It was accompanied by beautiful instagram pictures of knitted and mended jumpers that didn’t always look as if they’ve had a life pre-mend. So, what’s the big deal?
Of course, the notion of mending is easily romanticised. We do not go through life in a series of instagrammable images. We are generally more rough, unpolished and disgusting than we want the world to see. Sashiko could be a way to remind us gently and empathetically of our human-ness. Ruptures can be mended. Mistakes can be handled. A broken world can be stitched together and be no less beautiful for it.
So where’s the link between mending and language learning? When I teach in schools, it often strikes me how much my students hate mistakes in their exercise books. Again and again I see ambitious and beautiful work disappear because “there were mistakes in it and I wanted to write it out as a clean copy”. The clean copy would sometimes appear, beautifully handwritten, often proudly decorated with drawings. Sometimes it wouldn’t and the work was lost.
Similarly, mundane exercises would be re-written after I had corrected mistakes in them. Of course, there is value in re-writing a piece of work. Yet at the same time, the corrected version carries so much thought and learning with it that I would always, always want to keep it. How else are we going to remember what was difficult the first time round? How else is a student going to review work and reconsider grammar points they found challenging? How else are they going to experience their own progress?
Another aspect of mending that students tend to dislike is showing their work to others. It is fine to show their stuff to a teacher, because teachers are there to correct their mistakes. But what about other people in the class? Collaborative writing goes against the grain for many students. Show me your mistakes, I show you mine. Together we might fix all of them. Not a popular task, or at least one that most students have to get into the habit of embracing.
I encourage you to do “fix this”-tasks. Take a sentence that is not perfect, or just not very interesting. And then do stuff with it. Make it better. Ask others how they would make it better. Sashiko is also about community, and conversation, and passing on skills.
Your weird sentences will not have the same instagram appeal as a cream-coloured jumper which has been sashiko-ed to within an inch of its life. But they still carry the spirit of a person’s learning. Call me a terrible romantic, but I think that there is beauty in that.