Last weekend I attended the first, inaugural Mend*rs symposium in Docker, South Cumbria. The symposium brought together mending practitioners, activists, entrepreneurs and academics, who, together, would work towards creating ‘a critical agenda for mending’, or more spectacularly ‘the age of mending’. The talks were fantastic and inspirational. A key theme, that struck me, was mending as an emotional experience. The act of mending is an act of care for objects, for self, or for others. In mending things we repair our connections to our objects, others and ourselves. Steven Bond, part of the ‘Small is Beautiful’ exhibition, discussed the demise of being able to make a living from mending. The photographs in the exhibition had attempted to capture the ‘texture’ of mending through engaging with menders workplaces. Tim Dant talked about the problem of ‘responsibility’ that broken objects present; when an object is broken it provides possibilities and potential new trajectories for that object. As menders, we are responsible for these trajectories and for enacting these possibilities. For me, the most poignant talk was from Jonnet Middleton, organiser of the event. Jonnet has made a pledge to never purchase anymore clothes for the rest of her life. Instead she will mend and care for the clothes already in her wardrobe. As Jonnet told stories of her clothes I started to feel guilty towards clothes I’ve mistreated. Shoes that were spoilt from poor storage. Dresses shrunk in the dryer through my impatience. The mending activists at the symposium were serious and dedicated, but they also recognised the possibilities of fun and playfulness in mending which offered a sense of vitality. Certainly since the symposium I felt this vitality has affected my approach to mending in everyday life.
Following the Mend*rs symposium I attended the RGS-IBG conference, in Edinburgh. During the conference, ‘Follow the Things’ bags were circulated and welcomed by Geographers in attendance. I managed to attend the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group session on ‘Impact’. In this Ian Cook discussed the ‘Follow the Things’ bags. He argued that they were a form of mischief. A form of activism enacted through ludic geographies- the ‘lady bird’ (of Tesco fame) reworked as a non-human investigator of the materials and commodities she interacts with.
(‘Don’t Bin It Mend It’ sticker and needle, came in the welcome pack for the Mend*rs Symposium)
During my time at M&S I sold many similar shopper style bags. Often referred to as ‘bags for life’. I started to think about the consequences of being ‘a bag for life’. In reality, bags for life aren’t durable for too long, M&S would replace your ‘tatty’ bag for life for a new one (for free) once it showed heavy signs of use . Could mending prolong the life of the bag? Is the point of mending to prolong the object’s life as much as possible – for me I don’t think it is. Although mending is about being less wasteful, something that I took away from the conference is that mending is about care and respect for things and their ‘lives’. It’s about ‘mending’ our relationships with commodities and material culture. I don’t expect my ‘follow the things’ bag will last forever –but wouldn’t it be nice if when it did start to look tatty I duct taped over that hole, or used the material to make something else, like Sue Bamford and her bunnies. I admire Jonnet’s pledge of never buying clothes again, but if I’m being honest I don’t think I could do the same pledge. I do feel good about myself when I buy a new dress, or shoes. But who is to say that the same ‘buzz’ I get from treating myself to a new dress, I can’t feel through mending my current belongings. If crafting items from scratch with knitting is a about leisure and enjoyment – perhaps I could make a leisure space that’s about knitting and skill but reworking older things like Amy Twigger Holroyd and her knit hacking, rather than starting from scratch. I think, at the least, I’m going to try build a better relationship with my things: respect their fragility. If follow the things is about tracing who made our goods, their lives and geographies, in mending things are we respecting these lives and geographies through extending the life of an object or caring for an object and engaging with it on multiple levels? Maybe through visible mending like Tom of Holland we can help make visible the invisible lives of objects and, respect the people and places who brought them into creation. Ian Cook, in his talk, cited ‘Making is Connecting’ by David Gauntlett. Gauntlett (2011) argues that through making things people engage with the world and create connections with each other. But, are we not already connected, in ways that just aren’t visible. It may be about making connections, but it’s also about mending and repairing them too, making them visible, valuable, social and vital (which just so happens to be the mending manifesto).