Marilyn Englander: On The Mend

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Sometimes the most useful skills are the ones you’re not supposed to enjoy. Marilyn Englander has this Perspective on teaching boys to mend.

I’ve always loved mending clothes, smoothing out frays and tears. How satisfying to rescue a favorite article of clothing from waste and restore it to full use.

And then there’s mending as a subversive activity, not to be overlooked. I used to bring a pile to the dull weekly staff meetings at school. Other teachers wistfully watched me salvage wasted time as the principal droned. But then he caught on and banned “hand work.” I still mended on my own time. It calmed me.

One restless Friday afternoon in my middle school classroom, I wracked my brain for some activity to get us through to dismissal time. My students were mostly boys — squirrelly, easily bored. But they’d enjoyed learning some unusual skills — tying a Windsor knot, patching a bike tire.

They swarmed back into the room after lunch, a raggedy bunch in worn jeans and holey sweatshirts. Inspiration! In my desk, I kept some of those little sewing kits you pick up in hotels and save for a sartorial emergency. Gathering the boys, I announced they were going to learn how to mend. They had no idea what I meant.


I turned to Kevin: what would happen to his beloved red jeans when the holes got so big his mom couldn’t stand it any longer. He replied sadly, “She’ll throw them away.”

My opening!

It was as if I were teaching them magic. After the colossal challenge of threading the needle, they were off. Their techniques were non-standard, often ingenious, but they mastered the basics — pull the edges of a hole together, fill in the empty space. Heads were bent over the cloth and a rapt hush filled the room for two hours. They didn’t even want to stop when 3:00 rolled around.

To rescue the irremediable. To make the ugly beautiful. That held them, and hooked them. They took home their tiny sewing kits as if they were wreaths of laurel.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander is a North Bay educator.