Erin Lewis-Fitzgerald – ELF - on Modern Mending

“Because with every mend the garment takes on layers of history and stories. It is a thing that is loved and used.”

In 2020 one of our favourite stitchy people, Erin Lewis-Fitzgerald, set up an on-line mending supplies business – Modern Mending from her home in Melbourne, and published Modern Mendinga “how-to” book about visible mending of clothes that is completely unique. We love it. 

Erin Lewis-Fitzgerald Modern Mending
Erin Lewis-Fitzgerald Modern Mending

Gorgeously photographed and containing brilliant step by step instructions for a myriad of mending techniques - from stitching to patching to darning to needle felting - Erin wrote it and shot all the photographs. Even the photographs where she had to use her foot to press the camera shutter (!) because her hands were literally starring in the photos.

Modern Mending was published by Affirm Press in Australia in February 2020 as the global pandemic loomed over us, and a 2 nd edition was released in 2021. In the same year, the book was released in the United Kingdom, United States and Germany.

Modern Mending numerous case studies of clothes for which Erin has created extraordinary mending solutions. Not to mention a photograph or two of her charismatic sidekick, Rex the cat. 

Modern Mending book by Erin Lewis-Fitzgerald
Modern Mending book by Erin Lewis-Fitzgerald

When CGT called Erin on the phone recently, we caught her in the kitchen making dinner for her family. We had to ask what was on the menu, and it turns out there’s a story attached to that. “It’s Monday” she says, “and Monday’s dinner dish, exactly the same dish every Monday, all year, is “Magic Spaghetti.” With home grown kale and cherry tomatoes.

Erin’s not really sure: “Somehow– unbelievably, I managed to lock in magic spaghetti as a food my daughter likes before she started to refuse to try anything new. And now Monday night is the one night of the week where I know that everyone is going to eat dinner and there’s not going to be any stress.”

And because Erin can practically whip up Magic Spaghetti in her sleep, she chops and dices while we set off on the conversation we intended to have with her: the one about modern mending.

If you'd like to try Magic Spaghetti, check out this recipe in 'The Gaurdian' 

The Love of Mending

In her heart, Erin is a mending activist. Her mission is to get us to share her love of mending, to wear our visibly mended clothes with pride and to start conversations everywhere about why mending broken and damaged things is a good thing. So much better than just throwing stuff away. 

As Erin says: “when you throw something away, there is no “away”….. All the clothes in need of repair that you donate to op shops? They’ll get turned into rags in the best scenario, and disposed of in landfill in the worst. Often the problem is exported overseas, where developing nations have to deal with it. There’s a whole psychology around our donation of goods to charities. Many people think: “This item isn’t good enough for me, but it should be good enough for someone else.” But if charities won’t mend your clothes, who will?” 

wool jumper mended with embroidery
wool jumper mended with embroidery

Here at CGT, we think these issues sit right at the heart of the way we live and how we consume things. What we love about Erin is that she turns this dilemma into serious mending fun. You can tell from a glance through her book, that Erin has a unique feel for colour and texture and creating remarkable solutions for fixing stuff.

As she says: “Don’t ask me to design and make something from scratch. But give me something broken or a room design or a recipe that needs some work, then I’m in my element”.  

Embroidery and applique mending patch

Growing up to be the (ELF) Mending Fairy

It all started when Erin was 9 years old and wanted to learn how to use her mother’s sewing machine so that she could “make things that I wanted to make”.

A pause here to note that, while Erin likes to follow patterns and recipes and instructions on “how to”, she was also a child drawn to unconventional textile solutions for the things she sewed. She mentions a pair of overalls she made in a rayon fabric, despite all sensible advice to the contrary. Just because she loved the feel and pattern of the fabric.

Erin tells us that she’s always sought inspiration in the texture, colour and design of fabric. This streak of anarchic inventiveness eventually found its way to a career in visible mending, although just not straight away. Erin spent years as a journalist and editor in highly stressful jobs first, until one day in 2012 she was so burned out that she just needed to quit.

As she tells it: “I kind of voluntarily put myself in limbo-land and then three months later I was diagnosed with breast cancer”. 

Cardigan with mended elbow patch

SPECIAL OFFER: 10% off CGT when you buy 10 or more on Erin's website. 

Erin has curated a collection of CGT colours that inspire her modern mending. It's a must visit for mending supplies! 

Visit Modern Mending

Twelve years on, in 2024 and free of cancer, Erin says that her journey in 2012 seems to be common for young women who survive breast cancer: “It’s an experience that opens up questions about how to live your life” she says. “It was a very confusing time and I felt very lonely. I thought it was just me until I found out later, of course, that it wasn’t just happening to me.”

She goes on: “It wasn’t like I woke up after my cancer diagnosis and said I want to be The Repair Lady. It was something that happened progressively with one little project after another. With me asking myself questions at every step: What happens if I do this? What happens if I start a Repair Café in an actual café? What happens if I teach what I know? What happens if I start a business?”

In 2012, just weeks after breast cancer surgery, Erin joined a community repair group called Fix It! Melbourne as the volunteer clothes repairer. In 2015-16 she ran a pilot of the social enterprise Bright Sparks as a repair hub for busted electrical equipment. It was here that she learned the sobering lesson that people go completely nuts about the idea that broken stuff can be repaired – but they mainly like other people to do it for them.

The Bright Sparks pilot didn’t progress to an on-going business, but these experiences opened Erin’s eyes to the crushing problem of waste in Australia.

Here are ten alarming statistics from that might make you reconsider purchasing fast fashion and turn your hand to mending:

1. 92 million tonnes of textiles waste is produced every year 

2. The apparel industry’s global emissions will increase by 50% by 2030

3.The average US consumer throws away 81.5lbs of clothes every year

4. The number of times a garment is worn has declined by around 36% in 15 years

5. The fashion industry is responsible for 20% of global waste water

6. It takes 20,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of cotton

7. $500 billion is lost each year because of under-wearing and failure to recycle clothes

8. Nearly 10% of microplastics dispersed in the ocean each year come from textiles

9. 2.6 million tonnes of returned clothes ended up in landfills in 2020 in the US alone

10. Fast fashion brands are producing twice the amount of clothes today than in 2000

Erin began to wonder if she started a business just mending clothes – would people actually pay her to do this? A call out on social media conclusively answered that question with bags of clothes in need of mending solutions appearing on her doorstep.

Erin’s new creative path took off, but she kept her Bright Sparks experience front of mind, understanding that: “I can’t be the mending fairy for every piece of damaged clothing”.

A big chunk of her mending project has always been devoted to teaching others to mend their own clothes. Erin comes from a long line of teachers in her family, and she’d already been teaching mending classes to kids for a while, but when the opportunity came up to teach a workshop to adults she says: ‘I was really fearful of doing it, fearful of public speaking – and when I first thought about teaching a workshop I thought – no one’s going to come to this!”

But the workshop happened – in fact, it was a workshop on how to darn socks! 

Sock mending

and Erin found herself being interviewed on ABC Radio Melbourne’s Saturday breakfast program by none other than Hilary Harper (now presenter of ABC Radio National’s Life Matters program).

Their friendship was cemented over Erin’s mend of Hilary’s beloved stripy T shirt – christened Large Marge - and lo and behold says Erin: “it became the most famous piece of mending I’ve done!”

Large Marge has been back more than once for further ELF treatment and appears resplendent in Erin’s book Modern Mending.

Erin has started teaching in-person workshops at the School of Sewing and Upcycling, an existing sewing school in Melbourne. And she tells us that says that the mends she finds most interesting are often the ones, like Large Marge, where people have gone back to a repair and repaired it again – and again. “Because with every mend the garment takes on layers of history and stories. It is a thing that is loved and used.

Sock mending

ELF Colour Theory – how not to be scared by colour

What fascinates us most about Erin is her distinctive approach to colour – because it’s a language that we speak at CGT too.

Colour underpins the way she thinks about mending solutions and how she implements them: “Textiles behave very differently to paints and other art supplies when it comes to thinking about colour, so traditional art colour theory doesn’t necessarily apply” she says – “fabrics have different properties, the way they behave in light, and when they’re worn. And mending clothing also raises the interesting question of how you respond to colours that already exist”.

She is a huge fan of the accent colour. As she says: “any annoying colour can be rescued in combination with other colours. There’s a thing about combinations too. If a colour scares you – you don’t have to use a lot of it – but it can be an accent colour”. 

In September 2023 Erin had the opportunity to teach on-line at an international mending retreat with The Makerie 

Teaching alongside two other menders whose work she loves was a great delight for Erin. Another delight was the opportunity to “go to town” in suggesting contributions to a deluxe mending kit for each of the participants on the retreat.

One of Erin’s selections for the deluxe kit was a CGT thread – the one we created called Butterfly. She tells us she loved the idea of incorporating Butterfly’s really polarising tones of pink, orange and purple.

Modern mending deluxe kit

Proving that modern mending is taking the world by storm, one of Erin's customersin Germany, and fellow mender has used Butterfly to great effect on these Toms. "The good thing about mending is that you only need very few material and tools to breathe new life into loved things. Most of it you have at home anyway," says milli_and_the_bee on instagram.

"Thread, needle and clippers are always needed. In this case the pliers were quite helpful to pull the needle through the thick canvas."

Modern mending deluxe kit

Taking inspiration from Erin's book, Katie from CGT had a go at mending her favourite pair of jeans and is thrilled with the result. We love the way the variegated thread  KD07 Golf creates such a lovely 'Tartan' pattern and texture. "The only shame is that it's hidden away in the crouch and would be a little odd for me to be showing it off. I'll just have to add a patch somewhere else for the sake of it!" Laughs Katie. 

Check out one of Erin's creative denim mends below.

If you haven’t already realised, Erin loves the idea of pushing people out of their comfort zone with colour. Have a grey jumper with a hole in it? You can use any combination of colours to mend it with Erin’s approach. Colours that scare most people – aren’t scary to her.

You have to remember that with mending - you’re starting with a base colour already in the garment – and the colours you choose to mend it with are colours you’re adding as contrast. It’s always worth questioning how you use colour combinations”.

Some of Erin’s favourite “underrated” CGT threads are some of our wilder ones – of course. Are we surprised?

She adores the pinks and oranges in Grapefruit and from CGT’s recently retired thread range, she mourns most the exit of Bush Lily. For the latter, it’s the crazy combination of silvery purple and citron yellow. Yes, she agrees: “purple and citron yellow - it sounds awful – yeewwwww - I’d never buy an outfit in those colours. But used as a repair on denim or fixing a hole on a grey cardigan – amazing!

Modern mending deluxe kit

If she could have her wish and design a CGT thread range, she laughs as she tells us there’d definitely be no single colour or two-colour threads. “The more colours the better! A minimum of 3 and 4 colour variegations, so menders have full colour palettes ready to guide them” she says with glee.

Her favourite colour combination right now is dark teal, red, peach and a tiny bit of yellow – a combination inspired by one of her favourite children’s books, the gorgeously designed 2017 title: "Read the book, Lemmings!" 

Modern mending is now a global movement taking off in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. In Erin’s global Facebook group Modern Mending Club, she says that US menders have now taken out the number 1 spot in terms of followers. Access to mending supplies is another thing entirely – and Erin’s on-line mending supplies shop sees custom from mending folk all over the world, but especially from the US because of the difficulty menders face accessing yarn and other mending products on the ground there.

The connections people make with mending, especially as cost of living pressures mount all over the world, is fascinating to Erin. – “Even when the economy is bad – people still manage to buy mending yarn and thread and I think it makes people happy to see all the colours. Even when people are trying to make do with less, they still love colour – it really does make people happy.”

Postscript on Tea and Cats

To finish up our conversation with Erin, we had to ask about two things high on her scale of essential items for human happiness.

The first is tea. If you already own a copy of Modern Mending, you may have noticed a pattern. Every new mending technique in the book begins with the instruction: make a cup of tea!

So we had to ask: What tea is best for mending? With milk or without?

We quickly realised this was an enquiry that completely under-estimated Erin’s passion for drinking tea: “You should see my tea cupboard – it’s nuts” and she goes on to describe a library of tea varieties, all carefully categorised and yes of course, colour coded! Black labels for black tea. Green labels for green tea and on and on. Because, when it comes to mending, Erin confesses “I have a lot of different tea moods”.

Erin Lewis-Fitzgerald and her cat Rex
Erin Lewis-Fitzgerald and her cat Rex

And the other item? Cats of course.

And specifically, why cats may be so essential as company for someone with a needle and thread in their hands.

Erin’s family cat is Rex - a handsome ginger fellow who apparently thinks he’s a dog. Possessed of extraordinary dexterity in his limbs, to the extent that he was nicknamed Flexi Rexi as a tiny kitten, Erin made striking use of this feature to create an eye-catching illustration in her book Modern Mending of how to measure the ideal length of thread to be cut, before threading one’s needle and commencing to stitch. 

Sadly, according to Erin, Rex turns out to be far from ideal as a stitching and mending companion, unlike many other stitcher’s cats we know.

Says Erin: “I had all my CGT threads out in baskets last week – perles in one and stranded cotton in another – so they look like lollies. Rex just wanted to destroy them. He cannot be trusted. He is not allowed in the office when I’m picking and packing orders – he likes to bat thread all over the house and he’s destroyed tons of things”.

On the plus side, it seems Rex has created more than a few mending opportunities for Erin – like the pink jumper sleeve pictured earlier in the post – which lived to survive a Rex attack and has come up looking better than ever we think.

It also seems that Rex more than makes up for his ability to create mayhem, by having an outsize personality and loving temperament. Says Erin: “He’s super cuddly and unusually for a cat, he adores my kids. Even when they were babies, he adored them”.

And we adore ELF. For her enterprising creativity, her positivity and her message to upcycle, mend and re-use. For trying to make things better than ever – better than they were new. We hope you share our love – this is a woman worth watching!

You can find more information about Erin Lewis-Fitzgerald over on her Website or Instagram page:


Instagram: modernmending