When something breaks in the house, our first instinct is often to throw it out and buy a new one. After seeing the mountains of trash piling up in landfills, Sarah Jane Cullinane decided to take a hands-on approach to extending the life of her household items.
It’s kind of breaking a lifelong habit of, ‘this is a bit worn, I’ll toss it in the recycling bin or in the bin and we’ll just buy a new pair,'” says Sarah Jane, a member of the Sustainable Skerries Initiative, which along with committee member Ann Mulligan learned to sew. “Like most people my age, I don’t have those skills. We didn’t learn them in school. I’m basically starting from scratch. But Ann has kindly offered anyone in the group who wants to learn to come to her house and she will teach them various skills. She taught me how to pick up the hem of a dress – that was really helpful and I hope to build on that.”
Ann notes that she has no formal education, but that her mother sewed at home and she learned to sew at school. “I was of the generation where we sewed with Sister Agnes on a Friday afternoon in elementary school,” she explains. “I think if people can do a few simple stitches, they can do a lot of the repairs themselves — things like hemming, buttonholes, running, gathering.”
Ann mentions three simple jobs she’s working on: reattaching the tie on an apron, sewing the zipper on a purse, and fastening a gaping neckline on a dress. “It’s all handwork,” she says.
Ann’s repair projects range from upcycling pillowcases on a leather couch to replacing the backs of her sons’ jeans to patching worn-out sweatpants for local school kids. “It’s just a hobby. I just enjoy working with my hands and any kind of needle – I love doing it and it gives me great pleasure,” says Ann. “I love buying old sewing kits. I love using up a spool of thread that another woman started.”
After lockdown forced Sustainable Skerries to move its operations online, Ann and Sarah Jane are now hoping to host personal repair cafes where people can bring damaged clothing and learn how to fix it.
“What I love about the Repair Café is that it’s social,” says Sarah Jane. “You’re not sitting at home with a YouTube video, you’re chatting to people, and it can be bocci and a cup of tea, it’s a bit of fun too. It’s the same with everything that has to do with sustainability: It shouldn’t be penance. If it is repentance, we will not do it.”
There is growing interest in repairs across the country from viewers tuning in to the BBC’s hit show The repair shopto volunteers sharing their expertise at repair cafes and to people signing up for repair and upcycling workshops.
In Ballymun, the Rediscovery Center offers courses in fashion, furniture and bike repair. It helps coordinate October’s National Reuse Month which includes free repair cafes in Dublin, Monaghan and Waterford (mywaste.ie/reuse-month).
“We’re seeing a tremendously growing appetite for repair skills among the general public,” says Center Director Ed Coleman. “We find that people are more aware of the harmful effect that throwing things away causes. Another thing is the rising cost of living and people are looking for ways to save a few pounds.”
In Bray, Toby Steele, an electrical engineer and a member of the eco-focused cooperative Common Ground, is hoping to reopen the repair cafes he helped organize pre-Covid, where community members would share their skills from furniture restoration to software problem solving all the way through for mending jewelry.
At home, Toby tries to fix everything he needs, including old guitars, bicycles, electric lights and even a Roberts radio that his mother bought when she was 18 almost 20 years ago.
“We will try to fix things as best as we can. Sometimes (I use) YouTube videos, sometimes I just figure it out with my own head,” he says. “I was so fed up with throwing away printers, so I went with a printer that was easier to repair. Then the printheads got stuck so I used youtube videos and found a company that makes printhead cleaning kits and within a day managed to bring the printer back to life. I was very proud of that. We have had a printer for 10 years now and I have repaired it several times when it stopped working.”
Teresa Dillon is an artist and researcher working with geographer Alma Clavin through Repair Acts (repairacts.ie) who are hosting free touch up workshops in Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath from 3rd to 6th November.
Teresa says repair is “burned into my bones.” She adds: “I grew up on a farm and farming is very focused on keeping the resources you have going.
“We currently live in a culture where planned obsolescence is viewed as a design fact. Things are intentionally made to collapse almost as soon as possible, and that’s only really happened in the last 20 years. If you bought a fridge or a washing machine a few decades ago, it was designed to last 25 or 30 years for you and your kids to use. That’s now been shortened to about seven years, and that’s deliberately designed to encourage people to consume more.”
Recently, Teresa has been learning a Japanese embroidery technique called sashiko to embellish her stitches when mending clothes. “It basically allows you to increase the patch, so you can get pretty decorative with it,” she says. “Maybe 15 years ago my brother and sister bought me this very nice wool jacket for Christmas. When the elbows wore out I did a sewing workshop at a textile maker and learned how to patch a hole, stitch and mend. I was quite proud of it – it gave the object a second life.”
Elaine Butler is a Dublin-based author who runs the Living Lightly in Ireland website (livinglightlyinireland.com), which contains resources for fixing all types of goods. She notes that it is important to purchase repairable items in order to have a longer lifespan. “It costs more to repair than to replace in Ireland,” she explains. “For most people, it’s just cheaper to replace something that costs €20.”
Elaine, on the other hand, is passionate about repairs. “I won’t throw anything in the trash that I think can be fixed, even if it means I have a small pile of stuff that needs fixing,” she says.
Aside from items bought second-hand, her clothes are at least 15 years old, and she has taken care of them, sewing fallen hems and replacing worn elastics. Elaine has maintained the crockery and dinnerware set her parents received as a wedding present and restored her great-uncle’s 1950’s traveling trunk. She’s replaced broken plastic clips in her tumble dryer with sturdy stainless steel clips, repaired her washing machine and dishwasher, and even put a new battery in her son’s 3DS, which she and her husband managed to do after researching online and buying a new tool to do the job take care of.
“Some repairs require expertise, but a lot of it is common sense,” she says. “The more you fix, the more you can figure out how to do it yourself.”
https://www.independent.ie/life/the-art-of-repair-meet-the-menders-who-fix-their-broken-items-rather-than-throw-them-out-42002227.html The Art of Repair: Meet the patchworkers who fix their broken items instead of throwing them away