Last week, one of our readers, to whom we extend our warmest gratitude, alerted us on the fact that the very last invisible mending workshop in Paris is about to close.
La Maison Perrin, located at 29 rue des Petits-Champs in the 1st district, is set to close after its owner, Mister Perrin, retires, while no plan is in place to maintain his trade, neither by seamstresses nor by another artisan. The situation is dire, as it seems, yet again, to mark the last hours of an exceptionally specific technical craft capable of doing wonders to repair (restore might be a better word) damaged clothing.
Those who don’t know this artful skill will find the following a very good description taken from Wikipedia (translated from French) :
Invisible mending is a sophisticated weaving method consisting in rebuilding the fabric of a garment but also of upholstery after an accident: snag, burn, accidental blade or scissor cut, etc.
Both the warp and weft of the fabric could have been damaged. Invisible mending is the reconstruction of both the warp and weft using a long needle. The mender (most often a woman until the craft started to vanish), picks all the necessary weft warn in the hem, and the warp yearn in the extra fabric on the inside of longitudinal seams.
She will reconstruct the warp and weft to exactly match the original weave. After this is done and the garment has been pressed, the mended part will be undetectable on the outside of the fabric. However, on the reverse side, the restored area will be marked by the long hanging threads where the weaving was done. The hanging threads occur because invisible mending is done without tacking, as it could deform the fabric (unlike darning work).
While mending in general is included in the industrial production process, invisible mending is a service that is still provided by high end dry cleaners. In addition, the results of invisible mending are invisible on both sides of the fabric.
Up until the 70s, mending and invisible mending were common practice. Nowadays, they have become fine crafts associated with tapestry weaving.
If, as it now seems unavoidable (unless this article inspires a dry cleaner to take over a craft that remains well sought after) , the Maison Perrin was to close down, it would only leave a very small number of similar workshops in France. One of them is Isabelle Godfroy’s in Lille, where she perpetuates a long family tradition. Every day, she does wonders when she patches holes, snags and otherwise fixes seemingly unrepairable damage.
The art of invisible mending and artistic craftsmanship are, for the Godfroys, a family tradition. Indeed, Isabelle’s grandmother was a seamstress in the 20s, and her mother was also invisible mender. Like her mother did in 1976, Isabelle received the Best worker in France Award in 1980 (that year, she was the youngest winner), while her two children belong to the Compagnons du Devoir (a French craftsmanship guild).
To fully understand the extraordinary technical nature of her craft, here are the main steps of invisible mending, taken from Isabelle Godfroy’s website.
The cigarette has left a hole in the sleeve of the jacket, near the shoulder. The damage is considerable: both warp and weft have been destroyed. Restoration work is about to start…
First of all, we must find threads identical to the original. Most of the time, we pick it from the lining. A few technical secrets will allow us to recreate it if there isn’t enough.
Sewing the weft yarn (horizontal) is done in two steps or less. First we only sew through half the threads.
Then comes the other half. Dividing the work helps keep better track when we sew and ensures no thread is lost, which can easily happen with plain fabric.
Then, we weave the warp yarn through
The first warp yarns, 8 in this case, also serve as markers for the weaving of the next threads.
As we did for the weft yarn, this process helps marking our work, and also prevents the deformation of the fabric that would reveal the mending.
After the last warp yarns are woven through, the mending is done. The only thing left to do is cutting the hanging threads.
On her website, Isabelle Godfroy explains that “Invisible mending as a professional craft has almost disappeared since the arrival of ready-to-wear and the new buying habits that followed. The public has lost the habit of using the work of professional menders. But the need to repair clothing, curtains or furniture remains, and invisible mending is still essential. Who doesn’t own a suit or a dress that needs fixing, a precious garment to preserve or an ancient piece of furniture that is begging to be brought back to life? We have forgotten the simple step of repairing our possessions instead of tossing them away. However, when we look a little bit closer, it is often easier and cheaper to restore a jacket than to buy a new one.”
Gentlemen, this craft must not vanish. We at PG will do everything in our power to continue promoting and defending these wonderful crafts, whether they belong to the sartorial, cordwaining, last making or leather working category, when they come under thread while they have never more than today deserved their place in our country.
When you will learn the (very) reasonable prices of Isabelle Godfroy’s impressively complex repairs, I reckon you will no longer hesitate to leave your darling clothes in her undoubtedly wonderfully skilled hands.