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Right to Repair: exploring mending and restoration (Skinflint)

In May 2019, Katie Treggiden was commissioned by Skinflint to put together and chair a panel discussion at Clerkenwell Design Week entitled ‘Right to Repair: exploring mending and restoration. Following a lively debate, Katie wrote a blog post for Skinflint sharing some of the most salient points raised. All copy as provided to the client.

Right to Repair: exploring mending and restoration

Design journalist Katie Treggiden chaired a panel comprising V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser Bridget Harvey, Restoration Station volunteer Justin South, textiles artist Celia Pym, and our very own Chris Miller during Clerkenwell Design Week. Here are some of the key insights…

‘By extending the lifespan of the product, we are reducing its environmental impact. The lights we reclaim are extremely well designed and engineered. They have fallen out of use, not because they have failed, but because the buildings around them have failed’ – Chris Miller, Skinflint.

‘The people who come to Hackney Fixers either bring things they really, really love and have a deep emotional connection to, or things they really, really need.’ – Bridget Harvey, V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser.

‘Repair is not really about consuming or not consuming – it’s about keeping the things that make your life more pleasant in use.’ – Bridget Harvey, V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser.

‘Clients often can’t believe that we have genuinely salvaged our lights – that they are original – so we purposefully leave the imperfections in and celebrate the history of the pieces.’ – Chris Miller, Skinflint.

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‘Restoring furniture with Restoration Station, and celebrating the life stories of those objects, has been an important part of my recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. It says that you don’t have to forget where you came from, that even as you move past an area of your life, it is still part of your recovery, part of your story.’ – Justin South, Restoration Station.

‘There is a heap of evidence that shows that working with your hands is good for your wellbeing. I love how time feels different when I am repairing something – just that rhythm of being in it.’ – Celia Pym, textiles artist.

‘You can go too far with a repair. But what I have grown to love is the powerful feeling that even if I break something or take it too far, I still have the capacity to do something else, because it was broken and damaged in the first place – there’s a real freedom in that.’ – Celia Pym, textiles artist.

‘I have mended some things and been extremely moved to discover previous repairs – there’s a wonderful layering of stories in mended objects.’ – Celia Pym, textiles artist.

‘Whether you are a maker or a mender; you put something of yourself into the objects because you care.’ – Bridget Harvey, V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser.

‘In museum conservation, there is now more care for the narrative of the object, rather than just the object as it was when it was made – for example, museums might not staple broken ceramics together anymore, but neither do they remove historic staples, because they want to keep those stories – the staples help us understand the history of the piece.’ – Bridget Harvey, V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser.

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‘In ten years, we have salvaged and restored about 50,000 lights and we now only take lights from the 1920s until about the 1970s, because after that value engineering and planned obsolescence had come into play, and we are physically unable to restore these pieces. That is a real shame and something I feel very strongly against.’ – Chris Miller, Skinflint.

‘It’s the same with midcentury furniture – any earlier and it’s very complex and intricate and would require specialist skills to restore, and any later you start getting veneers and if a veneer is too thin, you can’t really sand it and it becomes very difficult to repair – Justin South, Restoration Station.

‘I think the notion of visible mending is quite a catchy idea, but I don’t fully trust it – it feels too obvious. The point isn’t the visibility for me. Creatively, it’s exciting to play with colour, but not everybody is not comfortable with a mend being visible and I would never push someone to use contrasting yarns.’ – Celia Pym, textiles artist.

Visible mending can be a really good statement of intent, or of the environmentalism or politics of mending…but if you are mending someone’s work clothes, for example, they might not want bright yellow yarn on their smart black suit jacket. It’s an aesthetic choice. I have a lot of visibly mended coats, and there are days I don’t even want to wear them myself, days when I just want to blend into the background.’ – Bridget Harvey, V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser.

‘As a charity that aesthetic of visible mending is less of a concern – it’s more often about making use of what we have and making a feature of things that don’t match.’ – Justin South, Restoration Station.

‘I am a little cautious about trends – there is a danger that people only buy into the aesthetic and not the purpose and start mending things that aren’t damaged, or purposefully ageing new products and that seems wrong somehow.’ – Chris Miller, Skinflint.

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‘People can be scared to attempt their first repair, but most of the things we restore don’t require any specialist skills. I would say, “just have a go. If something is already broken, you are not going to make it worse”.’ – Justin South, Restoration Station.

‘The trend for visible mending is in danger of romanticising repair, but a lot of mending is not romantic at all – it is often more to do with austerity; purely pragmatic.’ – Bridget Harvey, V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser.

‘I love that Bridget said a big part of her job at Hackey Fixers is getting big crumbs out of toasters, because the thing is, if you’re stuck, you’re stuck! There is something lovely about showing someone else your problem – sometimes people show me things they don’t want mended, they just want to share them with me.’ – Celia Pym, textiles artist.

‘There is no point in mending something you never liked in the first place because you won’t like it anymore after it is fixed. So, don’t worry about getting rid of things you don’t love – and it’s okay to buy new things too, just try to only buy things you really love or need.’ – Celia Pym, textiles artist.

Getting started with mending is about confidence and having access to support – our events are highly social and are often just as much about the cup of tea and the chat as they are about fixing things’ – Bridget Harvey, V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser.

‘People just need to try and understand that it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to fail and if you do fail, it’s not the end of the world – you can get past failure. That was something that I had to learn in my recovery, that something might have gone wrong that I needed to address, but I also needed to move forward.’ – Justin South, Restoration Station.

‘Repair is a craft and you do have to practice it, you can botch something with gaffer tape but the more you practice the more beautiful your mends get and the more choice you have in terms of visibility or invisibility. Just approach it in the same way you would approach learning to cook or to speak another language, the more you do it the better you get at it.’ – Bridget Harvey, V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser.

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The blog post can be found here. Photography: Skinflint.