a woman mends a pair of socks with yarn in a colourful patterned patch


Why My Kids Have Patches on Their Clothes and What That’s Taught Our Family

Jul 9, 2018

My six-year-old twins bust through the knees of their jeans all the time. They play hard, and it’s normal and natural. I think active play should be part of every kid’s experience, but it leaves us with a lot of holes. I don’t aim for the fashionable ripped look, either. It’s too cold for that in Winnipeg much of the year! Instead, I mend their clothes.

For the most part, we don’t make a big deal about our environmental choices with our kids. Patching clothing is not some holier-than-thou statement — we just do it. Most of their clothes are hand-me-downs or purchased second-hand. It saves money, sure, but we try to avoid a disposable fashion culture — I’m not throwing anything out before its time or bemoaning the loss of an expensive purchase when something comes home with a tear.

As I whipped through the repair pile this morning, ironing and sewing on patches and adjusting the elastic that got lost in someone’s drawstring, I thought about how I got here and the lessons our family has learned along the way. 

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It’s OK to Be Different

I asked my kids if other children in their class wear patched trousers, and I learned they are the only ones. It turns out they are fine with this. They see the patches as a way to be an individual and hang on to a beloved piece of clothing longer.

My Kids Learn Where Things Come From

From toddlerhood onward, we’ve played a game: “Where does it come from, mommy?” 

The questions can be simple, like, "Did you make this?" And the answers can be simple too: "Yes, I knit that sweater."

Something produced in a factory isn’t a conversation stopper. Because people work in factories — my own grandmother worked in a clothing factory during the depression of the 1930s. Early on, the questions around this subject were simpler: "What’s a factory, mommy?" But now, if it’s made in a factory, we talk about who made it, and if they were paid fairly. We discuss whether the factory get the materials in a safe way, and whether or not the factory polluted the environment to make the clothes.

Earth Day is Not the Only Day to Reuse and Repurpose

The Grade 1 students had a lot of preparation for Earth Day this year at school, and my twins were thrilled to discuss it all. I learned that most of their classmates threw out or recycled a lot of disposable packaging at lunch, and that the topic of reducing waste was a big conversation at school that day. Another day, the kids went on a trip to the zoo. “Please pack a totally disposable lunch,” the field trip instructions read. “We don’t want the kids to have to carry anything around all day.” Earth Day was just one school day — but couldn’t we come up with a workable no-waste plan for field trips?

I like knowing that my kids are being exposed to a year-round mindset of reusing and repurposing.

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Yes, the Effort Takes Work, but It's Worth It

We’re all overburdened with work, housework and other commitments. This effort to reduce, reuse and recycle takes work. It requires thought. Believe me, there are days when I don’t have any additional energy to spare. So, what makes this mending/reuse/recycling lifestyle possible for me?

Well, first, I’ve made it into a habit. And it doesn't hurt that I don’t like shopping in general, and shopping with twins along for the ride is even harder. Plus, if I skip an additional trip to the store, I not only save on the money I would have spent there, but I also use less gas. There’s then more time to play in the yard with my kids or knit a sweater on the couch during a snowstorm.

We are Grateful for What We Have

Taking a moment to enjoy that worn, comfortable pair of patched jeans gives us a chance to embrace positive feelings and emphasize what’s good in our lives. It’s no small thing to be warm and comfortable in your clothing. What’s more? My kids know that their parents care about them enough to think about these choices and invest time into mending the rips and tears. They choose the colours and patterns I knit into their sweaters, and we are grateful for our creative choices.

Learning the origins of what we use, wear and eat makes my family value it all that much more. It helps us practice gratitude for what we have.

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So if you see my guys on the playground, you might identify them by their patched and worn jeans. It’s not a sign of poverty. Instead, it’s a well-worn path to wealth.

Article Author Joanne Seiff
Joanne Seiff

Read more from Joanne here.

Joanne Seiff is a freelance writer, knitwear designer and the author of three books, including Knit Green: 20 Projects & Ideas for Sustainability. She lives with twin boys, two bird dogs and an absent-minded biology professor in an old house in Winnipeg. When she’s not writing, herding children or walking dogs, she’s designing kids’ sweaters with sheep on them.