Repairing and altering what lives in your closet is a way to ease into the local sustainable fashion movement. When a piece of clothing is worn heavily and has the damage to prove it, pause before parting with it. A rip in your jeans can be patched. A growing hole in your sweater can be sewn back together.
Mending clothes requires thought and time, but the positive benefits outweigh the extra effort. Fixing a hem or a loose thread is cheaper than buying a quality replacement. By repairing garments, you are saving them from thrift stores already at max capacity or much worse, a landfill.
Check out six Pittsburgh businesses championing our local sustainable fashion movement by sewing new life into clothes.
Old Flame Mending
This past August, a Pittsburgh mending duo known as Old Flame Mending came onto the repair scene with the perfect pick-up line, “We’ll fix anything but a broken heart.”
Rebecca Harrison and Tia Tumminello set their hearts, and their needles, to fix the damaged garments of Pittsburgh. “We are a part of fashion, particularly slow fashion,” said Harrison, “But we have more commonalities with an appliance repair shop.”
“We market as a service,” added Tumminello. “We are here for you, not here for us as much.”
Old Flame Mending uses visible mending techniques, both by hand and machine, to add creative flair to repair. One method is Sashiko, a Japanese form of visible, decorative stitching. Sashiko means “little stabs” in Japanese. The pattern looks like small dots of thread. The thicker thread used for Sashiko looks fresh, especially on denim.
Each mending project is priced individually. There isn’t much Harrison and Tumminello will turn down; they have machines strong enough to handle leather and hands delicate enough to manage silk. “As long as they [clothes] are clean, we will pretty much take anything,” said Harrison. The duo does admit they are still learning zippers.
Old Flame Mending has upcoming pop-up events at Make + Matter in Lawrenceville. Most recently they did on-site mending at the Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer. When I swung by their table, Tumminello was sewing a hole in a sweater that a shopper bought moments before. If you cannot visit their pop-ups, shoot them an email.
The duo doesn’t consider themselves the gatekeepers of sewing. They will be teaching a class on Slow Sewing: Visible Mending with Sashiko & Boro Patching at Workshop PGH on Thursday, December 5th, from 6:30pm to 9:30pm. More educational offerings and pop-up events are in motion for next year. “We want to keep what you love going,” said Tumminello.
Old Flame Mending
Esti Piels, founder of Dandy Neutral, brings a poetic and nourishing impact to the local mending community. “Dandy Neutral attire isn’t meant to please others,” said Piels. “It is a freedom within threads that no longer bind.”
Dandy Neutral offers mending and tailoring services where a sustainable mindset and goal of comfort, not the conventional role of sex or gender, are the emphasis. Piels casts a new life on clothes so they do not become a mental burden.
“I have always struggled with gendered clothing due to my body’s proportions and my mind’s dysmorphic need to not draw attention to myself because I was born female,” said Piels. “Clothes become my protection, my comfort, my preface to the stories I had to tell.”
This struggle of Piels has fueled a lifelong commitment to helping others alter and repair their clothing to match their insides. Right now, word of mouth propels Dandy Neutral’s business, as Piels works full-time in the restaurant industry. Piels hopes to have a more active online presence in the near future to receive tailoring requests. In the meantime, direct message Dandy Neutral on Instagram for any mending inquiries.
Mending clothing among Pittsburghers is growing, according to Piels. It plays to Pittsburgh’s sense of pride in ourselves, our possessions and a commitment to improving community.
“I bleed black and gold, I am from Pittsburgh, I continue to choose Pittsburgh as my main home. I admire the level of pride people take care of things here. They cherish things,” said Piels.
“I think mending is all part of that in all senses of the word. Really being part of who you are is what makes Pittsburgh beautiful. Mending is what’s going to keep us proud.”
HLane Dry Goods & Coffee
Hannah Lane Critzer, co-owner of HLane Dry Goods & Coffee in Swissvale, describes the shop as a “modern interpretation of an old-school general store.” Critzer co-owns the shop with her husband, Geoffrey. When you walk in this crisp space, you will find coffee and local artisan goods, but what you might not expect to find is their on-site tailoring services.
When discussing Pittsburgh’s mending culture, Critzer said, “Upcycling is an upcoming, big trend, but I don’t think people realize the options out here [in Pittsburgh].”
Hannah Critzer is a seamstress and tailor who has extensive experience for someone so young. She fitted Disney costumes and spent time with expert Italian tailors. She sharpened her tailoring skills through those experiences to reach her ultimate goal of owning a store. She and Geoffrey planted in Pittsburgh in 2013 with Geoffrey and on September 1st, 2018, HLane Dry Goods & Coffee opened.
Critzer offers a spectrum of mending work from custom design to alterations to upcycling your well-worn pieces. She is in the shop six days a week, Monday through Saturday. Appointments are preferred, but walk-ins are welcomed. If you need a pant quickly hemmed, Critzer will happily fix it on-site while you enjoy a cup of coffee.
HLane Dry Goods & Coffee believes everyone is of value and “seeks to be a central hub in building relationships and community.” This holds high importance to Critzer being a tailor. It is a personal service, and Critzer wants to share her skill with anyone who needs it.
2009 Noble St. // Swissvale, PA 15218
To schedule an appointment, call 412.287.8349
Jamie Miller, Seamstress & Dress Designer
“With a few stitches,” said Jamie Miller, seamstress and dress designer, “you can reverse time.” Five minutes with Miller and that hole in your sweater will feel like an opportunity rather than a nuisance. “My heart beats for it,” says Miller about mending clothing.
Miller was trained in theatrical design but walked away from the demands of theater life as her family grew. She sewed on the side, starting out offering on-site sewing services at Highway Robbery Vintage as well as working with Anemoia Vintage and juju repairing and altering vintage pieces. She branched out into reincarnating old wedding gowns and custom dress work. Check out this custom lime green tulle dress designed for Liz Sterrett for this year’s Riverlife Party at the Pier.
Upcycling in Pittsburgh is gaining momentum, but there is still a long way to go according to Miller. “People feel that it [mending] is more trouble than it’s worth. It is a missed opportunity for sustainability. And nowadays, you can repair clothing in such a way, like visible mending, that looks cool.”
To seek Miller’s repair services, email ([email protected]) to set up an appointment. Pricing varies on the piece and what needs done. You can also bring your garment to one of Miller’s “Sewing Salons.” Every third Sunday of the month, Miller opens her studio in Verona to those who want to learn the basics of sewing (threading a needle, button work, basic machine stitching). Classes are kept small, about 10 to 12 people, and they range from $15 to $20 / class. Email to secure a spot.
“I believe in the spirit of everything,” said Miller with a smile I could hear through the phone. “When you are sitting with a piece of clothing that has loved and given you so much, love it back.”
The Iron Horse Atelier
A riddle for you: An iron horse with a flaxen tail. The faster the horse runs. The shorter his tail becomes. What is it?
Answer: a needle and thread.
Amanda Vereb, owner of The Iron Horse Atelier (French for “workshop” and pronounced atlˈyā), was told the riddle by her mother. Her shop is named after the wordplay. Her modern tailoring studio in Lawrenceville (5144 Butler St.) focusses on men’s suiting and bridal, but Vereb will mend everyday clothing and jeans as well.
Modern tailoring is “getting that right fit and really listening to the client and what they want,” according Vereb. “I want to bring out the best features of yourself in your clothes.”
Vereb’s great-grandmother taught her how to sew at three years old. The skill followed her through life establishing a sustainable mindset in her style and work. Growing up, Vereb often thrifted items from Salvation Army and Goodwill to upcycle them. In eighth grade, Vereb remembers making a jean skirt out of three pairs of jeans. Vereb went on to earn a fashion design degree from Philadelphia University and The American University of Rome, worked in New York City doing men’s accessory work and received accolades for her custom designs.
“Life brought me back to Pittsburgh,” said Vereb. “There were not a lot of design studios in Pittsburgh and I was tired of working for someone else. The Iron Horse was a dream of mine for at least eight years. It took me eight years.”
Vereb moved back to Pittsburgh in 2013 and opened The Iron Horse Atelier in April of 2016. Mending locally wasn’t top of mind for many then, but as of late Vereb has seen a growing interest in extending the life of clothes.
“People are appreciating clothes again,” said Vereb. “There is a younger crowd who want to look good and fitted. There are so many cool vintage pieces. Recycled clothing is being made into something useful. I follow #visiblemending. It is really cool what some of these artists do.”
5144 Butler Street // Pittsburgh, PA 15201
Cut & Sew
Cut & Sew offers sewing classes for all skill levels, including kids, as well as private lessons. Open studio hours are offered for $10 / hour. During these hours, attendees can bring in damaged clothing and independently work on repairing. If more guidance is needed on your mending project, you can attend an Assisted Open Studio Workshop. During these workshops, an instructor is present to offer advice, set up the sewing machine, etc.
“I get a lot of people here who have never sewn before. We love to help people to learn,” said Batcho.” If you have a desire, you can take it somewhere.”
That somewhere can be toward a less wasteful mindset. Batcho loves lending a mending hand to the local sustainable fashion movement.
In 2020, Cut & Sew will be offering more classes like Alter, Repair, Remake, where giving new life to clothes is the focus. “Alterations has always been a part of what I teach. Alterations is where you can save money with sewing,” said Batcho. “When you go to a thrift shop and have enough sewing skills, it gives you even more possibilities.”
Batcho has been teaching for 10 years and has over 30 years of sewing experience, including work as a technical designer for Liz Claiborne and New York & Company. Cut & Sew was opened in December of 2007 when she made the move back to Pittsburgh. “When I was growing up here, there was nowhere to learn how to sew, especially for kids,” said Batcho.
Cut & Sew filled a void in Pittsburgh’s creative community. The final push Batcho needed to open Cut & Sew’s doors was fueled by a TIME Magazine article, Circling Back to Sewing. The article reported on the growing trend of people taking up the skill of sewing. Repairing clothing through sewing proved to be more of a steady movement than a passing trend.
“Organic materials are better for the environment,” said Batcho, “but organic means more expensive. People want to do better, but not everyone can afford can get those fabrics. You can start small. Start about repairing things to be more sustainable.”
1747 Chislett Street // Pittsburgh, PA 15206
Header photo via @oldflamemending