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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Mending as a Restoration Craft

Mending as a Preservation Craft.

Human brilliance is undermined by none other than fellow humans. Millions of years ago when men strived to improve his living conditions and struck upon fire it was the triumph of human will and determination. We have come a long way since then and once again there is a calling to weather the test of time with sheer human determination.
  
Today as we sit on the edge of a manmade climate calamity that nudges our doors, it may be wise to turn around and look for simple yet effective responses or traditions that our older generations pursued. Human traditions always had a deeper meaning that most of us can decipher in our lifetime. Over the last 3 or 4 decades these values has either been misplaced or forgotten by the following generations, thus causing a wave of stupendous blunders.

Repair is sidelined in the modern world or better forgotten. The consumerist mindset or the market that drives the ‘new’ can’t possibly pay any heed to repair. If I talk of  India, repair has always been an obvious solution for dysfunctional items but that was a few generations ago. With a drive for growth and progress came literacy (or the mere ability to read and write), which somehow brought about a generalized indifference for both natural and manmade resources giving way to resource illiteracy. Literacy got misunderstood as education and in the name of progress mindless exploit of resources became a regular practice. Technology perhaps played very pertinent role here.

By resource illiteracy I only imply a certain distancing from the wisdom of all possible resources around us. This wisdom came about by being part of various everyday processes. A man working in a cotton mill may have been familiar with season and soil, the cotton would grow, he was in tune with the whole milling process (perhaps simple machines) as well as the finished product and also it’s life cycle. With fast pace globalization, technological advancement and scale of operations, valuation of all resources is now reduced to mere costs, this indeed is a great tragedy of our times.

Globalization and industrial dynamics at a cost of local indigenous processes, disconnects not only end consumer but also most of the people who are part of remote operations of a very complex global matrix. For example cotton from India, spun and processed in Bangladesh, manufactured into clothes in Srilanka or Vietnam and sold in Europe.

The urban diaspora in particular, appears to be handicapped in this scenario, we in the quest for comfortable and a convenient lifestyle has given way to huge amount of waste, resource underutilization and abuse. We dwell in out of context ideas and products, living in a conceptual world distancing ourselves from physical realities that actually surround us.

Last week I was part of the 6th edition of Repair Café Bangalore. Repair café Bangalore is part of the Repair café Foundation based in Netherlands. Repair cafés are places where a functional repair workshop is carried out with the help of local hosts, citizens, repair specialists and volunteers.
An old gentleman serving the Indian Navy told us an interesting story. He was part of the naval base in Chennai way back in 1940’s. An annual customary meet-up with their British counterparts had the visitor taken aback. In the ship they noticed a dated piece of machinery, which has been discontinued in the British ships long time back, still running with gusto. The chief of the Indian Navy contingent laughed and said, in India we can repair anything.

Repair has deep rooted significance in most of living cultures around the globe. Preservation and forwarding life (as we know it today) may have been the most poignant lesson man has taught his children in the past. Celebration of what exist and what’s in use was a determining factor in our traditional practices. Passing of this wisdom was equally important.

Kantha, is a traditional Indian duvet or comforter also a bed liner for the new born, an expression of frugality at it’s best. In Bengal the summer are intense and lasts long, With the birth of a new baby the grandmother or the elderly at home would stitch a multi-layered comforter with old cotton saris completely handmade. A tedious process that needs exceptional patience but working in bits and pieces the katha would come to life.  I’ve seen my grandmother stitching beautiful animal and folklore designs along with lullaby’s and poems sewn in for the new born in the kantha spreads. It’s a practice still followed in the Indian heartland.


My curiosity led me to a whole new world of similar practices that is part of many cultures around the world. In Japan ‘Boro’ textiles was born of forgotten values of ‘mottainai’ or ‘too good to waste’.
The charm of boro lies in the used look and the variations in the shades of indigo. Sewn together over generations, family sagas are woven through the threads.


Sasiko which literally means ‘little stabs’ is a form of decorative reinforcement stitching (or functional embroidery) from Japan. Traditionally used to reinforce points of wear, or to repair worn places or tears with patches. The white cotton thread on the traditional indigo blue cloth gives sashiko its distinctive appearance.
‘Darning’ is seeing a comeback slowly but surely.  Clever creative ideas of visible mending inspired from sashiko can be looked up online.
In Nordic countries I stumbled upon similar decorative and elaborate embroidery as visible mending on warm clothes and woolens. Lace mending is a traditional craft in France.


Kinstugi is a Japanese art of repairing ceramic with gold. Kintsugi ("golden joinery") or kintsukuroi ("golden repair") is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum.

The relevance of these mending techniques can’t be undermined. These processes are mindful way to rejoice what we possess, to restore and reclaim them with care and add value to them as they age with time. There’s a need to acknowledge these traditional mending crafts, the skill involved and bring them back to practice in today’s context especially as we grapple with urban waste crisis.
Mending is a slow process. It calls to pause and realign our thoughts and our day to day practices. Perhaps a relook at our habits and behavior towards things we possess.
So we can reconstruct a paradigm that enables and propagate virtues of repair & reuse.
Nature possesses incredible intellect to repair and regenerate. It’s time we orient ourselves with this critical life preserving process. Somehow we have stop paying attention and as the famous quote goes, To Love, is to pay attention.


As individuals, parents and responsible citizens of the world we must usher a knowledge system for our children that is not only sensible and sensitive towards life in general but it establish and recognize critical human skills in the forefront  for preservation and value our abilities to recreate the brilliance that we humans have achieved for times immortal.

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