Miho Takeuchi, a traditional sashiko instructor and designer born in Japan and based in the United States, tells me via email that sashiko, which developed in poor communities in Japan’s Edo period, “was born from the necessity of mending and patching garments, beddings and household items. In ancient days, clothing and bedding were made from homespun fabrics woven from native fibrous plants such as wisteria and hemp and necessity demanded that this clothing be recycled for as long as possible.” It was only later, she tells me, that the technique evolved to include the elaborate surface-level designs and intricate patterns popular with visible menders today.
“Whereas mending was once the province of those who could not afford new clothes,” the article notes, “today’s visible mending is the province, primarily, of those who can afford the time and attention it takes to make one’s clothes into a statement.” (See: “The poor can’t afford not to wear nice clothes.”)
Here is another photo by Lange, which seems to be of the same legs, stockings, and shoes, but look closely at both images, and you’ll see different contexts. In the first image, which is cropped closely on the legs coming out of shadows, the shoes are resting on worn wooden planks, and the mends almost look like scars. In the second image, where you can see the rest of her outfit and the smooth floor, the mending on the stockings looks more subtle and elegant.
I did a bunch of digging in Lange’s archives at the Library of Congress, but couldn’t find any more images of these feet. (Lange did a whole series of worn stockings and shoes. It’s interesting to note how much Lange liked photographing legs and feet — her own foot was misshapen by childhood polio and she walked with a limp.) Would love to know more about these images, or if there are any others in the series, if anybody knows.