Lucianne Canavan Repairs for Well-Being, Community, and the Planet
Lucianne Canavan is a multi-disciplinary textiles artist-designer and recent graduate from Textiles in Practice at Manchester School of Art, whose work was shown as part of Green Grads at the London Design Festival in September. Her work focuses on sustainability and community and she aims to bring solutions to the waste produced by the fashion and textile industry through the promotion of mending, repair, and creative well-being.
Tell me about your childhood, education, and background and how you first became interested in repair.
I was very fortunate to grow up in a family surrounded by artists and makers, and although no one worked specifically in textiles there was always a biscuit tin filled with sewing supplies! My mum’s motto was very much “make do and mend.” I was always handy when the arm of a jumper tore or a button fell off but I had never put too much thought into it and had always tried my best to make it look like there had never been any damage.
Growing up with a disability that caused chronic fatigue meant I was limited physically and I often felt arts and making were my only outlet as I was unable to take part in sports activities. I remember first learning to sew around the age of four, I made a lavender pouch in the shape of a love heart and kept it under my pillow for years, I have always cherished that memory as it feels like a marker of a milestone in my life.
I enjoyed textiles in college but chose to focus on fine art and portraiture right up until my very last assignment in my foundation year for which I stitched a “Garbage Tapestry.” As a cathartic protest, I gathered all the rubbish from around the college grounds and stitched it all together in a big wall hanging along with other political statements that were relevant to the climate crisis at the time. That felt really good – I was able to create from waste whilst sharing my voice and connecting with others by creating a platform for conversation.
During my time at Manchester School of Art, I focused heavily on sewing and utilizing all the scrap fabrics I could, especially tartan. I found that my work was heavily inspired by woven fabrics and decided that I also wanted to weave alongside my embroidery practice. It was fun to juggle the two and see how they fed off one another but my goal was to bring them together cohesively and seamlessly. This is where I first delved into the world of mending.
What appeals to you about repairing existing objects versus creating something new?
I have always felt things very deeply, I have a strong sense of justice and a need to do things “the right way.” To me, this means causing the least amount of damage to the environment as possible. I am aware that nobody is perfect in this as our world isn’t set up to really allow us to do so, but I can try my best! Knowing how much waste is created by fast fashion; the idea of buying an outfit for one night only to send it to a charity bin the next day; and seeing the mountains of waste on the news just made me feel helpless. I was determined to not add to the mess we’ve found ourselves in but to bring solutions and hope. We don’t need new things – enough clothes already exist we just need to find ways to restore the love we once had for the items we are now throwing away.
There are many words for repair with slight nuances in their meaning – mending, fixing, hacking, restoring… which do you prefer in relation to your work and why?
I always steer toward the term “mending” when it comes to my work, partly because I am most familiar with it, but also because of the phrase “on the mend.” I like the idea that you’re not just repairing your clothes but you’re also helping yourself, you’re focusing and coming into your body while you work, and relaxing, which all help to relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety – that in itself can almost feel like a repair.
I use the word “upcycled” a lot in my work too, because I often work with items that exist and, despite being discarded, are in fine condition and so I add scrap patches onto them in order to re-design them. I find this gives them a new lease of life. Instead of throwing away perfectly good clothes you don’t like anymore, reworking them into new items can refresh them and bring a whole new love to the item.
How would you describe this body of work?
The work itself is an ode to weaving and embroidery, a representation of the marriage of two traditional crafts, and a celebration of scrap fabrics, natural fibers, and damaged clothes. The woven fabrics are soft with a dreamy color palette whilst the scrap fabrics somewhat juxtapose this with their playful patches. This body of work was so fun to make and I feel that it really shows, the woven patches blend beautifully into the jumpers wool to create pops of colors on the surface. Not only do the pieces hold an appealing aesthetic but they serve a purpose and hold a message.
What is the inspiration behind it – where did it come from?
This body of work was created during a hard time for me and I used it as I intended others to, as a form of creative wellbeing. I allowed myself to let go, experiment, and play – something that I feel we lose as adults, but desperately need. The idea of repairing means putting in our time to preserve a memory or a feeling that an item holds. The damage itself is the story of us and the repair is the resilience we have built throughout our experiences. The mend does not put the item back to its original form but allows structure, support, and reinforcement into weaker areas of fabric. I felt that this was a beautiful metaphor for ourselves and how we bounce back from our hard times with lessons learned and stronger than before.
Throughout this project I researched creative well-being and was heavily inspired by Resilient Stitch by Claire Wellesley-Smith, the word resilient resonated with me so deeply that I began to look at clothes and people not as separated but as symbiotic. We are connected. We wear our clothes every day, they are our protection, we live in them and they hold us through every second. The idea that something that is so close to you can be discarded due to damage is heartbreaking. Through mending, not only do you have an outlet to create resilience in your clothes, but you also have a way of connecting with your body through your hands, bringing the focus back to yourself and away from the spiraling thoughts in your head. This was the greatest gift I could ever have given myself – an activity that not only holds sustainable values with a rich history but also something to build resilience and resistance to anxious thoughts through mindful mending. This is why I created a zine including information on creative and sustainable well-being as well as workshop proposals to promote these practices. I feel there is a real future for community-led creative well-being and sustainability will always be a collaborative effort.
Which repair techniques are you using and why?
I like to use a variety of techniques as different items and materials respond differently to different repairs. For tears in shirts or jeans, I use a scrap fabric patch secured with either hand or machine embroidery. I use hand darning or a “speedweve” darning loom for items like socks as I find it holds better, but can be quite time-consuming for bigger holes. This is where I had to find a solution as my goal was to be able to do repairs on a bigger scale for more people through my studio PATCH’D. Darning and speedweving is just weaving on a smaller scale which is where the idea to bring my woven fabrics and my previous work in making patches came together. I found that I could felt my lambswool woven patches over the holes on jumpers which was significantly quicker than the darning I had been doing and was just as effective! It meant that I could continue to weave and apply that skill to my mending, meaning I could fix more woolen jumpers than before in a shorter period of time.
How did you learn the techniques you use in your work?
Hand darning came to me very naturally – it felt like something that I just intuitively knew and the same with the patching and running stitch. I had seen people on TikTok use a speedweve and, with my experience of weaving, I was able to pick that up quickly too. When it came to the feltin, I had only used an embellisher machine which does the same job but on a bigger scale. Using the embellisher was great as it meant I could mend all different fabrics with the woven patches, but hand-felting works best with wool.
How do your repairs change the function or story of the object?
What I love most about the repairs is that it tells us that the item has been lived in and the repair is a mark of this, a story of adventure and experience that has been lived through in the clothing item. I also feel that a patch can give us an opportunity to add a bit of ourselves and express something depending on the colors and materials we use which I quite enjoy.
How visible or invisible is the repair and why is that important?
My mends are always visible, I like that you can see that the item is cared for and cherished to the point of keeping it alive for longer through repair. And again, the idea of being able to express ourselves through our clothes is vital – what we are wearing is often the first thing people know about us. Mending is a perfect opportunity for self-expression whether it is through a patch or a darn, we get to choose and adapt how our clothes look. Adding a mend is also a way of making our clothes unique to us – no-one will have the exact same mend as you and that gives our clothes their own identity parallel to ours and I believe this increases our care and love for them. It is ours and no one will ever have this exact piece now it has been mended.
How have people reacted to this project or body of work?
I have been so fortunate to receive such positive feedback to my work, I have been told that the woven patches for mending are especially beautiful and unique, which is exactly what I wanted. People have found that it only adds more personality to the items and I have even had people ask if they can have patches on their clothes even if they don’t have a damaged item, which I am happy to do as it means they will cherish that item for longer. It’s made me feel so excited for the future potential of my work. After leaving university, it had been very difficult to be optimistic about my practice with all the uncertainty of what I was going to do. Green Grads gave me just the boost of confidence I needed in my work – talking to so many lovely creatives and celebrating my work with them really helped me to see just how wonderful the work I am doing is.
How do you feel opinions towards mending and repair are changing?
After displaying my work at Green Grads and having such amazing feedback from so many people and opportunities come from it, I can’t help but believe that there is a big mending and repair community that I am about to step into. Not only are people looking more to mending and repair for sustainable reasons, but also financial reasons, with the cost of living crisis, and as a counter to the despair and disconnection people experienced during the pandemic. The aesthetic of mending is also on the rise alongside “DIY fashion,” and I truly believe it has emerged from these times of stress into a viable alternative that helps to relieve the stress itself.
What do you think the future holds for repair?
I believe repair will always be essential. I think, with time, there will be a greater push for consumer education when it comes to sustainability and, with the vast access to information the younger generations have, they will have more opportunities to learn this quicker than we did before. Community and collaboration are key to this movement – supporting one another and learning from one another will take us a long way. I am aware that social media has its downsides, but I think, used in the right way, it can create a strong sense of community between like-minded people and offer a great way to share techniques and practices, making them super accessible. I am also led to believe that sustainability is at the forefront of so many people’s minds now, especially in the creative sector, so I think mending and repair not only has a rich history, but a richer future – perhaps in ways we have not explored or know yet, and to me that’s the most exciting part!
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