Celia Pym’s mending practice began with a sweater — a simple, cream-colored pullover that belonged to her great-uncle, Roly. When she held the garment in her hands, small moments from his life became newly tangible. Each hole and fray told a story, a record of life held within the fibers.
Not only was Roly’s presence visible in the worn cloth, but his sister Elizabeth’s presence too, as she was the original knitter and previously mended the garment herself. “I was just struck by how affecting mending this garment was,” Celia says. “The two things that really grabbed me were the evidence of my aunt’s care, and the evidence or trace of the body.” While her great-aunt opted for a yarn close to the original color of the sweater, Celia’s mending in blue stands out in bold contrast to the knitted ground. The differences in the stitching reflect the creative and practical sensibilities of each mender. The thread holds the evidence of a life and the lasting connections fostered through it.
Celia mended Roly’s sweater about 15 years ago, and has continually returned to mending ever since. She found that through mending and teaching she was able to connect with others over these skills and over beloved items. Incredible opportunities for conversation, connection, and feeling opened up. On Mending, Celia’s first book, holds these stories. Through text and image, Celia presents a range of mended projects that she has worked on over the years. Each account reveals the stories behind the mended object and her encounters with the objects’ owners.
Celia’s mending practice is one of response. She pays close attention to the cloth and fiber as well as the owner of the piece. These insights inform her choices of color, yarn, and technique. Each piece is unique, reflective of the richly varied and highly personal stories the items hold. The objects range from childhood garments, to backpacks, to costume, to picnic blankets. These cloth pieces, preserved and repaired over years, hold memory, connection, and care. They make visible the passage of time, a subtle record of quotidian motion and damage. These traces of life appear to Celia now in unexpected places as she moves about her days. She notices them everywhere — a rock worn down by waves and wind, faded shades of sun-bleached wall paint, a hole in the elbow of a hand-knit sweater.
Celia has honed her skill for keen observation over the years. Having previously trained and worked as a nurse, she has learned to listen to the subtlest changes in temperature, colors, and textures. In her book, Celia explores the intimate connection between our bodies and the many cloth objects we surround ourselves with daily. She draws striking connections between the repair of cloth and bodily healing – mending itself another form of care.
On December 2nd, 2022 Celia will be giving a virtual talk about her new book On Mending: stories of damage and repair at Tatter. We hope you’ll join us!
Celia Pym has a BA in Visual and Environmental Studies, specialising in sculpture, Harvard University, USA, an MA in Constructed Textiles from the Royal College of Art, London and PGDIP in Adult Nursing, Florence Nightingale School of Nursing, Kings College London. Her work has been exhibited most recently in Gorgeous Nothings, Bartha Contemporary, London
(2022) Eternally Yours, Somerset House, London, (2022), Say Less, Herald St, London (2022) Radical Acts: Harewood Biennial 2022, Leeds, (2022), Keep Being Amazing, Firstsite, Colchester, Essex (2022) and On Happiness: Joy + Tranquillity, Wellcome Collection, London (2021). In 2017 she was shortlisted for the Woman’s Hour Craft Prize and the inaugural Loewe Craft Prize. She is an Associate Lecturer in Textiles at the Royal College of Art in London.
On Mending is her first book.