How To, Mend Textiles
Portrait by Georgia Hilmer
How to Mend Textiles with Kellen Tucker and Lorenza Lattanzi of Sharktooth
We value the art of taking care of things for the long term: a non-disposable life. The textiles in our lives—from blankets and bedding to upholstery and clothing—are well loved and well used, as they should be. When life happens, spot cleaning and laundering, and in some cases, repairing is required to ensure that these items live and grow alongside us and our families. We turned to the experts on the matter, Kellen Tucker and Lorenza Lattanzi of Brooklyn store Sharktooth, for more. Specializing in antique and vintage decorative textiles with compelling design and historical value, Sharktooth offers bespoke services of hand cleaning and repair for rugs, quilts, and blankets. Lorenza heads up the program and knows her way around solutions, dyes, darning, patching, binding, and more techniques. Here are their answers to our pressing questions on all this repair.
The Primary Essentials: What first drew you to antique and vintage textiles?
Lorenza Lattanzi: The feel, mostly. Antique pieces are handmade and typically one-of-a-kind; they're storied and you just feel it. We talk a lot about energy being transmuted into physical form. It's a kind of magic: making something by hand with intention.
TPE: Lorenza, do you have a background in textiles, sewing, and/or restoration?
LL: My grandmother was a skilled needleworker and growing up, my mother always sourced fabric and had clothes made by a seamstress. Most of what I know today was learned on the job. In 2012, I worked in Washington, D.C. for textile conservator Julia Brennan at Caring for Textiles. She was my mentor and my time with her catalyzed my career in textiles. At Sharktooth, Kellen really empowers me to experiment with non-conservation repair. I learned from reference books, practice, and trial and error.
TPE: Kellen, can you tell us more about your story starting Sharktooth?
Kellen Tucker: I was living in Athens, Georgia in 2010 and actively sourcing and repairing quilts. Slowly I started to sell them online. I moved to New York in 2011 and worked for antique shop Holler & Squall. The owners, Zak and Gillette, taught me a lot about retail, running a small business, and customer service in a unique environment. I never stopped buying textiles so when a former bail bonds office space became available, I rented it to house and sell my collection. The shop was a proof of concept and we moved to our Williamsburg location a year later. Lorenza joined in late 2017 and really grew Sharktooth's custom services and repair program.
TPE: How do you determine if a textile can be darned or patched?
LL: Consider the size of the damage and the item's material. You should also assess how long you're willing to spend on a repair. It all takes time, but darning large areas can be slow. Small to medium holes in both bulky and very thin textiles are likely better darned. Larger holes in cotton and linen may be better patched. But really, there are no hard and fast rules.
TPE: Can you share more about how you darn textiles?
LL: At Sharktooth, we mostly darn wool blankets and linens. We darn wool with wool, linen with linen, etc. We also try to choose a repair thread that is slightly thinner than what the piece is made of. We pin the hole flat with a small amount of tension. Beginning about 1/2" outside the damage, we use a threaded tapestry needle to follow the existing woven structure and dark "over" the hole. The technique has always been the same: there are many thorough print and digital resources to learn from.
TPE: When someone has a minor tear, snag, or wear in their clothing, what do you suggest?
LL: The type of mend really depends on the material, location of damage, and your aesthetic goals. There is no wrong way to repair something. I suggest you choose like materials and weight. A tear, snag, or wear can quickly accelerate so I suggest taking the piece out of rotation until you can fix it. I throw clothes into a mend bag and get around to them...eventually.
TPE: What do you do to repair a textile that has become threadbare?
LL: Consider backing and quilting it to a different stable fabric or even folding it in half and tacking to itself. If you'd rather recycle it into something else, consider using it as batting for a future quilting project!
TPE: For rugs that have patches of wear compared to other more full areas of the rug, what do you suggest?
LL: Rugs are tough. As long as the ground is stable and the wear doesn't bother you, we say to leave it. If there is a tear, hole, or compromised ground, you can bring it to us—we'll fix it!
TPE: When something is deemed irreparable, what's the best approach to salvaging part of it? Cutting it into pieces for a quilt?
LL: Exactly. Repurpose. Textiles rule our daily lives. It's best to love them and use them, even if that means using them up.