quit. It was almost magical…
But I don’t remember this happening all that often in my adult life. But when I was a child, I clearly remember wearing clothes until they were either passed on to someone else, or they went through the triage of fabric salvage.
1. Really heavy things, like work pants or jeans, were cut and stitched into long ropes, to be made into rag rugs. These were the heaviest, most durable rugs in the history of floor-covering.
2. Printed fabrics, or pretty colors, of medium weight were cut for quilt pieces. I remember at least one quilt (made by women in my teeny little 500-person home town) which contained a variety of swatches from remembered garments. And we had a few wool quilts! Sleeping under them was sort of like sleeping under the mattress – but they were really warm.
3. Light colored, lightweight fabrics (tee shirts, undershirts, sheets) were cut into squares, and put in the rag bag. We had a heavy canvas drawstring bag, hanging in the basement, where we kept rags. We washed them, and reused them, for most of the functions for which people now use paper towels.
Fabric really had to perform in my childhood… What ever happened to this kind of thinking? Since fabric manufacturing is one of the primary sources of water pollution worldwide, maybe we need to be a bit more conservative with it, and make sure that it is used for its full lifetime.
Jennifer (Jen on the Edge) says
I have a pair of khaki Eddie Bauer cropped pants that are on the verge of dissolving from so many wearings. I've had them for five years and during the warm months have worn them at least two or three times per week. They look terrific on me and are incredibly comfortable, so I keep wearing them even though they are frayed and I'm afraid I'm going to bust a seam in an inopportune moment (e.g. while at the grocery store or out with my family). My goal for this coming spring will be to find another pair of crops that look and feel just as good.
Jane W. says
I had an Ivory silk layering tank that was perfect in every way. I wore it at least 2x per week, all four seasons, for 2 years.
I've been unable to find anything remotely like it!
Great topic. I have a pair of J Crew chinos that I love. The hems are frayed and the pants are falling apart but the fabric is so soft,I can't give them up. A pair of dansko clogs will last me two years, at which point the soles are so worn down they effect my gait.
I make rags out of tee shirts too (and old towels.) When I was growing up, I would cut up old clothes and make them into doll dresses.
Doll clothes!!!! How could I have forgotten – dibs on the quilt pieces if I wanted to make doll clothes… thanks for the memories,
Thank you for yet another insightful post that brings up my own rag memories. When I bought my first used Volvo in 1985, I found in the trunk a pile of clean, carefully folded white linen napkins, frayed but apparently used by the previous owner to check the oil and otherwise keep the car pristine. I imagined these once-expensive napkins in use at many parties and celebrations, and they brought back memories of the rag bag my mother kept in the basement for emergencies. Thank you for sharing your memories.
Vivienne, I was thinking a similar thought this morning re. my much loved home made chanel style black jacket, which has some pulled threads (the fabric is boucle so the the pulls don't show)I am going to repair this. Also I need to undo the lining and replace the shoulder pads, voila – a refurbished jacket.
I remember my mother cutting up and hemming old flanelette sheets for dusters, and towels for floor cloths.
Dolls clothes were made from any fabric left over from our homemade clothes (mum made most of my clothes – she was an excellent self taught dressmaker).
I remember our pants and skirts being taken up and down and the lines from the hem being covered with ric-rac or holes in our jeans with coloured patches.
Of course now some modern fabrics are sadly not suitable even for rags. I know some charities that used to sell any donated clothes that were past it for rags but now it actually costs them money to dump them if they are made of some synthetics and past their useful life.
I think there is also a quality difference between the "average" wool or cotton fabric in the past and what we get now. You really do sometimes get what you pay for – and some of the cheaper versions of these fabrics just don't wear like they used too.
My mother used to cut the worn, cotton bed sheets down the middle and join them back together by the outer, less worn fabric for a longer life. It did leave a ridge in the middle!
My parents rag bag was my Dad's WWII army duffle bag. Talk about reusing things! We do cut up t-shirts for rags but don't tend to wear things out beyond mending. It is hard with synthetic fabrics or blends to do so. I think shoes and underwear are the exceptions.
I remember a long nightgown that I had at age 8 or so. I wore it for at least 3 years and it only got shorter and shorter. Then it became sheer from wear. I don't think it got passed down:)
Thoughtful article. My great-great grandmother made a quilt (by hand, of course) from squares she cut from flour sacks — only rich people went to fabric stores. That quilt sits on one of my living room chairs, and it is in better condition than a new quilt made by machine (and in China) on display at Neiman Marcus.
I like the concept of wearing clothing completely out. As I go through my short-term shopping fast and focus on really, really wearing my clothes, I want to take note which items are wearing like iron (so far, cashmere) and which items are destined to be rags.
I do cut my husband's t-shirts for rags; we use them to clean the grill and for other dirty household jobs. They are washed many times and disposed when they are completely demolished.
It happens a lot! And I always feel that I don't get the quality I got lets say 10 years back, when buying new clothes. That's why shopping clothes is not as much fun as it used to be. Pyjamas used to last a decade!
And along with the rag bag was the button jar. I still raid my mothers as mine is a work in progress. Zips, buttons and decorations would be removed from items destined for the rag bag – she would thread matching buttons together before they were added to the jar.
Clothing that is too far gone to donate or hand down can be recycled. They collect it a few times a year in my community (Earth Day etc.). I keep a bag around for this, year-round. And I do pull t-shirts that are well-worn and rip them to use for dusting and chores. I actually much prefer them to paper towels..saves money and the environment.